Just over 30 years ago, Ronald Wilson Reagan was inaugurated as our nation’s 40th president. It is hard to believe that three decades have passed since he stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and announced to the nation that America’s moment had not passed. And it is hard to think that we have been without him now for more than six years. Yet the recent bipartisan celebration of his legacy shows that he has become as much a part of the American story as his greatest predecessors in office.
Like other great men before him, Reagan seemed to embody the times in which he lived. His personal story, in many ways, personified America’s 20th century. He was born in the Midwest but became a Westerner, moving to California like so many other mid-century Americans.
The country that he grew up in looked very different from our own. When the U.S. entered the Second World War, one out of every four Americans lived on farms, and half of those were either without or had recently acquired electricity. America in the 20th century became a less rural, less agricultural nation.
That was the story or Reagan, who was born in tiny Tampico, Ill., and came to the world’s attention in California, where suburbs and highways were becoming the norm.
Reagan did not have it easy. As he put it, ‘I did not grow up on the wrong side of the tracks, but I could hear the train.’ He lived through the Great Depression. Yet like countless Americans, he succeeded with determination, hard work and a good deal of pluck.
At a time when college was a luxury, Reagan graduated from Eureka College and went on to become a successful radio sportscaster and Hollywood actor.
For Reagan, no challenge was too big. He would need that perseverance as president.
In 1980, when he was inaugurated, America was on its heels. At home, the prime interest rate was 15 percent, inflation was 12.5 percent, and civilian unemployment was 7 percent. High taxes and government regulations were smothering innovation and the American Dream. Abroad, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and was supporting revolutionary movements across the globe. And the American hostages had not yet been freed from Iran.
When Reagan left the oval office eight years later, he had left his mark. The economic boom engineered by lowering taxes and bringing inflation to heel improved the lives of all Americans. He helped to restore our understanding of a limited judiciary that respects the opinions and traditions of the American people.
Though his greatest achievement — the collapse of the Soviet Empire — would occur on his successor’s watch — the writing was on the wall by the time he left office. His commitment to freedom brought down the Iron Curtain and liberated millions around the globe.
Most importantly, Ronald Reagan reminded Americans of how blessed they are to be citizens of this nation. America’s men and women in uniform would no longer be looked down upon. With his presidency, the rush to “blame America first” in our battles with totalitarian regimes, and the disdain of elites for our military men and women, came to an end.
Today, the Reagan Revolution — the aspiration of citizens for greater freedom and a return to the constitutional principle of limited government adopted by our Founding Fathers — continues. I am proud to be a part of that revolution, and as I work today for Utahns, his example is always on my mind.
In my view, Ronald Reagan was a great president because he understood the American people, and he had the remarkable ability to give voice to their hopes and dreams. Before leaving office, Reagan addressed the nation one last time. Speaking to the citizens of this shining city upon a hill, he told us, “[W]e did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.”
I could not agree more.
Reagan’s legacy ultimately was a stronger, freer and more confident America. And that is why his example continues to endure and to endear.