I know the Super Bowl is grabbing all the big headlines, but I think there’s some news the day after that trumps it all.
Monday, Feb. 6, is the anniversary date of two hallmarks in history: the birth of Ronald Reagan and his so-called Reagan Doctrine. Some of my younger readers might not know much about either, so let me give you a few of my favorite highlights about both.
On Feb. 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan was born in a poor family in the small town of Tampico, Illinois. (If alive, it’s hard to believe that Reagan would be 106 years old.)
After playing football in high school and college, he became a radio announcer in Iowa, broadcasting for a variety of sports, including football.
History.com summarized the beginning of his television career in this way: “In 1937 Warner Brothers offered Reagan a seven-year contract starting at $200 per week. His first role was far from a stretch: He played a radio reporter in the 1937 B-movie ‘Love Is on the Air,’ and the Hollywood Reporter called him ‘a natural.'”
From there, his television career skyrocketed and became legendary. Reagan would go on to star in 50 films, and he later served six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. His fight against Communism started during his Hollywood era, when many in the field would be accused of being red sympathizers. Reagan was initially a registered Democrat when conservative Democrats were en vogue, but he changed his political affiliation to Republican in 1962.
In 1964, Reagan splashed on the political scene with a riveting speech, “A Time for Choosing,” at the Republican National Convention. Reagan was pitching for then-Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
In 1967, Reagan won his own political race and became the governor of California (for two terms) by defeating the incumbent governor, Pat Brown, by roughly a million votes.
But it was in 1981 that Reagan found his political destiny. He became the oldest person to become U.S. president – a status he maintained for more than three decades before the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Reagan and Trump do share several other similarities. I highlighted some last year in another column you might enjoy, “Top 8 similarities between Trump and Reagan.”)
History.com again captured the spirit of Reagan’s presidency: “As the 40th president of the United States, the former movie star was called the ‘Great Communicator’ for his ability to get through to ordinary Americans and give them hope and optimism for their own future and that of their country. Despite his lifelong opposition to ‘big’ government, he was credited with restoring faith in the U.S. government and the presidency after a long era of disillusionment in the wake of Nixon, Vietnam and economic hardship under Carter.”
In 1980, Reagan even preached about “Making American great again.”
One last time, History.com, explained it well: “Reagan began his foreign policy comments with the dramatic pronouncement that, ‘Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few; it is the universal right of all God’s children.’ America’s ‘mission’ was to ‘nourish and defend freedom and democracy.’ More specifically, Reagan declared that, ‘We must stand by our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives – on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua – to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.’ He concluded, ‘Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.'”
President Reagan will always be known most for being the president who delivered a roundhouse kick against Communism, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. His speech at the Berlin Wall, which separated Communist east from west, will forever remain an indelible image in politics and history. Anyone alive back then cannot erase his unforgettable challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, then general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Several years later, Reagan made the stunning declaration that he had Alzheimer’s disease, to which he eventually succumbed and died on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93.
I will never forget the first time I had the opportunity to meet President and Mrs. Reagan in 1986, when the first lady’s office called my secretary, inviting me to play tennis at the White House in support of her “Just Say No” anti-drug program.
My secretary then called me and asked if I would like to accept the invitation. I replied enthusiastically, “Of course!” Then I realized I had never played tennis in my life! So, I hired a private tennis instructor to give me some lessons. I only had 10 days before the event. No pressure!
I was so nervous during my first tennis match at the White House that I hit the ball so hard, I think it landed on Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. T, the actor, was the referee, and he said, “That’s all right Chuck. You’re doing great.” (That was an overstatement, but I appreciated it, nonetheless.)
After the tennis event, I was invited with the other celebrities to a meet-and-greet in the White House. When I met President Reagan and first lady Mrs. Reagan, I was so impressed by how genuine both of them were. When they talked to you, you felt like you were the only person in the room.
I had other opportunities through the years to visit with President and Mrs. Reagan, and they are memories I will always cherish.
It is impossible to overstate the influence of Ronald Reagan upon America and the world. The same can also be said of Nancy. In fact, since her passing, it’s been repeatedly said, even by her son Ron at her funeral: “There would be no President Reagan without Nancy Reagan.”
I don’t know what one does your first year in heaven, but I can almost guarantee that Nancy is up there right now celebrating Ronny’s earthly birthday with him and other loved ones – maybe even watching one of his American classic films.
President Reagan offered amazing leadership, wisdom and even quips to the world, and we would fare well to listen and harken anew to some of it on this special anniversary.
Let me finish with my favorite quotes from President Reagan:
My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes. [He was joking!]
When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.
The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
Man is not free unless government is limited.
I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.
If we ever forget that we are One Nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.