Happy Reagan’s Birthday!

Ronald Reagan was born on February 6, 1911. He was my President when I was growing up, before I entered my early adolescence. I was born on January 2, 1977, which was near the end of the Ford Administration. I don’t recall any of the Carter years, which is probably a good thing, since those were the days of the “misery index.” The only President I remember from my early childhood is Ronald Reagan.

I liked him before I even knew about his political positions, long before I heard the labels “liberal” and “conservative,” “Republican” and “Democrat.” He came across as a nice, grandfatherly sort of guy, yet he had a powerful presence. I vaguely remember when he was shot, since that interrupted my Saturday morning cartoons. I hoped that he would get better, and I may have even prayed about it.

My family always spoke positively about him, including the members who weren’t die hard conservative Republicans. My parents did not vote, for example, since their religious tradition was against it. But I never heard a word spoken against Ronald Reagan in my home, although I heard plenty against his 1984 Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale. During one of Reagan’s State of the Union addresses, my family was criticizing Speaker Tip O’Neill for scowling throughout the speech. The next morning, when my mom was discussing this incident with my Republican grandmother, my grandma remarked, “Yes, wasn’t that horrible? I didn’t think Reagan said anything bad.” And then, during the height of Iran-Contra, I was watching a press conference with my dad. As the eager reporters were jumping over one another to ask President Reagan their hard questions, I said to my dad, “Look at that! They’re trying to trap him. They’re treating him as the Pharisees treated Jesus!” “Yeah,” my dad replied. “He should just leave the room.”

One thing that I always liked about Reagan was his down-to-earth quality. He was the President, yet he came across as a regular human being. Whenever I watched the Sound of Music on television, I heard that President Reagan also made time to watch it when it was on. He loved macaroni and cheese, as did I. And he told reporters his favorite TV shows whenever they asked him. Once it was Little House on the Prairie. Later it was Family Ties. I loved both shows.

Other Presidents since Reagan have tried to manifest a down-to-earth quality, but something is missing now that existed back then. I honestly can’t tell you what Bill Clinton and George W. Bush like to watch on television. Maybe the media no longer appreciate the human side of Presidents. Perhaps things have gotten too polarizing, such that we no longer see our Presidents as real people with thoughts and feelings. Rather, we focus on whether or not they share our political philosophies. Reagan may have had his critics, but he still managed to make friends with people who disagreed with him. Reporters enjoyed his humor, and Reagan was good friends with his political nemesis, Tip O’Neill.

Today, Reagan is a polarizing figure, since he is the icon of the modern Republican Party, which many hate. But I’ve been blessed whenever I’ve had an opportunity to share with people his human side. I went to Jewish Theological Seminary, which leans to the left politically (except on Israel issues). In reaction to all of the liberalism around me, I gave a presentation on Ronald Reagan for my modern Hebrew class (in my stumbling Hebrew, of course). There was this one young woman in the class who was a die-hard leftist (and probably still is). “There is no good Republican,” I once heard her say. But when I mentioned in my presentation that Reagan grew up poor during the Great Depression, that seemed to affect her. She had always seen Reagan solely as someone who cut programs for the poor, almost as if he were a monster with no compassion. She had never thought that he himself had to struggle at a crucial time in his life.

And Reagan truly was the Great Communicator. Even when I didn’t understand politics and economics, I liked his stories and his patriotism. And there were times when he spoke to children in his speeches. In his farewell address, he said, “And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.” How many Presidents since then have spoken to the children of America? Reagan was the Great Communicator because he spoke to all of the American people.

A lot of politicians today claim to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan. But he broke the mold, as far as I’m concerned. I hope that one day we can have a President who is as modest, compassionate, decent, and real as Ronald Wilson Reagan.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Happy Reagan’s Birthday!

  1. FT says:

    Bravo James! Reagan was truly who a president should be! I believe it is going to be a long time (probably when we’re senior citizens) to see another person like his stature.

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