read more: Boston Herald

[password]Yesterday marked 100 years since the birth of Ronald Reagan. During this centennial year, many will rightly toast Reagan as the president who defeated communism and led America out of a major recession.

Reagan will be remembered not only for these accomplishments, but also for his moral clarity and his eternal optimism — character traits that helped the Gipper effect one of the most significant political realignments in American history.

Recall that Reagan won liberal Massachusetts (not once, but twice) — the only Republican candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to do so; he garnered the support of traditionally Democratic union members and ethnic Catholics across the country; and he was able to unite economic conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks (no easy task) into a viable coalition.

What drew all of these seemingly disparate and unconnected groups to Reagan was his commitment to “American renewal.”

Put simply, Reagan believed in the promise of America and pledged to restore her to greatness.

After the self-doubt and weakness of the Carter years, Reagan promised to make our economy strong, keep our families safe and restore respect for our military at home and abroad.

The theme of “American renewal” resonated not just with seasoned voters, but also with a generation of college students.

Whether from Democratic, Republican or apolitical families, the so-called “Gen-Xers” were raised to be patriots.  But on campuses across the country, professors who came of age in the 1960s belittled their young students’ faith in America.

I know because I was there.

Too young to vote in 1980 and 1984, I never cast a ballot for Reagan. In truth, Def Leppard and Motley Crue, not taxes and the Evil Empire, occupied most of my attention in those years.

When I turned 18 in the fall of 1985, I reflexively registered Democrat — the party of my parents and grandparents.

But as a freshman at the University at Massachusetts at Amherst in the first year of Reagan’s second term, my political world-view began to take shape.

Like many campuses in the 1980s, UMass was a bastion of left-wing extremism. Speech codes dictated what could and could not be said. Professors attempted to debunk the “myth” of America as the “land of opportunity,” the shining city on the hill to which the huddled masses flock from every corner of the earth in search of freedom. They openly mocked Reagan, while lauding Fidel Castro for bringing “universal health care” to Cuba. They taught that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies were terrorist enterprises, and they sought to ban them from recruiting on campus.

Anyone who challenged Amherst’s conventional wisdom was deemed a fascist. Women and minorities who dared to dissent were regarded as suffering from “false consciousness.”

Many students felt under siege. But Reagan provided the perfect foil to the voices of malaise. Proud and unafraid, he praised American exceptionalism. In a time of aggressive Soviet expansion, he proved that America could still be a force for freedom. And he reminded us of the resilience of the American spirit and of the attainability of the American dream.

And so a new generation of Republicans was born: a middle-class generation, committed to equal opportunity and freedom at home, and willing to use American power abroad to protect our country’s interests and the interests of the free world.  It is these “neo-conservative Gen-Xers” that form the backbone of today’s Republican Party.

In this year of the Reagan Centennial, let us remember not only how Reagan changed the world in his time, but also how he altered the American political landscape in a way that will influence the world for decades to come.[/password]

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