In the late 1970s, just before Mr. Reagan arrived, we had a president who was making a recession deeper, inflation rates higher, and gas lines longer. They were turning our thermostats down in the winter and up in the summer. They were raising taxes on people who were struggling to make ends meet. As the Soviet menace grew, we were dismantling our defenses and placating dictators. Our military leaders were even told not to wear their uniforms when meeting at the White House. As the failures of these policies piled up, President Carter's diagnosis was not that his administration was wrong but that our nation was sick.
Ronald Reagan burst onto this melancholy scene like a sunrise. He reminded us of our greatness as a nation, he restored our national defense to a place of honor, and he told the generals to wear their uniforms with pride. He swept aside the diagnosis of a national malaise and offered a vision of America as a shining city on a hill.
He conveyed these ideas and inspired our hope with his consummate skills as a communicator, and it was our good luck that he combined them with Peggy Noonan's cosmic skills as a writer. Peggy was a special assistant to President Reagan from 1984 to 1986 and also chief speechwriter for George H.W. Bush during the 1988 presidential campaign.
Ronald Reagan understood the power of words when conveying his ideas. Peggy Noonan understood the power of ideas when composing a speech. The combination was unbeatable.
Peggy is a writer who fathoms ideas and finds words to give them their proper form. She does this in such a way that thoughts and language combine like soul and body. Centuries from now, those who study the history of our time will understand that Ronald Reagan was a great man and a great president. They will know it largely as we came to know it: from the words he spoke to us. Whether they read the text of his speeches or see and hear them on video tape, they will see portraits of greatness.
One of my favorites was the day President Reagan spoke at Pointe du Hoc, in France. This was the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion. He was speaking to a gathering of soldiers seated before him atop the very cliff that they had taken as young warriors. I cannot reproduce the awe of a Reagan speech, of course. No one can do that. But I can show you Peggy Noonan's brush strokes and call your attention to their poetry and power. Listen closely to these lines:
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war....
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief. It was loyalty and love.
Peggy Noonan never wrote for a better speaker, and Ronald Reagan never had a better speechwriter, because they both understood this principle: A good speech must appeal to the intellect, but a great speech must also touch the heart.