He is an American icon who more than twenty years after leaving the office of President of The United States still captivates the thoughts and hearts of Americans. He has defined for many what it means to be a patriot and is still as much part of our Nation today as he was when he served in the Oval Office. Those who believed as he did place him as the example of that belief, those who opposed those beliefs use his name and popularity to exploit the fact that he is beloved by so many as a means to gain political favor.
Ronald Reagan was the American dream. He came from humble beginnings in Dixon, Illinois and after graduating college began a career in radio which presented an opportunity while broadcasting Chicago Cubs baseball games to take a screen test which resulted in his becoming an actor whose career spanned 50 films. Most would consider this to be the peak of success and the satisfaction and achievement for a lifetime, but not Ronald Reagan.
His move into politics came as a result of trouble in the Screen Actors Guild in which he became president. He continued to be politically active during the fifties as a spokesman for General Electric until he came to national prominence in 1964 delivering a speech named, “A Time For Choosing,” during the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. Goldwater lost the election but Reagan’s popularity grew and three years later he was elected Governor of California.
It was while Governor that Ronald Reagan first began to influence my life. I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Living on the East side of the bay before San Fran became known so much as the liberal mecca it is today. My parents were Kennedy Democrats yet when Reagan ran for Governor of California my parents especially my dad saw something in him that changed his politics and his vote as he cast his first Republican vote for Reagan.
I was eleven years old when my class went on a field trip to Sacramento to visit the State Capitol. Like any field trip everyone was excited especially since it meant we didn’t have to be in school. No one expected to meet anyone during the trip but while touring the State Capitol building out comes Governor Reagan to visit with us. He told us he had heard that there were school children visiting that day and he took time from his busy schedule to spend a few minutes with us. Though only eleven I gained a great respect for Reagan that day even more than just a typical child’s respect for someone famous.
We moved from California shortly before Governor Reagan left office so my teen years of impression grew around this conservative in the Governors seat of my home state and as such because of Ronald Reagan I became a conservative as a teen while most of my friends were interested in the more liberal side of politics if any interest at all. In fact during the first 32 years of my life first as my Governor then later as my President, Ronald Reagan was always there and always part of who I was and the America I grew up and became a young adult in.
During his Presidency Reagan took his long standing opposition to communism and under great criticism from those who opposed him and many in his own Republican party fought this scourge against freedom and even though many of those elected and the media disagreed with his stance against the Soviet Union, we felt save in knowing that he was at the helm of state and that while he was on watch nothing would harm America. Growing up in the nuclear age and the early days of the Cold War this was comforting as I remember the Cuban Missile crisis and having to participate in drills for a nuclear attack diving under a school desk and placing my arms over my head.
But even more than the security we felt as Americans while Reagan was in the Oval Office we saw a bright hope for our country after several years of hopelessness first because of Watergate then the destructive foreign and domestic years of Jimmy Carter. Reagan told us it was good to wave the flag. It was proper to know and act as an exceptional American because we lived in the greatest country in history. We were once again proud and patriotism was popular because President Reagan reminded us always of our, “shining city on the hill.”
In 1988 I once again had opportunity to meet this greatest American during a campaign stop in North Carolina for Jesse Helms. I was very active in my local GOP and was invited to the campaign appearance and meet the President afterward. I worked in radio at the time and had and still have what many call the gift of gap yet when standing before the President and shaking his hand all I could do was stammer. Seeing my predicament President Reagan asked my name and I told him then he looked at me as if I was the only person in the room and said, “Ken I put my pants on the same way you do,” immediately putting me at ease and talking with me as if I was a friend he had known for years.
In January 1989 when now former President Reagan walked down the Capitol steps after the Inauguration of George H.W. Bush, a family member who was watching the Inaugural with me and seeing Reagan board Marine One for the trip to Andrews Air Force Base and home to California expressed best what we felt when Reagan left office when she said, ” I have grown very comfortable with him in The White House.” And we had, we were comfortable with Reagan as our President our National Father, our friend and our protector.
When he announced he had Alzheimer’s, it was as if a member of my family had told me of this devastating affliction. This too came home to me when my mother became an Alzheimer’s victim. I lost her in 2005 and a year later in June of 2006 we heard of President Reagan losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby as I watched his final journey on television. I had lost a member of my family and my greatest influence as a conservative American.
Still today there is seldom a day in which I do not think of this greatest of Americans and miss him. Ronald Reagan was known for many things. He was an actor who because of one of his most famous roles became known as The Gipper. He was a Governor of a state that economically would rank as the seventh largest country in the world. He was President of The United States and because of his leadership reshaped our Nation and our world ending a threat that had lasted for more than 40 years and restoring our confidence economically and as a people and our pride in our great Nation.
But of all the things that he was and all the ways in which we remember him, Ronald Wilson Reagan was most proud of and would want to be remembered most as an American. For even with all his great accomplishments and his world changing actions as our President being an American was what he was most proud of and who he was. Today we remember this humble man from Dixon as one of our greatest leaders and the father of conservatism. We can best honor his legacy and memory by always fighting for those Constitutional principles and beliefs he held so dear. Never forgetting the greatness of America and always having faith in the American people as he did.
Happy 100th birthday Mr. President. We will never forget you and will always miss you.
Ken Taylor The Liberal Lie, The Conservative Truth