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Ronald Wilson Reagan

Monday, 7. February 2011 0:53

As we celebrate President Reagan’s centennial, a reminder of some of his greatest speeches and moments on video as president and before:

His “Time for Choosing” address for the Goldwater campaign embarked Reagan on a career path that would see him not only as Goldwater’s successor as the conservative Republican standard bearer, but in fact would see him realize the vision Goldwater was denied in defeat to Johnson.

Before that, he would endure a bitter defeat on the convention floor for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. However, his rousing impromtu speech lead many delegates to regret their decision to go with Ford in 1976.

Undeterred, Reagan ran again in 1980. The Republican party would correct their earlier mistake from four years earlier and nominate him over the establishment figure, George HW Bush. Reagan won not only the Republican nomination, but the presidency itself. He would win in 1980 over Jimmy Carter.

Reagan’s politics always had an optimistic and up-beat tone. He was wont to describe America as a shining example to the world, a City on a Hill (echoing Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, which was itself an invocation of the Gospel from Matthew – “”You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden”). With the nation well into an economic recovery, Reagan ran on his record of accomplishment and a new “dawn” of American exceptionalism. This is well-illustrated in his “Morning in America” ad campaign for the 1984 presidential race. He would win again, in a landslide, over Walter Mondale.

Here is his inaugural address in 1981. And then his second inaugural address in 1985.

For a glimpse of his political skill and deft wit, we need go no further than his “there you go again” quip at the debate with Mondale in 84. But a nice story on Reagan’s wit can be found here.

As for his landmark speeches and remarks, there is the most famous – the “Tear Down This Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin which was a spur and a harbinger of the collapse of the Iron Curtain and presaged the end of the Soviet Union:

But even early in his presidency, Reagan was an implacable rhetorical and practical foe of the USSR. He rejected the predominant state deparment-oriented theory of Détente in relations with the USSR for a more vigorous and ideologically tough stance towards the USSR. This is evident in the “Evil Empire” speech where he takes aim directly at the Soviet Union. Many thought his posture was irresponsible…perhaps even dangerous. Others saw it as visionary. Reagan backed up his rhetoric by calling for and pushing for the Strategic Defense Initiative (derisively referred to as “Star Wars”…an attempt at scorn that failed when Reagan embraced the term):

Reagan’s political accumen, which earned him the title of “Great Communicator,” wasn’t merely on display in marshall speeches or political debates. Reagan and Clinton both had a capacity to capture a moment of American tragedy and connect with the American people beyond the mere perfunctory expressions of sorrow and sympathy. Best exemplifying this is the Challenger speech and the so-poignant quote from the poem “High Flight” that consoled us with the image of the lost astronauts slipping “the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” I remember watching it in school. Such a short but memorable eulogy.

Of course, the closing of the Reagan decade–or at least his own presidency (many see GHW Bush’s victory in 88 as Reagan’s vicarious third term)–was capped with the farewell address in 1988.

And, finally, here’s a nice tribute made shortly after his death:

Ronald Wilson Reagan, president and American Colossus. Happy 100th birthday, Mr. President.

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