Ronald Reagan passed away on Saturday after a long illness. I told a friend in Switzerland earlier today that I thought that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of my lifetime. I would argue that the technology community owes President Reagan more than most people realize. Consider:
- January 20, 1981, Reagan's First Inaugural Address
At a time when stifling inflation and massive unemployment beset America, at the end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and before the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh came to market, President Reagan called upon Americans to rise above their problems and create again.
In his first term, he would cut taxes from a maximum rate of 70 percent to 28 percent, freeing up capital which was put to work building the technologies that make life so interesting for us gadget fans. President Reagan told us that it was up to individual Americans to make the country successful again, not the government:
We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter, and they're on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They're individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet, but deep. Their values sustain our national life.
- January 28, 1986, The Challenger Disaster
In the first major technological disaster ever televised, seven NASA astronauts died in the explosion of a spacecraft that had been launched moments earlier from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This mission was intended to involve school children as Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher, was to teach lessons while in space.
Had the disaster been handled differently, a generation of Americans that is now in its 20s and early 30s could have grown up fearing technological progress and space exploration. In an address to the Nation that evening, President Regan said:
...I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.
- June 12, 1987, The Brandenburg Gate Speech
President Reagan spoke to the people of the divided city of Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell. This was the second time he had come to the city to give the isolated citizens of West Berlin, and the millions enslaved by Communism in Eastern Europe, a pep talk. Because of the proximity of the stage to the Wall and the Brandenburg Gate, many in the adjoining neighborhoods of East Berlin were able to hear the speech as well.
Without the end of Communism in Europe, the Internet would never have been widely connected to Eastern Europe and Russia and dozens of major contributors to the Open Source software community would not have been able to make their contribution. The technology community benefited handsomely from the historic political realignment.
Through brilliant use of economic and foreign policy, the United States defeated the Soviet Union without firing a shot. In perhaps the most often quotes speech of his life, President Reagan said:
In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor....
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Thank you, President Reagan, for your great contributions to technology. You may never have written a line of code or designed a circuit, but you fostered an environment that made our dreams come true.