On November 3, 1980, a double-rainbow crested over Main Street in Tampico, Illinois, where Ronald Reagan was born. The next day, Reagan was elected to become our fortieth president. “When we saw the double rainbows, we knew he had it won,” explains Amy McElhiney, who, with her husband Lloyd, manages the Reagan Birthplace Museum.
Peering into the tiny Tampico apartment where Reagan entered this life, it is hard to imagine more commonplace beginnings. As we now contemplate his exit from this life, it is hard to find a man who has left a more important legacy.
As Reagan entered the White House, communism was on the march throughout the world and America was mired in economic turmoil and a crisis of confidence. By the end of his administration, the Soviet empire was crumbling, the U.S. economy was riding an unprecedented boom, and America’s reputation throughout the world glowed brightly as a beacon of freedom.
During this period of mourning, pundits are reviewing these incredible achievements of the Reagan Revolution. But Reagan himself rarely indulged in score keeping, preferring instead to look to the future. The last lines of his autobiography recount his flight home to California aboard what had been Air Force One, after he left the White House in 1989. Champagne was poured and someone shouted, “Mission accomplished!” In Reagan’s own words: “Not yet, I thought to myself. Not yet.”
Those of us who wish to truly honor Ronald Reagan should realize that much remains to be done to finish the Reagan Revolution. Since he departed the public stage ten years ago, conservatives have continued to gain ground and Republicans have strengthened their hands with victories in the states, in Congress, and the Presidency. Yet we have few policy victories to show for it, and some of our leaders seem content simply to govern over the current status quo.
Let’s take new inspiration from Ronald Reagan. His actions, his speeches, and his volumes of hand-written correspondence provide a compelling vision for America, and a clear roadmap for those of us in the conservative movement.
Reagan famously spoke in 1976 of his experience writing a letter for a time capsule that would be opened one hundred years later. He realized his words would be read by an audience with greater perspective than any he had ever addressed. “They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.”
Well, history will certainly record that Ronald Reagan met his challenge. Now, it’s up to the rest of us to carry forward his vision. Reagan’s writings are replete with calls for more personal liberty and less dependence on big government for retirement savings, health care, and education. Reagan lowered taxes; insisted on individual responsibility; and demonstrated that effective foreign policy combines strength and humility, honesty and idealism.
In 2004, we Reaganites should not be content. President Reagan told a C-PAC audience nearly two decades ago, “We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to… Let us go forth with good cheer and stout hearts: happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom.”
Heeding these words is the best way to honor the man from Tampico.
Brad and Dan Lips publish the Lips Brothers Web-log and are currently writing a book on Ronald Reagan.