Finest Hour 123, Summer 2004
By Richard M. Langworth
“This week we were a people ready, in many cases eager, to show our love of country.” —CHRIS MATTHEWS, CC BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Ronald Reagan, and the figure Ronald Reagan had become long before his death, which so demonstrably lives on in the love of his countrymen and some in the world, are the possession not of America, but of the great democracies; not of our time, which he so powerfully influenced, but of the ages.
Now the noise of scratchy Thirties radio broadcasts, the footage from a score of films, the clattering mule train of “Death Valley Days,” the landslide elections, the striking air traffic controllers, the rolling speeches about “the ash heap of history” and “the shining city on a hill,” the echoes of Geneva and Reykjavik, the music between Ronnie and Margaret, the quarrels of Iran-Contra, the farewell message announcing a walk down the lonely road of Alzheimer’s—all these are now silent. There is a stillness, and in that stillness, echoes and memories.
Churchillians have noted similarities to a certain splendid memory we revere: the principle and determination (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”); the self-deprecating humor (“I’ll not make a political issue of my opponent’s youth and inexperience”); the political collegiality (“The Speaker says that here in Washington we’re all friends after six!”); the belief that there is no substitute for victory (“My idea with the Soviets is: We win, they lose”); the confidence that his countrymen could do anything they set their minds to do (“After all, we’re Americans”); and above all the contagious optimism (“If not us, who? If not now, when?”)
There is also a difference. The thousands attending Sir Winston’s funeral mourned not so much the man but an era of greatness that had ended with his passing. The thousands attending the President’s funeral were attending more of a celebration, reminded as they were of Ronald Reagan’s repeated assurances that the best is yet to come.
But comparisons are inappropriate, and far too easily indulged. President Reagan would deprecate being compared to the man he hailed as “the preeminent statesman of [the 20th] century.” Winston Churchill’s example has inspired many leaders from many continents. Those who rose to greatness, and a place in their nation’s memories, invariably displayed the Churchillian virtues. Ronald Reagan will always be remembered in lands where liberty is cherished, and freedom defended.