The ultimate cheerleader

Ronald Reagan's son, Michael - who penned "The New Reagan Revolution" - explains how his father would have solved some of today's woes.

reagan and son 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
reagan and son 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
February 6 marked the 100th birthday of America’s 40th president, Ronald Reagan. Known as a straightforward patriot who never wavered from his twofold mission of tax cuts at home and the defeat of the USSR abroad, he succeeded on both counts – giving his country its longest period of sustained economic growth and liberating hundreds of millions from communist tyranny.
Commemorating Ronald Reagan’s centennial, his son Michael Reagan and Jim Denney (Foreword by Newt Gingrich) have penned The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan’s Principles Can Restore America’s Greatness, in which he pays tribute to his father and reveals the invaluable lessons he continues to offer. Michael Reagan spoke with The Jerusalem Post from his home in California.
When I ask what he believes must be appropriated from Reagan’s political legacy, he says, “His heart and his soul! So many people on the Right and Left redefine my father instead of really looking at who he was and where he came from. Unlike many politicians today who too quickly forget their roots, Ronald Reagan never did. He never forgot the little towns of Tampico and Dixon, Illinois.”
And it’s not only American conservatives, but also liberals who miss Reagan’s good soul, stresses Michael, who recounts a chance meeting he recently had with actor Alec Baldwin, a die-hard liberal Democrat: “I ran into Alec coming out of a gym one day and said, ‘Mr. Baldwin, my name is Mike Reagan; Jane Wyman is my mother.’ He gave me a look and I said, ‘Well, I could have said Ronald Reagan was my father but I thought if I did I might have had to duck.’
“Mr. Baldwin smiled, started to laugh and then said, ‘You know, I want to tell you and your family something: I miss your father.’ Surprised, I asked him, ‘Why do you miss my father? You disagree with everything he ever stood for.’ He responded, ‘Yes, but what I’ve come to realize of late, which I never did when he was alive, is that your father had a good soul, and what the world is missing today is that good soul.’ I think he was absolutely right on.”
When Reagan entered office in 1981, he faced an economy characterized by slow growth and high unemployment similar to that faced by President Barack Obama since 2009. However, Reagan – unlike Obama – managed to gain the confidence of the American people.
“Yes, and he was able to turn the economy around by putting more money in the hands of the people of his country through tax breaks, reducing government spending and controlling the money supply to reduce inflation.” Michael says. “That said, what my father clearly understood was that he first had to turn the people of his country around by making them feel better about being Americans and by giving them a positive outlook.
“He also understood that in order to get things done he had to find a way to work with people who weren’t supportive of his policies. One thing my father never did was to make politics personal. It’s very hard to sit down at a table and make a deal if you turn everything into a personal attack. Even when my father was attacked personally, he didn’t attack back in kind. He worked with his political adversaries – the [House Speaker] Tip O’Neills and others – to pass the largest tax cut in American history on August 13, 1981.”
TURNING TO foreign policy, Michael tells us that the fundamental problem today is that “the US currently lacks a leader who tries to make us feel good about America at home and abroad... What’s interesting today is that a lot of American politicians never go overseas. Many have never left the country, and when they finally do, they return after a minute and a half and think they’ve understood everything. However, what they don’t understand is that the rest of the world needs America. The rest of the world cannot afford for America to fail because we are that last bastion, that city on the hill where many people come to be free.”
Reagan was a proud patriot who believed wholeheartedly in freedom, democracy and liberty, which propels me to ask why so many Democrats such as former president Jimmy Carter and Obama go around apologizing incessantly for America and its values.
“It’s in their gene pool,” says Michael. “It’s not just Carter and Obama. It’s my brother Ron. It’s liberals in general. They blame America because they think that if you just make friends with your enemies, then everything will be fine. Ronald Reagan understood that international politics is not about friendship – which may come at some point in your lifetime – but fundamentally about respect. It’s quite simple: if other countries in the world don’t have respect for you, well, then you’re not going to get very far at all.
“My dad took some hard-line stances and said some very strong things about the former USSR. For example, he called it ‘the Evil Empire,’ among other harsh things. I recall Democrats who criticized that Evil Empire speech in 1983 and said that he was going make [Mikhail] Gorbachev and the Russians mad. What they didn’t understand was that my father wasn’t talking to the Russians. He was letting those in the gulags know that they had a man on the other side who understood their plight and was going to do his best to make them free.”
Commenting on what lessons Obama could take from Reagan’s legacy in relation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran, his son declares, “We have politicians today who think that every time some international leader says something inflammatory about them that they need to respond. Ronald Reagan understood that sometimes the best answer is no answer.
“When the American Left was demonizing my father and saying that he was a cowboy who was going to push the button and start World War III, my father never grabbed a microphone and denied what they were saying because he understood that the liberals were trying to undermine his presidency. That said, he wasn’t interested in them, but in setting the stage internationally.
“So what happened on the day of his swearing-in in January 1981? The Iranians – not knowing what he might do because of the media coming from the Left – ended up letting go of the hostages. He was able to use the negative against him for a positive for himself and his country. Too many politicians today don’t know how to take the negative and turn it into a positive by using it rightly.”
RONALD REAGAN declared himself “a conservative first and a Republican second.” What does Michael think he would criticize about his fellow conservatives today?
“The problem with conservatives is pretty easy: Liberals can be led by their ideologies. Conservatives, on the other hand, are only looking for their leader – somebody to espouse what they believe and move them forward. Right now they lack that leader and they’re all over the map. There are these little fiefdoms they set up all over the place and they have all kinds of purity tests.
“My father would find it very hard today to pass all the purity tests they want to throw at a candidate in order to get the nomination of the party. Ronald Reagan understood that politics was like a football field – or a soccer field, depending on what country you’re in.
“Ronald Reagan understood that you get very lucky when you’re able to throw a 100-yard touchdown pass. That’s really nice, but the reality is that he knew if you move 10 yards at a time, you move the ball up the field, and ultimately score that touchdown or goal. Today in America, we have too many people who are trying to throw the 100-yard pass and score that touchdown on the first toss. Reagan understood that politics was a work in process and you needed to work at it and move the ball down the field. You’d still get your touchdown, but you needed to be patient.”
His father often said, “There is no substitute for victory.” Michael laughs and says, “Yes, and the problem in America today is that we don’t have a cheerleader. President Obama certainly isn’t one. Ronald Reagan was the ultimate cheerleader. My sister Maureen, my wife Colleen and I used to joke that Dad’s run for the presidency was equivalent to him going for his eagle scout’s badge. It really was.”
Asked what his fondest memory of his father is, he says, “My favorite time with my dad is the period before he entered politics, when I’d spend Saturdays with him riding out to the ranch and listening to him tell me stories. In the book, I tell a story about when he ended up teaching me about the tax system in America after I asked him for a larger allowance at the age of eight. At the time, he was only giving me a buck a week and I thought that was pretty cheap.”
Before leaving I ask what message he hopes those who read his book come away understanding. “It’s find yourself and don’t try to be someone else. Understand who you are and move everything forward from there.
“Today, everyone quotes Ronald Reagan, but is there anybody out there who you can quote? Find your own quotes, your own self-worth and let the world know who you are. Leaders today, we don’t know who they are. Look at my father’s time: Margaret Thatcher, quotable; Mikhail Gorbachev, quotable; Pope John Paul II, quotable, Vaclav Havel, quotable, Lech Walesa, quotable. These were people who led, who understood who they were, and were willing to work with others. The key thing they all had in common was that they were interested in accomplishing things and not worried about who got the credit.”