This past November, Connie and I visited the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California to witness the presentation of the Reagan Medal of Freedom to General Colin Powell. Needless to say, it was a grand occasion.
Later that evening, along with 200 other invited guests, we had dinner at Chasen’s as the celebration continued. In addition to the Reagans and the Powells, it was a star-studded evening that included Bob and Delores Hope, Tom Selleck, and after dinner entertainment by Johnny Mathis. Only moments after Connie and I had agreed that the evening could not have been nicer, we received an invitation to meet with President Reagan at his office the next morning.
I delivered a letter to the president from Fred A. Lennon, our Chairman Emeritus and benefactor, and the president recalled his visit to the Ashbrook Center in 1983. We talked about the tragic deaths of Tom Van Meter and F. Clifton White, and the president was sincerely saddened at the loss of these two friends.
Our 10 minute opportunity was originally intended as a photo opportunity, accompanied by the usual courtesies. I presented Mr. Reagan with a copy of our latest publication, Defending the Reagan Legacy, by Hillsdale College Professor Mickey Craig, and the conversation deepened. President Reagan then informed Mr. Ryan to hold his other appointments.
We spent 45 minutes with President Reagan that November morning. The insights I gained on policy issues were interesting and informative, but they pale in comparison to the experience of sitting and talking personally with Ronald Reagan, the man. There is no question in my mind that he was the greatest president since Lincoln.
When President Reagan took office in 1980, the economy was in shambles, the military was unworkable and American morale was decimated, at home and abroad. Even before his first legislative effort, the nation began a turnaround. The citizenry was starved for leadership in which they could place their confidence, and Reagan gave it to them. There was no question that the presidential election of 1980 was a high-water mark in American history. People regained confidence in themselves because they had confidence in Reagan’s leadership. We knew that we could trust him to do the right thing.
Our visit with the president confirmed that the trust we placed in Ronald Reagan was justified. He is an intellect without being an intellectual. He stands straight, handshakes still firm, and he looks you right in the eye. He can give you straight talk because he thinks straight. He is a man of firm principles; principles that honor the best traditions of what it means to be an American. He honors self-reliance, well-placed ambition and charity. He is a good man, and he expects us to be good also. There is no doubt, also, that when we discussed some of his great accomplishments, he was unnecessarily modest, preferring to credit the character of the American people themselves for his success.
Those who attempt to revise the history of the Reagan years do themselves and their countrymen a great disservice. It was an era that should be emulated rather than distorted by revisionist history. Ronald Reagan was a hero.