‘‘The Founding Fathers,'' he said nearly 40 years ago, ‘‘knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.''
The question for Reagan was how much did government need to do its limited work, not how much the people who made the money could be forced to pay.
Reagan, the man, as well as Reagan the president, was so different from the White House occupant of the recent past. His philosophy and life were not about grievance, guilt or entitlement. He promoted hope, opportunity and personal responsibility. Reagan saw his eight years in the White House as less about him and more about us. He didn't need the presidency to complete himself. He was complete when he came to the job and his greatest desire was to show his ‘‘fellow Americans'' how to complete themselves through faith, hope, freedom and opportunity.
Reagan's stories were legion. Some may actually have been true, but most were told to make a point, like parables. They were illustrations that average people could understand. The stories touched something in our hearts and souls. They were intended to make us think noble thoughts and to take noble actions. Their heroes were intended to be role models for us. If they could do it — from Founding Fathers, to soldiers in battle — we could do it, too. The power to do good and to do well was in us, not government.
Even his digs could be wildly funny without devaluing his adversaries. In February 1988, after years of criticism about ‘‘Reaganomics,'' the president struck back with this classic line: ‘‘A friend of mine was invited to a costume party a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.''
How about this one on tax day, 1986: ‘‘Republicans believe that every day is the Fourth of July, while Democrats wish every day was April 15.''
Commenting on the 1981 congressional budget, Reagan said, ‘‘Cures were developed for which there were no known diseases.''
Just recently, thanks to Nancy Reagan and others, we have discovered not only some beautifully crafted love letters from the president to his wife, but also hand-written radio commentaries from four decades ago. Those commentaries show a well-developed understanding of domestic and international issues, along with a philosophy and ideology to address them. Reagan is a modest man who never tooted his own horn. He waited for the rest of the orchestra — the people — to be ready to play.
It is too bad that Reagan is no longer aware of who he was and what he did for his beloved America. But many of the rest of us are aware and so will future generations be, if the truth is told to them.
It probably won't be much longer before he ‘‘slips the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,'' as he said following the Challenger explosion in 1986. Those of us who remember and are grateful for the man and his mission can reach out across the continent to his California home and symbolically touch that craggy, smiling and wonderful face and say, ‘‘Happy Birthday, President Reagan, and may God continue to hold you safely in the palm of His hand.''