(Rep. John Boehner) – What would President Reagan think about all the commotion surrounding his 100th birthday? Well, first he’d probably send his regrets for being unable to attend.
Washington is not a place where cheerfulness tends to stand up over time, but for Ronald Reagan, it did. He was always quick with a smile or a self-deprecating joke. Reagan didn’t view his affable nature as a respite from the daunting challenges the nation faced on his watch. Instead, he saw optimism as an essential component of his ability to lead the country. It helped him connect with the people he served and the leaders he served with — including both Democrats and Republicans. This is one reason why today’s elected leaders aspire to Reagan’s example, and must accept being measured against him.
For me, Reagan’s presidency was, from its very first moments, a call to arms. Just after taking the oath of office, Reagan stood in the center of our nation’s capital city and declared, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Those words struck a chord with small-town, small-business people like me who were fed up with intrusive government and indecisive leadership. The promise of a smaller, less costly and more accountable government was renewed. Pro-growth policies to cut taxes and reduce the size and scope of government were set in motion.
President Reagan’s commitment to economic and human freedom resonated at home and abroad. He formed a partnership with Margaret Thatcher, echoed the free world’s awe for Pope John Paul II and encouraged Lech Walesa and other freedom fighters. Unafraid to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire” that it was, he took the fight against communism to the foot of the Berlin Wall. He rejected the moral relativism of his day that was blind to the distinction between tyranny and freedom, seeing America as a city on a hill, set apart by a God who intended us to be free. In so many ways, Reagan did not succumb to the times — he shaped them.
There’s one other thing President Reagan would surely be thinking today: that none of this would be possible without the love of his life, Nancy. I was honored to stand at the former first lady’s side two years ago during the unveiling of a statue of President Reagan in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. That 7-foot likeness contains timbers from the Berlin Wall and bears one of the Great Communicator’s great lines: “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
Ronald Reagan’s legacy is intact, and I’m confident it will be for a long while. If you study the man and his times, you’ll see the rhythm of life as described by Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. … And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Ronald Reagan played his parts brilliantly, and we are right to pause today for another well-deserved standing ovation.
(John Boehner is the current speaker of the House of Representatives.)