One of the great speeches of the 20th Century was delivered during this week in history, June 12, 1987. Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall—Brandenburg Gate, and demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, remove the barrier that was both symbolically and realistically the most prominent monument to a totalitarian state that most of us will ever (hopefully) see in our lifetimes.
Reagan used no Teleprompter and even stumbled a time or two. The columns behind him were not fabricated, they were real fortifications designed to imprison.
Less than three years after that speech, the Wall came down. The media celebrated as if they caused it to fall themselves. What had stood for years as a symbol of oppression and tyranny fell crumbling to pieces, seemingly overnight.
Certainly, it was not that easy.
Reagan found resistance from all quarters. The media and pop culture opposed him at virtually every turn. To them he was the crazy cowboy with his finger on the switch. Reagan used American strength, brilliant diplomacy and strong words to bring about change. Real change. Positive change. When Reagan talked change, he let us know exactly where he was going with it and how he was going to do it.
Exhibit A of the resistance Reagan faced at the time is this video, which was one of the most popular at the time.
A catchy song here by one of history’s greatest bands, Land of Confusion by Genesis nearly swept the video music awards in 1986. The video used funny looking puppets from a popular British TV show at the time to depict an inept, incoherent Ronald Reagan who went to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon (16:30 on the 24 hour digital clock.) During a dream sequence Reagan sees dictators like, Benito Mussolini, Muammar Gaddafi, Gorbachev, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. The clear inference was that Reagan, along with those other world leaders, were partners in crime, working to destroy the world and blow us all to bits with the escalating Cold War. Certainly, for those of us who were adults then, we knew that was a very real threat. The Cold War could’ve ended up badly.
Fortunately to us all, we had a president who had the courage to make the right thing happen.
In the video, Reagan is seen drowning in his own sweat, putting on Superman sweats (“Superman where are you now? When everything’s gone wrong somehow”) and eventually riding into town wearing a cowboy hat while on the back of a pre-historic rhino. Here comes that crazy cowboy who thinks he’s gonna save the day. Of course, Phil Collins and guitarist Mike Rutherford (who wrote the words) do not think there’s any way Reagan could be successful. Instead, at the end of the video, the crazy cowboy wakes up from the dream, he’s so inept that he can’t even drink a glass of water, he splashes it all over the place, and in the closing scene, while thinking he was calling the nurse, he hits the wrong button labeled NUKE and blows up the world. The crazy cowboy hit the wrong switch. Oh well.
This song was released 8 months before Reagan gave that historic speech at the Brandenburg Gate.
This is the type of stuff conservatives who believed in values, had to put up with back then (and it still continues today, of course.) Thanks to Reagan holding strong to what he believed, a billion people in the Soviet Eastern Bloc found the freedom that seems almost to be taken for granted today. As a result, America and the world are safer.
It’s hard today to imagine a divided Berlin, but again, this was only 24 years ago that Reagan gave that historic speech. Many, even within the Republican Party, thought he was being too provocative by making this demand on a foreign country. Certainly, the media, pop culture and the Democrats were appalled that the “crazy cowboy” would stand up for values like liberty and freedom and thus, would drive us all to World War III. It was not just a figure of speech that they believed Reagan was going to blow up the world, they put it in their music videos.
Thank God Reagan held strong through it all. It could not have been easy to deal with resistance from all corners of society. As we celebrate this anniversary, let us remember that we need those kinds of leaders today. Leaders who ignore what pop culture and the media think of their conservative values, and they still move forward promoting liberty and freedom for all. Like Reagan, those are the true “progressives.”