Politics & Policy

Reagan’s Island

D.C. was an Ellis Island for U.S. conservatives.

I was not supposed to be a Reaganite.

I grew up in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1960s. My family loved the New Deal and the Great Society. I went to New York City public schools and then an Ivy League college. I was supposed to be a Liberal Democrat.

The Reagan administration was a magnet for philosophically committed young people, the conservative land of opportunity that Reagan spoke of in his speeches. For those fleeing the liberal culture, Reagan’s Washington was a modern Ellis Island.

At the dawn of the Reagan presidency, my liberal classmates at the Wharton business school went to Wall Street to make money (and then to feel guilty about it). Instead, I went to Washington, to join the Reagan revolution–and with no apologies. To hell with the bull market, I said, this is the chance to change the world. I arrived in D.C. without a job, without any contacts, without a resume.

I got a volunteer spot in the White House and worked for nine months without pay (the last two with holes in my shoes), until a paid spot was found. My job was to design communications programs to win support for Reagan’s Central America policy of fighting Communism and supporting freedom. In President Reagan’s second term, my dream came true: I became one of his speechwriters.

The future fate of a White House volunteer tells you something about the presidency he served: Today, I advise Latin American presidents on how to accomplish free-market reforms and then win reelection. My work reflects Ronald Reagan’s conviction that we can change history by putting our ideas into action.

President Reagan had a sign on his desk that read: “It can be done!” He taught us that we could do great things, impossible things. We could help economies to rise up and make walls tumble down. He showed us the importance of believing in something larger than ourselves. With Reagan, we had a cause, and we had a hero to lead us. We miss him.

Mark Klugmann was a Reagan speechwriter.

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