Looking at C-Span's airing of Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address of January 11, 1989, I was struck by what an incredible speaker he was. Because it had been some time since I had seen anything more than sound bites from Reagan addresses, I guess I had forgotten how well he deserved the title, the Great Communicator. In fact, he is peerless in that category among active politicians today.
And make no mistake, communication is absolutely fundamental in leadership. A leader with communication skills, including Reagan's enviable capacity for sticking to what was of central importance, can accomplish a great deal.
Whether Reagan was a great president or not is something that future historians, more removed from his time in office, will have to decide. To my mind, it's unlikely that he will be so judged because greatness is something elicited by the most challenging of circumstances and times. Reagan faced no Great Depression, Civil War, or World War Two. The fall of Soviet Communism, with which Reagan is often credited, was the inevitable result of that horrible system's inherent inertia as well as forty-plus years of the containment policy initiated by President Truman and, I firmly believe, prayer. And, contrary to his conservative principles, Reagan piled up the largest budget deficits in US history.
But that he wisely pursued just a few goals, undergirding them with his incredible skill as a communicator, setting the table for future Republican triumphs, cannot be taken away from Reagan. He was an effective chief executive and obviously a personally decent man.