Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Celebrating President Reagan on the 100th Anniversary of his Birth

Posted on February 11, 2011

Back when he was President of the United States, President Reagan attended one of the many Washington press dinners held here each year. It was well-known that 90% of the people in the audience—the members of the press—had a different point of view on politics than he did, but they liked him anyway and they respected him, just as he respected them. I remember that he strode in smiling and looking like a million dollars. The press rose, smiled back, and applauded him. When the applause subsided President Reagan said, “Thank you very much, I know how hard it is to clap with your fingers crossed.”

The media laughed. They had a wonderful time with President Reagan. He was a very friendly man. He was a congenial man. He was an easy person to know—the kind of person you would enjoy spending time with. He was very comfortable, as we say, in his own skin. And what you saw in private was what everyone else saw in public. But Ronald Reagan was about a lot more than being friendly and congenial.

Sixteen years ago this month, I stood on the front porch of my hometown courthouse in Maryville and announced my candidacy for President of the United States. It was an offer that the people of the United States didn’t accept. My preacher brother-in-law said I should consider that political defeat as a reverse calling, and I have, and I have gone on to other things.

But what I said on that day is an example of the influence that Ronald Reagan had on our nation. I quoted a speech Ronald Reagan made before he was elected to any public office, a speech called “A Time for Choosing.” He said that, in America, freedom is our greatest value and there were two great threats to it: communism abroad and big government at home.

I said then, “I suppose we could say one down and one to go. Communism, the ‘evil empire,’ has virtually disappeared. But big government at home has become an arrogant empire, obnoxious and increasingly irrelevant in a telecommunications age. In every neighborhood of America, the government in Washington is stepping on the promise of American life. The new American Revolution is about lifting that yolk from the backs of American teachers, American farmers, business men and women, college presidents, and homeless shelter directors and giving us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves.”

Ronald Reagan, I said in 1995, put it this way when he spoke in 1964: “This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan ourselves.” That was the issue of the election in 1994, and would be the issue for years to come. I continued: “It took 30 years of unfashionable principled leadership by the last Republican Washington outsider who became President to help collapse the evil empire. Now is a good time to give another Republican Washington outsider the opportunity to help put some humility into the arrogant empire in Washington, D.C. ”

We Americans say that anything is possible and nothing symbolizes that more than the American Presidency. We see it in President Obama today, we saw it in President Lincoln, we saw it in President Truman, we saw it in President Eisenhower, but no president symbolized this more in the last half century than President Reagan. He reminded us of what it means to be an American, he lifted our spirits, he made us proud, he strengthened our character, and he taught us a great many lessons. We celebrate the centennial of his birth and the half century of his influence in public life.