By
updated 6/5/2004 9:46:03 PM ET 2004-06-06T01:46:03

Peggy Noonan was special assistant and speechwriter to Reagan. She is also an author of numerous books, including 'When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.' She's currently a political analyst on MSNBC.

You are very lucky when you can work for a great man or a great woman, and be even a small part of his or her efforts. 

Ronald Reagan was a great communicator not because he said things in an unusual way but because he said great things—things that were true and needed saying.  Those on the left in his day always thought Reagan had some magical way of expressing himself.  He didn't.  It was what he said that was important, not how he said it. 

Video: Speechwriter remembers Reagan He entered his presidency and immediately told the truth about expansionist communism—that was news. It hadn’t been done by a U.S. president in a long time, and never in quite the way he did it.  Reagan called Soviet communism bankrupt and said it would end in our time.  They laughed, but he was right.  And in being right, and truthful, he reignited a somnolent West, and gave heart to heroes like Natan Scharansky in the Soviet Union. 

Reagan said our government was too big and was taking our freedoms. He said taxes were too high and were taking hard-won security from our citizens.  The people listened, judged him to be correct, and elected him president in two landslides—one against an incumbent president running for reelection. 

So Reagan was big. As a boss, he was terrific. Once, I wrote a speech that was too long and showy and rather off point.  He cut it and rewrote.  But he knew I was a new speechwriter, and he didn't want to hurt my feelings, so instead of saying, "Boy, this is bad," he wrote a note saying, "Sorry I had to cut the speech, it was just a little too long."  Reagan spent decades writing his own commentaries and speeches.

It was a speech called in Reagan circles ‘The Speech’— his  1964 endorsement of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy— that started him in politics and forced the country to take him seriously as a political figure. But it is fascinating to read that speech now and see that in it he sounded most of the themes of his presidency. 

Reagan brought a constellation of virtues to the office of the presidency—guts, compassion, humor, a lack of pretension, a willingness to face the world and tell the truth, a willingness to make decisions and stand by them—and his leadership changed the world, and for the better.  As president, he was a giant.

Peggy Noonan wrote this on the occasion of Reagan's 93rd birthday. Her words are relevant, today, more than ever.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,