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Friday, June 11, 2004

Farewell, Mr. President

I watched much of the coverage of President Reagan's funeral today. There are many things to be said by someone like me, someone who, if asked, would credit Mr. Reagan with molding and shaping his political views and inspiring political activism. I think, perhaps, rather than my words, those of others are more appropriate today:

Lech Walesa, former leader of Poland's solidarity movement and President of Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain writes in the Opinion Journal:

GDANSK, Poland--When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.

Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.

I often wondered why Ronald Reagan did this, taking the risks he did, in supporting us at Solidarity, as well as dissident movements in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, while pushing a defense buildup that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink. Let's remember that it was a time of recession in the U.S. and a time when the American public was more interested in their own domestic affairs. It took a leader with a vision to convince them that there are greater things worth fighting for. Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.

I distinguish between two kinds of politicians. There are those who view politics as a tactical game, a game in which they do not reveal any individuality, in which they lose their own face. There are, however, leaders for whom politics is a means of defending and furthering values. For them, it is a moral pursuit. They do so because the values they cherish are endangered. They're convinced that there are values worth living for, and even values worth dying for. Otherwise they would consider their life and work pointless. Only such politicians are great politicians and Ronald Reagan was one of them.

Lady Margaret Thatcher, in her pre-recorded eulogy:

And surely it is hard to deny that Ronald Reagan's life was providential, when we look at what he achieved in the eight years that followed.

Others prophesied the decline of the West; he inspired America and its allies with renewed faith in their mission of freedom.

Others saw only limits to growth; he transformed a stagnant economy into an engine of opportunity.

Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; he won the Cold War - not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress and turning them into friends.

I cannot imagine how any diplomat, or any dramatist, could improve on his words to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva summit: `Let me tell you why it is we distrust you.' Those words are candid and tough and they cannot have been easy to hear. But they are also a clear invitation to a new beginning and a new relationship that would be rooted in trust.

We live today in the world that Ronald Reagan began to reshape with those words. It is a very different world with different challenges and new dangers. All in all, however, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than the world he inherited on becoming president.

As Prime Minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his presidency. And I have had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great president.

Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles - and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.

and she closed with the following:

Ronald Reagan's life was rich not only in public achievement, but also in private happiness. Indeed, his public achievements were rooted in his private happiness. The great turning point of his life was his meeting and marriage with Nancy.

On that we have the plain testimony of a loving and grateful husband: `Nancy came along and saved my soul'. We share her grief today. But we also share her pride - and the grief and pride of Ronnie's children.

For the final years of his life, Ronnie's mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again - more himself than at any time on this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven's morning broke, I like to think - in the words of Bunyan - that `all the trumpets sounded on the other side'.

We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God's children.

and, finally, a semi-local fella who worked in the Reagan Whitehouse, Peter Rusthoven wrote about his former boss in the Indy Star:

In his life, detractors called Ronald Reagan an amiable dunce, an ideologue peddling right-wing nostrums ill-suited to complex realities of a world fraught with danger and ambiguity. His election, they warned, spelled disaster at home and abroad.

On his death, these spectacularly wrong critics remember little beyond "amiable," citing Reagan's articulate optimism and disarming, non-demonizing demeanor as his lasting legacy, the key to his extraordinary grip on the hearts of Americans now honoring him with an outpouring of affection and gratitude.

Well, as the Gipper might say with a shrug and a smile, they still don't get it.


As Reagan was first to say, the ideas were neither "his" nor "new." They were the ideas that inspired the Founders, ideas he knew retained across the centuries their power to inspire not only us but a world starved for freedom. He knew, as the first of his predecessors said on taking the oath in 1789, that "preservation of the sacred fire of liberty" remained "deeply, perhaps . . . finally staked, on the success of the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." He believed our own hands were worthy of that trust, if we would have the courage and faith of generations of Americans past who had passed the torch along.

and finally,

Throughout, President Reagan cared not a whit about personal credit. He grasped the central insight of leadership: It wasn't about him; it was about serving the American people, and the Creator who had endowed them with the liberty he cherished.

C.S. Lewis wrote that we are trapped in time, but God sees always and at once the entire human story, all we call past and future, in "present tense." Ronald Reagan, I believe, saw America's story in much the same way. For him, a general was always on his knees at Valley Forge; a lonely president was still pacing the darkened halls, pondering his struggle to save the Union; even now, the boys of Pointe du Hoc were scaling the cliffs, and FDR was calling us to our rendezvous with destiny.

May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


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