The Great Liberator
As have many of my countrymen, I have been moved today by the funeral ceremonies of President Ronald Reagan. In what may be the most moving eulogy of my lifetime, Margaret Thatcher summed up a life and a time that so changed the world. At the end of this brief essay, I give you the full text of her affecting tribute.
We will return to our usual beat of finance next week, but this week I offer a few personal thoughts on the passing of "The Gipper."
Much of this week has been a warm and deserved tribute to Ronald Reagan, the man and the visionary. It has been a welcome respite from the truly partisan climate in which we find ourselves emerged.
But it is a climate with which Reagan himself was much familiar. Much of his term was mired in controversy and political bitterness. Who can forget his nomination of Robert Bork, which has inspired a new word in our national political vocabulary? The political climate was one of emotionally charged rancor, typified so sadly by one scene which Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal described thusly: "The air burned with political antipathy. I recall in 1985 attending a confirmation hearing [for the very decent and gentlemanly Ed Meese, who was nominated for Attorney General]. The confirmation was a long ordeal whose details are forgotten. But on this day, Senator Joe Biden ended along, dramatic denunciation of Mr. Meese by intoning, twice, that the nominee was 'beneath contempt.' There was a sound in the silent room. It was Mr. Meese's wife seated behind him, sobbing violently. The Bork confirmation, this [political] war's most famous assassination, was two years away."
Much of academia and the intellectual crowd were horrified at Reagan's direct, and to them unsophisticated and undiplomatic, foreign policy. His opponents urged the moral equivalency of other systems, and most specifically communism. For Reagan, it was simply the evil empire.
His opponents attacked his intellect, disparaging him as an actor, and a second rate one at that. They were furious that he cut taxes, increased defense spending and ran up huge deficits.
But it was not just at home that Reagan was disparaged. The French and much of Europe viewed him as naive and simplistic. He was called a cowboy. They were afraid of his politics, and thousands would protest upon his visits to Europe. The Soviet Union, they intoned (with the exception of Thatcher) was to be "negotiated with" and not confronted.
And they were wrong. As a direct result of his "simplistic" policy ("We win. They lose," he once famously said at the beginning of his first term), the Evil Empire collapsed and Reagan forged the very beginning of an alliance with a former enemy. He openly backed Volker in his fight against inflation, although it created a deep recession. (What politician today would openly embrace a recession that was for the long-term good but would create short term pain?) His tax cuts and the economic stimulus set the stage for the greatest economic boom in human history. And today, much (though certainly not all) of the US and the world looks back with a much more pleasant view of what was a very unpleasant political time.
As Margaret Thatcher notes, "And so today the world - in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev and in Moscow itself - the world mourns the passing of the Great Liberator."
Sadly, not much has changed. Once again, the world faces an Axis of Evil. Once again the leader of the free world is called simplistic and a cowboy, both at home and abroad. His policies are opposed, his nominations rejected and the political climate is charged, if not poisoned. He has a controversial attorney general, among other appointments. Like Reagan, Bush entered his time at the beginning of a recession. Taxes are lower and deficits are soaring higher. And a confrontation with an enemy is questioned in most of the world. And, like in the 80's, we shall not know the outcome for many years. While there are those small spirits who wish the world ill so that their political opinions can be shown to be "right," right thinking people can only pray that in the hopefully far-off future that those who come to eulogize George W. Bush will look back and find that the world was a better and more peaceful place for his resolve.
The Iron Lady Still Has Her Magic
There they were. The Iron Lady, Baroness Thatcher, sitting next to Mikhail Gorbachev at the funeral. I had watched them as they paid their respects to Reagan under the Capital Dome. You could see they were moved, as they remembered the man with whom they had acted upon the largest stages of the world, forever changing the course of human events.
Her doctor would not allow her to speak, so she recorded her eulogy. She was seemingly frail as she moved around the capital. Would she, I wondered, be able to find that part of her which earned her the title "The Iron Lady?"
She did, and then some. I am sure my English friends know of a more dramatic speech by the Prime Minister, but I can remember none. It was warm and yet showed the old fire within her. Is there a man with soul so hard who did not tear up listening to her speech? I will close with a few brief comments after we read the text of Baroness Margaret Thatcher's eulogy at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan:
The Great Liberator
Remarks by Baroness Margaret Thatcher
We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend. In his lifetime Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism. These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy with risk.
Yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit. For Ronald Reagan also embodied another great cause - what Arnold Bennett once called 'the great cause of cheering us all up'. His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation - and ultimately from the very heart of the evil empire.
Yet his humour often had a purpose beyond humour. In the terrible hours after the attempt on his life, his easy jokes gave reassurance to an anxious world. They were evidence that in the aftermath of terror and in the midst of hysteria, one great heart at least remained sane and jocular. They were truly grace under pressure.
And perhaps they signified grace of a deeper kind. Ronnie himself certainly believed that he had been given back his life for a purpose. As he told a priest after his recovery "Whatever time I've got left now belongs to the Big Fella Upstairs."
And surely it is hard to deny that Ronald Reagan's life was providential, when we look at what he achieved in the eight years that followed. Others prophesied the decline of the West; he inspired America and its allies with renewed faith in their mission of freedom.
Others saw only limits to growth; he transformed a stagnant economy into an engine of opportunity.
Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; he won the Cold War - not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress and turning them into friends.
I cannot imagine how any diplomat, or any dramatist, could improve on his words to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva summit: "Let me tell you why it is we distrust you."
Those words are candid and tough and they cannot have been easy to hear. But they are also a clear invitation to a new beginning and a new relationship that would be rooted in trust.
We live today in the world that Ronald Reagan began to reshape with those words. It is a very different world with different challenges and new dangers. All in all, however, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than the world he inherited on becoming president.
As Prime Minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his presidency. And I have had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great president.
Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles - and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.
When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled, or disorientated, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do. When his aides were preparing option papers for his decision, they were able to cut out entire rafts of proposals that they knew 'the Old Man' would never wear. When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look confidently to Washington for firm leadership.
And when his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his resolve was firm and unyielding.
Yet his ideas, though clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth. Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform.
Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow's 'evil empire.' But he realized that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from within its dark corridors. So the President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation.
Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity - and nothing was more American.
Therein lies perhaps the final explanation of his achievements. Ronald Reagan carried the American people with him in his great endeavours because there was perfect sympathy between them. He and they loved America and what it stands for - freedom and opportunity for ordinary people.
As an actor in Hollywood's golden age, he helped to make the American dream live for millions all over the globe. His own life was a fulfillment of that dream. He never succumbed to the embarrassment some people feel about an honest expression of love of country.
He was able to say 'God Bless America' with equal fervour in public and in private. And so he was able to call confidently upon his fellow-countrymen to make sacrifices for America - and to make sacrifices for those who looked to America for hope and rescue.
With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world. And so today the world - in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev and in Moscow itself - the world mourns the passing of the Great Liberator and echoes his prayer "God Bless America."
Ronald Reagan's life was rich not only in public achievement, but also in private happiness. Indeed, his public achievements were rooted in his private happiness. The great turning point of his life was his meeting and marriage with Nancy. On that we have the plain testimony of a loving and grateful husband: "Nancy came along and saved my soul." We share her grief today. But we also share her pride - and the grief and pride of Ronnie's children.
For the final years of his life, Ronnie's mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again - more himself than at any time on this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven's morning broke, I like to think - in the words of Bunyan - that "all the trumpets sounded on the other side."
We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God's children.
This Mortal Coil and the Nature of Funerals
"What," I wondered, "were Bush, Clinton, Bush, Carter and Ford thinking as they heard the words spoken this day? Were they thinking of their future date with destiny and what would be said? Were not all the great and near great who were in attendance, the leaders of the world, reflecting upon their own legacies? Would history and their friends be so kind to them?"
(As a side note, Gorbachev reached over to Thatcher after her eulogy, partly in comfort, but also, I imagine, grateful that she accorded him a place of redemption and honor for his own legacy.)
In fact, when we attend the funeral of someone who has life has made an impact upon his world for good, whether small or large, do we not all reflect upon our own small roles in this mortal coil as we play our part upon our local stages? For Shakespeare, coil was a synonym for tumult and turmoil, the hurry and bustle of life.
And much of life seems to be in fact a mortal coil - tumult and turmoil, full of hurry and bustle. How much, we wonder, of what we do matters?
Yet life does matter, both small and great. The world is a sum of the kindness and friendship, the love and caring, the honor and courage, of us all. As we each do our part, we can help leave a world where our children can hopefully deal with their own coil in a time of peace, finding their own way to redemption through the grace of their God. As we confront the darkness of fear and oppression, both in our back yards and in the world, we can each do our part. And that is a legacy that matters.
Your reflecting upon his own life analyst,