Monday, February 7, 2011

Reagan at 100

Yesterday would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. I did not like this wildly popular President but I did respect how he was able to make the country feel better about itself.

There appears to be a big publicity campaign centered on his centennial year. As a history enthusiast, however, I am less interested in him and more interested in how much the world changed during his 93-year lifetime and the seven years since his death.

Think about 1911 for a minute. The Wright Brothers first powered human flight had just taken place eight years earlier and commercial flights did not yet exist. Women did not get the right to vote for another nine years. Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states and Oklahoma had only been a state for four years. Most American homes did not have indoor plumbing, air conditioners or refrigerators. The typical work week was 50 hours/6 days and there were only three holidays a year.

Two of Reagan’s primary pre-politics careers, radio and television, did not yet exist and most movies did not yet have sound. Life expectancy was 50 years.

Another impressive aspect of Ronald Reagan’s life is that he did not let age get in the way of accomplishment. He was elected President at age 69, the oldest to assume office; the majority of Presidents were elected in their 50s.

He had a great sense of humor too. When asked in a debate during his 1980 campaign if he was physically up to the task of handling a crisis as President, his response was, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even his opponent laughed; and Reagan won that election.

Like him or not, Reagan had a remarkable and memorable two-term Presidency. But he was three inches and a reporter’s question away from being merely a footnote in history. As you probably know, he survived an assassination attempt just weeks after his first inauguration. What you might not know (and I didn’t know till I read a politics daily article) is that seconds before the shot rang out, a 5’9” tall aide moved 6-foot-tall Press Secretary James Brady in position to answer a reporter’s question and ultimately into the line of fire. Had Brady not taken that particular bullet, Reagan would have been killed. Fate? Divine Providence? Either way, Reagan defied the odds and holds a cherished place in American history. I don’t have to like him to celebrate his 100th birthday.

No comments: