Ode to Optimism

You’d see him shake his head now and then during press conferences or debates. On those occasions I read him to be thinking, “Nope, this guy just doesn’t get it.” Much like your parents telling you to fight back with a playground bully or to get back up and ride that two-wheeler, he just seemed baffled by those who refused to get on board and see things in a positive light.

Even after he got shot I recall hearing he had asked about his shooter in the hospital, “Now, what’s that guy’s beef?” A guy he would later reveal he prayed for as he laid on the hospital gurney. Vintage Reagan.

Time passed, skepticism ran amok and rumors of impending doom from his Voodoo economic programs were rampant. All we heard about was what ruination these methods were to bring about; what it imposed on the future. How today’s salad days would be tomorrow’s balloon payment come due.

Reagan seemed to have an inside track on all that though. He never wavered in his commitment to these ideas and again and again just shook his head over the nay-sayers. His position seemed to be, “Look pal, can’t you see that if we don’t do something quick, there ain’t gonna be any future to go bad. Now belly up to the bar, get behind some of these ideas and let’s put this country back on its feet.”

I began to see the wisdom of “the optimistic bluff.” Like maybe if you walk confidently and act alert, and look prepared and quit your darn whining about it all, maybe, just maybe you’ll start to build a following. And pretty soon people will believe, first in the cause and then in themselves. Then, great things will happen. Great things. This, above all other things, is what Ronald Reagan understood best.

I recall hearing that he insisted that an animated VHS version of his Star Wars Initiative be made for him to utilize when talking to the Soviets about the arms race. Being keenly aware of the language barriers involved in American/Russian negotiations, The Gipper found a way to make that into an advantage because he understood the impact of visual images.

Though staff insisted the technology to create a satellite that would intercept missiles and shoot them out of the sky was far from perfected he insisted this video tape be made.

Once at the negotiating table, he accurately introduced the video tape as something the United States was working on for the future although it was “far from perfection.”

Again, counting on the language barrier as an ace up his sleeve, the roomful of Soviets sat with their mouths open as the animated gyroscope pivoted and zeroed in on incoming missiles and destroyed them in make-believe outer space.

Despite his words and assurances that such technology was not quite available yet, the people in that room saw what they saw and their fear of our progress was apparent. Another “optimistic bluff,” poised ever so gently on the edge of the enemy’s mind.

Many say the turning point of the negotiations came in moments like that. A moment orchestrated by the great actor, the great communicator, the band leader that simply begged you to march with him. March optimistically. March forward.

Break Point

Years would pass and I would become an active member of the Young Republicans Committee during my junior year of college. We got wind of an upcoming speech by the president in Columbus, Ohio and the National Chapter sent us 12 tickets to attend.

We rented a passenger van and went to the large hotel right in the middle of town. Suddenly there were Secret Service people, reporters, photographers, TV cameras and in the midst of all that was Ronald Reagan, my president. He was dressed in a beige jacket, brown pants, brightly striped tie in a Windsor knot. He walked with energy and enthusiasm unlike any man of that age I’d ever seen. He looked thoroughly happy to be there, to be the president, to be in charge of optimism. He spoke easily, comfortably and warmly. Never had I stood in a throng of so many people and felt so personally engaged.

The speech ended and the applause went up and my president was hustled down a long corridor and out of sight. The crowds began to head for the exits and somehow, my group got turned around and directed towards the back of the hotel where the president’s motorcade was idling just ahead.

Amidst his handlers and bodyguards, the president was still easily visible (he practically gave off a glow) and as they headed into the cars he turned around one more time to address the crowd who were all calling to him.

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