By: Phil Williams
It was Friday night in the fall of 1981 at Milton Frank Stadium in Huntsville. Grissom High School was playing, and I was standing near Coach Stiles on the sidelines. The game was not going our way, and all of sudden, Coach waved his arms in the air and yelled, “Herschel Walker, where are you?!” It was one of those funny/not funny moments. Herschel was a sight to behold in college football back then and won the Heisman trophy the next year. Coach was invoking the name of the greatest running back of the day as a means of wishing he had a deeper bench to work with that evening under the lights.
Here’s one for you: “Ronald Reagan, where are you?!”
That’s how I feel when I look at the current state of politics. We’ve just had the first of the GOP primary debates. I see statesmanlike demeanor in some of the current slate of candidates. There are some Reaganesque glimmers of hope. But there is no consistency yet.
I say yet because I can sense a turning. There is a growing dissatisfaction with status quo politics and establishment solutions. Regardless of who prevails, in the end we need a new face to rise.
What was it about Reagan that still sparks a sense of hope? There were aspects of his presidency, and phrases he coined, that are still referred to today. It was the “Reagan era,” a time of “peace through strength.” Reagan marked the end of the Cold War, and a “trust-but-verify” foreign policy. Referring to the United States as a “great city on a hill,” he espoused a “rendezvous with destiny” that resonated with Americans. His term was vividly defined by leadership moments, such as when he defied his advisors and famously went to the Brandenburg gate in West Berlin where he boldly said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Ronald Reagan helmed a return to an age of prosperity, national pride, military strength, and international respect.
When Ronald Reagan passed away in 2004, mourners stood in line for the better part of a day on the National Mall to pass in front of his casket as he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, his coffin flanked on all sides by an honor guard from each of the military services. His connection to the public evoked passion and a sense of connection. The Reagan era was defining.
My father, himself a career Army officer, talked about the Carter years in what he referred to as the time of the hollow Army. Dad was able to serve through the first term of the Reagan years, and the difference was night and day.
Reagan was more than just a great president. Something about him gave our country back its pride. He defeated communism without firing a shot. He revived the economy. He restored the sense that America was unapologetically free and that government was not always the answer. He was legitimately comfortable in front of a microphone, able to crack a joke or crack a whip, or both, without blinking or looking lost.
Reagan had a dynamic career in Hollywood and entered politics at a relatively late age. He was fifty-six when he was first elected to public office and nearly seventy when he became president.
What Reagan lacked in political experience he made up in leadership. With oratory skills honed over decades before entering public life, he had the ability to deliver mere words in a way that grabbed hearts and minds. He came out early and strong in opposition to communists in Hollywood labor battles and his work as spokesman for General Electric in the 1950s made him a television star.
But the real kicker came when Reagan gave a 1964 televised speech, “A Time for Choosing,” on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Also referred to as Reagan’s “Rendezvous with Destiny” speech, it is said to have jumpstarted his political career, and should be mandatory viewing in civics classes today.
Californians, at that time, were experiencing big government, high taxes, urban riots, campus unrest and antiwar protest, all of which sounds eerily familiar. Reagan was elected to two successful terms as governor of the Golden State. In 1980, after suffering through the Carter years, Reagan won the nomination to be the Republican candidate for president of the United States. Four years later, I was old enough to cast my first vote for his reelection.
I say all of this to point out that the years leading up to Reagan’s election were tumultuous. The U.S. economy was in the pits, public spirit was in despair, and our national image was tarnished. Foreign governments struggled to respect the U.S. as a force on the international stage.
But keep this in mind my friends, it took a Carter to bring us a Reagan. Think about it, and let that sink in. It took a Carter to bring us a Reagan.
This past week, I watched in amazement as the current president of the United States took a second vacation in one month. While whole communities in Hawaii burned, he vacationed on the beach, and when asked to come visit the devastation, he took a short break from his 9-day vacation at Lake Tahoe. We are watching one of the most tone-deaf presidencies in U.S. history. And 2024 can’t get here soon enough!
I am not at all enamored of our current president. I respect and salute the office but I want a new office holder. I am already looking at the horizon for 2024, and I believe we may find that it took a Biden to bring us the next Reagan.
Ronald Reagan, where are you?! Stay tuned folks. There’s one coming.
By: Phil Williams