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FIRST-PERSON: Things Ronald Reagan understood

WASHINGTON (BP)–Ronald Reagan was a man who had a correct understanding of ideas and time — in that order.

Universally described as an inveterate optimist, he possessed a certain quality all admire but few obtain: the ability to expose, create and correct ideas before and on behalf of others. Reagan’s rhetorical powers served as the entrance point for the ideas which would soon invade the conscience of America and the world.

Seldom in a hurry, he measured his time in ways that sought to identify and define the invisible ideologies supporting visible state policies. For him, nothing was as it seemed. Ideas lurked beneath the surface which thwarted liberty. He purposed not to simply coexist with them, but to rid the world of them in due time.
President Reagan saw every moment as a gift given by the Creator with a purpose — the execution of good works to end trouble and evil on the earth. It seldom seemed to matter how much or how long it might take to defeat an enemy, pass a law or protect the innocent. He was resolved that as long as he had time he had an advantage because he possessed the inward staying power to outlast and out-work the enemies of America.

Long before airplanes rammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Reagan was busy at work against terrorists who threatened and killed American citizens. On June 18, 1985, many noticed that Reagan the optimist quickly became Reagan the warrior. When word reached him that Robert Dean Stethem, a 23-year-old Navy diver, had been beaten beyond recognition and executed at point blank range as the world watched terrorists dump his body on the tarmac of an airport runway, Reagan’s perpetual smile elided into a sober-faced resolve. The terrorists who hijacked TWA Flight 847 would never succeed. They would be stopped, and all the resources of the American military would be brought to bear upon them until they were totally defeated.
Stethem’s murder went one step too far for Reagan, and he quickly acted to circumvent the murder of other Americans.

Listening to the words he spoke that day, the memory stirs emotions all too reminiscent of Sept. 11, 2001. The sight of Stethem’s coffin caused Reagan to go into action, and his policies were supported by ideas with sharp edges. Lancing the air with his warnings, he was never afraid to use words such as “evil” and “wrong.” He vowed that those who did this to a young sailor would not go unpunished. And they did not. So powerful were Reagan’s words to the militants who committed the crime that the nations who harbored the killers soon publicly denounced the murder to the surprise of many who had hoped that the gruesome act would cause the nation to change its policy toward terrorism to one of capitulation and fear.

This was but one example of the wisdom of a man schooled in adversity and acquainted with the philosophies of life which frame government and statecraft. He knew and understood men because he knew and understood certain theological principles first taught to him as a young boy in Dixon, Ill. Never one to forgot much of anything at all, Bible lessons framed his world in a way which did and does cause many to question his ability to think clearly and carefully about anything. Now that he has departed this life, still the criticism, though sparse this week of his death, comes with an ever-increasing fervor. As writers like Christopher Hitchens refer to him as “a cruel and stupid lizard who is dumb as a stump,” Reagan’s legacy is a study in insight and patience.

Governments are forged on the ideas of a few endorsed by the will of many. Those ideas find their expression in the outworking of government policies which are, in many ways, practical theology. Communism was, for Ronald Reagan, not simply an economic arrangement among people, but a civil religion which promised a utopia. Sadly, it brought tyranny. The Soviet Union was no accident of history. It was what it was because of the political philosophy of communism which had its roots squarely in the vision of a world without God. Likewise, when terrorism again raised its voice and killed Robert Dean Stethem, Reagan did what he always did when free people were challenged: fight and never relent.

Few remember Robert Dean Stethem and the terrorists who took his life, but thousands remember Ronald Reagan as the nation mourns his death. Reagan’s words of warning were prophetic to the nation that he loved long before al Qaeda was a household word. His actions are still the model by which free people must live. The world is an evil place, but by the grace of God and the instruction of Holy Scripture, governments can be founded to forge a place where liberty rules until the time when the Lord Jesus Christ reigns in a new heaven and new earth. Until that time, world leaders might well heed the wisdom of America’s fallen warrior: “the City of Man cannot survive without the City of God … the Visible City will perish without the Invisible City.”
Douglas Baker is a writer who lives and works in Washington, D.C.

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