How President Reagan turned me into an optimist

It didn't seem likely he would depart this world without taking the rest of us with him

Share
Related Topics

As so many people have pointed out, the world is much poorer for the loss of Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. Never one to be bogged down by political jargon, he always combined his comforting nature with irresistible folksy charm. For example, who can forget his message to the Nicaraguan peasants: "We're going to burn your villages down." This was delivered as ever with irrepressible mid-west good humour. "And if you carry on wanting to be run by the government you elected, we've got guys who'll rip your organs apart with their bare hands," he said, with that effervescent cheeky presidential grin.

As so many people have pointed out, the world is much poorer for the loss of Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. Never one to be bogged down by political jargon, he always combined his comforting nature with irresistible folksy charm. For example, who can forget his message to the Nicaraguan peasants: "We're going to burn your villages down." This was delivered as ever with irrepressible mid-west good humour. "And if you carry on wanting to be run by the government you elected, we've got guys who'll rip your organs apart with their bare hands," he said, with that effervescent cheeky presidential grin.

Certain White House apparatchiks would occasionally voice concern that illegally to fund, arm, advise, supply and run an army dedicated to overthrowing the elected Nicaraguan government wasn't, strictly speaking, within international law. Sharp as a razor, Reagan would reply by saying, "Do you know, I've completely forgotten who I am." Then everyone would laugh and the massacres could continue without ill-feeling.

For Reagan wasn't a politician's president; he was a people's president. His interest wasn't the tedium of detail but the big picture. Once he was stuck in a dreary meeting in which Pentagon officials were wading through the footnotes on how to carry out Reagan's plans for El Salvador. He'd decided to back a general, known as "Captain Blowtorch", in putting down the movement for democracy, a strategy that would wipe out 20,000 people in 15 months. "Where should we send our first consignment of troops?" asked a junior defence minister. With typical bonhomie, Reagan fell fast asleep. "Wake me up when they've all been shot," he mumbled.

Despite this cheery exterior, Reagan could certainly be tough when necessary. He was uncompromising towards communism, a system that enraged him for denying its citizens the right to vote for governments that could then be overthrown by a US-backed military coup. Reagan's firm stance towards the Soviet regime single-handedly freed billions of people who were suffering under its rule. Because up to then, American presidents had all tried the soft approach, dealing with communist regimes by taking all the leaders away to the coast in a big van for a week in order to develop their sense of community, in the hope that delinquents such as Leonid Brezhnev would start to dismantle the Berlin Wall as they learned to get in touch with their inner selves.

The pre-Reagan liberals, such as Richard Nixon and Senator Joseph McCarthy, had never considered acting tough, and as soon as Reagan made it clear he would stand for no nonsense, the East German government apologised for all the trouble it had caused and gave Checkpoint Charlie back to McDonald's, which had owned it in the first place.

But Reagan was, as his beloved Nancy often said, also a man of "easy grace". So, despite his loathing of communism, if he felt a particular communist was making an effort, he could coax them gently. Which was why his first administration gave vast amounts of money, food and weapons to Pol Pot. After all, Pot's Khmer Rouge was engaged in a programme of genuine reform, although the nature of this reform was the systematic starvation of a million peasants. However, the Americans had killed 750,000 Cambodians only a few years earlier by napalming the place, so Pol Pot's policy of slaughtering large chunks of Cambodia could actually be seen as positively pro-American.

And the arms spending was critical in restoring a sense of pride to the 50 million Americans in poverty in 1984, who were previously concerned their government might squander the money on welfare or a health service.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was to make America feel good about itself once again. Reagan's folksy wit helped America to get over the neurosis it developed after Vietnam, and learn to enjoy invading all over again. With boundless optimism, he declared it was Morning for America. Having launched the largest ever peacetime military spending programme, introducing the world's population to terms such as ICBM, MX, and SDI, millions of people would wake up every day and go: "Thank Christ we're still here", making us fully appreciate each morning.

So Reagan's greatest legacy should be his greatest quality: optimism. Because between 1980 and 1988, it didn't often seem likely that the time would come when Reagan would depart this world without taking the rest of us with him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness