In National Review, William Bennett remembers that in Ronald Reagan’s presidential farewell in 1989, he told parents to teach their children what it means to be an American.
[W]e’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important — why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, ‘we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.’ Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. 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 number one 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.
As a member of the San Jose Mercury News editorial board, I interviewed Reagan when he was running for president the first time around. Reagan knew we were far too liberal to endorse him. Without altering his positions, he presented them in the way most acceptable to us. And he charmed our collective socks off. Some of our more liberal editorial writers were stunned by how much they liked Reagan. They couldn’t resist. They wanted him to move next door and be their friend. Reagan was a genius at dealing with people. And he was shrewd.