President Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004, would have been 96 years old today.

A statement released by Nancy Reagan sums it up her feelings, not to mention many of ours.

I’ve often reflected upon the man that is Ronald Reagan and attempted to figure out exactly why I loved the guy so much. After all, I never met him, but there’s something special about Reagan that continues on even after his death.

It really struck me during Reagan’s funeral in 2004. Not the ceremony in California, but the silent lengthy memorial in Washington, DC. I was glued to the television that day. In literal essence, I was watching little, but in abstract fact, I was watching everything.

C-Span was airing coverage of people silently filing past President Reagan’s flag draped casket. That’s it. No bands, no marching, no dignitaries, no commentary, no sound – and yet it was the fullest, most interesting and memorable programming I’ve ever witnessed.

The scene was eerily silent, but the respect displayed by the military guards and those slowly walking by was deafening. There was not a peep to be heard. I was awestruck by the utter stealth of the continuous stream of thousands and thousands. A pin drop would have sounded like a firecracker. Somehow, even children knew to be quiet, which is a magical atmosphere indeed, and one I’d thought impossible until that evening.

But that was Reagan – the successful combination of a reach for the seemingly unattainable, with the pursuit of goals that may have been deemed as unrealistic – was his successful recipe for whipping up a fresh batch of America.

I first voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 (a small part of the reason I did is that I didn’t want to be known for the rest of my life as, “That one guy who voted for Mondale”). Reagan got my vote because he came across, at least to me as an 18-year-old, as the father figure to a nation that had spent the better part of a decade as orphans, abandoned and left for dead by Vietnam, Watergate, malaise, stagflation and disco.

Sure, his presidential years had some setbacks. Reagan was shot for nothing more than some unbalanced bubble-wrap brained, uber-nerd’s attempt to impress Jodie Foster. Reagan lived, Hinckley was sent off to Our Lady of Swatting at Imaginary Flies Hospital for a few decades, and Foster never called him. Another evil plan thwarted by Reagan.

There were some down times, but even more successes, culminating with what Reagan will be remembered for best in the history books.

The Great Communicator headed up “Extreme Makeover: Eastern Bloc Edition,” and presided over the collapse of the Berlin Wall – a demolition which rippled right on through to Moscow, ending in the implosion of the Soviet Union.

What Reagan left behind for us pales in comparison to what he didn’t leave behind.

When remembering Ronald Reagan, whether we’re conservative or liberal, there’s one label that is never used: Negative. Reagan was ever the optimist, and he made his points not by bashing the opposition, but by selling the virtues of his ideas. Ronald Reagan was a good lesson not only for every day Americans, but he was an example of how to be a politician – a model that, regrettably, is rarely followed these days.

Some people think that conservatism died when Reagan died, but I tend to disagree. As Ronald Reagan wanted America to be a “shining city on a hill,” I believe that Reagan himself remains a bright beacon for not only conservatives and republicans, but also all Americans. Reagan’s light is still shining out there, we just need to follow it.

Happy birthday, Mr. President. Salute!


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