Most people who dabble in politics and political writing can point to one defining moment, one event, one story that crystallized some nebulous thoughts into a clear, palatable drive to do something. If you were born in 1963, the youngest of four, and you watched the excesses of the 1960s rip your older sisters from your parents, you share a lot with me. On November 4, 1979, I lay in the bathtub warming sore, cold muscles after a rare Sunday high school football game. I tuned my radio to KMOX 1120 AM to listen to Joel Bushbaum's analysis of that day's NFL games. Sports was interrupted to carry a CBS Radio News update on the crisis in Tehran, Iran. However warm the water had been coming out of the faucet, my anger lifted it to the boiling point.
Granted, I already subscribed to National Review. I watched Firing Line religiously. I stayed up until midnight on election night 1976. Never, though, had my country been so insulted.
From that moment on, events moved quickly. The nightly 10:30 PM updates on the crisis on ABC became a television show called Nightline. Ted Koppel became famous. In St. Louis, so did Rocky Sickman and his mother. Rocky was Marine Corporal held hostage all 444 days.
In January, 1980, the US Olympic hockey team beat the Soviets and went on to win the Gold Medal. Ronald Reagan, trailing George Bush for the Republican nomination, grabbed his microphone at a debate in New Hampshire and angrily explained to the moderator, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green!"
When that clip made the evening news, many of new who the next president would be.
Across the Atlantic, one woman stood athwart history, yelling "Stop!" Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took office in May 1979, and begun undoing 30 years of socialist excesses that had knocked the UK's economy onto its back. Becoming the first Conservative PM since Winston Churchill, Thatcher put her countrymen and the world on notice that days of encroaching liberalism were over.
And even farther to the east, on the European continent, bordering the Iron Curtain, a humble Polish Cardinal, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, had settled into his new digs in Rome as Pope John Paul II. Selected by the College of Cardinals in October 1978, after the bizarre death of John Paul I who held the chair only 33 days, John Paul II was an enigma. Despite participation in Vatican II, he was little known outside of the Vatican.
While John Paul I was considered a liberal, John Paul II seemed immediately to be something of a throwback. He had stood up to both Nazism and Communism. He wanted an ecumenical church, but he immediately affirmed the church's doctrine. He ordered a liberal American priest who was serving in the Congress to either quit the priesthood or get out of politics.
When Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as America's 40th president, the triumvirate of freedom was complete. For the next decade, three giants ran the world: Thatcher, Reagan, and John Paul II.
Part II tomorrow.