Requiescat In Pace. Ronald Reagan died at age 93. He deserves our prayers of gratitude. My view is that President Reagan saved America. By the end of the Carter Era, our country was devastated. Our currency was so devalued it was a joke. The stock market was back at the same levels of 14 years before. Inflation was out of control - business loan interest rates were well-above 20%. Business conditions were stagnant and had been so for over five years with the gum-mint micromanaging (a Jimmy Carter trademark) in an attempt to keep the ship from sinking.
As a small business owner, I remember coming home from work exhausted after a 10-plus-hour, hot-as-hell, July 1979 day at my then-struggling manufacturing business, arriving just in time for the 6:00 pm Pacific time Oval Office lecture from a stern-faced Jimmy Carter - the one where he told us that everything was our fault (including the infamous 'Misery Index' - the sum of inflation rate and unemployment rate) because we had a Bad Attitude. At that moment, I became a Republican. And Ronald Reagan subsequently got my vote.
As President, Ronald Reagan and his staff moved quickly to fix America's mess. His initial moves threw this country into a steep recession (probably overdue anyway), but we recovered in the typical 18 months. By that time, inflation rates had fallen - and stayed down.
In 1978, the consumer price index had gone up by 9%. In 1979, it went up 13.3%. In 1980, Carter's last year in office, 12.5%. In 1981, it dropped to 8.9% and averaged 3.6% for the remaining seven years of the Reagan presidency. Inflationary expectations, combined with monetary tightening by the Federal Reserve, caused interest rates to hit the highest levels in U.S. history. By mid-1980, the prime rate was over 20 percent! Unsecured personal loans were actually cheaper at Household Finance Corporation than small business loans were at my local banks in those days. Reagan quickly put a stop to this madness. God bless him.
The stock market took off in a recovery which continued (with the occasional hiccup) for the remainder of the 20th Century. Unemployment subsided, too. Recessions since then have been normal in scope but infrequent in nature. The dollar recovered - so much that, by the mid-1980s, the British pound was down to $1.09. And 'stagflation' disappeared from America's lexicon. It was all thanks to Ronald Reagan and his team. And, while every other President responded to union strikes by hemming and hawing and jawboning, Reagan fired every Air Traffic Controller in 1981 and refused to take them back. (I remember the 1970s as an era of calamitous, disruptive strikes. The number of strikes went way down after 1981. A message had been sent - from the very top.)
President Reagan always acted decisively. He also played serious poker with the Soviets, raising the economic stakes of the game (with his missile defense system) that he helped bankrupt the USSR and brought down the Soviet Union. Millions of people live free today because Ronald Reagan believed that freedom could triumph over tyranny and because he had the courage to act on his beliefs.
President Reagan's pro-business, anti-tax attitudes probably saved my small company; we grew rapidly in sales (and profits) as the economy recovered. I remember one of my liberal employees carping about Reagan in 1986 or thereabouts. I pointed out that, when she was hired two years previously, the wages from her prior job had been 70% less than she was presently making. She could, in no small part, thank Reagan's supply-side economics for the boost in our business and in her paycheck. Did she want to turn back time - put Jimmy back in the White House and go back to her minimum wage job elsewhere under the high-unemployment Carter administration? Her 'reply' was silence and a petulant glare. Some people never seem to get it.
I predict that future historians will judge Ronald Reagan as the greatest President of the 20th Century, eclipsing FDR and others who have been 'sainted' by present-day historians. Reagan saved this country, rescuing us from the brink of insolvency. And gave us back our pride and can-do spirit. And I watched it all unfold from my small-business-owner vantage point.
Ronald Reagan's last public communication was a handwritten letter in 1994, announcing that he had Alzheimer's disease. An excerpt: "Let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home ... I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. ... I know that, for America, there will always be a bright new dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you." A class act, even in the twilight of his life.
As we Irish say, may God bless you and hold you in the palm of His Hand, Mr. Reagan. Thanks for everything.
Thoughts on the Funeral: Never let it be said that America doesn't know how to do funerals. We gave Ronnie a great sendoff. The pageantry outdid the British, the clockwork precision surpassed the Germans and the intricacies and small memorable gestures trumped the Japanese. The National Cathedral was as stunningly elegant as anything seen on the other side of the Atlantic. And the week's televised images were chock full of American symbols - long, black Cadillacs, massive Lincoln Town Cars and a gigantic Boeing 747. All made in the good 'ol USA.
The eulogies were well done. I personally liked Margaret Thatcher's the best: "With the lever of patriotism, he lifted up the world." Baroness, you knocked the ball out of the park with that one! I also enjoyed former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney remarks as well. Especially his Irish humor. At the graveside service in California, Reagan's three children spoke with warmth and surprising eloquence.
America is a vast and diversified country. The funeral procession began Friday morning in East Coast drizzle, traveling formally through old, historic streets while passing stone and granite buildings. It concluded in sunny Southern California, an informal land of freeways, rolling hills and Spanish tiled roofs. The grand finale was God's Best Sunset over the Pacific.
It has been said that Ronald Reagan brought style back into the Presidency. Appropriately, he was been sent off in style.
Final Ride: Watching the proceedings (car guy that I am), I couldn't help but notice the black Cadillac hearses. Over the last 50 years or so, most hearses have been made from Cadillacs - in no small part, because Cadillac offers a special 'commercial vehicle platforms' to coachbuilders. The hearses in Reagan's funeral were probably made by either Superior or Eagle Coach. (I couldn't read the builder's chrome signature aft of the rear doors.)
Today's hearses present a challenge to the designer - how to take a modern, low-slung, aerodynamic vehicle and turn it into a tall box without making the whole thing look silly. (Hearses have high rooflines partly because of tradition and partly because some funeral directors want to stuff large floral arrangements in the same space as the casket for the ride to the cemetery.) The designers did a decent job on the current Cadillac design - officially known as the B9Q version of the Cadillac De Ville - a front-wheel driver with the Northstar V-8 engine. The De Ville model was redesigned in 2000 and the current Presidential armored limo is also based on it.
I think the best-looking hearses of all time are the ones based on the tall cars of the late 1930s, particularly Packards and LaSalles.
Final Quote: A well-known historian once said that you can't begin to write history for 40 to 50 years after an event - the details, consequences and context aren't really complete until that much time has passed. Proof of this is the moronic remark made by 'noted' historian Arthur Schlesinger (who should have known better) in May, 1988: "A few years from now, I believe, Reaganism will seem a weird and improbable memory, a strange interlude of national hallucination, rather as the McCarthyism of the early 1950s and the youth rebellion of the late 1960s appear to us today."
Arthur couldn't have been more wrong.