Ronald Reagan took on the Soviet Union and we won the Cold War.

On the home front he fought against a secular entitlement society seen in liberal idealism.
Reagan was a man of Faith and principle who late in life heeded a call to public service when he didn’t have to serve.

Perhaps Reagan’s 1980 appearance at The Neshoba County Fair — when I was just 16 — and because he was the first president I voted for have something to do with my affection, that he is a hero of mine.

But it’s deeper than that. As his words and images have inundated television since his death on Saturday, my hope in the American political system has been re-ignited and I realize how inspired I must have been by this man in my formative years and how he surely kindled in a generation an optimism that has driven some to seek bold change.

Reagan believed in limited government, less taxation and in putting an end to entitlement programs that are destructive to society.

The Challenger explosion was the first national tragedy of my generation and I remember so vividly the images of President Reagan comforting the grieving families — and in turn the nation.

“I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie,” former First Lady Nancy Reagan once wrote in a piece for Time magazine. “He was a man of strong principles and integrity. He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn’t feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone.”

Always the eternal optimist, he had a gift of communication that was poetic in many ways. In his final address to the nation on Jan. 11, 1989, he said in describing the beauty of Washington:

“You know, down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White House where the president and his family live. There are a few favorite windows I have up there that I like to stand and look out of early in the morning. The view is over the grounds here to the Washington Monument, and then the Mall and the Jefferson Memorial. But on mornings when the humidity is low, you can see past the Jefferson to the river, the Potomac, and the Virginia shore. Someone said that’s the view Lincoln had when he saw the smoke rising from the Battle of Bull Run. I see more prosaic things: the grass on the banks, the morning traffic as people make their way to work, now and then a sailboat on the river.”

Reagan was part of the seismic political shift that would lead Mississippi to a two-party system. In the 1980 election he took nearly 60 percent of the vote in Neshoba County and by 1984 he received 72 percent.

In that final address he spoke convincingly of what it meant to his generation to be an American:

“We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-’60s.

“But now, we’re about to enter the ‘90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”

And he issued a warning to America that is applicable today: “I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ‘em know and nail ‘em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”