Young America's Foundation

Join Our Email List

  • New Guard Inner
  •              Typically, history credits an individual with greatness once that person has achieved a height only surmounted by a few.  The achievement alone, sometimes despite unworthiness elsewhere in his or her character, defines the person’s claim to greatness. Reagan painted image

                One also finds greatness in a worthy soul.  Those around this person benefit from the optimistic energy brought to problem solving, the inspiration from one whose natural inclination is to support, and the simple kindness of a gentle human being.  The strength of character of such individuals inevitably pushes them to the top of their chosen endeavors.  Such men and women, the classical Greeks and Romans called “virtuous,” a designation of true honor.

                On Wednesday, America and Young America’s Foundation honor the birthday of a man who would have found greatness in any calling, but happened to follow one of his country’s highest.  We celebrate the life of President Ronald Reagan.

                 Friends and foes alike credited Reagan for allowing his character and values to serve as the foundation for everything else, whether they agreed or disagreed with the direction of his ideas. They started with the consistent practice of treating every individual with respect and dignity.

                Reagan speechwriter and columnist Peggy Noonan related a story to author James Strock about the president’s basic humanity. An elderly Californian once misinterpreted a fundraising letter to be a personal invitation to meet Reagan.  She embarked on a cross-country trip to meet him, only to be naturally rebuffed at the gates of the White House. Staff members, knowing the president’s nature, alerted him to her misunderstanding.  She was invited on an impromptu tour which ended with Reagan spending much of the afternoon in conversation with her. George H. W. Bush recalled that the president never failed to amicably greet groundskeepers and other White House staff.  Reagan also had time to mentor the youth through his work with Young Americans for Freedom.

                Cicero once wrote in a study of virtue “deny no one the water that flows by.”  In this case, Reagan shared his time and his kindness. He expected nothing in return, but did not neglect his other duties. 

                To lead a free society, one must face critics. Some, such as George Washington and George W. Bush, erected a public face of seeming indifference.  Others, notably Barack Obama, Harry Truman, and others, clawed back with angry partisanship.  Reagan followed a style pioneered by Abraham Lincoln and few others. He affected a genuine self-effacement that never compromised his dignity, yet remained an intelligent communicator of ideas and values.  As former attorney general Ed Meese recalled, to make Reagan express himself on anything but core convictions was like “saying Babe Ruth should have learned to bunt.”

                A quick wit and flawless delivery was part of the Reagan charm. With a straight face, he “attacked” 1984 opponent Walter Mondale on his “youth and inexperience” to blunt worries about his own age.  After being nearly fatally shot, he jokingly asked if his attending doctor was a Republican.  Humor went hand in hand with grace. Jimmy Carter had relentlessly and personally hammered at Reagan in the 1980 election. When called upon to dedicate the 1986 opening of the Carter Museum, Reagan gave a speech of such warmth that his predecessor admitted “I think I understand more clearly now than I had ever before why you won.”  Part of Reagan’s success lay in never allowing politics to be personal, no matter what the nature of the attack.

                ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson remembered Reagan’s confidence and security. Despite “sharp questions . . . he was secure enough that it rolled off his back more than it rolled off other Presidents’ backs.” After one somewhat contentious interview with then candidate Reagan, CBS' Mike Wallace was invited to an amicable dinner with both Ronald and Nancy. The often critical 60 Minutes correspondent summed Reagan up with “Fact is, seldom have I seen a politician so underestimated by the press.”

                   Even his beloved Rancho Del Cielo reflected a character defined by what George Washington called "republican simplicity."  His ranch home could fit over four times inside of Al Gore's grandiose Nashville mansion, but Reagan's house with its grounds are renowned for their simple beauty and tranquility.  It is the home of a leader like Rome's Cincinnatus, who when through with public life retired quietly to his farm.

                All too often, many get captivated by incomplete greatness.  Some are inspired by a great personality that is otherwise hollowed out. Others admire a figure of public accomplishment, but of malevolent personality.  Their public deeds are used to justify their private meanness of spirit. Reagan, however, combines attributes of public achievement and private generosity, serving as a strong model of classical virtue.

               Ronald Reagan was not a great man because he was a great president.  Ronald Reagan was a great president because he was a great man.  And even if he had never for a second aspired towards that high office, he still would have been a remarkable and a worthy American.

     

    Stephen A. Smoot is Director of Academic Programs for National Journalism Center, a project of Young America's Foundation

               

               

                

    • Readers' Comments

    • Nicely done, Stephen. I enjoyed reading.
      Posted by Kate Obenshain on 02/06/2013
    • Nicely done, Stephen. I enjoyed reading.
      Posted by Kate Obenshain on 02/06/2013
    • TF6LZd I think this is a real great blog.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.
      Posted by 237627 on 09/06/2013
    • KtM470 This is one awesome blog article.Much thanks again. Will read on...
      Posted by 678451 on 09/13/2013
    • Bc4R7L Muchos Gracias for your blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.
      Posted by 5762 on 09/24/2013
    • 9AClTo Really enjoyed this article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.
      Posted by 655713 on 09/24/2013
    • 1Yp6PC I really liked your blog.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...
      Posted by 151304 on 10/15/2013
    • D3yfut A round of applause for your blog post.Much thanks again. Really Great.
      Posted by 6849 on 10/24/2013
    • 6Iw24Q Im thankful for the blog. Really Cool.
      Posted by 600869 on 10/31/2013
    • ZlDwki Enjoyed every bit of your post.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.
      Posted by 912783 on 11/18/2013
    • weYBk1 Major thankies for the article post. Cool.
      Posted by 35826 on 12/14/2013
    • rEw4JL Thanks for the blog post.Much thanks again. Cool.
      Posted by 12351 on 01/07/2014
    • 2tye4K I loved your blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...
      Posted by 5002 on 01/15/2014
    • dBYDi1 Hey, thanks for the blog article.Thanks Again. Great.
      Posted by 645190 on 02/28/2014
    • JGdDJU wow, awesome article post.Really thank you! Really Great.
      Posted by 43074 on 03/22/2014
    • A3Z45w I loved your blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.
      Posted by 48046 on 04/01/2014
    • 87HES1 Muchos Gracias for your article.Really looking forward to read more. Great.
      Posted by 1782 on 04/20/2014
    Leave a comment
    Name
    Email
    Comment
Copyright 2013 Young America's Foundation | 110 Elden Street, Herndon, VA 20170 | Ph. 1.800.USA.1776 | Fax 703.318.9122
www.yaf.org | www.reaganranch.org | www.nationaljournalismcenter.org