In his day he was reviled in ways that George W. Bush could commiserate about. He was denigrated as just an actor, a lightweight, an extremist and many other insults. And yet now he is revered by most including many on the left.
His crime at the time was an Unapologetically American attitude, and it served him, and us, quite well. He stood up to the most existential threat this planet has ever faced, nuclear Armageddon. It is hard to convey to kids who don't even know what the Soviet Union was that there was a serious concern that we could actually destroy the planet. Not in the wimpy Al Goreacle-d way they are whingeing about now, but actually snuff out the human race in a nuclear winter. This was not just the left wing buttheads, it was a legitimate worry for anyone paying attention.
He stood for human rights and dignity and the right of all people to choose their own government and live free from oppression. And when he talked about it you knew he meant it. The Soviet Union was in full on expansionist mode and recruiting satellites and proxies to expand their influence. Our answer was Ronald Reagan and gunboat diplomacy. BAM! It didn't always work, and of course we made compromises and worked with some evil bastards. But in the end it we prevailed and he was prophetic when he said "... freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history.". And the world can thank Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher & Pope John Paul II for that. There are others, Lech Walesa for certain, who deserve high praise, but that troika was the driving force in the fight for liberty and freedom.
His good nature and steadiness were a comforting factor when the price of failure was annihilation. It is a level of dignity and grace under pressure we haven't seen in any politician since and not many before (if any). The stakes in our international duel with the Soviets was survival. Our systems were mutually incompatible and theirs required a constant expansion to bring more of the proletariat into the fold. So Reagan planted the flag, and said this will not stand. It was a bold stance and much assailed by the Realpolitik crowd as well as the entire left. The fights over the nuclear missiles we had in Europe were epic, both here and there. I saw some first hand in Germany, and will never forget the protester on 15 foot stilts trying to step over the 10 ft fence around a US nuke base, and the Polizei blasting him dead in the chest sending him ass over tea kettle backwards. Heck back then when people asked what I did, I told them I worked for Ronald Reagan, and I was damn proud of it.
The current chaos is creating a kind of Reagan nostalgia. Agree with the man or not, but you knew where he stood and you knew the political winds would not sway him. Some straight talk about freedom from a man who has inspired hundreds of millions around the world right now would be welcome. Lech Walesa knows who he wants to thank.
When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.
Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.
I bet the protesters in Egypt, or the poor bastards who preceded them in Iran, would love to hear the support of the most powerful man on the planet. Or more importantly for their governments to hear it. Belief in freedom and the rule of democracy is the greatest gift America has given the world. We should never fail to stand tall and refuse to countenance tyranny. We do our country, our security and the world as a whole a tremendous good every time we reaffirm those beliefs.
So thanks President Reagan, for the inspiration, the example, the strength and the dignity. America is exceptional, we were founded that way and remain the shining city on the hill the rest of the world wishes they lived in.