Roots of Presidential Greatness
By David Harmer
Four American presidents were born in February. One is notable only for the brevity of his tenure: William Henry Harrison died a month after taking office. The other three were George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan.
In recognition of President Reagan’s 111th birthday, the Union League of Philadelphia asked me to speak about him at their Presidents’ Day banquet last week. I was glad to, because I knew him, in a way. When I was a boy, my father served under him as lieutenant governor of California. Even before Dad became lieutenant governor, he worked closely with Reagan, enabling me to meet the governor on several occasions.
At first, when I was too young to understand the great debates in which Dad and Reagan were engaged, my political interests focused on the gubernatorial Jelly Belly jar. I’d been told that Reagan was famous; I knew firsthand that he was kind. (You can tell a lot about people by how they treat children.) I remember him being delighted to see me and offering jelly beans with a solemnity that might be accorded an ambassador.
Later, I grew to appreciate Reagan’s leadership. His convictions, rooted in the principles of the American founding, were leavened with humility. As the magnitude of his accomplishments became apparent—at home, the conquest of inflation, reinvigoration of the economy, and restoration of national confidence; abroad, peaceful victory in the Cold War and an unprecedented expansion of freedom—he graciously deflected credit from himself toward others, always remembering that he was the servant of the American people and acknowledging the hand of Providence.
When visiting Dad in his later years, I often asked about his relationship with Reagan. He shared a trove of personal experiences, a few of which I shared in my speech. Now I’m pleased to share them with you.
I hasten to reaffirm the longstanding commitment of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge to nonpartisanship. We favor no political party or candidate. I hope the lessons I draw from President Reagan’s example will prove worthwhile to Americans of all political persuasions.
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