Ronald Reagan's Hope for the (Conservative) Hopeless
by Ken Barnes 11/19/2012 / Politics
Don't Give Up the Ship
It was election night 2012 and it was becoming clear that Barak Obama would be reelected to another four-year term as President. The Republicans were starting to analyze why President Obama had been able to pull off this crushing defeat. Finger pointing and recrimination was starting to arise from the battered Republican political landscape. The mood was somewhat pessimistic, but there was one voice among the many that resonated a different tone. This voice was like one crying in the wilderness, alone and isolated, that challenged the pessimism and despondency in the air that night. Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News, exclaimed that he was not discouraged. He believes that there is arising a "new generation of Reagan-esque leaders". He mentions young leaders like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and others he describes two days later in the Washington Post as "philosophically rooted and politically fluent in the new constitutional conservatism". He admits there may not be another Reagan among them, but there is an emerging generation who will "do conservatism but do it better".
The Reagan Mystique
As I read this article I was struck by the fact that just the mention of the name of Ronald Reagan can bring, politically speaking, hope to the hopeless. What was it about this iconic figure that made him appeal to young and the old, rich and the poor, black and white, fourth generation or first generation immigrants, Republicans and Democrats? Like no other recent political figure, he was able to bridge the political, racial, social, gender, and generational divides so prevalent today. The evidence of this came in 2003 when Mr. Reagan succumbed to the long goodbye of Alzheimer's disease, as untold numbers of all types of people lined the highways and byways to express their love and affection for this bigger than life figure.
Many close to him have said that he was a man who never lost sight of his roots. What were those roots?
A Truly Modest Man
Mr. Reagan's spiritual input came mainly through the life of a godly mother, Nelle Reagan. Paul Kengor in his book God and Ronald Reagan, describes Nelle Reagan as a pillar in her church, the Disciples of Christ (commonly know as the Christian Church); second only to the Pastor in visibility. She believed in prayer ministered to prisoners and would often open her home to help them transition them back into society.
Many felt that if Nelle had been educated she would have taken the pulpit herself. This godly woman was the main influence on his spiritual values and ensuing philosophy of life; a philosophy of life that led him to believe he was an instrument and servant of God on this earth. Mr. Reagan writes in 1987 in a letter to Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston, "My own prayer is that I can..perform the duties of this position so as to serve God".
What was it about this woman that instilled in her son the ability to be great but yet modest, and powerful but not proud? Interestingly enough, the answer may come from the margin of her Bible. In Nelle Reagan's old wrinkled Bible, the same Bible Reagan used for the swearing-in for his first term is an annotation that says, "You can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small". From those closest to this man we seem to hear a consistent theme. He is said to have been a genuinely modest man. He did not seem to have the necessity to impress. As the old saying goes, what you see is what you get. Reagan hailed from Dixon, Illinois, and the town mayor, James G. Burke once said, speaking of his small town values and religious upbringing, that "Reagan had no pretenses or excessive pride; you can take the Ronald Reagan out of Dixon, but you cannot take Dixon out of Ronald Reagan".
Mr. Reagan, though arguably the most powerful man on Earth, when he was with someone of a lower station in life, did not come off as I am great and you are not. This man must have realized that although he had risen to the highest pinnacle in worldly pursuits, in the eyes of God he was no different than the humblest servant. After President Reagan's death a memorial service was held at the First Christian Church in Dixon. Following the service those attending marched eight blocks to Reagan's boy-hood home in a light rain. As the crowd was standing in front of the house under multitudes of umbrellas, the Dixon Telegraph records that as the band started to play "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", one of Reagan's favorite songs, the clouds opened up, "drenching rich and poor, humble and proud, old and young, treating everyone equally, just as Ronald Reagan always had done". Mr. Reagan, through his demeanor, communicated to the common man; I am just like you.
The Final Encore
President George W. Bush finished his tribute at the President's Reagan's funeral by saying, "When the sun sets off the coast of California, and we lay to rest our 40th president, a great American story will come to an end". As dignitaries, Hollywood friends, and government officials were filing past the casket to say their last goodbyes to the "Gipper", Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and one of Reagan's staunchest allies in his fight against tyranny, slowly approached the casket. Seventy-eight years old herself and with her body racked with several small strokes, she paused momentarily, and then slowly bowed. It is a fitting postscript to what she had penned a day or two earlier in the condolence book; "To Ronnie, Well done thou good and faithful servant". At this awesome moment, observers at the funeral noted that as Lady Thatcher bowed, the sun slipped below the western horizon. It was as if heaven's choreographer had staged one last encore, but in this one the actor had not taken the bow, all creation bowed in a final gesture of thanks to one of its choicest servants; a fitting end to a life well lived.
Doing Conservatism and Doing it Better
So, let's do it one more time for the Gipper. In saying this I am appealing to a new generation of conservative leaders, be it Republican or Democrat, yes I said Democrat. Reagan was a man for all people. No, we will never see another Ronald Reagan again; after God made him He broke the mold. Though we no longer have the mold, we still have the model. A model for young political visionaries to emulate that makes us feel good about ourselves again, not through arrogance, but humility. A standard for new Reagan-esque leaders that enables them to relate to the rich and the poor without making us feel ashamed or bad about ourselves. Class warfare always divides people, but so does ignoring the just pleas of truly needy people. Addressing both ends of this equation may be the herculean task for the new group of conservative policy-makers. It won't be easy and it may be messy, but what choice do we have? Look at the election results; we are a divided nation. How would Mr. Reagan walk this political tightrope? Maybe he would do justly, by holding tenaciously to his conservative principles, but also love mercy, by reaching out to the marginalized and disenfranchised among us. How is this possible? Only by walking in Reagan-esque humility. My young conservative friends, if you tread this path you will "do conservatism and do it better", and we may see this divided nation become One Nation Under God again.