11 Jun 2004 Listening to Talk About Reagan
The was written by Christopher Blunt, president of Overbrook Research, a polling company. Blunt and David Almasi lived across the street from each other in college and were involved in campus political activism together during the Reagan Administration. David passed this over to me, thinking blog readers might enjoy reading it:
Reagan’s passing hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. Before last Saturday, I had never really stopped to think about the degree to which he had shaped my personal, political and professional identities. Somewhere in the middle of the coverage that night, I decided what I needed to do: After the kids went to bed, I poured myself a pint of Guinness I’d been saving for a special occasion, slipped “A Time For Choosing” into the VCR and toasted the greatest President of my lifetime.
Wednesday night, as the memorial service in the Capitol was in progress, I felt drawn to the 7:00 pm Mass at the church in our small town in East Central Illinois. I wanted to be connected to what was going on, and the best way seemed to be to join others in praying for Reagan and his family. Our town is not unlike Dixon – out on the Illinois prairie, friendly and filled with people with deeply rooted values. Like President Reagan’s parents, my wife and I decided that this was the kind of place where we wanted our children to grow up.
My eight-year-old son announced that he wanted to go with me to Mass. As we drove past rolling fields of corn and soybeans, the two of us listened to Dick Cheney’s tribute to Reagan. Cheney was still speaking when we reached the church, and it was only 6:55 pm, so we sat in the parking lot and continued to listen. I was mesmerized, and deep in thought, but my son was clearly starting to get antsy. Cheney finished right before 7:00 pm, and I snapped off the radio. On our way into the church, my son asked, slightly annoyed, “Daddy, why do you like listening to so many things about Ronald Reagan?”
I didn’t have time to answer him then, but his question made me do a lot of thinking while we were inside. On our way back out to the car, he insisted again: “Daddy, why do you like listening to so many things about Ronald Reagan?”
I decided the radio would stay off the whole way home. I took a deep breath, and tried to find the best place to start. “When I was eight years old,” I said, driving through the tree-line streets of Paxton, “a bad man became President…”
“Did he know he was bad?” my son interrupted.”Probably not,” I replied. “But he did a lot of bad things.”
“Like what?” he insisted.
I tried to explain about his grandmother and I sitting in line to get gas, inflation (“everything kept costing more”), interest rates (“nobody could buy a house”), hostages (“bad people in other countries did bad things to us, and the President couldn’t stop them”), malaise (“the President said all these problems were the fault of us, the people”) and how everything changed in 1981. I told him what Reagan did, and what he meant for me and the country. I also told him how I saw, for the first time, what good the right man can do in office, how that got me into politics, why I worked on Reagan’s 1984 campaign in high school and why I waited for hours to see him when he came to my town and why I studied political science in college and devoted all my spare time to campus political activism. Above all, I told him why I chose political polling as a career: it’s a way I can use everything I learned to help good people get elected.
People who can do good things in public office. People who can make America better. People like Ronald Reagan – and George W. Bush.
Our station wagon crunched onto the gravel driveway of our hundred year old farmhouse. “Does this make any sense?” I asked.
My son nodded. I don’t think he understood everything I’d said, but he didn’t ask again why we were listening to all these people talk about Ronald Reagan.