Dave on Ronald Reagan...

Reagan Turned Us Around

An Uncommon Man

Reagan Turned Us Around

I didn't vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was only 17. But I would have voted for him if I could have. I was a student of history, and I was proud of what this nation had accomplished, from creating the modern democratic state and championing liberty, to winning WWII. I believed that America was the greatest nation ever, not just economically or militarily, but morally.

But in the 1970s, it had been getting harder and harder to feel proud to be an American. Worst of all, we had leaders who weren't proud to be Americans.

Ronald Reagan changed all that. He reminded us that we were the greatest nation on earth, and he expected us to act the part.

Now I've seen a similar turnaround in St. Paul, where I've lived for the past 18 years. St. Paul was once the butt of jokes.Our leaders seemed ready and willing to accept second-rate status. Our time had passed, they seemed to think. Our mayor seemed to think that our only hope was the benevolence of Washington.

But now that has changed. Why? I credit St. Paul's 1990s turnaround to an eerie similarity to the nation's 1980s turnaround: a two-term Republican chief executive who was a convert from the Democratic party. Mayor Coleman said we shouldn't be feeling sorry for ourselves. He reminded us that St. Paul is Minnesota's capital city. It has a glorious history. It's populated by great people. And together we can do great things. Many scoffed, but he was right. The transformation of St. Paul has been amazing.

written for and posted on the Center of the American Experiment website, June 2004

This was submitted as a letter-to-the-editor to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but was not published (June 2004).

Ronald Reagan: An Uncommon Man

A recent letter writer objected to President Ronald Reagan being described as a "common man," because he was a movie star, governor of California, President of the United States, owned a nice ranch, and had famous friends.

After some reflection, I find myself in agreement. Ronald Wilson Reagan was anything but common. Born to a shoe salesman and his wife, in a tiny town in the Midwest, he attended a small, Midwestern college during the depths of the Great Depression, then through talent and hard work became a successful actor, achieved fame and fortune, and was elected to positions of leadership by his fellow actors and fellow citizens. Ronald Reagan was a self-made man who realized the American Dream. He fulfilled the hopeful prophecy that "in America, any child can grow up to be president."

There's nothing common about that.

Much more common is for our presidents -- and would-be presidents -- to be born to wealth and privilege (the Kennedys, the Bushes, John Kerry), and to attend Harvard (JFK) or Yale (the Bushes, Kerry). Even the humbly-born President Bill Clinton, who attended Yale and Oxford on his own merits, found it useful to marry up for affluence and influence. (Though it should be noted he did so neither as well, nor as often, as would-be president Kerry.)

Somewhat ironically, another good example of an "uncommon man," who came from common roots to become president, was the man Reagan defeated -- former President Jimmy Carter. The peanut farmer from Plains also proved himself to be a most uncommon man, graduating from the Naval Academy, winning a governorship and the presidency, and being honored with a Nobel Peace Prize, all without the benefit of family wealth or fame.

Where will our next "common man" politician come from? That letter writer might be looking forward to a possible Senate run by liberal talk-radio host Al Franken. Franken, of course, is the famous and wealthy entertainer who graduated from Harvard after attending an exclusive Minnesota prep school.

Better keep looking.

page and website copyright 2004 David W. Downing