For those who are considered to be members of the Reagan family–White House staff, campaign staff, writers, biographers, affiliated memberships–all have often heard over the years from their fellow citizens about Reagan, “He made me feel good about myself.”
For the less thoughtful, it was dismissed as a comment of the unsophisticated, reminding some of the quip by Adlai Stevenson in 1952 when an excited woman told him “All the intelligent people are voting for you” to which the Democratic nominee replied, “Yes ma’am, but I need a majority.”
In fact, the comment about individuals “feeling good” about themselves was precisely what Reagan wanted to achieve and even said so in his farewell remarks; he considered his greatest accomplishment the restoration of American morale and spirit.
The fundamental difference between Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan is that Obama wants the American people to feel good about him but Reagan wanted the American people to feel good about themselves.
This the essential difference between those on the left who believe in the state, who believe in collectivism–to acquire power by convincing (or ordering) the individual to surrender power ostensibly for their own good.
What liberals never want to debate are their own failings. After all, this is why GK Chesterton said the very purpose of progressivism was to make mistakes and then move on.
A nation of happy and self-confident spiritual individuals is a successful country; in another phrase, American Exceptionalism.
Reagan believed in this down to the marrow of his bones.
Yet he did not arrive at this world view all on his own. It came from his parents, it came from autodidactic education, and it also came from Nancy Reagan. No one who took as many unfair bean balls from the left and from liberal journalists over the years could have survived without a spring of individual optimism welling up from inside.
During the 1980 campaign, a perpetually dyspeptic reporter attacked Mrs. Reagan in a column for handing out chocolate to the traveling press. Rather than storming about, the next day, she walked down the aisle of the campaign plane again with her chocolates but with a sign around her neck that read, “Take one! Or else!”
You have to have a lot of self-confidence to do that, or to realize the press corps was attacking you as a way of getting to your husband. For over 50 years, she stood at his side and was blunt about her role, once telling an interviewer that of course she gave “Ronnie” her opinions and felt entitled to because, for one good reason, they shared the same bed.
She was once described as a “Metternich in Adolfo dresses.” Metternich was the great Austrian diplomat who got things done. Nancy Reagan got things done.
And then came the Alzheimer’s. During those ten years, she never flinched, never walked away, assumed the increased responsibility and did so with resolution and courage. This is known but what is not known, for instance, is that during the week of the funeral for her husband, she still took time to meet with and personally thank all the White House staff from the 1980’s.
That was ten years ago.
A large turnout is expected at the Reagan Library on June 5, the anniversary of the passing of the Gipper. Speeches by Fred Ryan, the estimable chairman of the Board of the Reagan Library, Jim Baker, Reagan’s very capable first chief of staff and later Treasury Secretary, will cover the legacy and the life and times of the 40th president.
There will also be a panel with Reagan biographers including Lou Cannon and moderated by Peggy Noonan. Also, a wreath laying ceremony at Reagan’s gravesite.
This year marks a number of important anniversaries for Reagan besides his passing. It is also the 50th anniversary of his historic speech for Barry Goldwater, the 25th anniversary of his departure from the White House and the 30th anniversary of his overwhelming re-election in 1984.
But for his friend, soul mate, guardian, lover, best friend and wife, Nancy Reagan, it is also the 20th anniversary of learning that her beloved “Ronnie” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, plungin her life into an dark abyss, but also allowing her to find an ever deeper love for her husband and for her faith.
They had looked forward to their golden years together after the whirlwind of 40 years of national politics, from the days of the Screen Actors Guild to their eight monumental years in Washington.
Alas, it was not to be so. And yet, there is much to celebrate, much to be happy about, and much to consider. Would the epidemic of drug abuse have become a national issue without Nancy Reagan putting a spotlight on it? Would the millions raised for Alzheimer’s research have come about without her tireless campaigning for it?
The Reagans were often derided because she supposedly did not have a cause but what the liberal critics meant was she did not have a politically correct cause. Welcoming home the Vietnam POW’s was not politically correct in the early 1970’s but that is precisely what Nancy Reagan, Ross Perot, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did.
Telling reporters in 1980 that his wife’s main cause, if he was elected, would be him caused a stir and yet, would John Adams be John Adams without Abigail? Would Franklin Roosevelt be the president he was without Eleanor? To believe in others, to believe in a country and a way of life, it is helpful and maybe essential to have Someone believe in you.
Nancy Reagan believed in Ronald Reagan.
The events at the Reagan Library on the 5th and every day, celebrate the life and legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan none of which he would have been accomplished without Nancy Davis Reagan. There had to be something about Reagan that appealed to her, something she saw in him.
After all, she’d once dated Clark Gable.