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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

Yesterday's celebrations and Reagan…
[Doug Gamble] 7/5/05

Californians in cities and towns all over the state turned out yesterday for 4th of July parades, many holding a hand over their heart and feeling a lump in their throat as the Stars and Stripes went by. I was at the annual Independence Day parade in Coronado, one with a pronounced military flavor reflecting the presence in the San Diego-area city of a naval air station and an amphibious base, where the Navy SEALs are trained.

While parades and fireworks stimulate our pride, there was a time not long ago when the special feeling of heart-on-your-sleeve patriotism, now experienced mainly on this day or in the aftermath of a terrible event like 9/11, permeated the country much of the time. It was during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. When he said in the 1984 presidential campaign that he saw an America where every day is the 4th of July, he meant it.

It’s possible we may never again have a president who will be such a champion of patriotism. From his inaugural speech in January, 1981 to his farewell Oval Office address to the nation in January, 1989 and many speeches in between, Reagan constantly used his bully pulpit to remind Americans that theirs’ is the greatest country on earth.

Certainly no president since Reagan has had the ability to invoke such swells of patriotism within us on a regular basis. In the case of George H.W. Bush, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to but that he was uncomfortable showing his feelings. He would routinely excise emotional phrases from his speeches because he knew if he spoke them he was likely to cry.
As for Bill Clinton, whereas Reagan always kept America at center stage, Clinton used America as the stage itself. While the Reagan presidency was all about America, Clinton’s was all about Clinton.

And while George W. Bush used some Reaganesque rhetoric to help heal the wounded heart of a distraught nation in the days and weeks following 9/11, he has not frequently tapped the vein of patriotism as Reagan did. While Bush often speaks of freedom he usually does so without Reagan’s depth of feeling, and usually minus the inspirational anecdotes about average Americans’ tragedies and triumphs Reagan used so effectively to inspire us.

Reagan was aware America had reached a post-World War II peak of patriotism during his years in office, and wanted it maintained. In his goodbye speech as president he warned that the “new patriotism” that swept the country in the 1980’s would fade away unless it was reinforced by constant reminders of America’s past and present greatness. He called it “reinstitutionalizing patriotism.”

He said the educational system “must do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise -- and that freedom is special and rare.”

Unfortunately Reagan’s words have not been heeded, as most educators refuse to recognize that patriotism or love of freedom has any role in American life. How can students who do not learn about the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers, our greatest presidents, our role in World War II, etc. truly appreciate this country’s greatness and why they are so blessed to live here? If those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, those who refuse to teach U.S. history condemn America to diminished patriotism.

If there were such a thing as a “state of our patriotism” address, it would likely conclude that U.S. patriotism continues to shine but does not burn as brightly as it did two decades ago. A controversial national election in 2000, the war in Iraq and political partisanship that sometimes descends to hatred of opponents has tended to push our love of country into the background.

Reagan, giving credit to “we the people” for the country’s accomplishments during his presidency, said we’re “an extraordinary breed we call Americans.” We are. And the greatest tribute we could pay to our 40th president a little more than a year after his passing is to resolve to never take our freedoms for granted and to appreciate America as though every day were the 4th of July. CRO

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly column for the Orange County Register and

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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