The assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan occurred 30 years ago Monday, when John Hinckley shot the president as he was departing the Washington Hilton after delivering a speech for his economy-recovery package.
Reagan had been in office only two months, but a lot had already happened. The night of his inauguration, the American hostages in Iran had been freed. Reagan had lifted price controls on oil, dismissed the Council on Wage and Price Stability, and introduced an economic-recovery plan that contained the largest tax cut in American history.
The assassination attempt had a real and lasting impact on Reagan.
"The new president's spiritual side showed as well," noted William John Bennett in his book "America: the Last Best Hope" (Volume II) (Thomas Nelson 2007). "At one point, Reagan requested a visit from a clergyman. ... When the eminent Catholic leader hurried to Reagan's bedside, the president told him: ‘I have decided whatever time I may have left is left for Him.'"
The bullet had lodged within an inch of his heart, and he had lost half of his blood. Reagan might have felt as though God had saved him for a purpose.
Less than a month later, on April 28, Reagan spoke to a joint session of Congress regarding his economic plan.
During this speech, which can be viewed on YouTube, he appears strong, healthy and happy, his voice unwavering. The vigorous appearance of our president so soon after the attack must have provided a great boost to our country's morale.
Reagan called for a cure to the underlying unhealthy pathology of our economy rather than a prescription for the symptoms. "Reducing the growth of spending, cutting marginal tax rates, providing relief from overregulation and following a noninflationary and predictable monetary policy are interwoven measures," he said.
He closed calling for optimism, faith and action. "We have much greatness before us. We can restore our economic strength and build opportunities like none we've ever had before.
"As Carl Sandburg said: ‘All we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.'"
Reagan was a champion in his two terms of American exceptionalism, constantly and consistently optimistic, while being clear and specific regarding our duty as Americans.
His focus: the economy and winning the Cold War.
On March 8, 1983, Reagan delivered a speech in Orlando, Fla., to the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals. He laid out the moral argument against the Soviet Union. "Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged," said Reagan. "The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith," he said.
The crisis was raised from one of military might to one of spiritual and moral faith. But Reagan moved to action.
Soon after, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, a program to build a space-based anti-missile system. The Soviets were put on notice that Reagan was serious and would not back down easily.
Reagan traveled to Berlin in June 1987 to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Tensions were high. Instead of backing down and appeasing, Reagan upped the ante. He provided clear language regarding whom he felt had "won the war" and what must come next.
There is "one great and inescapable conclusion," Reagan stated. "Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor."
Reagan continued with a clear challenge. "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization ... Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
The Berlin Wall was torn down on Nov. 9, 1989. The Soviet Union wouldn't last much longer, ceasing to exist on Christmas Day 1991, slightly more than a decade after Reagan came so close to death. Optimism, faith and action: an incredible legacy.
Learn more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman at Creator's Syndicate, www.creators.com.