Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Happy Birthday President Reagan: "The future belongs to the brave."

It's his birthday and I can cry if I want to. I grew up during the Reagan years. I did, "just say no!" and went to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as a college student to teach other kids to say "no", too.

I remember vividly the Challenger crash and I remember Reagan's words. This last summer we visited NASA here in Houston and heard them again and I cried again. Here are a few paragraphs from the President's speech:

The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."


The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

I remember being astonished at the President's courage to tell Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall. From the speech in Berlin that started it all:

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I remember the President and his horses. His natural athleticism. I saw a special about Ronald Reagan the athlete and the first time his son beat him swimming and that Nancy cried. It was so touching--her love for her husband, her pride in her son.

I remember when the President was shot. We watched it on the news. We sat transfixed and shocked. Even those who hated Reagan, and many hated him, were dumbfounded.

This, for me, was really the beginning of media saturation. People say it started with the Vietnam war, but I think it began in a new way with Reagan. These were the years of Princess Diana, remember. We saw her wedding. We saw her dance with John Travolta at the White House. We saw President Reagan shot. We saw the Challenger Shuttle crash. We saw everything in a new way.

President Reagan was derided when he governed our country. He was a former actor. He wasn't that bright. He didn't know what he was doing. He was a warmonger. He played the cowboy. He was too American.

Ah well, critics have their job, leaders have another.

Finally, Reagan's friendship with Margaret Thatcher reminds me of George W. Bush's with Tony Blair. Few leaders in the free world have been so aligned and maligned at the same time. It takes courage and a clarity of vision. Thatcher new this. She said:
“To have achieved so much against so many odds and with such humor and humanity made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero,” Thatcher added.

Both were conviction politicians, united in certainty about their anti-communist, free-market views.

Reagan, Thatcher once wrote approvingly, “did not suffer from the dismal plague of doubts which has assailed so many politicians in our times and which has rendered them incapable of clear decisions.”

I'm happy to remember this leader today. In fact, I remember President Reagan every day. One of my son's, named after a very dear, liberal, Democrat Jewish friend of mine, is given the middle name "Reagan". I called my friend to tell him the baby was born and that he was healthy.

"What's his name?"

I told him.

"Get out of town!" He was delighted. "What's his middle name?"

I told him, "Reagan."

First there was silence and then he laughed and laughed and laughed while shouting to his wife the hilarious news of his new namesake.

"Well, he had to have some sense," I said. Actually, if my boy is anything like President Reagan, he'll have a lot of sense. That's what I'm hoping for.

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