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Ronald Reagan at Generation X - January 28, 1997

Richard Brian McCarty

Sixteen years ago, an aging yet optimistic man took the oath of office to become the fortieth President of the United States. He told us communism would fail, even as it was expanding throughout the world. He told us government could not solve our problems, after 40 years of Americans being told there was not a problem government could not solve. He said we would grow our economy in the midst of national malaise.

Ronald Wilson Reagan, at age 69, spoke the words that forever changed America and the world. If you doubt it, just look at the world today. Communism is virtually dead. A Democratic President appeals to us that we have to cut government. And, the stock market is five times what it was in 1981. Our economy, our technology, and the comfort of our lives is much improved. Ronald Reagan stood there that cold January day and told us what he saw, and that he believed in us, and it happened.

There are those who criticize Ronald Reagan for his deficits, and that will be a negative part of his legacy. But, few can argue that his Presidency was the last one of the Twentieth Century that seemed Presidential. Political pundits will argue the reasons for his success, and his historic significance. Adding my perspective, I believe it was in his twenties Ronald Reagan defined himself and it was that time in his life that made him the President he was. It is a lesson every one of us Generation Xers should see.

In his mid-twenties, Ronald Reagan suffered a few setbacks. First, even with his college education, he found it hard to get a job. He was turned down by Montgomery Ward to be a sales clerk, and had to borrow his family car to travel to try to find jobs. He could not find one.

In the middle of all of this, his girlfriend of five years, and fiancee, Margaret, sent him the engagement pin he had given her. She had met an army officer she wanted to marry instead. Reagan writes of being depressed about it all.

Add to those circumstances the fact Reagan's father was an alcoholic whom the family at times could not depend on, and you have a situation that many of today's twenty-somethings would go on Geraldo about. Indeed, it would have been easy for Ronald Reagan to become cynical and give up.

Just think about it. There he was. His job prospects were worsening by the day. The love of his life was gone forever. His father was stoned drunk at times to the point of embarrassing and letting down the family.. He was Irish at a time when being Irish was a stigma to live with. Ronald Reagan was where many of the people who said he did not understand them, claim they are. He was broke, unemployed, and hurt. But, how he faced that trying time in his life defines him, and serves as a living embodiment of the principles he preached.

Reagan never lost his faith in himself or in God. He still reached for his dream of being a radio broadcaster--and eventually found it. We all know the things he did--actor, Governor of California, and President, and it all flowed from the way he met the challenges of his life in his mid twenties.

He worked hard. He used his talents. He did not rely on the government. He loved his family and friends. He had the courage to be who he was without apology. He tried to find ways to laugh at life. He learned stories about wise sayings and successful people. Patty Noonan, who was one of Reagan's speech writers, said he was comfortable with who he was. How could Reagan not be with the way he had faced his life's crucial time?

Today, we, the members of Generation X, tend to be pessimistic. Many of us question faith. We tend to think about ourselves and our plight more than try to live. We give up on our dreams, and see the world as a place against us. We chain ourselves to our fears,and are encouraged to do so by leaders who praise our realistic view of the world. We are naive.

Just think of how different Reagan's life would have been had he adopted the new "realism" of Generation X. He would have not tried time and time again to be a radio broadcaster. There was a depression going on, where was his sense of reason? He would not have had love in his life. After losing Margaret, didn't he see there was no such thing as love? And, why on earth would he want to go into politics or acting and expose himself to the world of critics that were surely beneath him as an enlightened twenty four year old? Couldn't he have just worked on himself? What a fool he was, right?

Well, that fool, by putting his trust in God and believing in himself made the most out of his life. He told us we could dare to dream without the government and with faith, because he had dared to dream himself when the odds were stacked against him. And, his cool confidence was there in Iceland when Gorbachev demanded we cut our defenses much lower than the Communists. Who would have been there instead had Reagan gave up on life?

Many people I know face the same challenges of Ronald Reagan. I myself face some of them. In the culture we have been educated in, it is easy to be the pessimist, and to spend our lives away self-examining. It is easy to slip down the slippery slope of faithlessness, self-analyzing, and self-isolation in our generation's culture.

But, before one gives up on it all, he should think of a young man knocked down by life named Ronald Reagan. Generation X would doom him to failure. The liberal mind of dependency would call him crazy for trying without them. He lived a life that showed what the conservative principles of faith, hard work, love for others, vision, and self-reliance could do. Maybe you do not care to be President, only forty-two Americans have ever done that. But, maybe if you approached your life like one President - Ronald Reagan - did, you might find this world is not that bad of a place after all, and that your problems can be overcome.

Let the historians and the pundits debate his Presidency, it was Ronald Reagan's life, and how he approached it that made the biggest contribution to America's history. Because, after eight years out of office, Ronald Reagan's life can still touch Generation X and beyond.

Richard Brian McCarty has worked on several political campaigns of conservatives. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina and a BS degree from Lander University. An experienced writer, McCarty's columns are written from a distinctly Southern point of view. He is sometimes Southern, sometimes conservative, sometimes humorous, and sometimes all three.

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