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In doing all this--in insisting that, as the sign he kept on his desk in the Oval Office said, IT CAN BE DONE--he kept up the morale of the anticommunist West. And not only Americans. When Natan Sharansky was freed after nine years in the gulag, he went to the White House and asked Reagan never to stop his hard-line speeches. Sharansky said news of those speeches was passed from prisoner to prisoner in the forced-labor camps.
After eight years of Reagan and his constant efforts, the Soviet Union collapsed. And Kremlin chieftains who had once promised to bury us were now asking for inclusion in NATO. That this is now a commonplace--ho-hum, the Berlin Wall fell--is proof of how quickly we absorb the astounding. An elderly woman I know was at lunch at a great resort one day before World War I began. Suddenly from the sky, one of those new flying machines, an aeroplane, which no one there had ever seen, zoomed in to land on the smooth, rolling lawn. Everyone ran out to look at this marvel and touch it. What, she was asked 70 years later, did you do after that? "We went inside and finished lunch."
That's what the world did after the Wall came down, and is doing now. We went inside and finished lunch. But it is good to remember: a marvel had visited, had come down and landed on the lawn, even though such things are impossible. And it's good to remember that though many people built and funded and sacrificed for the "plane," Ronald Reagan was its pilot.
Domestically, he was no less a smasher of the status quo, a leader for serious and "impossible" change. F.D.R., the great President of Reagan's young manhood and from whom he learned the sound and tone and tense of the presidency, convinced the country in the 1930s that only the bounty and power of the Federal establishment could fully heal a wounded country. Reagan convinced (or reminded) the country that the bounty came from us, the people, that the power was absorbed from us, the people, and that we the people would benefit from a good portion of their return. Reagan had a libertarian conviction, which is really an old American conviction, that power is best and most justly wielded from the individual to the community to the state and then the Federal Government--and not from the Federal Government on down. He thought, as Jefferson said, that that government governs best that governs least. He wanted to shrink the bloated monster; he wanted to cut very seriously the amount of money the monster took from the citizenry each year in taxes.
He was not afraid to speak on school prayer and abortion, though his aides warned him it hurt him in the polls. He cared about the polls but refused to let them silence him. Abortion is wrong, he said, because it both kills and coarsens.
In doing all this, in taking the actions he took at home and abroad, in using words and conviction and character to fight, he produced the biggest, most successful and most meaningful presidency since Franklin Roosevelt's. In fact, when you look at the great Presidents of this century, I think it comes down to two Roosevelts and a Reagan. Reagan kept Teddy's picture in his Cabinet Room, in part because he loved T.R.'s brio in tackling the big questions.