If you didn’t live through the Seventies, it’s probably hard to fully grasp what Ronald Reagan meant to those of us who grew up then. Today, the Seventies evoke images of disco music, bad hairstyles and whimsical fashion choices. But back then, every night you would turn on one of the Big Three network news shows and hear a litany of defeat and decline – communists on the move in the Third World, strikes, inflation, and unemployment at home. And at the tail end of that miserable decade, a bunch of unshaven Iranian degenerates grabbed our people and paraded them for the cameras while the sanctimonious, waffling loser in the White House almost seemed to enjoy it as a kind of penance we had brought upon ourselves.
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Though staggered by Vietnam and its legacy, America could have flexed its muscles and seen the hostages freed in a day, but the vacillating Jimmy Carter preferred to let Ted Koppel drag out the humiliation on Nightline, counting off the days our people sat in captivity. Finally, Carter came to realize that his fecklessness was endangering his reelection chances, so he authorized a rescue mission so hobbled by arbitrary limitations that even America’s best could not make it work.
I awoke on the morning of April 24, 1980, to footage of the wreckage of American helicopters on the Iranian desert floor, the charred corpses of our men a testament to the kind of politician who left others to pay the price for his own weakness. I was so disgusted I refused to go to school.
The Seventies really ended the day Ronald Wilson Reagan was inaugurated. The hostages came home within hours. The Iranians understood they were no longer dealing with a self-hating American but with an American who believed his country was worth fighting for. And throughout the country a sense of optimism slowly arose that displaced the malaise that Carter and his liberal ilk reveled in.
Yes, reveled in. At some level, they believed that America’s legacy of “crimes” and “greed” made defeat overseas and economic misery at home our just reward. The kind of optimism, success and strength that President Reagan revived in this nation – well, these were undeserved and morally wrong. Our duty was submission, submission to the taxman and bureaucrat at home and to the inevitable march of leftism abroad. America belongs on her knees.
Ronald Reagan would have none of it. He understood his opponents better than the understood themselves – after all, he had fought them before.
It’s hard to explain the excitement of being a young conservative during the Reagan years. We were out and proud, a new force to be reckoned with on campuses across the country. Conservatives in the past had been tweedy, dorky weenies who listened to Beethoven while sipping brandy in musty clubs away from the peasantry. But the new breed shared Reagan’s happy warrior ethos. As my friends and I worked on the right-wing student paper California Review at UC San Diego, we pounded cans of politically incorrect Coors beer while cranking the Ramones.
Our articles weren’t fussy missives about how women should be in aprons pumping out kids or paeans to the good old days of the Hapsburg dynasty but smart, funny pieces mocking the commie antics going on right in front of us. It wasn’t the leftist “rebels” who got called into the dean about their outrageous “dissent” – it was us. And we loved it. Reagan made possible what P.J. O’Rourke labeled the “Republican Party Reptile” – a conservative who was not only cool but also, and this is important, happy.
Ronald Reagan always closed his campaigns with a rally in San Diego, and on November 5, 1984, he made his final appearance ever as a candidate. I was there, along with one of my leftist friends. It was amazing. Above a sea of American flags, President Reagan made no apologies and no concessions when it came to the United States – we are the shining City on the Hill and the future is freedom. Even my lefty buddy had to admit through gritted teeth that it was inspiring.
The Establishment and the media hated him, but the people loved him. His opponent, the glum liberal Walter Mondale, promised to raise taxes and end the rebuilding of our military. To Mondale and his kind, America needed to be hobbled like some sort of Harrison Bergeron. Ronald Reagan dismissed these wannabe Handicapper Generals with a laugh and a wink; he carried 49 states.
So it was no surprise that after college, I knew there was something I had to do before I started my career. The message of Ronald Reagan was not merely that “It’s Morning in America” but that our nation was exceptional, and that it needed to be defended.
I enlisted in the United States Army as a private and entered active duty December 1, 1987. I completed Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning and was commissioned a second lieutenant on May 26, 1988. Of all the diplomas, certificates and other credentials I have earned, my commission as an officer in the United States Army means the most to me.
At the bottom of that parchment, below the text entrusting me with the duty to lead American fighting men and women in battle, is a signature, the signature of the Commander-In-Chief who granted me that responsibility.
That signature reads “Ronald Wilson Reagan.”