- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Abraham Lincoln called it "the silent artillery of time" the relentless manner in which the passing of years inalterably changes previous beliefs, reduces error to rubble and brings about a more complete consideration.

This reflective mood is surely present on this day, as Ronald and Nancy Reagan receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate describe as its "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions."

That Congress chose to bestow this special honor is testament that Washington like America itself can always unite in recognition of those causes and concerns that transcend any political dispute of the moment and fashion a special kind of consensus going forward.

During President Reagan's two terms in office, the Congress was the scene of more than a few fierce battles over policy differences and presidential appointments. Yet, as hot as the rhetoric got, Ronald Reagan always viewed this as an essential reality of the American experiment.

After all, by the time he arrived in Washington, he'd already been the governor of California and the president of the Screen Actors Guild. More than once he remarked that congressional sparring may have been tough, but for sheer ferocity, it ran a distant second to Hollywood studio heads who took swashbuckling to an art form. Literally.

Throughout it all, the political never overtook the personal, and this dynamic was never better portrayed than through the relationship between Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill. Combatants by day, they were often collegial by dusk and convivial Irishmen by dark.

In and around the rapport the two men shared, a common thread ran through it: Ronald Reagan's personal warmth, genuine character, unyielding optimism and personal grace. As much as anything else, these qualities enabled the power of his voice and the wisdom of his words to make him "The Great Communicator" not the other way around.

His life experiences infused him with the dream of the visionary and the ambition of the patriot, and he devoted much of his life to seeing America through to what he believed was its destiny of national greatness. While Ronald Reagan's life spans most of the 20th century, his life's experience runs parallel to America's most trying times that gave way to an era of peace and prosperity because he helped put it there.

This is why the Congressional Gold Medal represents a singular point in the enduring relevance of the Reagan legacy. In its proclamation about the medal, Congress has chosen a most thoughtful blend of the 40th president's words, as well as its own estimation of the Reagans' service to America.

It specifically makes mention of the nation's "sustained economic prosperity" during the Reagan years, as well as the president's leadership in "uniting a divided world by bringing about an end to the Cold War." Additionally, however, the congressional act also notes the man's memorable words, made in a 1980 campaign pledge: "As president, Ronald Reagan restored 'the great confident roar of American progress, growth and optimism.' "

These assessments of Mr. Reagan's influence in matters economic, global and patriotic provide a far-reaching perspective made more accurate by the fact that Congress has chosen to recognize not only Mr. Reagan, but Nancy Reagan as well. One cannot imagine any endeavor of the man that his wife did not make more complete. He said as much and meant as much every day, as anyone who worked closely with him can readily attest.

Nancy Reagan may have greatly built upon the largely ceremonial role of first lady, but it was an undertaking that she neither planned nor sought. Her work as a principal proponent for preventing alcohol and drug abuse among the nation's youth by championing the "Just Say No" campaign was never about her. It was, instead, an instinctual gambit to reverse a disturbing national trend.

America had simply become complacent and confused about drug abuse and its sundry serious effects, and Nancy Reagan's three-word advice correctly called upon common American qualities that characterize our people: independence, individualism and self-reliance.

In rebuilding our defenses, restoring our economy and rekindling our spirit, Ronald Reagan chartered a course of national consensus that, in many ways, we still travel today. And it is a true testament to Lincoln's observation of time, the enduring steadfastness of our system of government, and the power of ideas that is waged amidst both, that this recognition takes place at this time and on this day.


Frederick J. Ryan Jr. is chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation and served as an assistant to President Reagan from 1981 to 1989.


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