For me, Ronald Reagan meant hope for victory in the Long War against the Soviets. When I joined the Army in the winter of 1978, my life was pretty fucked up. I had no social life to speak of since every girl I was even vaguely interested in seemed to find other guys more interesting; my job with the Census Bureau had been six months of hell ending with me resigning before they could fire me, and my short academic career at community college had gone down in flames.
The world was just as screwed up. The Soviets seemed to be winning on all fronts, the President was a well-meaning fool who couldn't make his party work with him, and the economy just sucked. I joined the Army in 1978 as a Russian linguist in order to die, and after training me to be an EW/signal intelligence tech, they sent me to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in the Fulda Gap to die.
Things didn't work out that way, of course. Given the choice between the gloomy inefficiency of Jimmy Carter for four more years or the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan, America chose Reagan - and the Revolution was on. The Armed Forces got bigger and tougher. Reagan faced down the Soviet gerontocracy and eventually proved tougher than the new kid, Gorbachev. The tax cuts worked and the economy surged. The "go along to get along" Republicans like Bob Michel were replaced by hard young ideologues like Newt Gingrich. An obscure radio talk show host by the name of Rush Limbaugh became a nationwide sensation for being the lone conservative voice opposing the liberal media that dominated TV and the press.
As for me, it turned out that the 11th ACR's EW company was way overstrength for the amount of barracks space they had, and I was reassigned to a corps support company in Karlsruhe, down south of Frankfurt and a lot closer to France than to East Germany. Despite some scary moments during the Solidarity Crisis in Poland, Europe remained fairly quiet during my tour of duty, and eventually I went home to the Army Reserve.
Mitch is right. Hardly anyone remembers Reagan's critics. The very man who derided Reagan's tax cut policies as "voodoo economics" became his vice president and continued the revolution for four more years after Reagan left office. Bush the Elder got to preside over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of the USSR's Eastern European satellites, and the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union itself. We all knew that Reagan had done the heavy lifting, though, and all GHWB had to do was stay the course. I remember the 1988 GOP convention when Reagan came on stage to say good bye, and the crowd chanting "Thank you, Ron! Thank you, Ron!" until they were hoarse...but he would have been the first to say (and he did) that we did it all ourselves. He just told us that he knew we could.
There's a lesson in his life. The intellectuals and the press snobs and the Hollywood darlings all sneered at him for being a "B-movie actor" and a senile old man, but in the end, he was right and they were wrong, because he believed in America and they didn't. He trusted Joe Sixpack and Jane Romancereader to do the right thing, and they didn't think Joe and Jane were that smart. I think history has shown us pretty clearly who was right.
Thank you, Ron. You believed in us when none of our so-called leaders and pundits did. You inspired us to be all that we could be. Rest in peace.