What Makes Grown Men Cry

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I saw grown men cry Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia.

The men belonged to the United States Navy and they teared up paying tribute to Ronald Reagan, now the namesake of the swiftest and newest aircraft carrier on earth, the USS Ronald Reagan (search).

A somewhat frail Nancy Reagan called the carrier to life signaling 5,000 men and women to sprint to their positions aboard the astonishing craft.

But technology didn't wring tears from men and women who have faced death aboard ships. So what did? I have a theory. Ronald Reagan, in a long and varied public career, practiced what he called a politics of joy -- one enraptured of the American spirit and committed to the virtues of liberty. Reagan had quiet swagger. He stuck to principles, without anger or apology: His weapons of choice were a shrug, a grin and the word, "well." He was humble, regarding the oval office not as a workplace, but sacred ground. And he loved to share credit. He believed that Americans, given enough time and opportunity, would astonish the world with their goodness, creativity and courage.

This message has special resonance for those who serve. Only a land of special promise and purpose could inspire people to risk their lives for liberty -- and do so almost matter-of-factly: This is what Americans do. Reagan got that. And grown salts wept because he embraced his work with such gusto and his nation with such affection. He made them feel proud to be who they are, and to be Americans. He left the public scene as he entered -- with a smile, a wave, and a good line or two -- destined to spend his final years accompanied by the two women he loves most: Lady Liberty, and Nancy Reagan.