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Guest Contributor
Isaac Pletcher
Pletcher is in his final year in Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. [go to Guest index]

The Death of a Great Man

A young American's meditation on Reagan...

[Isaac Pletcher] 6/14/04

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 be.

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 in 1980.

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.

Finally, the third factor that made Reagan such a great president was the fact 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.

Reagan was strong, and able. He made mistakes as any man does, yet his personal 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.

His actions 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 Himself.

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




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