Opinion

Remembering my hero: A tribute to Ronald Reagan

He inspired a generation — my generation

I remember all too well the day that Ronald Reagan died. It was ten years ago this week. I got really drunk. And I bawled like a child.

Despite my penchant for old country music, I don't normally support drowning one's sorrows in beer. But I was dealing with some heavy stuff on this particular June day in 2004.

Just a month before, my beloved father had died. And now, my political father — the president of my childhood — was dead, too. The combination felt like too much to bear.

So I left my Fargo apartment and bought a case of cheap beer, drove home, and flipped on Fox News. They were running a never-ending montage of great Reagan moments.

"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear. Down. This. Wall!"

Gulp.

"I paid for this microphone!"

Chug.

"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc."

Tears.

"Slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God."

That sound you make when you can't make a sound without crying.

Look, for a whole generation of conservatives like me, Ronald Reagan was more than just a politician.

When I was a boy, my grandmother had two pictures on the wall of her living room that weren't of family members: Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan. It left a lasting impression.

Past generations had FDR and JFK. We had Ronnie. He had turned the nation around after the malaise of Jimmy Carter, survived an assassin's bullet, made Americans believe again, and won the Cold War.

And there was his heroic and moving response to the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I was at school, in sixth grade, when tragedy struck. It was replayed again and again and again on TV.

Later, President Reagan would address the nation from the Oval Office and had a special message "for the school children of America who were watching" live. I felt like he was talking directly to me.

There is little doubt that the emotional attachment I have to Reagan is partly due to his amazing skill as a great communicator. In a world where politicians' sound bites and talking points are poll tested and focus grouped, Reagan had panache, romance, and a flair for the dramatic. Burkean conservatives might find this repellent, but young people thirst for something great — something romantic and revolutionary. And Reagan — who famously quoted that romantic radical named Thomas Paine — could deliver. He'd make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of Reagan's passing. And today marks the 30th anniversary of his speech marking the anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion. Here's a brief excerpt:

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.

...

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.'"

Today, I'm raising a glass — in moderation — to my hero, Ronald Reagan. Thank you for making me believe.

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