Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ronald Reagan, we shall remember 

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States died yesterday, aged 93.

Much ink will be spilled and much broadband taken over the next few weeks remembering the Gipper as a person, a politician, a leader, as well as discussing his achievements and legacy. A lot of the commentary will be written by those who have known and worked with him, or had a chance to observe his progress throughout his public life. I can't add much to it, except a personal observation.

The 1980 US Presidential election is the first one I can remember as a child. I recall newsreaders on the communist Polish TV telling us that we should all hope that Jimmy Carter gets re-elected, because Reagan would inevitably lead the whole world into a nuclear holocaust. Looking back, we know very well why the communists were so scared that this cowboy, as he was frequently caricatured in communist propaganda, would get into the Oval Office.

Throughout the 1980s, during the Polish Spring of "Solidarity", and then through the dark winter of the martial law, and the slow decomposition of the system, Ronald Reagan was our undisputed leader in the free republic of our hearts. He was our beacon of hope, someone who understood our condition and spoke about it in our language. The Western sophisticates sneered when he spoke about the "Evil Empire"; we knew it was evil and that it was an empire - we lived in it. They laughed at him when he said that communism is being consigned to the ash heap of history - how ignorant, how simplistic, how unrealistic - we, on the other hand, took heart because we knew that for him it wasn't just an empty rhetoric; he meant exactly what he said and had every intention of seeing it through. In the end, he had the last laugh.

Reagan was one of the few politicians last century who genuinely changed the world, and changed it for the better.

I can't escape thinking that for the United States and the free world it's 1980 again. A bitter enemy, who despises everything that we stand for and cherish, who wants to destroy our civilisation and build their own totalitarian utopia, is on the march, emboldened by years of compromises and appeasement. Will the people turn to a Democrat, who occasionally talks tough but whose heart isn't really in it, or will they choose a Republican, a "war-monger" and a laughing stock to the sophisticated and nuanced crowd, but for the rest of us someone who sees things clearly and is resolved to take the enemy on and consign him, too, to the ash-heap of history?

I know that I will be accused of being too simplistic; I know that there are always hundreds of differences between then and now one can point to, and hundreds of excuses not to do the right thing. But in the end it comes to a simple choice: do you just talk about freedom and democracy, or do you actually do something about it?

For their own sake, and for the sake of everyone else, I hope and pray that the American people will make the right choice in November.

As for Ronald Reagan, thank you. Not just for that candle that you kept lit in the window of the White House to show that you were with us, but more importantly for everything that you did to ensure that the candle wouldn't have to be lit forever.

P.S.: Check out the big compilation of the blogsphere's reactions to Reagan's death, at Tim Blair.


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