When it comes to economic discussions I feel about as inadequate participating as I have slowly come to feel about participating in many of the theological discussions that pepper the blogs of my friends. There are far too many people who possess intellects that soar much higher than mine who dedicate their lives to the honest study of both disciplines, unbound by agendas, who come to vastly different conclusions on things. I would not dare assign blame or credit for any economic boom or bust to any one school of thought. Consider me an economic agnostic. Some say the boom of the eighties was because of a largely Democratic congress. Some say the boom of the nineties was because of the Republican presidencies of the eighties and the economic downturn under Bush was because of things Clinton did, while some blame the latter on the current Republican President and Congress. Who knows? I can't argue for or against Reaganomics.
I know a little bit more about foreign affairs, but not enough to claim any knowlege higher than anyone who watches the news and reads the paper. I agree that the fall of the Soviet system was the greatest accomplishment of the Reagan presidency, but I also think people make a very strong point in recognizing that the U.S.S.R. collapsed on it's own and the only credit Reagan should receive is due to him being the first American President who had the balls to confront and push down a tree that had long shown signs of decay.
I believe Reagan was one of our greatest presidents but I can't ignore the fact that, justified or not, he was seen as a very polarizing figure who marginalized minorities and the poor.
My head spins constantly with the complexity of politics, and yet it fascinates me more than anything else.
But one thing is simple and clear in my mind. As a fifth grader in 1986 who sat in a classroom and watched the replay of the Challenger disaster, I went home that January day feeling weird. Sad. A little scared. But that night, watching a President that I was told not to like by my parents (a reason many people still don't like political figures,) I felt a strange sense of comfort. I didn't understand all the things he said but I sensed his words expressed a much higher ideal and reality than what I had learned to believe in. And I felt more or less o.k. after hearing him speak. I then returned to my inherited political heritage and wouldn't rejoin kinship with Reagan until early in my college years.
Reagan's acumen with words should not be trivialized. One of my favorite scenes from any movie is in Contact, when Jodie Foster sees the horrible beauty of other worlds and comments that they sent the wrong person. They should have sent a poet.
Ronald Reagan was the poet we needed during very difficult times in our country's history. His speeches, most of which were his own words, even if a little out of sync with reality, held up a virtuous ideal for America. He made us at least consider the possibility that we are a great nation. He showed us, by action, that poisonous political divisions among government officials were ok before 5:00, but after the workday there was no such thing as Republicans and Democrats, just Americans. The thing I've heard most about him the past few days, from political friends and foes alike, was that he never, even when the opportunity was handed to him on a platter, spoke in a malicious fashion against another person. He really did appeal to our best selves and not our worst fears.
I fear Reagans optimism and vision for America is soon to be lost. Cynicism, the tool of the lazy mind, leaves no room for such idealized notions of America as a great nation.
But we are a great nation. We have plenty of scars and blemishes and even, at times, a tendency to blindly do evil things. But the great thing is that we, as a people, want to be good. We want to be great. Reagan told us we were great, and we believed him.
I'll close, as is the tendency for me when I don't have a good closing, with a quote from Reagan's farewell address:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.