(Jim Clark) – The Incline Village/Crystal Bay Federated Republican Women’s Club is planning a special Ronald Reagan 100th birthday luncheon on February 15 in the Indian Room of the Cal Neva. The luncheon’s theme, Memories of Ronald Reagan, will be addressed by featured speaker Dr. Ty W. Cobb, Special Assistant to President Reagan and Director of Soviet and European Affairs at the National Security Council from 1983 to 1989.
With the passage of time, we tend to remember historic moments like “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” and forget that Reagan spent most of his second term ducking Democrat slings and arrows over the Iran/Contra affair. But if we conservatives romanticize Reagan, we’re not alone. In a 2009 Gallup poll of Americans of all party registrations, Reagan was ranked as America’s best president followed by Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
How could he have outpolled those two giants of American history? Perhaps the answer lies in a comment Reagan made just before his election in 1980 to a reporter who asked him what Americans saw in him. He replied, “Would you laugh if I told you that I think maybe they see themselves and that I’m one of them?” Think about it. How could this conservative president, faced with a Democratic Congress for nearly all of his two terms in office, get tax cuts approved, nuclear arms treaties approved, defense budgets vastly increased, banks deregulated . . . the list goes on. The answer is twofold: the people were with him, “the great communicator,” because he reminded us of ourselves and he knew the art of compromise.
My favorite recollections of Reagan were the stories about his self-deprecating humor. He made fun of his age, his work habits, his vanities, his ideology, his alleged lack of intelligence and his supposed domination by his wife, Nancy. But he honed his humor into an effective political weapon. At a rally in Florida, a wind blew his speech cards off the podium. Reagan picked them up, shuffled them together and said: “It really doesn’t matter what order these are in.” During his first gubernatorial campaign, a fan asked the former actor to autograph a studio picture showing him with the title chimpanzee in the movie “Bedtime for Bonzo.” He signed it and added, “I’m the one with the watch.” Reagan was 70 when first sworn in as president and 73 when he ran for reelection in 1984. His opponent, Walter Mondale, kept hammering away on Reagan’s age. At their nationally televised debate Reagan said preemptively: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political gain, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Reagan carried 49 states, Mondale 1.
After he was the victim of an assassination attempt on the streets of Washington, DC, he was rushed to George Washington University Hospital and an urgent phone called placed to his wife. Handed the receiver, he said: “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Later he was wheeled into an operating room and found himself surrounded by white-gowned physicians wearing surgical masks. He looked around and said, “I hope all you guys are Republicans.” Once on Air Force One, a staffer took a picture of Reagan’s press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, asleep in his seat. Reagan inscribed the photo: “Marlin, we’re only supposed to do this at cabinet meetings.”
It’s amazing how an average guy who just knew how to get along with people and how to compromise to achieve a goal could be thought of as America’s greatest president. His example gives us all hope.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)