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Congressman Cole Recognizes Ronald Reagan's Legacy on the House Floor

June 9, 2004

Washington DC- Congressman Cole honored Ronald Reagan with remarks on the House floor today. Attached is the full version of his statement. 

     Mr. Speaker, there are few men in our history and there will be few men in our future who live their lives in such a way that the world will be changed because of their existence. Ronald Reagan is one of those men. His dignity, character, strength and convictions will distinguish him in the pages of history and define him as one of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century.  President Reagan was an inspiration to many and his optimism for America's future encouraged those across all party lines. He knew there was a brighter tomorrow through the path of strong values, hard work, tough decisions and perseverance. His leadership pulled America through the end of the Cold War, pushed the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc onto the "ash heap of history" and restored the virtues of idealism and optimism to our country. He was a visionary who instigated the rebirth of conservatism and shaped the Republican Party into the governing national majority we see today.

Ronald Reagan was a source of inspiration to me both personally and politically. I was serving as Executive Director of the Oklahoma State Party when Reagan was elected.  In 1984, I was honored to head his re-election efforts in Oklahoma. I also served as Oklahoma GOP Chairman during his presidency, so I had opportunities to meet and work with him. 

Ronald Reagan had a magic that really appealed to people.   A favorite memory is of a meeting with the president and Republican state party chairmen from the South in 1988.  A 15 minute meeting turned into an hour-long treasure as he regaled us with one hilarious political story after another.  His wit and humor are as fresh in my memory today as they were 20 years ago.  I was privileged to see up close what so many Americans intuitively felt when watching him on television.  He was an extraordinary man who loved life and enjoyed being with people.   It is no wonder he was able to move thousands of people and mobilize them to support his efforts.   It’s a gift few of us have—and he had that magic in abundance.

Not only is Ronald Reagan a personal hero to me, his influence has shaped a generation of politicians.  And by doing that he instilled the values that the Republican Party embraces today.  Countless Republican officeholders got into elective politics because he fired their imagination.  More profoundly, he showed that the institution of the presidency does work.  We seldom remember that after the trials of Watergate and twenty years of failed or shortened administrations, some thought our country was too big for one man to govern, inspire and shape.  No one, particularly those who worked with Ronald Reagan, question that today.

And let us not forget that he was a very effective politician whose drive to succeed and will to win were intense.  He lost primary after primary in 1976 before coming back from the political graveyard in North Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma.  Former Republican National Chairman Frank Farenkopf tells the story that on election day in 1984, the president was so far ahead in the polls that he and Ed Rollins cancelled a rally in Minnesota.  He did not need to be bothered, they reasoned.  After he won 49 states and only lost Minnesota by about 2,500 votes, the president liked to tease both of his advisors about their election day gaffe.  It became a joke, but the president wanted Minnesota in his column.

Much has been made in recent days of Ronald Reagan's courage.  We saw his physical courage when an assassin sought to take his life in early 1981.  We saw it again when he confronted the ravages of Alzheimer's with grace, candor and sensitivity.  But President Reagan also had the courage of his ideas and an ability to see the right path for his party and for his country. 

     One of Ronald Reagan's biographers, Edmund Morris, tells of his astonishment when he read the president's diaries from his time in office. He learned how many of the major and complex decisions of the Reagan Administration were made by the president, alone and in private.  Ronald Reagan did not care, Morris recounts, who got the credit as long as his decisions were implemented and his goals for America came closer to realization. Recently Kiron K. Skinner and Marty Anderson's fine works detailed the depth and breath of Reagan's view of the world--a view he implemented in office.

     In describing another great man at another time in history, Winston Churchill writes in his History of the English Speaking Peoples that Robert Peel was "... the dominating force and personality in English politics ..." who "whether in Opposition or in office. . . towered above the scene.  He was not a man of broad and ranging modes of thought, but he understood better than any of his contemporaries the needs of the country and he had the outstanding courage to change his views in order to meet them."  Robert Peel, Mr. Churchill added, saw the industrial revolution in Britain that made her the pre-eminent world power in the nineteenth century was driven not by the government but by private enterprise, by capital, by entrepreneurs, by a free people willing to take risks. 

     There are many differences between Robert Peel and Ronald Reagan.  Mr. Peel split his party and destroyed a governing coalition to support Free Trade--a decision validated by history.  As a governor and then as a president, Ronald Reagan united a party badly divided over ideas and led it out of the political wilderness.  The Republican ascendancy in national government today is a direct result of his leadership.  But in reading Winston Churchill's appraisal of Robert Peel's political life, I am struck by how true it rings of Ronald Reagan's own political biography.  He was the dominating personality in American politics for a generation.

     From the vantage of the early twenty-first century, it is hard to recall the mood of the country and its troubles at his election in 1980.  Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, unrestrained Soviet adventurism, double digit inflation and interest rates, massive unemployment, an energy crisis, American hostages in Tehran, the end of the post-War U.S. domination of the global economy--all these combined to give some a sense America's best days were behind her; that perhaps free enterprise and freedom were not the answer; that we had to accept totalitarian communism as a legitimate and equally plausible alternative to our own way of life.  Ronald Reagan rejected these ideas.  He was optimistic about America, he believed the United States was "a shining city on the hill", a beacon of hope and freedom to the world.  He understood communism was evil and free peoples must defend themselves against the darkness of tyranny and oppression.  He saw a bright and prosperous future for all Americans, one where their work could carry them as far as they dared to dream.  Looking back, we take all these things for granted, but Ronald Reagan was ridiculed by the intellectuals and so-called realists of his day.   It took real courage to stand up for his beliefs, to put them into practice, and to defend them from the faint of heart while they took root and blossomed.  To paraphrase Mr. Churchill’s assessment of Mr. Peel, Ronald Reagan understood his countrymen better than anyone else on the political stage.  They needed leadership, he gave it and they loved him for it.

     Like Mr. Peel, Ronald Reagan also had the courage to change his views.  A New Deal Democrat, his partisan affiliation and ideological vantage point slowly shifted over time from a liberal Democrat who believed in government intervention to a conservative Republican who trusted Americans and the people of the world to solve their own problems.  As anyone who has even a passing understanding of Hollywood and it's cultural and political outlook knows, this was not an easy thing to do.  Ronald Reagan learned about communists first hand when he battled to keep them out of the entertainment industry.  Much of his later political success was based on a willingness to stand up to Soviet aggression.  Yet, when a glimmer of light came through the darkness behind the Iron Curtain, President Reagan saw America's chance for victory through negotiation and began to talk to the Soviets and their leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.  Many of his longtime supporters decried his decision and they did so with good reason because the Soviets historically did not negotiate in good faith.  But the president had the courage and the vision to see the great opening and he took it.  And, like so many times in the past, he was right.  And we are better for it.

     Mr. Speaker, like many Americans I cannot claim to have known Ronald Reagan well.  I was privileged to be with him on more than a few occasions, but more often I watched him on television or read about him in the morning’s newspapers with the rest of the country.  All the same, he changed my life.  And he changed the lives of millions around the world.  His was a voice of faith.  Faith in America, in her people, and in freedom.  He inspired us to do great things.  With him we accomplished much.  Though he has gone to a better place, it is for us to continue to build that shining city on the hill.  There is much yet to do. But Ronald Reagan's legacy and memory will inspire us in our task.

     Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.