A Rare Moment of Unity
When President Ronald Reagan passed away in 2004, I was still living and working in the Baltimore-Washington area. Reagan’s passing triggered something not just in me, but in the whole country.
Reagan was president when I came of age politically. I was too young to vote for him, but like many my age, I saw him as the champion of America. Reagan-Bush ‘84 signs dotted the fruited plains then and are icons of our past now. They even turned up in Stranger Things.
Reagan restored America’s pride after Watergate and Vietnam. Many Americans saw the Soviet Union as ascendant before 1980. He saw it as an evil empire to be defeated. He rejuvenated the economy. He rebuilt the military. And though it officially ended on his successor’s watch, he won the Cold War. His eight years in the White House were important.
Sure, sure, Iran-Contra. He also told the Soviet premier to “tear down this wall” in Berlin. And a few years later, down the wall came, and we witnessed a new birth of freedom with our own eyes. For those who did not live to experience the wall, the Cold War and all that, it is hard to put that astonishing moment into proper words or perspective.
During those eight years, the Democrats opposed everything Reagan did, lobbed every insult at him and suggested that he was a madman who would blow up the world. The media hammered him relentlessly. Comedians mocked him. The Great Communicator communicated. As life goes in these United States, a Republican president in death is treated far better than he ever was in life.
When Reagan’s body lay in state at the capitol, a friend of mine and I decided this moment was worth whatever it took to visit him. He was, for those of us of a certain age, the president. Even though he had been out of office for more than a decade, and had suffered tragically from Alzheimer's over the final years of his amazing life.
So we stood in line overnight for more than 8 hours, with thousands of other Americans who wanted to pay their respects. Despite the wait, there was no complaining among the more than 100,000 in line. Every minute was worth it. Surely not all of those who stood in line voted for him, supported him, or even liked him. We all wanted to be part of this moment.
This week we said goodbye to Reagan’s vice president and successor, former President George H. W. Bush. The 41st president’s passing marked the final end of an era: He was the last of the World War II generation to be elected president. That generation, the Greatest Generation, defended the world from tyranny and will pass from this earth soon. We lose so much every time a veteran of that war departs us. He could be called the greatest of the Greatest Generation, so rich was his service.