Liberals loathed him. Conservatives idolized him. The middle overwhelmingly loved him. He charmed America. His knack to connect was unmistakable. And although many have tried to replicate his charisma and appeal, no one has ever come close to being Ronald Reagan.
He made us laugh when we didn’t think we could, or should. He always had a way to comfort us in the midst of tragedy. He could disarm the press with a one-liner; and get a chuckle from even his fiercest opponents.
The first time I saw Ronald Reagan was at the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami Beach. Much to the dismay of my dyed-in-the-wool Democrat grandmother, I was there as a proud Texas College Republican delegate.
He lost the nomination to Nixon, but I was sold on Reagan from that moment on.
Of course, I instantly like him for his automobile of choice — a jeep. I drove the same kind and still do. He appealed to me and other renegade conservatives my age, particularly those of us in the yellow-dog South, because we were a herd without a shepherd. Back then, it was taboo to be a Republican in Texas. But then, along came Reagan. We were Reagan Republicans.
Reagan cut the class warfare. He transformed the “country-club GOP” image, and brought conservatism out of the shadows. It was cool to be a conservative. He represented what Americans wanted — Democrats and Republicans alike. He wasn’t the Grand Old Party leader; he was the people’s president.
Reagan’s tenure in the White House saw some of the most historic events in our country and the world. His line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” will probably resonate for time immemorial.
Although criticized by his foes for being a Hollywood actor, Reagan masterfully engineered a feat that so-called political experts had little confidence could be accomplished — the end of the Cold War.
Within minutes of his swearing in, news broke in one of the most widely followed situations of that time. President Reagan announced the Iran hostage crisis was over. The Americans were coming home. Make no mistake — the significance of his election was an intimidating and influential factor in their release.
When the entire country was devastated by the Challenger tragedy, Reagan addressed a grieving nation by giving one of his most memorable and touching speeches. His ability to heal the brokenhearted was more than an admired political attribute. He never talked above the people — always to the people. It was what made him one of us.
And of course, there is his most beloved legacy. He single handedly made the jelly bean a national treasure.
Reagan never took himself too seriously. Even when his own life was on the line, the leader of the free world was cracking jokes. On his way into emergency surgery after the 1981 assassination attempt, he looked up at the surgeons and said, “I hope you are all Republicans.”
While he was a one-of-a kind politician — the Everyman of our time. He was a “pull yourself up by the boot straps” kind of guy.
From union halls to country clubs, everyone felt like Reagan was one of them. Being an American meant something to him. He was unabashedly unapologetic for our country’s success.
He was the great defender of capitalism. Reaganomics was hailed ingenious by the supply-side, pro-growth economists and harshly criticized as “voodoo” by the big government crowd.
Reagan proved that lower taxes and leaner government stimulates growth, spurs private enterprise, inspires harder work and enables more savings and investment.
The American people got it then, and they want it back now.
As we celebrate the 100th birthday of President Reagan this Sunday (or the 61st anniversary of his 39th birthday; he never missed a chance to poke fun at his own age), we should learn from The Great Communicator.
Americans want to be talked to again, not pushed aside by a government that talks above them. In Reagan’s inaugural address he said, "It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed."
The Gipper was right then, and he is right now. Happy birthday, Mr. President. And that’s just the way it is.
Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe proudly serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees and established the bipartisan Victims’ Rights Caucus to advocate on behalf of victims in our nation’s capital.
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