I’m proud to say that my first-ever vote for any elected official was for Ronald Reagan in 1984. I was 19.
I’ve been in the L.A. area the last few days, and went by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. I didn’t really know what to expect. There were lots of happy reminders of the economic turnaround that coincided with the Reagan years, and lots of sobering reminders of the Cold War era that was the fortunately-distant backdrop of my childhood. Among the interesting stuff was the 1980s version of Air Force One hanging from the rafters in a very-large room of the museum.
For me, though, far and away the coolest thing in this massive jillion-dollar facility was a set of small notecards obscurely encased on the back side of one of the museum kiosks. They were the typed notes (with handwritten markings) for Reagan’s June 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate. That’s the speech he gave with his back to the Berlin Wall (in front of bullet-proof glass because East German snipers were routinely stationed up on the wall). The one where he famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Gorbachev was the one guy on the planet who could push a button and blow every city in America to smithereens, so you’ve got to acknowledge the nerve it took for Reagan to repeatedly call the Russians out as the “Evil Empire” and “the focus of evil” in our time, then stand there a few feet from the wall and taunt Gorbachev into giving up control of eastern Europe.
For anyone reading this that’s too young to remember, the Wall was not a typical border fence built to keep outsiders out — it was built by the communists to keep their own people from escaping to freedom in the West.
I spent five minutes trying to get a good pictures of those modest little note cards. Of course the wall actually was torn down a couple of years later, so there’s an oddly-decorated (i.e., the original German graffiti with pink butterflies) segment of the Berlin Wall on the museum grounds as well.