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  • Ronald Reagan and the Blind Children: A Story of Character

    6/5/2014 8:52:06 AM Posted by Cheri Cerame

    Reagan Memorial

    by George P. Harbison, CFO, Trident University International, LLC and YAF President's Club Member

    June 5, 2014  

    My friend, Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education, has written and spoken eloquently about the vital and essential link between freedom and character.

    Larry wrote, "Character makes all of the difference in the world.  You are personally in charge of your own character and are in a position to have a considerable influence on the character of others by your example.  If you have a conscience, this should matter a great deal to you.  If you value liberty, you must understand that character is an indispensable ingredient - a necessary pre-condition- for a free society."

    He also wrote, "I firmly believe that good example is the best teaching device.  We tend to learn and remember stories, especially stories of real people."

    One of the best examples I know of a story about the importance of character is one involving our 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan.  It is a compelling and inspiring story.

    In the midst of the 1976 Republican presidential primary campaign, Reagan was preparing to make a campaign speech in the parking lot of a shopping mall in North Carolina.  Just before the speech was about to begin, a woman approached Reagan's assistant press secretary, Dana Rohrabacher, and asked him if would be possible for Governor Reagan to spend a few minutes with a group of blind children she had escorted to the event.  Rohrabacher conveyed the request to Mike Deaver, Reagan's campaign chief of staff.  Reagan overheard the exchange between his two staff members and agreed to meet the children, but only if the press contingent was not present when the meeting took place.  Reagan did not want to be accused of staging a potentially poignant event for political gain, but he really wanted to meet the children.  Rohrabacher said later, "Can you imagine that?  He was in the middle of a presidential campaign, and the press would have gone wild for a photo of him with a group of blind kids.  But Reagan wanted this to be between him and the kids."

    Deaver concocted a plan in which he would escort Reagan in the direction of the campaign bus after the speech concluded.  This action, it was hoped, would lead the press corps to believe that the candidate was leaving for the next campaign stop and thus get them to board their vehicles and depart.  Reagan would then circle back and meet the children in the privacy of the area behind the podium.

    The plan worked.

    Rohrabacher described what happened next.  "The press guys all went back to their buses, and I brought the lady with the blind kids back behind the podium. There were six or seven kids, real sweet little kids about eight or nine or ten years old.  Since there was a lot of background noise - Reagan bent down, close to the kids, to talk to them.  But somehow I could see him thinking that that wasn't enough.  So after the kids had asked him a couple of questions, he said, 'Well, now I have a question for you. Would you like to touch my face so you can get a better understanding of how I look?' The kids all smiled and said yes, so Reagan just leaned over into them, and one by one these little kids began moving their fingers over his face to see what he looked like.

    "The only picture of that scene is the picture in my mind," Rohrabacher said. "But I can still see those kids, touching Ronald Reagan's face and smiling these really big smiles."

    Readers may have difficulty reconciling this tender scene with visions of Reagan, the fierce cold-warrior who stared down tyrants and worked fervently and relentlessly to defeat an evil empire and its hideous ideology.  Actually, the apparent dichotomy is not hard to reconcile at all.

    Ronald Reagan, perhaps more than any president since the early days of our republic, understood the fundamental right of (and basic human need for) freedom. To Reagan, freedom was the oxygen upon which the fire of life depended.  Hand-in-hand with this understanding was his clear vision and appreciation of fundamental human rights and needs.  Reagan's character and innate moral compass directed him to work tirelessly to break down all barriers to basic human rights and freedoms wherever he found them.

    To the blind children, this meant offering up his face to their touch so that they could compensate for their physical disability and thus "see" him and get to know him.

    To America, this meant enacting legislation as president to reduce high individual income tax rates and rein in stifling business regulation in order to re-ignite the moribund U.S. economy.  By any measure Reagan's economic policies, all based on his desire to enhance basic individual economic freedoms, worked spectacularly well in growing the economy, bringing down inflation, and lowering unemployment, thus improving the economic well-being of a broad cross-section of the American populace.

    To the rest of the world, this meant leading the fight against communism, an ideology that crushed the human spirit and laid waste to the individual freedoms, aspirations and dreams of billions of people around the globe.

    Unlike the circumstances of the blind children, the suffering and misery brought about by communism were entirely the result of human design and intention.  This infuriated Ronald Reagan to his core.  There was genuine, palpable anger in his voice when he famously beseeched Mikhail Gorbachev (in perhaps the greatest spoken words of the twentieth century) to "tear down this wall!" while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987. 

    In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, followed in late 1991 by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.  Burdened already by its stark incompatibility with human nature, Soviet communism's ultimate demise was hastened by the courageous actions and principled leadership of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II.  The world rejoiced as a billion human beings were freed from the shackles of a morally repugnant and evil ideology.

    In 2011, in honor of his 100th birthday, statues of Ronald Reagan were unveiled in Hungary, Poland and Georgia, and a street was named after him in the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia).  The people of these former Soviet-controlled nations fully recognize, understand, and appreciate the important and transformative nature of Reagan's principled character, his love of freedom, and his steadfast opposition to communism.

    Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States, passed away ten years ago today.  His inspiring, remarkable journey through life profoundly impacted millions of people throughout the second half of the 20th century, from seven blind children in a North Carolina parking lot in 1976 to millions of newly-freed Eastern Europeans in 1991.  Indeed, and beyond any doubt, Ronald Reagan proved that character and freedom are intractably intertwined.

    Author's Note:  Peter Robinson (the Reagan speechwriter who wrote the famous "Tear down this wall!" speech) wrote about Reagan's meeting with the blind children in his book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.   The quotes above attributed to Dana Rohrabacher were taken from this book.

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