Once upon a time in an America of long ago, there were two important birthday observances that took place in the merry month of February. Interestingly, or maybe not so interestingly, depending on your excitement level, the two birthday observances happened to be presidents of the United States. These two presidents, namely George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were so honored by the nation because of their extraordinary achievements. But that was long, long ago.
Washington’s birthday is Feb. 22 and it was a national holiday. Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, was a holiday in some states but not a national holiday. But all that changed in 1971 with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which sought to put as many holidays as possible on a Monday so that we can all have three day week-ends. Washington’s birthday became Presidents’ Day and is celebrated on the third Monday of February. Lincoln was sort of swept into that day and more recently, the day has come to include ALL presidents.
Years ago I wrote of the stupidity of having a “Presidents’ Day” to celebrate all our presidents since so many of them don’t really warrant recognition in a national holiday. It would be akin to having an “Emperors’ Day” or a “Kings’ Day.” George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are indeed worthy of a national day of remembrance; Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are not. Much better to honor individuals, not groups. Having said that however, there is one other president whose birthday happens to fall in February and whose achievements and broad popularity are deserving of honor.
President Ronald Reagan was born on Feb. 6 and fits in comfortably with the other two men. Washington, the Father of our Country, president in the 18th century; Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, president in the 19th century; and Reagan, the Great Communicator, president in the 20th century. The triple crown of presidents; the trinity of America, if you will.
All three presidents believed strongly in the importance of the individual above the state. All believed in the freedom of man from authoritarian power and centralized big government. They believed in the sovereignty of states’ rights as opposed to federal dictums. All three believed in the principle of human initiative and hard work, they believed in America as a land of opportunity, not a land of welfare or hand-outs. And all three of these men were honorable in their personal lives as well as their terms of public office.
Yes, Reagan deserves to be included as one of the great presidents in our history. As far as Ronald Reagan’s major accomplishments are concerned, consider the following:
He ended the Cold War, which had raged since World War II. Communism‘s quest for world domination remained an existential threat to the United States when President Reagan took office. Reagan reversed the policy of detente and stood firm against the Soviet Union, calling it the Evil Empire and telling Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in Berlin. He was relentless in pushing his Strategic Defense Initiative and gave aid to rebels battling Soviet-backed Marxists from Nicaragua to Angola. Those efforts were critical in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet empire and essentially ended the Cold War.
Reagan’s mix of across-the-board tax cuts, deregulation, and domestic spending restraint helped fuel an economic boom that lasted two decades. Reagan inherited a misery index (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates) of 19.99%, and when he left office it had dropped to 9.72%. Under Reaganomics, 16 million new jobs were created.
He pulled Americans together, not apart. Reagan was able to form a winning coalition of fiscal conservatives, family-values voters, blue-collar Reagan Democrats, and neo-conservative intellectuals. His free-market, small-government, pro-liberty conservatism helped to revitalize the GOP and his influence resonates today as conservative candidates still invoke Reagan as their standard-bearer.
The military was diminished during the Carter years, but Reagan reversed that by rebuilding the armed forces. His Peace Through Strength philosophy was manifested by his reviving the B-1 bomber that Carter canceled, starting production of the MX missile, and pushing NATO to deploy Pershing missiles in West Germany. He increased defense spending by more than 40%, increased troop levels, and even got much-needed space parts into the pipeline. Those efforts ensured that America remained a military superpower.
Morning in America, his reelection slogan, symbolized a new beginning for the country. Reagan’s jaunty optimism and an economic boom was a much-needed tonic for a country that had experienced the malaise of the Carter years and the traumas of Watergate and Vietnam. Reagan gave voice to the values that had served America well — thrift, patriotism, and hard work — and often recounted the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.
His other successes include the Strategic Defense Initiative, nuclear weapons cuts, and tax reforms. For these reasons and others, President Reagan should be honored on Presidents’ Day. As a matter of fact, let’s make February Presidents’ Month in honor of the three great men who were born in that month during the three separate centuries of America’s lifespan.