He was born one hundred years ago today in
His family relocated several times during his childhood, moving throughout the state and eventually settling in the town of
He excelled at sports, and at the age of 15 his first job was as a lifeguard on the
After college he worked in radio, broadcasting Iowa Hawkeyes football games and Chicago Cubs baseball games. At the age of 26, while traveling with the Cubs in
World War II interrupted his acting career, but afterward he returned to
He married Jane Wyman in 1940 and they had three children -- two biological daughters, one of whom died at just a day old, plus an adopted son. After disagreements about his political ambitions, Wyman filed for divorce in 1947.
Two years later he met the love of his life, Nancy Davis. They married in 1952 and remained so until he died more than a half-century later, and together they had a daughter and son. Many observers consider their marriage to be
Although he spent time in the often-superficial world of
Because he became known as the ultimate conservative Republican, many people today are surprised to learn that he was a Democrat until the age of 51. He changed parties partly because his views moved rightward as he aged, but mostly because the party of his youth moved leftward and away from
The first time he ran for office, in 1966, he won the governorship of
When he stepped into the Oval Office in January 1981, communism was on the rise, freedom was in decline, and
On the economic front he created an environment in which entrepreneurial innovation could flourish. He did this by scaling back regulations that were burdensome and anti-competitive, and by dramatically lowering tax rates in all income brackets so that people would have more money in their pockets to spend as they saw fit. And last but not least, he championed entrepreneurs and the social benefits that derive from their businesses; unlike his political adversaries, he did not vilify business because he understood the truth of Abraham Lincoln’s warning that "you can not help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer."
The results were staggering. Inflation and unemployment were all but eliminated from being national issues, and incomes soared -- in fact, incomes soared so much that the total amount of money taken in by the government skyrocketed, even though the government was taking a much smaller percentage of each person’s income than it was before he was elected. Those who think government must raise taxes to raise revenue should take notice, because its annual revenue was much higher every year he was in office than it was in any year before he took office; and by the time he left office, its revenue was nearly twice what it was before.
On national defense and foreign affairs, his achievements were even more staggering. Instead of following his predecessor’s path of naïve appeasement, he drew a line in the sand and made it clear that
Many “realists” thought the Cold War would last in perpetuity, but he, an “idealist,” brought it to an end by design and without firing a shot. And with the disappearance of the
People who lived in fear of commissars in what was once East Germany, and of the Communist Party’s police state in what was once the Soviet Union, will tell you how in the 1980’s they were emboldened by the knowledge that an American president was finally standing up to their tormentors; how they were inspired by the knowledge that he was genuinely on the side of humanity and would not ignore their plight. They will tell you that without him, their freedom would never have come to be.
Here in America, we should remember that he was a man imbued with humility despite his great accomplishments; that he was “the leader of the free world” but always knew it was about us and not about him; and that he did not gain entree to power because of inherited wealth or family connections, but instead earned his way up from a modest beginning in a small Midwestern town.
He gave speeches like no one else I have ever seen, because he believed what he said and everyone knew it. While Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe” and Andrew Jackson was called “Old Hickory,” this president was called “The Great Communicator.” Everyone who saw him agreed that nickname fit, but, humble to the end, he disavowed it when he said this during his last speech before leaving office: “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation -- from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”
In that same speech, he summed up his love for
He departed this earth in 2004, but that will not stop me from pausing today to say, “Thank you, Ronald Wilson Reagan.”