I managed to forget my camera in all the excitment of getting ready, of course, so even though I was invited to the media availability as a blogger, all I had was my trusty Blackberry. I still managed to snap a few pix. I got some video too, but the room was loud, so I'm just going to post the pictures I got of Senator Mark Kirk and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as they answered questions for the press.
The evening, while long, was a great experience, and we heard numerous speeches from the likes of IL GOP Chairman Pat Brady, Senator Mark Kirk, Newt Gingrich, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (obviously a Steelers fan), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and closing remarks by State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who was the Illinois executive director for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980. There was also a great video review that was presented by WGN radio personalities Don Wade and Roma.
There were several reoccurring themes among all the speakers as they spoke of Ronald Reagan - his humor, his charisma, his ability to communicate. But what really was the most powerful observation about Reagan, perhaps in contrast to the current occupant of the White House, is that Reagan truly believed in the strength and vitality of the American People. He never wavered for a moment in his belief that the government which governed least was best, that government needed to get out of the way of the American people to let them survive, thrive and innovate on their own, and that government was the problem, not the solution. The notion of "American Exceptionalism" came up time and again, and we all know that Reagan truly believed that America was indeed exception among the countries of the world, in a way that many liberals don't seem to understand or simply flatly reject. Reagan always wanted to tell the truth to the American people and was never afraid to identify and call out "evil" where he saw it. Try doing that nowadays, for fear of "offending" some one or some group.
Based on the sentiment in the room last night, I think the American people may have had just about enough of being told recently that they are simply one more country on the list in the United Nations roll call, and have no business "interfering" in the affairs of other countries. If the U.S. does not act firmly and swiftly to protect its interests against the growing threat of extremism and nuclear-ambitious powers like Iran, exactly what multilateral negotiating force is going to protect our children and our childrens' children from waking up someday to a horrifying and even more dangerous world than we have today? Reagan firmly believed that our national security interests gave us a say in the affairs of such countries when their actions and aims threatened us. His worldview, criticized by many at the time as patronizingly simplistic, was "we win, they lose." He was talking about the Soviet Union at the time, but we've lost a lot of the legacy that Ronald Reagan tried to leave us when he strove to protect our country and wasn't afraid to call out those nations and peoples that were seeking to harm us. Liberals nowadays shy away from even thinking about "we" and "they" -- no, too exclusive, too confrontational, not inclusive. Poppycock.
Anyway, there was a lot of those kinds of observations being made last night, as well as lots of quotes from President Reagan, who had a wonderful sense of humor, as many of us remember.
Of course, there were lots and lots of elected officials and other political folks -- way too many to list, but I did see and speak to Mark Kirk, Bob Dold, Joe Walsh, Dan Rutherford, Bill Brady, Matt Murphy and many others. Keith Gray and Dan Sugrue sat with me at dinner and we had a fabulous time.