Sen. Joe Lieberman still remembers the trepidation he felt in January 1989 when he was to deliver the Democrats' radio response — the one to follow then-President Reagan's final weekly radio address before leaving office.
More than two decades later, Mr. Lieberman, who at the time was a freshman senator from Connecticut, remembers Reagan's address that morning, in which he called Americans "keepers of the miracles," as "among the most masterful and moving of his career."
"I continue to feel deeply honored that I was able to deliver those remarks and even more confident of the importance of Ronald Reagan's legacy to us and the generations of Americans to come," he said. "The optimism, moral clarity and confidence that President Reagan radiated inspired a generation, and they are precisely the ideals that we need today."
Senators took to the floor Thursday to remember the 40th president three days before the 100th commemoration of his birthday on Sunday, and while some acknowledged political differences, they found his optimism, his decision-making and his defense of the nation part of his enduring legacy.
"Young adults today grow up without the fear of nuclear war in the back of their mind," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who helped organize the time for speeches.
"He knew how to make decisions — how to make hard decisions," said Sen. Jim Webb, the Virginia Democrat who served briefly as Reagan's Navy secretary.
The Senate commemoration is one of myriad celebrations of Reagan taking place throughout the nation this week and into the weekend.
Some senators recalled his upbringing and Hollywood career, while others recalled his frequent use of the line-item veto while he was governor of California.
Still others talked about his greatest lines, returning time and again to his challenge, speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany in 1987, to his Soviet adversaries: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Time has been kind to Reagan, who left the public stage when he left office 22 years ago but whose political philosophy and sunny disposition continue to define the American political debate.
"You could almost say we are all Reaganites now," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, though he added that many people missed the significance of that when Reagan was in office.
"Ronald Reagan once said, 'We don't have to turn to our history books for heroes; they are all around us.' That's true even if you don't know where to look. Thirty years ago, some dismissed Reagan as a man of no great importance. With hindsight, it's much easier to see him for the giant figure in history that he was," Mr. McConnell said.
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