Chasing the Reagan Legacy

October 16, 2012

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, like so many Republicans today, continually try to grab onto Ronald Reagan’s legacy and call it theirs. They might know my father’s politics — but they didn’t know the man.

After the first Republican presidential debate last September at the Reagan Library, I wrote a piece for about how all the candidates seek to stuff themselves into my father’s image. Ironic, since he never tried to imitate anyone.

What set my father apart was his character – the very thing that can’t be successfully imitated or cobbled together in strategy sessions or rehearsals.

With all the talk about the economy being the most important thing in this election, I have a different opinion. Certainly the economy is important. So is health care. So is the fact that young men and women are being sent to fight wars in places where we don’t belong. In countries whose cultures we don’t understand.

But what people want more than anything – what they hunger for – is someone whose character can be trusted. Someone they can lean on when tragedies come, regardless of political ideology.

I’m not being partisan here — I don’t see those qualities on either side of the political fence. That is the true sadness of our times. A friend said: “I’m tired of being uninspired.”

Whatever anyone thought (or thinks now) of my father’s politics or his record as president, most people would acknowledge that he cared deeply, passionately, unconditionally about America and its teeming masses. He saw no difference between a billionaire and a gas station attendant; he made no distinctions based on race or religion. All were God’s children in his eyes.

Someday we will probably look back on this election as a time when people plodded to the voting booth of obligation – wishing they felt inspired – but instead voting for the candidate they thought would do the least amount of harm.

That kind of poverty runs deep. It’s in the currents of our collective spirit. And it’s a far bigger issue than the economy.

Whenever I or my brother Ron discuss about our father, there is a predictable response from some on the far right — that because we didn’t share our father’s political views, we somehow don’t fully know him.

But we  knew him in the ways that children always know their parents. We knew, as toddlers, how to delight him, how to make him laugh and stop whatever he was doing to play with us. We knew how deeply he believed in doing the right thing, whether it was taking in a dog someone had dumped along the road near our ranch, or diving into the pool fully dressed to rescue a little girl sinking beneath the surface at a crowded birthday party.

We knew him as the man who gently presided over the passing of beloved animals, teaching us in the process that all God’s creatures deserve dignity.

As teenagers, we knew how to challenge him, even anger him. Because that’s what you do in those years when you think you know everything. It’s a rite of passage to aim for your parents’ soft spots.

We also knew him as a father who, at times, was puzzled by the task. Why did his kids want more of him? He was the son of an alcoholic. It was enough to have his father come home at night and stay sober.

We knew him as adults who had to accept that he loved this country profoundly – so much so that pursuing the presidency wasn’t a career move, it was a calling.

And we knew him in the last decade of his life, when Alzheimer’s erased years from his memory, but couldn’t erode his humility or his character.

As Ron, in his beautiful eulogy, said of our father: “He was the most plainly decent man you could ever hope to meet.”

Note to candidates: You can’t manufacture this. It either exists in your bloodstream, or it doesn’t.

PHOTO: Former President Ronald Reagan in an undated file photo. Ho New / Reuters



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Thank you Mrs. Davis,
Very nice article about Ronald Reagan, your father, Great American president.
I have always respected him because he was honest, strong, tough and everybody always knew where he stood on the issues.

What conservative values does Romny have anyway? He can’t tell the truth about anything. He really is a massachutes liberal anyway. But really worse, I think he is anti American. He draft dodged the Vietnam war in France, He ships jobs overseas puts his money in swiss banks and doesn’t pay taxes. He says he is against veterans in the 47%.He says one thing , one day and another the next.

God Bless you, your Family
Nancy and President Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Texas19 | Report as abusive

>> A friend said: “I’m tired of being uninspired.”

This is it in a nutshell!

>> so much so that pursuing the presidency wasn’t a career move, it was a calling.

This is the proof of love of country and commitment to action.

We need far more of this type of person on both sides of the aisle, for it is this type of person who can lead through the changes we in the US so desperately need.

Posted by tomwinans | Report as abusive

Perhaps it is worth note that your father made such an impression on the US that even Mr. Obama appeals at times to the Reagan era … proof that your father’s style and thinking spanned party boundaries rather than polarized for the sake of such.

Posted by tomwinans | Report as abusive

Thank you for giving the man his human face back!
It’s too easy to let that fade; eight years after he died and 23 years after his presidency ended, and it’s especially easy to forget the real man while his image is so frequently being abused and subtly retouched to suit various modern political agendas.

No matter which brand of politics one supports, I believe it was Reagan’s humanity, humility and genuine respect for his fellows that enabled him to work effectively with Congress. If modern politicians wish to imitate him, perhaps they should start by practising each day the deep, genuine character qualities that almost inexhaustibly enabled Reagan to work with others and get things done.

An examination of how some of his apparent policies changed over time has revealed to me a willingness to learn, and to reverse course where new information yields new understanding, or where new circumstances require a new approach. Give us the humility to take this intelligent approach, once again…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

The problem is nostalgia is just not what it used to be. Among the other things that Reagan did was introduce Lee Atwater into American politics. The fight is now hand-to-hand because of the cycle of escalation. Also, Reagan demonstrated a complete contempt for science fact, the evidence of reality, and for the ability of the news media to focus on anything but the trivial.

Sadly, both Obama or Romney have it in them to be good leaders, and despite the stupidity expressed of them, are both good men. The modern political era, which starts in no small measure with Reagan, makes it difficult for people to see that.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

A good man does not wish harm on the innocent. Ronald Reagan was a good man, and the whole country knew it. He put us all on our feet again, as a single country.

No one high in American politics today seems like this, sadly.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

I think in hindsight many of us in the Bush-lite era yearned for the clear sense of direction that Reagan offered – coupled unexpectedly as it was with real flair and political acumen.

But what today’s conservative pundits have to contend with is the reality of history – Reagan had to dodge a lot of bullets (real and figurative) in order to make 2 terms. One of those was a growing deficit that his initial tax cuts fostered. This was paid for by subsequent tax increases. Although, it must be said, those increases were not against the wealthy – it took Clinton to knock the deficit out of the ball park, by upping the tax rate on the highest tiers.

These are the fact that most modern day republicans can’t quite come to accept: s/2012/01/05/did_reagan_raise_taxes_let_ gop_candidates_answer_112640.html

Thanks for the wistful look back.

Posted by hyperlux | Report as abusive

romney and ryan need to be seen holding a chimpanzee,

at least once.

it worked for ronald,

but not for michael jackson

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

The Reagan legacy is the adoption of absurd economic beliefs by the right wing that have marked the decline of the US as a serious economic power in the world as a result of the structural deficits it builds into the US government’s budget.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive