As a little girl, I remember seeing Pres. Ronald Reagan on the television. I liked him because, like my father, he was a cowboy. His horses were beautiful and his California ranch was an enchanting place I wanted to visit. But because my family wasn’t very political while I was growing up, it wasn’t until later that I began to admire Reagan as a leader.
The trait that sticks with me to this day was President Reagan’s optimism. Reagan was the right leader at the right time and we desperately needed his vision in order to restore America’s greatness. Beyond his unwavering support for cutting taxes and strengthening national defense, he believed our country was in fact a “shining city on a hill.” That optimism was contagious.
President Reagan’s optimism and vision for America wasn’t a talking point that his campaign or White House staff took from a poll. It was something that he spoke about throughout his public life. In June 1952, nearly 30 years before he would serve in the White House, he offered this insight in a speech at Williams Woods College, which is one of the oldest recorded speeches Reagan gave:
I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here.
Ronald Reagan knew that America is a special place. He knew that our freedoms and liberties were something other people around the world strive to experience either by attempting a journey to our nation, or creating them in their own land. We see that even today in Egypt. People were created to be free. America can, and must, continue to be a beacon for freedom.
Just a quick glance at a recent day’s worth of newspaper headlines can be tough to take in. President Reagan’s optimism is something we need more of today. Despite the Cold War and economic difficulties, Reagan believed that America would not only survive but prosper and be a force for good in the world. I believe that remains true today despite our own challenges. The Gipper wouldn’t expect anything less from the country he led and loved.
—Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.