- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Few things bring tears to a man's eyes. A sad country song. An inspiring moment that lifts the soul. And, for me, the voice of Ronald Reagan.
Most of us are greatly influenced by the president in office during our high school years. One reason John Kennedy achieved such mythic cultural proportions, for example, was simply that the charismatic president made a strong impression on the first wave of baby boomers. Those boomers were teen-agers when Kennedy was murdered in 1963. The press has idolized Camelot for 40 years; it will never treat a Republican with such reverence. But my generation was far more fortunate to come of age during the Reagan presidency. The boomers got Vietnam, riots and stagflation. We got a freed economy, moral leadership and a peaceful end to the Cold War.
When the 1980 presidential campaign began, I was 15 years old and, like most Americans indoctrinated under our schools' regime, a liberal by default. Nobody offered an alternative. But Mr. Reagan's crisp statements of conservative principles blew the lid off the whole liberal scam. Kennedy's most famous words had called young boomers to serve Big Government. Mr. Reagan knew America's true greatness would always lie in the hearts of millions of free citizens, each pursuing his own dream.
"Government can't solve the problem," Mr. Reagan would say. "Government is the problem." Arrogant liberals dismissed this former actor as a lightweight, yet Mr. Reagan was the only politician who grasped precisely what I saw every day. I rode a city bus to school through Washington's horrible old U Street corridor. Businesses there had been torched in the 1968 riots, and the destructive effect of the government's welfare culture showed itself in the faces of those it had enslaved. Entrepreneurs shunned the area because liberal Washington was hostile to business. Mr. Reagan nailed the left's loony attitude with a quip: "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it." Perfect.
To me, the 1970s had seemed a dreary decade of brown suits and bad hair, of shortages and surrender. The World War II generation had long since lost its voice during the upheavals of the 1960s and beyond. These elders seemed aware something was fishy with America's new shouters and socialists, but they were self-consciously un-hip and cowered before their children's powerful, new, mass-media culture.
Not Ronald Reagan. As head of the Screen Actors' Guild in 1947-52, he stood up to Hollywood's communists, at great personal cost. Then, as California governor in the late 1960s, Mr. Reagan gave no quarter to the coffee shop Marxists then disrupting that state's college campuses. Years later, when left-wing operatives like Strobe Talbott preached moral equivalence toward the Soviet Union, President Reagan again showed his spine.
In 1983, the president with the friendly blue eyes and honey-smooth voice described the Soviet Union frankly: "[W]hile they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples of the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world." As well one might say about a communist regime that had exterminated 20 million of its own citizens.
Later, facing a new Soviet ruler publicly pledged to making his dictatorship more "open," Mr. Reagan at the Berlin Wall again breached appeasement etiquette. Leaving the "Ich bin ein Berliner" fuzziness for others, he demanded: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Simple words, but courageous.
"If he doesn't get elected, I'll just cry," Harriet Mattern confided to me as we watched the 1980 Republican convention. I was spending part of that summer on her Pennsylvania farm. The 60-ish Mrs. Mattern had seen many more politicians in her lifetime than I had, and she knew the freshly nominated Ronald Reagan was special. She was right. How could I know then how rare indeed this man would be?
I pity those young Americans who came of age in the 1990s. They entered adulthood lacking the healthy assurance of a president who deeply loved America and would act only in her best interests. They couldn't serve in uniform, as we did, secure in the faith that our commander in chief was a just man who admired us and who was, fittingly, a better man than us.
A new country song by Tim Rushlow describes a woman coping with her husband's Alzheimer's disease. Inserted between verses in one re-mixed version are words spoken by Mr. Reagan during his career, as well as thoughts from his family. A sad country song, inspiring words and the voice of Mr. Reagan: I can barely keep driving when it plays on the car radio. The song is called "She Misses Him."
Happy Birthday, Gipper. We miss you, too.

Daniel Rabil is a writer living in Washington. He served in the Marines from 1986-90.

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