Saturday, June 05, 2004

Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004, Rest in Peace

As of 1pm today, President Ronald Reagan has passed on. He was born February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois, a farming town of some 1276 people. His family moved around a bit until he was nine, when they settled in Dixon, Illinois. He was an avid reader who enjoyed Edgar Rice Burroughs and Horratio Alger among others. Reagan attended Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. According to his letters, he always fondly remembered his time there and the people he met. He made money in the summers as a life guard at the beach. He became later, a radio sports caster, a reserve cavalry officer, a movie actor, Governor of California, and President of the United States.

Ronald Reagan was the first and only presidential candidate I have ever voted for. He was the only candidate I ever wanted for president, the only one that I felt genuinely reflected my own ethics and political beliefs. The memory fades with the years, but we should try to remember how bad things were in this country when Ronald Reagan took office in 1980. We were still suffering from the Watergate scandal, the loss in South Vietnam, the Nixon-Carter recession-inflation, the oil embargo, and the Iran hostage crisis. Besides that we were losing the Cold War and the Soviet Union was in its ascendancy, pulling more and more countries under its influence. There was a huge vocal minority in the US that wanted us to unilaterally disarm. They blamed us for the hostilities even though it was the Soviet Union that was occupying other countries. Reagan turned all of that around. He gave us a strong economy, revived much of the international respect that previous presidents had squandered, and pushed the Soviet Union into an arms race they could not maintain. More than that, he openly criticized the Soviet Union and other brutal communist regimes, refusing to grant them the legitimacy of democratic governments. He refused to pretend that the Cold War was anything other than what it was--the US resisting the imperialism of Russia. That moral stance may have had more to do with America winning the Cold War than the arms race did.

But more than a great president, Reagan was a good man. A depression kid who never forgot his roots. Loyal, humorous, and affectionate. A man who loved his wife, his friends and his country. Here is some of Reagan's early life in his own words. I have transcribed them from Reagan a life in letters. I cite each quote with the year the letter was written and the page of the book:
When I was a drum major of the YMCA boys band we were asked to lead the Decoration Day parade in the Franklin Grove. The parade marshal on a big white horse rode back down the parade at one point which left me out in front. No one had told me the parade route so I kept on marching. He rode back up the line just in time to have the band turn a corner. I was left marching up the street all by myself. I didn't look around until the music began to sound faint and far away. then I cut across back yards and got back in front again. (1985, pg 12)
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I was raised from childhood by my parents who believed bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of. My father once slept in his car during an Illinois blizzard rather than stay in a hotel that wouldn't allow Jews. He was Irish Catholic.
As a sports announcer broadcasting Big League baseball in the middle '30s I campaigned against the rule that prohibited blacks from playing in organized ball. As governor of California I appointed more blacks to executive and policy making positions than all the previous Governors of California put together. I too have a dream, a dream that one day whatever is done to or for someone will be done neither because of nor in spite of their race. We are all equal in the sight of God--we should be equal in the sight of man.(1983, pg 13)
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In those tough '30's you mentioned I wasn't too far from you. I was washing dishes in the girls dormitory of a small college in Illinois to get an education.(1982, pg 17)
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When I graduated from college in 1932, the depths of the Depression, it was a time when, as you remember, the government was putting ads on the radio urging people not to leave home looking for work because there was none...
Well, my journeys took me to WOC in Davenport. It was a 5,000 watt station ... the program manager had informed me that they had just hired an announcer the day before ... and as I went out the door, I said, "How the hell does a guy get to be sports announcer if he can't get a job in a radio station?" And down the hall I went to the elevator.
Fortunately, the elevator wasn't there, and as I waited, I heard a clumping down the hall. I looked around the corner, and it was Pete, who was badly crippled by arthritis and walked with two canes. He was thumping his way down the hall, and he was cursing in his Scotch brogue and saying, "Wait up for me you big bastard." ... And he said "Do you think you could tell me all about a football game and make me see it as if I were listening on the radio?" ...
Well, he left the studio, and I stood there and thought, well, I've got to be a able to have names to call off if I'm going to pretend broadcast so I picked a game from the previous season that we had won in the last 20 seconds when a 65-yard run by our quarterback gave us a one-point victory. I knew all our own fellow's names, and I knew enough of the other team's names that I wouldn't have to fake and try to dream up some names...
Well, I cam up to the moment when it was 20 seconds to go and we were on our own 35-yard line. I was right guard, and the right guard pulled out most of the time from the line and ran interference--led the interference, as a matter of fact. The play we called was an off-tackle smash with Bud Cole carrying the ball, and I was the key man in blocking in that I had to take the first man in the secondary to get him past that line of scrimmage. I missed my man on this play... In the reenactment I want you to know, I didn't miss that man in the secondary--I delivered an earth-shattering block that sprung Cole loose....
Well, in a little bit, Pete came back into the studio where I was waiting and said, "Be here Saturday. You're broadcasting the Minnesota-Iowa game, and we'll give you $5 and bus fare." (1980, pp 27-29)
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I have no trouble believing in those miracles because a miracle happened to me and it's still happening.
Into my life came one tiny "dear" and "a light shone round about." That light still shines and will as long as I have you. Please be careful when you cross the street. Don't climb any ladders. Wear your rubbers when it rains. I love my light and don't want to be ever in the dark again. (1975, pg 45)
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I was a liberal New Deal Democrat, and have told many times how, like others, I was fooled into supported causes. It was the 1947-48 Hollywood strike that opened my eyes.(1985, p141)
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My first four votes were cast for FDR my fifth for Harry Truman. Following World War II my interest in liberalism and my fear of "new-fascism" led to my service on the board of directors of an organization later exposed as a "communist front", namely the "Hollywood Independent Citizens Commission of the Arts, Sciences and Professions."...
Now you might ask, "who exposed this organization as a 'front'?" It was no crusading committee of congress, or the DAR or the American Legion. A small group of board members disturbed by the things being done in the organization's name introduced to their fellow board members a mild statement approving our democratic system and free enterprise economy and repudiating communism as a desirable form of government for this country. The suggestion was that by adopting such a policy statement the board would reassure our membership we were liberal but not a "front"...
We suggested this "policy statement" was perhaps a matter for the whole organization to decide--not just the board. We were told the membership was--"not politically sophisticated enough to make such a decision."
When we resigned the organization went out of existence only to reappear later (minus us) as "Independent Citizens committee of the Arts Sciences and Professions" in support of Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party.

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