Reagan philosophy still carries GOP

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The death of former president Ronald Reagan elicited sadness and remembrance across the United States.
   Flags flew at half-staff at government buildings and several private businesses around Carter County Monday for a man whose character was indelibly linked to the 1980s-era American culture.
   "He was a political hero of mine," said state Rep. Jerome Cochran, an unabashed follower of the Reagan philosophy. "The conservatism he espoused has carried on to this day on the state and local levels."
   Active in Republican politics since college, Cochran recalled growing up during the 1980s when Reagan cast a long shadow over the nation. He said Reagan's legacy lay in his guidance to defeat communism, renew the nation's economic fortunes and restore pride to America.
   "He wasn't called the great communicator for nothing," said Cochran. "He inspired Americans to do good, think of the country and do what was best for the country."
   A hearse transported the former president's body to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Monday where he will lie in response until Tuesday night. Reagan will lie in State at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday and Thursday. A national funeral service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral Friday morning before Reagan returns to California for burial at the Library Friday evening.
   City Fire Chief Michael Shouse said Monday the city had received some complaints over the enormous U.S. flag at Broad Street and West Elk Avenue not being lowered to half-staff. He said the flag's 20 feet-by-30 feet size and the proximity of power lines prohibited half-staff presentation.
   "We have to wait until the wind dies down to even get to it," said Shouse, "Otherwise, it can get into the power poles."
   The flag commemorates the participation in Operation Desert Storm of the Tennessee Army National Guard's 776th Maintenance Company based in Elizabethton.
   Cochran said Reagan's legacy of a strong economic policy as well as strong moral leadership crossed international lines and guided the world through the end of the Cold War. He said that while President Bush's re-election campaign might temporarily benefit from the remembrance of Reagan, his own policies would determine his fate in November.
   "He might get an initial bump, but the president will have to stand on his own policies," Cochran said. "I think he has given the country a strong reason to vote for him."
   Reagan won the presidency in 1980 after a decade when America's involvement in the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the taking of U.S. hostages in Iran left the nation with a serious identity crisis.
   On the "what a difference two decades makes" tip, Reagan took office when the Cold War was icy as ever and the mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan were U.S. allies. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and imposed martial law in Poland two years later.
   The Reagan administration endured its share of tragic moments from attacks on Americans by foreign enemies. A Soviet fighter pilot shot down a Korean airliner on Sept. 1, 1983, killing 269 mostly American passengers on board. On Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber ran into a U.S. Marine Barracks in Beruit, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. servicemen.
   President Bush said Sunday that Reagan won America's respect with his greatness, and won its love with his goodness. "He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save," Bush said.
   Not surprising given Carter County's historical role as a bastion of Republicanism, Reagan the GOP candidate won 64 percent of the county's vote over sitting President and Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter on his way to winning the White House in 1980.
   Reagan's victory marked a considerable shift in the public's political consciousness from 1976 when Carter swept the South and dominated the Midwest to defeat President Gerald Ford.
   Reagan took 73 percent of the county's vote in 1984 as he annihilated Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, winning 49 of 50 states - 98 percent of the electoral vote - and 59 percent of the popular vote. Cochran said Reagan held to his convictions but always reminded political allies and foes that America was the common denominator for elected officials.
   "As he was fond of saying 'after 6 p.m. we are all friends'," said Cochran, "and that is the way it should be."