is in his final year in Torrey Honors
Institute at Biola University. [go to Guest index]
Death of a Great Man
A young American's meditation on Reagan...
Ronald Reagan was laid to rest early last Saturday morning.
Over the past week, the nation at once responded as an adult,
honoring an august leader, and as a child, grieving a parent
who died too soon. His funeral had all the trappings, tradition,
and honor that the government of this nation is able to bestow.
Just as the riderless horse must learn to function without the
familiar figure of its hero in the saddle, so a nation must learn
to carry on its work when the leader is gone.
I must admit that when I saw that Reagan had died, I, like many
Americans, could only stare and then silently bow my head, feeling
a mixture of sadness and relief that he was out of his pain at
last. I was born while he was in office, I was six when he was
out of office, and I only knew of him through reputation in my
elders and through my history textbooks.
How does a man, an actor, a football player, become a governor
and a president? How does a man establish a legacy that continues
to dominate a nation sixteen years after he leaves the public
eye? How does a man become so beloved by so many that a twenty
one year old college student, who only lived through the last
six years of his presidency, will mourn and shed tears for him?
Many intelligent men and women have made the case that we, as
Americans in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, live in
the middle of the cult of the celebrity. I have read and heard
much about the dangers of allowing this to happen. To see these
dangers, one only needs to realize that many Americans are getting
their political views straight from men like Martin Sheen, who
only plays a president on television. This is not intended to
be rude. I happen to like the acting stylings of Sheen. However,
the point remains that all too often we allow our attitudes and
opinions to be dictated to us by recognizable names and faces.
One reason President Reagan was so popular was because in almost
a subliminal way, his presidency, and indeed his whole political
life, vindicated the tendency of Americans to want to receive
their information and interpretations from celebrities. Among
Reagan's detractors, the most vocal are those who claim that
he had not a thoughtful bone in his body, but was such a great
actor that he was able to pull the wool over the eyes of America
for eight years.
Lest anyone think this could never happen to the astute American
voter, consider the years 1992 to 2000 and William Jefferson
Clinton as proof that it still could and does. That's not to
say that Reagan fooled America for eight years. It's just that
our American culture, which is stuck in the cult of the celebrity,
was one of the factors that made it possible for Reagan to achieve
the posts he held.
And not only the posts that he held, but his enduring legacy
is partly due to the same factor. Growing up as part of the MTV
generation, I don't remember ever watching Reagan on C-SPAN,
but I certainly do remember seeing images of him on MTV. Celebrity
plays a large part in the legacy of a leader. Apart from celebrity,
the second factor that made Reagan so popular was the fact that
he embodied the idea of what the American dream was meant to
The testimonials of those who knew him or were cognizant of
the effects of his administration reveal not just an overwhelming
approval of the man, but also of everything for which the man
stood. Reagan, an actor, a movie cowboy, decided that the world
was in such a state that he wanted to make a difference. He ran
for office, became the governor of California, lost the 1976
presidential nomination to Gerald Ford, and became president
While president, he saw an end to a dangerous ideological system
that had been victimizing innocents around the world for a hundred
years. He won the Cold War. America loves an underdog, and America
loves a winner. Reagan was both.
For a nation where a young man can go from a log cabin to freeing
slaves, the story or a leader who went from the narcissistic
back lots of Hollywood to defeating our most bitter enemies is
irresistible. And, as one writer pointed out, he did it all in
an age of cynicism and skepticism. He did it all in an America
that cared more for the dollar than the person. He showed this
country something real that made it and its citizens remember
the best things about itself and its history.
the third factor that made Reagan such a great president was
that he was such a great man. Those who admire him
call him such things as a, "beautiful soul", "great
man", and a "confident, cheerful leader". Those
who wish to detract can only point to the good parts of his personality
and twist them into something crooked. They say that he was, "stupid", "dangerous",
and a hypocrite.
Even as a 21-year old, it's easy to see the difference between
clever and ignorant. It's not difficult to distinguish between
a man who knows nothing and is a phony, and a man who knows enough
that he wisely keeps that which is real hidden from men who seek
only to destroy. The way to differentiate is to look not at what
was said, but at what was done.
strong, and able. He made mistakes as any man does, yet his
faith, as Paul Kengor writes, "shaped nearly
every aspect of his presidency". He believed in God and
he believed that the two ideologies of the world -- one based
on God and one based on atheism -- were at war in the guise of
the Unites States and the Soviet Union.
roared. He was a man who opposed tyranny and would not give
in to settling
peaceably with it, as so many previous
presidents had done. His legacy will be that he saw an end to
a dangerous, evil communistic system. "The Evil Empire",
he called it. His victory not only validated his beliefs, but
validated his leadership over a country that seems to have lost
its way without its father, Reagan, and its Great Father, God
Reagan the great man, Reagan the American spirit, and Reagan
the celebrity died last Saturday. It brought tears to my eyes
not because I knew him or even knew many facts about his presidency,
but because I am an American and proud to be one. The effects
of his administration still touch me, as well as millions of
others around the world, on a daily basis.
I wish I knew more about the man so that I may eugolize more
adequately. Fortunately, he is above my mere powers to add or
detract. I shed tears for our nation, for my parents, and for
what they have lost. I shed tears for the hope and beauty and
courage that were present in the person of Ronald Reagan, the
40th president of these Unites States. Goodnight, Mr. President.
May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. CRO