Ronald Reagan’s birthday will be commemorated this week. He took office just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday in 1981 making him the oldest man elected to serve as our Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, that is until he stood for re-election in 1984. In fact, one of the most well-known lines in Presidential debate history came in response to Reagan being questioned whether his age would be an important factor in his re-election campaign. Reagan, in his famous Irish wit, said, “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” which drew a roar of laughter from the crowd and even his opponent, Walter Mondale. Reagan won the election 49 states to 1.
The irony is that it would take America’s oldest President to remind her what it means to be young again. The lessons he taught hold some key insights into not only renewing the American economy (showing strong signs of lethargy), but the American spirit.
A youthful spirit, which Reagan clearly possessed in great measure, has been described as “a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life” and manifests in a “temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” The former California Governor displayed this vitality when he made his announcement that he would seek the Presidency in 1980. He exhorted, “Someone once said that the difference between an American and any other kind of person is that an American lives in anticipation of the future because he knows it will be a great place.”
But, Reagan contrasted, “There are those in our land today, however, who would have us believe that the United States, like other great civilizations of the past, has reached the zenith of its power; that we are weak and fearful, reduced to bickering with each other and no longer possessed of the will to cope with our problems.” He continued, “They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where – because of our past excesses – it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do either. That is why I am seeking the presidency.”
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