Jonathan pointed that the punditry has settled on saying that Reagan was a “Great Communicator” as a way of glossing over the content of what he said, what he did and what he was. Nice try.
Reagan himself took this on in his farewell speech
And in all of that time I won a nickname, `The Great Communicator.’ But I never though it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation–from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.
Exactly. He was great because what he communicated was true and great, not just the style, not just the jokes, but the substance.
I remember this speech like it was yesterday. I’d worked until late in the evening for many days on end, and I finally got a break in the action. I was home in my apartment trying to clean up the place, which had become a pigsty, the way it will when you are using it as a campsite instead of a home. As I was puttering around I remembered at the last minute that Reagan’s speech would be on. And I was leaning on my broom in the hallway listening to Reagan on the radio as he came to the end, talking about John Winthrop’s shining city on a hill:
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for 8 years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
And so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
I don’t imagine I’ll have tears running down my face for any other politician as long as I live.