President Reagan Turns 112 - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
President Reagan Turns 112
President Ronald Reagan on Air Force One presenting a birthday cake to chief of staff Ken Duberstein on April 21, 1988 (Wikimedia Commons)

By the time you read this, the Reagan Alumni Association, of which I am a member, will have gathered at the Heritage Foundation to raise a birthday glass of cheer to our old boss, whose 112th birthday was Feb. 6.

We will have heard my American Spectator colleague Paul Kengor talk about the president and the various challenges he faced as the nation’s 40th commander in chief. In addition to his work here at The American Spectator and as a professor of political science at Grove City College, Paul, a prolific writer and author, has found time to write not one but several Reagan books.

They would be:

A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative

God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life

The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism

And, with Robert Orlando:

The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War

All of which is to say that Dr. Kengor is a thorough-going scholar of President Ronald Reagan, his life, his presidency, and his policies.

For Reagan Alumni, there is still the memory of just how the now-venerated 40th president was greeted when he arrived on the political scene. As I noted back then in the stone age of 2015 in a column about the idea that Donald Trump could never win the presidency, I noted what was said about Reagan in the day:

  • New York Times: Reagan’s candidacy is “patently ridiculous.”
  • New York Times: “The astonishing thing is that this amusing but frivolous Reagan fantasy is taken so seriously by the news media and particularly by the president [Gerald Ford]. It makes a lot of news, but it makes no sense.”
  • New Republic: “Ronald Reagan to me is still the posturing, essentially mindless and totally unconvincing candy man that he’s been in my opinion ever since I watched his first try for the Republican nomination evaporate in Miami in 1968.”
  • New Republic: “Reagan is Goldwater revisited.… He is a divisive factor in the party.”
  • Harper’s Magazine: “That he should be regarded as a serious candidate for president is a shame and an embarrassment for the country at large to swallow.”
  • Chicago Daily News: “The trouble with Reagan, of course, is that his positions on the major issues are cunningly phrased nonsense — irrationality conceived and hair-raising in their potential mischief.… Here comes Barry Goldwater again, only more so, and at this stage another such debacle could sink the GOP so deep it might never recover.”
  • Time: “Republicans now must decide whether he represents a conservative wave of the future or is just another Barry Goldwater calling on the party to mount a hopeless crusade against the twentieth century.”
  • Newsweek: Ronald Reagan is “a man whose mind and nerve and mediagenic style have never been tested in presidential politics and may not be adequate to the trial.”
  • National Review (a conservative magazine): “Reagan’s image remains inchoate.… At the outset of his campaign, his image is largely that of the role-playing actor — pleasant on stage, but ill-equipped for the real world beyond the footlights. Reagan does not yet project the presidential image. He is not seen as a serious man.”
  • Manchester Union Leader (a conservative New Hampshire paper): Reagan “lacks the charisma and conviction needed to win.”
  • Pravda (the official newspaper of the Soviet Union): Reagan is a “dinosaur from the ‘cold war.’… It is strange that there are still fish in the sea that are tempered by this putrid bait.”

And, as I wrote in 2015, “that’s just a sample from the media. Then there were the views of those stalwarts of the Republican Party Establishment.” A sample:

  • The Ripon Society said, “The nomination of Ronald Reagan would McGovernize the Republican Party.”
  • Vice President Nelson Rockefeller dismissed Reagan as “a minority of a minority” who “has been taking some extreme positions.”
  • New York’s Republican Sen. Jacob Javits said that Reagan’s positions are “so extreme that they would alter our country’s very economic and social structure and our place in the world to such a degree as to make our country’s place at home and abroad, as we know it, a thing of the past.”
  • Illinois Republican Sen. Charles H. Percy said Reagan’s candidacy was “foolhardy” and would lead to a “crushing defeat” for the Republican Party: “It could signal the beginning of the end of our party as an effective force in American political life.”
  • Former President Gerald Ford said, “I hear more and more often that we don’t want, can’t afford to have a replay of 1964.” If the Republican Party nominated Ronald Reagan, “it would be an impossible situation” because Reagan “is perceived as a most conservative Republican. A very conservative Republican can’t win in a national election.” Asked by the New York Times if that meant Ford thought Reagan can’t win, Ford replied, “That’s right.” The Times story went on to observe that Ford thought “Mr. Reagan would be a sure-loser in November” and that Reagan held “extreme and too-simple views.”

So here we are in 2023, and, safe to say, as Paul Kengor’s numerous books make vividly clear, Ronald Reagan is today venerated as a genuine American hero for acting on his belief that the decades-old Cold War should — and could — be won. As the famous story goes, in a 1977 conversation, Richard Allen, Reagan’s future national security adviser, asked Reagan for his view of what to do with the Cold War. Reagan replied:

My idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?

Four years later, holding his first presidential press conference days after his inauguration, Reagan was asked by ABC’s Sam Donaldson for his views on dealing with the Communist Soviet Union. The question:

Mr. President, what do you see as the long-range intentions of the Soviet Union? Do you think, for instance, the Kremlin is bent on world domination that might lead to a continuation of the cold war, or do you think that under other circumstances détente is possible?

Reagan replied this way — to audible gasps from the assembled White House press corps (bold print for emphasis supplied):

Well, so far détente’s been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims. I don’t have to think of an answer as to what I think their intentions are; they have repeated it. I know of no leader of the Soviet Union since the revolution, and including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various Communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one-world Socialist or Communist state, whichever word you want to use.

Now, as long as they do that and as long as they, at the same time, have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards, I think when you do business with them, even at a détente, you keep that in mind.

It was that determination that would, against the “wisdom” of the “experts” in foreign policy of the day, win the Cold War. Without, as Margaret Thatcher said, “firing a shot.”

One would suggest without much hope that President Joe Biden would recall that wisdom as he deals with Communist China, but don’t bet the ranch. (READ MORE: Biden’s Ballooning Foreign-Policy Blunders)

The bottom line in all of this is that as President Reagan’s 112th birthday of Feb. 6, 1911, was celebrated by his soldiers in the Reagan Revolution, it was remembered how he was airily dismissed as a serious presidential candidate. And just how wrong the political “experts,” not to mention Establishment Republicans, of the day were.

Today, as reported here in the Washington Post, 26 American states have everything from highways to schools, parks, a medical center, a federal courthouse, and more named for him. This includes the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, not to mention Virginia’s Reagan Washington National Airport and the Reagan Building that sits astride Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.

President Reagan has come a very long way in American history, with Paul Kengor (and others) documenting in detail just how and why.

So happy birthday, Mr. President. The soldiers of the Reagan Revolution — a tad older to be sure — gathered together and raised a glass in honor of your birthday.

Somewhere we know you are smiling.

Jeffrey Lord
Follow Their Stories:
View More
Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
Sign up to receive our latest updates! Register

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The American Spectator, 122 S Royal Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314, You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!