Tags: Presidential History | Religion | axis | carter | thatcher

Reagan's Birthday — Remembering Optimism Always Wins

Reagan's Birthday —  Remembering Optimism Always Wins

President Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Reagan, California governor George Deukmejian and wife, in an undated photo. (Joe Sohm/Dreamstime)

By Friday, 05 February 2021 03:12 PM Current | Bio | Archive

This coming weekend marks the 110th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s birth, and never has there been a more critical time for to reflect on his legacy.

I am what you might call an expert on Reagan, if you don’t already know me.

I first met the Gipper in my early 20’s, during the late 1970s when politics still made some sense and the GOP was still nursing its wounds from Gerald Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter (in 1976).

The Republican Party, much like today, was looking for direction and ways to broaden its appeal to more voters.

Reagan himself seemed an unlikely candidate for the job of not only remaking the GOP but also winning back the White House when I first met him.

He was considered an outsider and former movie star by the media.

Yet this boy born to a poor family in Illinois, who had once governed the Union’s largest state, defied expectations.

He went on to win the presidency in an unbelievable landslide both in 1980 and 1984, made the GOP more accessible to working-class voters, and swayed a sizeable chunk of Democrats to try something new by voting for him.

I’ve spent most of my adult life since those days chronicling pretty much every aspect of Reagan’s life, from his early days in politics to his defeat in the 1976 primary, to his eight prosperous years in the White House to his final decline from Alzheimer’s.

Who would have thought that the low-income son of a salesman would have launched a political revolution?

But indeed, the seeds of Reagan’s success can be found as far back as his childhood.

In particular, his mother Nelle instilled in him old-time Christian values of humility and loving thy neighbor, values Reagan carried into his political career.

This humility served Reagan throughout his life, as too did the optimism his mother’s religious teachings imparted to him.

Perhaps more than anything, Reagan’s optimism could be counted as his defining trait.

His ability to always look forward, not a bad thing for a conservative, was part of the charm that won him so much support politically.

When people talked to Reagan, they felt he truly believed they could do great things, because in fact, Reagan did believe that about his countrymen and his country.

It was this unshakeable optimism, born from a belief in human possibility, that helped Reagan win control of the party and the White House in 1980.

It was this optimism that helped Reagan guide the nation out of the economic quagmire brought on by Jimmy Carter.

And it was this optimism that helped Reagan, hand in hand with leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, face down the Soviet Union, bringing that evil regime to its knees.

Optimism is a commodity these days in American society.

Faith in our institutions is at an all-time low. The media is… whatever exactly it is these days. Civility seems to have vacated the halls of Congress, and we’re stuck in a pandemic with no end in sight and has stopped many of us from seeing those we love.

All that considered, there’s no law telling us we can’t be optimistic.

If there’s one lesson I think we should take away from Reagan’s birthday this year, it’s that perhaps regaining that feeling of hope is just the solution we need to all of this.

It can’t be any worse than the overrated, cynical sense of self-defeat that’s soaked through the American mindset like sweat in a rainforest.

Conservatives, as well as Americans in general for that matter, should remember that it was hope and optimism that helped give birth to our nation.

Sure, the Founders probably didn’t see it through such rosy glasses.

After all, at the time they only had 13 colonies worth of men to fight the strongest army in the world.

But there must have been some hope there because they kept going, and now look at us today!

Even in the darkest moments of the Civil War, when the country was literally torn apart and partisanship was 100 times worse than media pundits today can imagine, President Lincoln surely had hope.

How else could he have carried on for four years, fighting to return the errant South to the Union and end the tyranny of slavery?

If he had given up like Americans today seem prone to do, the Union might not have survived.

Moving forward, what kind of world would we live in today if we’d thrown up our hands in the face of the Axis Powers in World War II?

I can hear it now," Oh, the Nazis are just so powerful and control so much of Europe, there’s no way we can ever fix this!"

That’s the sound of Americans today who have lost hope talking.

But during the Second World War we didn’t lose hope, and Nazism fell while freedom prevailed.

You might ask how this all relates to Reagan and his birthday, and my point is that Reagan would not have made the country better without his ability to hope and to be optimistic.

He was blessed to be born to a mother who taught her son the lesson of optimism, something he carried from birth to the presidency.

Reagan was not a perfect man. He made mistakes, before and during the presidency.

But like any good optimist, he always picked himself up and went forward in the end.

That’s a lesson we as a country need to take to heart now and use to cut through the fog of defeatist, 21st century moaning that is preventing us from fixing our problems.

On Reagan’s birthday, let’s take his mother Nelle’s lesson to heart.

It may be just the thing America needs to pick herself up and move forward again.

Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include ''Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,'' ''Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America,'' "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and ''Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of The New York Times bestseller, ''December 1941,'' and his new 2019 book, ''Mary Ball Washington,'' a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater, and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. Read Craig Shirley's Reports — More Here.

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CraigShirley
Reagan was not a perfect man. He made mistakes, before and during the presidency. But like any good optimist, he always picked himself up and went forward in the end.
axis, carter, thatcher
1108
2021-12-05
Friday, 05 February 2021 03:12 PM
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