- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

The past week of solemn yet affectionate tributes to Ronald Reagan have been a cathartic, healing experience for Americans — at a time when we needed it most.

His death, coming as it did in the midst of a bitter political campaign and deep divisions over the Iraq war, resulted in the nation setting all that aside temporarily to honor a fallen leader and to reflect on the best of America, which Mr. Reagan championed throughout his political career.

Americans are given to openly and unabashedly expressing their most heartfelt emotions collectively from time to time, often in the wake of huge national trag-edies such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

In this case, the country expressed its grief over the passing of a man remembered for lifting the nation’s depleted spirits in the depths of a bleak and painful recession, leading the country back to growth and prosperity, and winning the Cold War against an “evil empire” without a single shot being fired.

He ended his two terms in office with the highest public approval rating of any president in the modern era, leaving the country feeling good about itself and in far better condition than when he took office.

It is said that among Mr. Reagan’s political and personal attributes he had a perfect sense of timing and a firm religious belief, learned from his mother, that there is a purpose for everything that happens in life.

In this case, things had not been going so well for us, or at least that was the perception of many Americans.

The terrorist insurgency in Iraq beginning earlier this year killed or wounded hundreds of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, leading many Americans to doubt the Bush administration had a plan to bring peace to that war-torn country.

Then the sordid prisoner abuse scandal in Baghdad became a huge international embarrassment for the U.S. military and undercut our hard-fought efforts to earn the respect and trust of the Iraqis whom we freed from tyranny and oppression.

Throw in continued doubts about the depth of the economic recovery, a pitched presidential election battle that has the country split right down the middle, and a majority belief the country was not moving in the right direction, and you have the makings of an unstable political environment.

Mr. Reagan’s death, at 93, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease seemed to turn our attention away from all that, if only for a week or so. The speeches, eulogies and nonstop television clips of his life and his presidency reminded us of other times when we had overcome very similar national doubts and struggles in the 1980s.

In many ways the past week was a collective time out to remember a previous decade that turned out pretty well, and a president who exuded optimism and confidence in the midst of pessimism and uncertainty.

And there were the television video tapes of Mr. Reagan’s speeches that reminded us of where we have been and how far we have come and, despite our current troubles, reaffirmed our enduring strengths and resiliency.

One TV clip shown last week came from an address that perhaps best encapsulated what we remember Mr. Reagan for and why we loved him. In it, he said: “And whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

Thus it was fitting, perhaps, that Mr. Reagan’s passing came at a time when, as bad as things once were, a few big things seem to be turning around for the better.

An Iraqi governing council of ministers is now in charge of its country’s government. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a U.S. resolution that gives its full support to the new government and a mandate to the U.S. security mission in that country. Elections are scheduled for end of the year or early next year.

The U.S. economy, fueled by President Bush’s Reaganlike tax cuts, is back, producing more than 1.4 million new jobs in the past nine months, a quarter of a million jobs in the past month alone. In 1984, Mr. Reagan dubbed his own economic recovery “morning in America,” and now it is happening all over again, reassuring us the economic vitality of America is as strong as ever, maybe stronger.

Ronald Reagan is gone but his inspiring, optimistic words of hope and opportunity still live. We heard them anew during the weeklong farewell to the “Great Communicator” at a time when we needed them more than ever.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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