It was Friday night in the fall of 1981 at Milton Frank Stadium in Huntsville, Ala. Grissom High School was playing, and I was standing near Coach Stiles on the sidelines. The game was not going our way when Coach suddenly waved his arms in the air and yelled, “Herschel Walker, where are you?!”
It was one of those funny/not funny moments. Herschel was a sight to behold in college football back then and won the Heisman trophy the next year. Coach was invoking the name of the greatest running back of the day as a means of wishing he had a deeper bench to work with that evening under the lights.
Today, when I look at the state of politics, I want to yell, “Ronald Reagan, where are you?!”
We’ve just had the first GOP primary debate. I see statesmanlike demeanor in some of the candidates. There are some Reaganesque glimmers of hope. But there is no consistency yet.
I say yet because I sense a turning. There is growing dissatisfaction with status quo politics and establishment solutions. Regardless of who prevails in the end, we need a new face to rise.
What was it about Reagan that still sparks a sense of hope? Aspects of his presidency and phrases he coined are still referenced today. Referring to the United States as a “shining city on a hill” he espoused a “rendezvous with destiny” that resonated with Americans. It was the “Reagan era,” a time of “peace through strength.” Reagan marked the end of the Cold War, advancing a “trust but verify” foreign policy. His term was vividly defined by leadership moments, such as when he defied his advisors and famously went to the Brandenburg gate in West Berlin to boldly say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan helmed a return to an age of prosperity, national pride, military strength, and international respect.
When Reagan passed away in 2004, mourners stood in line for most of the day on the National Mall to pass in front of his casket as he lay in state in the rotunda of the Capitol, his coffin flanked by an honor guard from each of the military branches. His connection to the public evoked passion and a sense of connection. The Reagan era was defining.
My father, himself a career Army Officer, talked about the Carter years in what he referred to as the time of the hollow Army. Dad was also able to serve through Reagan’s first term and the difference was night and day.
Reagan was more than just a great president. Something about him gave our country back its pride. He defeated communism without firing a shot. He revived the economy. He restored the sense that America was unapologetically free and that government was not always the answer. He was legitimately comfortable in front of a microphone, able to crack a joke or crack a whip – or both – without blinking or looking lost.
Reagan had a dynamic Hollywood career, entering politics at a relatively late age. He was nearly 56 when first elected to public office and nearly 70 when he became president.
But what Reagan lacked in political experience he made up in leadership. With oratory skills honed decades before entering public life, he had the ability to deliver mere words in a way that grabbed hearts and minds. He came out early and strong in opposition to Communists in Hollywood labor battles, and his work as spokesman for General Electric in the 1950s made him a television star.
But the real kicker came when Reagan gave a 1964 televised speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Known as the “Rendezvous With Destiny” speech, it is said to have jumpstarted his political career and should be mandatory viewing in civics classes today.
Californians at that time were experiencing big government, high taxes, urban riots, campus unrest, and antiwar protests, all of which sound eerily familiar. Reagan was elected to two successful terms as governor of the Golden State. In 1980, after suffering through the Carter years, Reagan won the nomination to be the Republican candidate for U.S. president. Four years later, I was old enough to cast my first vote for his reelection.
I say all this to point out that the years leading up to Reagan’s election were tumultuous. The U.S. economy was in the pits, public spirit was in despair, and our national image was tarnished. Foreign governments struggled to respect the U.S. as a force on the international stage.
But keep this in mind, my friends: It took a Carter to bring us a Reagan. Think about it, and let that sink in. It took a Carter to bring us a Reagan.
This past week I watched in amazement as the current U.S. president took his second vacation in a month. While whole communities in Hawaii burned, he vacationed on the beach, and when asked to visit the devastation, he took a short break from his nine-day vacation at Lake Tahoe. We are watching one of the most tone-deaf presidencies in U.S. history, and 2024 can’t get here soon enough.
I am not at all enamored with our current president. I respect and salute the office but I want a new office holder. I am already searching the horizon for 2024, and I believe we may find that it took a Biden to bring us the next Reagan.
Ronald Reagan, where are you?! Stay tuned folks. There’s one coming!