We think of President Reagan as “the great communicator.” Indeed, he communicated conservative ideas better than anyone. Many of his speeches were memorable, from “the evil empire” to “tear down this wall.” His 1980 speech accepting the GOP nomination in Detroit was fabulous, especially now that you can watch it again and again.
However, his best speech wasn’t political at all. It happened on the day that he spoke to the nation about the terrible Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 or 37 years ago today.
As you may remember, most of the country fell in love with Christa McAuliffe, a teacher going into space. Also watching that morning were her family and millions of students all over. It was one of those moments where everyone was cheering the same way. It was awesome. Happy moment. How often do you get those?
The story had a bad ending. The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, and a wonderful morning turned into a nightmare.
Around that time, I was driving to a lunch and listening to everything on the radio. I heard the takeoff and the first word of an explosion. I walked into the restaurant, and everyone was watching the television. It was one of those moments when nothing else mattered, including lunch.
Later, President Reagan spoke to the nation about the tragedy, and especially to the children who had seen their teacher blown up in space. Suddenly, you realize why it matters to have a president who can speak from the heart:
And I want to say something to the schoolchildren 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.
It was a wonderful speech, and you should watch it in full. It was an awful day, but we had a man in the Oval Office who could bring us together.