Today is the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Lots of people are commemorating the occasion, and the celebration will include a tribute video aired before the Super Bowl.
I never met Reagan — although I did watch from the House gallery as he gave one of his State of the Union speeches — and I can’t relate any personal anecdotes about him. I can say, however, that Reagan, more than any other recent political figure, has demonstrated how the judgments of history and hindsight can be radically different from the viewpoints of the moment.
Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. during most of the Reagan presidency. At that time, many of the people in the Nation’s Capital dismissed and despised Reagan. A considerable portion of the political classes honestly thought he was an amiable but senile idiot, and they were appalled that he was President. Indeed, many of Reagan’s qualities that are now being celebrated — his unflinching optimism and belief in American exceptionalism, his steadfastness in the face of the challenges posed by the Soviet Union, and his belief in the power of free enterprise and democracy, among others — at that time were cited by his detractors as examples of a feeble, inflexible mind that was incapable of grasping and adapting to the nuances and subtleties of an ever-changing world.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Reagan legacy is that, only 30 years after he took office, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that Reagan was a towering historical figure whose presidency was a kind of golden era. The fact that President Obama, a liberal Democrat, views Reagan as a model of sorts probably says more about what Reagan accomplished than anything else. For that reason alone, Ronald Reagan’s birthday is well worth celebrating, and his legacy is well worth remembering.