Tulsans gather to remember Reagan

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Maybe I should have titled this "a cult gathering to worship the career of 6-6-6", which was the heading to one of two negative replies I received to my notice of the gathering at Paddy's to toast the life and work of Ronald Reagan. We partook of the cultic food (jelly beans), and passed around graven images of our departed leader. The big tables in the back of Paddy's would have been large enough for sacrificing a liberal in memory of Ronaldus Magnus, but it would have been out of keeping with the spirit of the event.

About 30 folks showed up. I was sick abed most of the day but managed to recover sufficiently to attend, and anyway I figured Guinness and camraderie would complete the recovery.

A couple of people present actually met the president and more than just once. Architect Joe Coleman was a delegate to the 1976 and 1980 Republican national conventions, and he brought along some wonderful pictures -- one of him with President and Mrs. Reagan, and several from the time he escorted Nancy around Tulsa during a campaign visit.

Former County Clerk Joan Hastings brought some photos of her with President Reagan. She told about a fundraiser held at the Fairgrounds, where the organizers severely underestimated the number of tickets that would be sold. It was $100 a plate for a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Joan's solution was to send a runner out to McDonald's and come back with 100 Big Mac certificates, which Reagan signed. Naturally, people were happier to have Reagan's autograph than chicken, mashed potatoes and a spork to eat them with. One gentleman (Joan mentioned the name, but I can't remember who) went away emptyhanded, but later received a handwritten note: "Good for one Big Mac. Ronald Reagan."

Ron Barr called our attention to a remarkable aspect of Reagan's effort to defeat the Soviet Union -- hurting the USSR's source of hard currency by working with Saudi Arabia to drop the price of oil and sabotaging the Soviets' ability to deliver fossil fuels by selling them and allowing them to steal flawed technology. He mentioned two books by Peter Schweizer: Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism and Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

State Rep. Pam Peterson told us of a wonderful surprise she received earlier this year. An ORU student at the time, she was part of a crowd of students that met Ronald Reagan in 1976, when he came to Tulsa to campaign for Jim Inhofe. (Inhofe was running for Congress that year.) She had no idea that a picture existed of that moment when she was getting Reagan's autograph. But Tony Lauinger, head of Oklahomans for Life, was there too, that day in 1976, not far away, and someone had snapped a black-and-white photo of the scene, probably for the school newspaper or yearbook. Earlier this year Tony thought he recognized her in the photo and gave her a copy of it. Pam didn't have a copy with her Thursday night, but she's got a copy framed on the wall of her House office.

The rest of us present never had that brush with greatness, but all had been inspired by Reagan's courage to stand for the truth. In the mid '70s, conservatism was homeless in American politics. Conservatives felt their concerns were being ignored. No one was calling for the rollback of communism, and even containment was a thing of the past; instead the USSR's expansionism was a fact of life we'd just have to accommodate. No one was calling for shrinking the federal government or reducing the tax burden, and no leader expressed a realistic hope for ending our economic doldrums. Both parties supported abortion, and driving religion out of the public square, and the decline of the traditional family was seen as unavoidable. Neither of the national parties held out hope for significant improvement.

That's why Ronald Reagan was such a breath of fresh air. For a younger generation, it was the radio commentaries that first brought Ronald Reagan to our attention. Someone was affirming our understanding of the world, validating our hopes, and assuring us that our hopes weren't impossible. That someone was capable of carrying those hopes to the White House and leading us in making them a reality. That revival of hope was even more profound for those behind the Iron Curtain, when Reagan's clear rhetoric cut through the usual diplomatic blarney. I'll close with this tribute from Natan Sharansky in the Jerusalem Post:

In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan's "provocation" quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.

At the time, I never imagined that three years later, I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. When he summoned some of his staff to hear what I had said, I understood that there had been much criticism of Reagan's decision to cast the struggle between the superpowers as a battle between good and evil. Well, Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 12, 2004 12:32 AM.

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