When the talking heads with microphones and cameras show up, most of those in the long lines to honor Ronald Reagan say little more than, “It’s a piece of history,” or “You have to respect somebody who rose from nothing to become president.”
But their very presence suggests the bond goes deeper than mere affection or a desire to be part of history. We all knew many Americans had an affection for Ronald Reagan, but this outpouring, this massive willingness to wait for eight or 10 hours to spend 15 minutes in the presence of a casket is an unexpected phenomenon.
A minister from San Dimas, Calif., interviewed by the Washington Post, may have put his finger on a big piece of it: “Reagan was a visionary,” he said. “A lot of politicians give us information. He gave us ideas.”
More specifically, perhaps, Ronald Reagan was deeply steeped in and strove to revitalize the vision of this country’s founders, of a country of people free to set their own goals and accomplish what they could with as little guidance and hindrance as humanly possible from kings, princes and potentates. He just said it more memorably than most of us.
As he put it in his first inaugural address: “If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before.”
As a practicing politician, Reagan had to set priorities, to focus on a few issues he thought were paramount and let other important ones slide, and to compromise often. It is easy to find shortcomings in his official actions.
As a political leader, President Reagan knew the importance of words and ideas to spark national renewal. He knew there was only so much government can do, much of it negative, but almost no limit to what free people who believe in themselves and are inspired to reach above and beyond can accomplish.
We would like to believe that is part of the reason so many Americans respond to him on such a profound level.