Yet More Reagan Tributes

The Reagan eulogies keep pouring in. He died late Saturday and the articles coming out now were probably penned Monday. Still, in Internet time–where we’ve come to expect reactions within minutes of news breaking–it seems ages ago. Indeed, Dan Drezner is already tired of them!

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a piece in USA Today entitled “Ronald Reagan: My hero, and an eternal light for the world.”

We all have such vivid memories of him, because he was a man of clarity — in his heart, in his faith, in his convictions and in his actions. His was a strong, unwavering flame that burned brightly. That is why, although we have not seen him in 10 years, he appears to us so clearly today.

Reagan was a hero to me. I became a citizen of the United States when he was president, and he is the first president I voted for as an American citizen. He inspired me and made me even prouder to be a new American.

He used to talk about the letter he received from a man who said, ”You can go and live in Turkey, but you can’t become Turkish. You can go and live in Japan, but you can’t become Japanese. You can go to live in Germany or France, but you can’t become German or French.” But the man said that anyone from any corner of the world could come to America and become an American.

When I heard President Reagan tell that story, I said to myself, ”Arnold, you Austrian immigrant, he is talking to you. He is saying that you will fit in here. You will be a real American, able to follow your dreams.”

Newt Gingrich‘s piece on the AEI website is entitled “The Heir to FDR,” which is somewhat counter-intuitive for a man who, rhetorically at least, wanted to roll back much of the New Deal.

I combine Reagan and FDR because they were the two most effective presidents of the 20th century. Reagan was an FDR Democrat for much of his life. As late as 1948, he cut commercials for President Truman and senatorial candidate Hubert Humphrey (then the leading anti-communist liberal in Minnesota). We live in a world that would have been dramatically different without them.

In both domestic policy and foreign policy, it is impossible to explain the America of 2004 without looking at FDR’s leadership in creating the New Deal domestically, the response to the Nazi-Fascist-imperial Japanese challenge, and the creation of a coherent Democratic Party majority that lasted from 1930 to 1994 (something no one could have predicted in 1930).

Similarly, in both domestic and foreign policy, no one can explain the changes from FDR’s world to the present without studying Reagan. It was his long campaign (beginning in 1947) that ended the Soviet empire (see Peter Schweizer’s Reagan’s War for detailed proof of this assertion). It was his policies that shifted American domestic government and politics back toward personal responsibility, economic freedom, entrepreneurship and lower tax rates. From welfare reform to the large tax cuts of President George W. Bush to the growing debate over Social Security private accounts, we now live in the world Reagan defined.

Certainly true.

Ralph Peters tells of how dismal our military was when he entered as a private in 1976.

Then came Ronald Reagan.

Yes, he raised Defense budgets dramatically. And the money mattered. But the increased funding and higher pay wouldn’t have made a decisive difference without the sense that we had a real leader in the White House again. The man in the Oval Office genuinely admired the men and women who served. When he saluted his Marine guards, he meant it. The troops could tell.

I attended Officer Candidate School in Georgia during the 1980 presidential election. When I returned to Germany in late 1981, the change in the quality and morale of the “dirty boots” Army was already unmistakable. Even before the new equipment began arriving, the Army was regaining its fighting spirit.


Which brings me to my confession. Having grown up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I carried some of my generation’s prejudices along with me into the Army. While I realized that Jimmy Carter had been an inept president (if a good man), I didn’t support Ronald Reagan in 1980. I believed that Carter remained the safer of two mediocrities. I bought into the bigotry of those who mocked Reagan as lacking the intelligence to be president.

And it’s doubtless true that he didn’t possess the highest IQ ever to enter the White House. That goes directly to what Reagan taught me: As we recently saw with another president, the greatest intelligence isn’t a substitute for vision, courage and leadership. Above all, a president needs good instincts, guts and sound values. The world’s overstocked with brilliant people who never get anything done.

Reagan got things done.

He gave us the military that serves the cause of freedom so well today. He gave us back our pride. And he gave us back our country.

Like Abraham Lincoln, another self-made mid-Westerner mocked by the elites at home and abroad, Reagan’s greatness transcended conventional measure. Despite the current outpouring of love and admiration, we have not yet lived long enough to comprehend his full achievement. He was the first among Americans of our time.

If that wasn’t clear from the campus, it was obvious to those of us in the mud on the frontiers of freedom.

This feeling is almost universal among those who served in those days and speaks to the power of charismatic leadership. Jimmy Carter was a Naval Academy graduate and actually presided over many of the changes that would lead to the fielding of terrific new equipment in the early 1980s. Yet soldiers had little respect for him and loved the Gipper.

RealClear Politics has several more, including the transcript of a televised 1967 debate between Reagan and Robert Kennedy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. RicK DeMent says:

    If Arnold is such a fan you would think he would become, you know, a conservitive.

  2. Attila Girl says:

    You could say the same thing about G.W. Bush, though. Ultimately, it’s all about what the individual’s moral convictions are, and there’s no getting around the fact that both men have some deep disagreements with President Reagan. But they still admire him, and borrow some of his best qualities.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Our class is studing about President Reagan. The following thoughts are from the students at Anderson Elementary School. Ronald Reagan was a great President. A historic leader and national treasure.

    from: Rodrigo and Alan
    Anderson Elementary School
    Ms. Estrada’s 5th grade Class
    Ms. Paschal, ACP Intern