SUNRISE - SUNSET
June 6, 2004 - The sun has set on an American icon. Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States and the eleventh of twelve to serve two full terms, completed his journey through history on June 5th, 2004. Even those of us who found many of the policies he championed abhorrent to American principles and others foolhardy and destructive of the nation’s strength and purpose could not muster dislike for the man. At his best he called upon us to return to the traditional values of an America that had existed only in the scripts for movies in which he appeared. At his worst he permitted a shadow government in the White House basement to violate America’s laws and principles in the scandal that became Iran-Contra. Through it all he commanded the world’s respect and our affection.
In his campaign speeches he called on us to see the dawn of Morning in America. He was at his best when he spoke with confidence and conviction. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” became a ringing slogan while his renewal of the Arms race both pushed the USSR over the edge of bankruptcy while America kept its balance at the edge of the precipice. He left his successor with an economy in crisis and a foreign policy that left a tyrant astride the Euphrates, a radical theocracy implacably opposed to America stretching from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf, and client guerillas who would become Al Qaida stalking Russian soldiers in the mountain passes of Afghanistan,
If his administration hastened the decline of Soviet communism already headed for collapse it also set the stage for the new polarized reality in the Middle East and Central Asia. Saddam Hussein was a creation of the Reagan Administration, plumped up as a cold-warrior’s balance to Iran in the realpolitik of the Persian Gulf. So, too, were Al Qaeda and the Taliban armed, trained and let loose as surrogates to harass the Red Army in its own Vietnam. When a truck bomb destroyed the Beirut barracks and hundreds of Marines the Reagan administration reacted by withdrawing from Lebanon and with the quixotic invasion of Grenada. With that event and the intricate dance of the Iran-Contra trade of arms to Iran for terrorist held hostages in Lebanon taught Mideastern radicals that terrorism applied could bring even the world’s pre-eminent superpower to bay. The Reagan Administration sowed the seeds that have grown into the Mideastern whirlwind that the Western World must face to day.
If it was true as many of us firmly believed that Ronald Reagan’s political success stemmed from his abilities as an actor; reading his lines convincingly while someone else prepared the next page of the script; then he did so with talent and enthusiasm and created for us an image of strength and leadership. That image gave a measure of confidence and optimism to a nation that was badly in need of it. Ronald Reagan saw the sunrise in a national sky that had been plunged into a dusk clouded by assassination, war, betrayal, and malaise. His skill, honed by years as a second level screen idol and television pitchman, made America see it too. We forgave his faults and if lasting accomplishment escaped him so then did blame.
Ronald Reagan never forgot his lines. Even as he announced that he was at the start of a long and arduous journey, his final ride into the sunset, he called on the people of the nation to seek the dawn. That optimism was his gift to the nation and the one for which he will be remembered kindly.
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