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The Gipper Won One For Us

By Doug Patton
June 7, 2004

As a movie actor in the 1940s and 1950s, Ronald Wilson Reagan uttered many thoroughly forgettable lines. The one that stuck was a line from “Knute Rockne, All American,” when dying Notre Dame football player George Gipp, played by Reagan, asks his coach to tell the team to “go out there and win one for the Gipper.”

Half a century later—after two terms as governor of our nation’s largest state and another two terms as one of our greatest presidents, after a brush with death at the hands of a would-be assassin and a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease—as the beloved man we came to call “the Gipper” is being laid to his final rest, we recognize that it is he who won one for us.

It is easy to forget that Ronald Reagan’s triumphant presidency came at a bleak moment in American history. During the 1970s, we had watched as a president resigned in disgrace, leaving his appointed successor to preside over America’s first military retreat.

Later in the decade, as we watched our sworn enemies advancing militarily around the world, we listened as a bewildered President Jimmy Carter spoke of his “malaise” while presiding over a hostage crisis and an economy plagued by spiraling interest rates, crippling tax brackets and runaway inflation. Many believed that America’s best days were behind her.

Ronald Reagan would have none of it. He believed that freedom was an ideal worth fighting for, at home and abroad. He pushed through tax relief that literally rescued our economy and fueled the boom we enjoy to this day. And he stood up to the thugs of the world with a boldness Americans had not seen in their president in forty years.

Reagan has been described as an optimist, but it went much deeper than that. His upbeat attitude and his self-deprecating temperament were infectious, and his unswerving faith in God and in the American people was a beacon that lit the fires of democratic revolution around the world. At a time when Communism threatened to snuff out freedom around the globe, he never wavered in his belief that liberty was morally superior to tyranny. He called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and he meant it! “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was not just rhetoric. It was a clarion call to all who yearned to live free.

Reagan’s political gift was his disarming ability to reach across partisan lines without sacrificing his core beliefs. He was, as someone once said, “Barry Goldwater with a smile.” As such, he transformed the Republican Party, bringing with him many Democrats who felt their party had abandoned them. Most importantly, he spoke to the best in each of us.

As he said in his farewell speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention, “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

It is now possible to circumnavigate the globe and fly over nothing but free people. This is due in large part to the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Now the man who made tyrants tremble and infused his nation with hope is gone from us.

In the words he used to eulogize the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, he has “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

Rest in Peace, Mr. President.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country, and on selected Internet web sites, including www.GOPUSA.com, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service (www.TalonNews.com). Readers can e-mail him at dpatton@neonramp.com.