I turned 11 just weeks after Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election that would make him the country’s 40th President. Naturally, I was not that well-read on current affairs at the time. I do recall a few things that seem to stand out even more profoundly now that Reagan has lost his battle with Alzheimer’s.
For one, I remember several years of general discontent at the end of the 1970’s. There were constant reminders of inflation, rising gasoline prices, concern over jobs, and the recurring images of blindfolded American embassy workers being held hostage in this mysterious place called Iran. Much of the blame for these things, of course, was placed on the shoulders of Jimmy Carter.
I remember thinking through the political campaign that year that Reagan wouldn’t win because he was too old. It struck me even then that most people wanted a brighter, more optimistic future, and I suppose I assumed that it would take a young, energetic man in the White House to pull that off. Reagan, to an 11-year-old, didn’t seem to fit the bill. I was wrong.
I remember after that election, during the weeks leading to his inauguration in 1981, a noticeable increase in hope in this country. No one thought Reagan would have all of the answers, but it was apparent that there were Republicans and Democrats alike who thought he might just have at least a few of the more important ones. I suppose it was Reagan’s own optimism that was contagious back then. Those older than I am will insist that John Kennedy brought a similar spirit of hope with him in 1961; and that Franklin Roosevelt carried the promise of happier days quite effectively when he took office in 1933.
But no president since Reagan, and certainly neither of the two candidates running this year, have quite the same magnitude of hope imbued in their campaigns. I think we will see another president who is able to work up that magic again, but perhaps not anytime soon.
It seems so simple today, that bright spirit of a “new morning in America” Reagan sold so proudly. It almost reminds me of a childlike innocence, not concerned about the future but rather inspired by its possibilities. I hope we can all find that bit of magic again one day.
For America, it is a new morning again. This morning isn’t as bright in some way because we must say our final goodbye to one whose love of country should be emulated by the rest of us, regardless of our individual political agendas. Ronald Reagan said his goodbye ten years ago, to a nation shocked by the news of his diagnosis. I end this piece the way Reagan ended his farewell message; there is nothing I could have crafted that would have demonstrated his unique spirit better than the words he committed to paper in 1994, knowing full well what his own future would hold:
“…Let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.
I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”