Mourning in America for Reagan

In 1949, living in a very small upstairs apartment near the railroad tracks in a small town in downstate Illinois, my parents had me, the first of their five children. They named me after another small-town boy of humble beginnings in downstate Illinois, a Hollywood actor who had made "Ronald" a popular name that year.

Thus began a relationship that made the full circuit from admiration to loathing and back to admiration and my adoption of Ronald Reagan as my political hero and role model.

Mom and Dad had little material wealth in 1949, but while ultimately reaching middle-class economic status, they succeeded well at the most important thing - they raised us as the Reagans raised their children: with love, morals and principles. I cannot thank them enough.

As a high-schooler, I was a big fan of Barry Goldwater, the conservative intellectual and face of the New West. I had enjoyed Reagan as host of Death Valley Days, but when I heard his "We Have a Date with Destiny" speech for Goldwater, my admiration for him flowered. I was especially captivated because, as press accounts at the time noted, his political speeches were based on facts, logic, analysis and even numbers - political stuff that was catnip to this math and physics nerd.

But, as another Reagan political heir, President George W. Bush, has said: When I was young and foolish, I acted that way. His foolishness had to do with other things, but mine was mainly political. As did young Reagan, who became president of the liberal Screen Actors Guild, I became a liberal Democrat activist, even becoming a founding director of Illinois' statewide Naderite umbrella group. Also as did young Reagan, I moved to California in my 20s - he as an actor, I dropping out of graduate school to be a minor cog in Jerry Brown's administration.

As Reagan became the leader of American conservatism in the 1970s and I sank into the depths of modern liberalism, my admiration for him soured completely. I was depressed when he was elected president, and I was the typical Bay Area smug liberal in my 1980s disdain for him, his people and his cause.

As with President Bush, it took me until my 40s to get over my foolishness, and then I too repented, found again my moorings, and decided to make amends. I became a Republican activist and occasional libertarian-conservative writer.

In 1994, the day after the Reagan revolution put a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in decades, I wrote a column that began: "It's morning again in America, and all over the land last night we won one for the Gipper." It was for me a moving restoration of him as my political role model. It completed my return from a politics of empty symbols that preys upon the public interest back to one that emphasizes economic growth, freedom, balance, and the principles of American exceptionalism, and that thus promotes the public interest.

Nevada, which Reagan loved, and Carson City have blessed our family many ways since we moved here in 2001, including giving me the opportunity to apply his political principles and mine as a legislator. A high point in that role was my first floor action and speech, as chief Assembly sponsor of the 2003 Reagan birthday resolution. Gratefully, our family seeks to return Carson and Nevada's blessings and provide here for our daughter the kind of environment in which we grew up.

This week has been a time for tears and bittersweet farewells to the man I came to admire again when I grew up enough politically to learn what he had learned before me and to recognize that I was wrong when he was right.

It has also reminded me of the big lesson he taught: That we do have a date with destiny, you and I, every day. Each day is a new and glorious morning that gives us another opportunity to promote freedom and tear down walls of oppression, to continue to build a greater Nevada and America, to cherish and support but restrain our government, to reform our education system to provide our children with a great education, and to be good friends and helpful neighbors. Honoring him by so doing will ease the sorrow and do the best duty to our country's future.

Ron Knecht, an economist, engineer and law school graduate, represents District 40 in the Nevada Assembly.


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