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
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
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
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
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
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