Ronald Reagan was a fascinating man and a real hero even as presidents go. A couple of years ago I made it a goal to read everything I can find about him. I’m currently working on “Reagan, In His Own Hand,” a collection of hundreds of essays, radio addresses, and the like that Reagan wrote “pen to paper” prior to becoming president.
The myth of Reagan as an “amiable dunce” has long been dispelled, but it was once widely accepted. The book’s introduction quotes Reagan’s own National Security Advisor, Bud MacFarlane, as saying shortly before he resigned, “He knows so little and accomplishes so much.”
It’s now clear that Reagan knew quite a lot. More importantly, what he knew he also understood. In addition to being a voracious reader, he was a prolific writer. Those close to him say he wrote constantly whether at home or on the road. It’s not surprising, then, that Reagan came to be known as “The Great Communicator.” Writers are thinkers. And after years of shaping and honing his thoughts on all matters of policy, his words were his own—simple and true, clear and confident—just like the man.
It’s probably because of my teaching background that I’ve always thought of Reagan as “The Great Educator” as well. I admire the way he could build public support for his ideas by explaining the need for them and the reasons behind them.
Another thing that occurs to me (though I’m far from a presidential historian) is that most of our great presidents “had greatness thrust upon them.” They rose to the demands of extraordinary circumstances that were not apparent when they took office. Reagan seems somewhat unique in that his accomplishments were by design. He was speaking of putting an end to “the disease of Communism” years before the culmination of the Cold War. The “Reagan Revolution” was simply a matter of enacting the policies he had written and spoken about for years. In that sense, he was simply fulfilling campaign promises. His greatness was not only that he “rose to the occasion,” but that he held a great vision and was able animate that vision through his remarkable leadership.
As I read through the essays in this book, exploring Reagan’s vision as it was some thirty years ago, I’ll be sharing some of his words and ideas with you, as a way of reflecting on them myself.