Goodbye, President Reagan
By Richard Zowie
Years ago I pictured myself crying when former president Ronald Reagan passed away. But when he did die June 5 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's Disease, I shed no tears though I did feel sadness for his family. But in my faith I believe President Reagan is in a much better place now, where his memory is crystal clear and where he can once again joke about others and himself. Who knows-perhaps now he's helping himself to an eternally bottomless bowl of jellybeans and catching up with friends and family members who went on before him.
For us here on earth, the loss is great. Gone in America is a conservative icon, credited by many with bringing the country out of economic turmoil in the 1970s, boosting the military back to respectability and battling communism.
When I studied Russian in the Army at Defense Language Institute in Presidio of Monterey, Calif., I discovered that many Russians (including my teachers) adored Reagan. They saw him as the man who helped to bring the hated and despised Soviet Union to its knees. (Former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, on the other hand, wasn't that well liked). Even today it still astounds me that many in America didn't grasp Reagan's urgent concerns over matching the former Soviet Union in military might. Many disliked Reagan's attitude of "trust but verify," but they were either ignorant of communism or were simply ignoring the words of the late Soviet Union leader Vladimir Lenin, who once declared: "Treaties are like pie crusts, meant to be broken."
When I look at Reagan, I see a man of principle that is fairly rare today. Many politicians are too concerned over the way they dress, the way their hair is done, and too much over what the popular opinion in the country is. (Opinions are often mercurial, and popular opinions aren't always the right ones). Reagan was notorious for his dislike of opinion polls and focus groups, preferring to make decisions based on more on his own conscience than what the public allegedly thought.
To the horror of many in the media, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." He also walked out of a nuclear arms talk with Gorbachev in 1986 rather than accept a compromise that would've threatened America's national security and limited its pursuit of Strategic Defense Initiative.
In 1987, he gave a speech at West Berlin's Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Wall. Despite the pleadings of many to remove it from his speech, Reagan called out Gorbachev: "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!"
Reagan saw communism for what it inherently was: a totalitarian state where all freedom of speech (except for that which is in agreement with the state) is quelled and where the government attempts to do the same to freedom of thought. For a good example of this, read George Orwell's classic 1984.
Even for those who despised Reagan's politics, some of them might mourn the passing of a man whose humor (often self-deprecating) and optimism were incorrigible. When he wasn't telling Americans about how great a country America was and the vision he had for further greatness, he was telling reporters once that despite his best efforts he wasn't able to swirl his hair the way it was caricatured in political cartoons. He liked to modify movie lines, once saying: "I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers-Go ahead. Make my day." When he was shot, he told his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" and later told the doctors, "I hope you're all republicans."
I can imagine such a line had to make even staunch democrats like Barbra Streisand laugh.
Goodbye, Mr. President. Someday we'll see you again.
Richard Zowie is a reporter and columnist for the Times Guardian. He is exactly 62 years younger than President Reagan (Richard was born Feb. 6, 1973 while Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911). Send comments to email@example.com.