Jewish World Review June 14, 2004 / 25 Sivan, 5764

Bernadette Malone

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Reagan, through the eyes of a 7-year-old | Laid out on the couch, covered in chicken pox, and watching his swearing-in ceremony on television, I knew that I was going to be better off because Ronald Reagan had been elected President in 1980. I was just 7 years old, so go ahead and laugh.

But I knew. Kids can sense qualities in people that adults, hardened with biases and grudges, overlook. And I sensed Ronald Reagan was genuinely tough. I sensed he would truly protect me and my family, New York City Irish Catholics and, therefore, naturally, registered Democrats.

I used to lead the schoolbus ditties like, "My Baloney Has a First Name: J-I-M-M-Y; My Baloney has a second name: C-A-R-T-E-R." And I had been monitoring stagflation by noting that the price of an ice cream pop from the Good Humor truck rose dramatically summer to summer, while my allowance stayed the same. But by far my most pressing concern at age 7 was nuclear war. (And let's hope my similarities with Amy Carter ended there.)

New York would of course be a target, and I had nightmares of an ICBM striking lower Manhattan, where my father worked in a skyscraper. The 1983 television movie "The Day After" captured the fears of lots of kids my age. But Reagan, I trusted, would not let that scenario happen. He was too strong-minded and sure of himself, and he gave me the impression he wouldn't give in to Soviet pressure to disarm. He seemed extraordinarily nice — which is important to a kid — but he wouldn't make peace on the terms of a weakling. Any 7-year-old with playground experience knows that doesn't work for long.

Protesters at the time claimed Reagan was going to get us all blown up. To me, Reagan was reassurance that we wouldn't be blown up. Reagan's commitment to strengthen the military made perfect sense to me. "If the Russians love their children, too," as Sting sang in 1985, they wouldn't strike a country armed to the teeth. In a 7-year-old's mind, it was as simple as the need for the police to have guns. My grandfather and my godfather had both been NYPD cops, and no one would have asked them to lay down their pistols so they would be vulnerable to criminal attacks. Disarmament struck this 7-year-old girl's ears as just as foolish an idea.

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And yes, to a 7-year-old, the Soviets were indeed criminals whose word couldn't be trusted. They killed 60 million of their own people and wouldn't let the living leave their own country. They didn't let people pray to God in public. They invaded other countries and — unlike the U.S. — didn't leave. Considering all that, I wasn't at all shocked when President Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. Why weren't so many other people?

Even now that I'm in my 30s and muddle-headed by philosophy and religion degrees, I still can't figure out why so many people refused to think of the Soviet regime as evil. This 7-year-old could sure relate to Ronald Reagan's conviction that some things were truly evil, just like some things were truly good.

College professors and Europeans mocked him for his simplicity, but it takes a gravitas beyond their grasp to center one's self, to decide what's important, to identify one's core principles, and to stick to one's beliefs. At 7, I didn't know that's why I liked Reagan. I just knew he was one of those adults I could trust. And back at 7, those adults were easier to sniff out than they are now.

Now, sitting behind a desk in one of those lower Manhattan skyscrapers I used to envision an ICBM striking, watching his funeral ceremony on the TV in the corner of my office, I know I am better off because Reagan was elected President in 1980, and again in 1984, when not only my family — but the entire world — needed his simplicity and principled leadership most.

Comment on JWR contributor Bernadette Malone's column by clicking here.


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© 2003, Bernadette Malone