"In a time of malice he was not malicious; in a time of lies he did not falsify; in a time of great pressure he didn't bend or break; in a time of disingenuousness he was clear and candid about where he stood and why. And in a time when people just gave up after awhile and changed the subject, he remained on the field for the long haul."
I had seen this book on a number of reading lists of people whom I admire and so it has been on my "to read" shelf for some time. I knew when I read this quote, that this was a book that I wanted to review well and from my heart.
When Character Was King, by Peggy Noonan
I have always admired Ronald Reagan. He stands out in my memory and in my heart as a great man who always reminded me just a little bit of my grandfather. His voice I can bring to mind in an instant, whereas the tone and timbre of most other presidents of my lifetime I would have to struggle to recall. (and some I would prefer to forget)
I was never a fan of Nancy, though looking back now I see, to a large extent, not only did I give little grace to her but I also fell for the mass media's caricature of who she was and I am sorry for that.
Every once in a long while, there is a book that touches my heart in deep and unexpected ways. This was one of those. I believe that it is, perhaps, a combination of factors that made this so. Not the least of which is that Peggy Noonan is a gifted writer who knew and worked for Ronald Reagan.
I was 15 when he was elected, 16 when he was shot and 23 when he left office. He was president in the years when I began to think about and care about politics to any degree.
I saw him handle national safety issues with authority, national disasters with compassion, foreign relations with a firm stance and an assurance of who were as a nation. I grew up during the height of the Cold War, when the nuclear arms and capabilities of the USSR were a clear and present danger. Ronald Reagan, seizing opportunity as the leadership of the "evil empire" changed, went from firm to diplomatic to historic agreements with Gorbachev and the world became a less frightening place. President Reagan was a leader who made me proud to be an American citizen.
"Years ago, thinking about his humor, I said it seemed to me that wit penetrates and humor envelops, that wit seems a function of verbal intelligence while humor is imagination operating on good nature. I still think that, and think Reagan was a man of abundant humor with a great appreciation for comedy."
I loved this quote as well and dog-earred the page to return to when writing this review, as a did to page after page, only later recalling that it was a library book. I think this was a great part of the reason that Ms. Noonan and other biographers were hard pressed to find a single individual, even those politically opposed to him, that disliked Ronald Reagan.
He had it right in so many way, reading some of his speeches now, brings tears to my eyes as I wonder how things have gone so wrong now. The speech that was televised October 27th, 1954, when he was stumping for Barry Goldwater, remains one of his finest.
I quote it here extensively because it is so deeply relevant for today.
"I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines.
No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of it's national income. Today, thirty-seven cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector's share, and yet our government continues to spend seventeen million dollars a day more than the government takes in...
The idea that the government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: whether we belive in our capacity for self- government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than wee can plan them ourselves.
You and I are increasingly told that we have to choose between a left or a right. There is only an up or down: up to man's age-old dream-- the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarianism motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course."
And the brilliant Westminster Speech so starkly contrasted by current president Obama's "Apology Tour". The United States under Ronald Reagan was a time of recovered and renewed economy and morale.
It wraps up for me in his own address as he spoke to the nation for the final time as President of the United States. " ..that's what it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again, and in a way ourselves, rediscovered it."
Ms. Noonan puts it thus, beautifully, "He had courage. He always tried to do what he thought was right. And when doing what was right demanded from him great effort or patience or tenacity, or made his the focus of unending attacks and criticism, he summoned from within the patience and the tenacity and the courage to face it all. To face it down. And when his great work was finished he left and went peacefully home.
These are among the things that made him for an ordinary man, but a most extraordinary man indeed."
As a tribute to a man and a record of a time entirely gone, it would behoove you to read this book.