Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Recollections Of Reagan

June 28, 2004

The following article was published in late October 1986. Ronald Reagan came to Rapid City, SD campaigning for congressional candidates. These are my memories and reflections of the visit. What was true then was reiterated at his funeral.

What I missed in 1986 was my underestimation of how he would be remembered for being a great president. The Berlin Wall had not yet fallen and Soviet Union had yet to dissolve. Reagan’s imprint on the flowering of freedom in Eastern Europe and Russia was yet to unfold. Another accomplishment was his economic policy and how it has shaped the political agenda of our times. Another impression stands out - the civility of the man and of the political process at that time.

We came, 11,000 strong, to see the president of the United States. The impact of the presidential visit was felt from the day it was announced to the reflective pronouncements of the media after his departure. It will be remembered again in years to come when another presidential visit is contemplated.

Available tickets disappeared in hours. On the day of the visit, to enter the arena people formed a snake-like line 10,000 people long. It was thrilling to see so many friends and fellow citizens willing to wait in a line that seemed endless, drawn together by similar feelings and values. It was a celebration of community, of belonging, not a mere political event.

It was historical - a day to be a remembered. It was a chance to experience in person the man we have come to know well through our communication technology and as the symbol of the office we have learned to revere through our democratic tradition.

Inside the arena, the atmosphere was festive, replete with bunting, streamers, flags, bright lights, and blaring bands. The unending row of candidates was window-dressing, a tedious prologue to the real action, - the presidential visit.

The power of the presidency was surrealistic. The trappings of power were evident in airtight timetables, Air Force One, an elegant limousine, the hordes of national press captive to presidential movements, the presence of protesters and placard bearers, and in the overwhelming display of thoroughness and presence of the Secret Service and local law enforcement officers.

Why did we come? To be sure, partisan politics was the ostensible reason, a Republican rally to help re-elect a Republican senator. We came. We looked. We cheered. We were proud. Local pride glistened as brightly as national pride. South Dakota was in the limelight.

Our cheers were not made with wild enthusiasm as true believers rejoicing in Democratic-bashing rhetoric. They were made with the restrained respect of as appreciative citizens rejoicing in the great symbol of our country. Even the purpose of Reagan's visit was a tribute to our democratic institutions and process. He came, hat in hand, asking for votes and support for his program, ideas and candidates. He needed us.

As he entered, waves of emotion swept the arena. As he bid his farewells, waves of emotion again swept the arena. Some of this enthusiasm and fondness were for Ronald Reagan, the person. Not since John F. Kennedy has a president so successfully merged his personality with the office of the presidency.

We like him. We like his engaging personality, irrepressible optimism, self-effacing humor, dogged resoluteness and "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" sincerity.

He is larger than life, a living symbol, the "Great Communicator," a person who wields great power artfully. He has used these gifts to move the body politic and the country. He is a leader.

In Reagan, opponents have found a force unexpectedly resilient and impervious to the usual political machinations - a Teflon-coated president who elicits a most charitable benefit of doubt from the electorate. The pundits and commentators have turned their disdain and skepticism to grudging respect.

Whether one views his political legacy for good or ill, Ronald Reagan has been a dynamic force that has bent unwieldy bureaucracies to his will and redefined the political dialogue to his terms.

Yes, some of the cheers were for Ronald Reagan the person.

I think most of the cheers were for the holder of the office of president. As able as he is, Ronald Reagan will disappear into the relative oblivion reserved for ex-presidents like Nixon, Carter and Ford. Whether they are venerated or decried, they can safely be ignored.

Soon, there will be another president who will draw the crowds and command the attention of the people. Perhaps 30 years will pass but the opportunity will come again when we or our children can go and pay homage and respect to the person we have entrusted to uphold our democratic ideals and values.

In this country, there is a loyal opposition, a way to participate, compromise and broker the power of our leaders. To be out of power is not to be an enemy to the government but a player in a process of balancing the power of those in charge. Our politics are civil and that civility and warmth extends to the person that we, the people, have chosen to govern us.

Yes, a president has visited Rapid City. Our reception was remarkable, as remarkable as the country in which we live.