Here’s something I never said to my mother when she asked, “What happened at school today?”
The conflict managers put on a show called, “American Conflict.”
Apparently it was a spoof on “American Idol.” The person with the best conflict resolution won a million bucks. (Just in case you ever find yourself in a contest like this, the winning suggestion was: “I think you should work it out.”)
Actually, there are lots of things in school today that weren’t there when I was a kid, by cracky. Here we are in the final week of class, and learning has basically stopped. The special sections — art, music, etc. — have been given over to the video, and we’re into a round of parties, celebrations and hoppin’ throwdowns.
Who decided children would learn more if they attended school for 180 days? Oh, right — legislators.
Otherwise, a hot day. Turned on the A/C, packed boxes, negotiated voice mail. Discovered I couldn’t get my old phone number back, after a mere 10 months — it’s been reassigned already. In the middle of it all, I took a bike ride. Even in the heat, the hill homestretch is now merely a nuisance, a sign that all that cottage cheese on my thighs is merely camouflage for legs of steel and wire. I can now officially kick a man to death. Don’t tempt me.
You know, I haven’t said much about Ronald Reagan. What’s the point? He had his charms and sterling qualities and was loved by millions — let them have their week. I may spend it quietly contemplating how a man whose family was a dysfunctional train wreck came to be known as an advocate for family values, how a guy who never went to church is remembered as a great Christian president, and all the rest of it. But I think we rounded a curve today, and are officially in Princess Dianaland. Behold, the prose of presidential daughter Patti Davis, who built a writing career out of first hating her parents and then being all reconciled ‘n’ stuff. She was not so upset by her father’s death that she couldn’t manage to scratch out a few lines for the chronicler of our times, People:
And as Nancy Reagan publicly showed her heartbreak, details of her final private moment with the love of her life were revealed last night as one of deep sorrow and miraculous surprise.
The former First Lady believes her long-suffering husband recognized her when he stared into her eyes for an instant before taking his last breath, his daughter Patti Davis writes.
“It was the greatest gift he could have given me,” the former First Lady told her family.
Sobbing, shaking and knowing death was imminent, she held her husband’s hand about 1 p.m. Saturday as he inhaled deeply and opened his eyes for the first time in five days.
While most thought Alzheimer’s disease had robbed former President Reagan of all his memory, the last look he gave his wife was one of deep acknowledgment, Davis writes for People magazine in its upcoming edition.
“At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that had not opened for days did, and they weren’t chalky or vague,” Davis recalls. “They were clear and blue and full of life. If a death can be lovely, his was.”
Glad to know you got a paycheck out of it, Patti.
I’ll stop now. You all carry on.
Joe said on June 8, 2004 at 9:44 pm
When Reagan took office in 1980 I was layed off and stuggling to find work, We had double diget inflation, unemployment, and interast rates, a demoaralized military, and the USSR was a threat. Two years later I was back working buying a house with low rates, The military was top notch and before the Gipper was through the USSR was no more, Did he have some flaws? yea but so does everybody, All in all I rank Reagan in the top 3 of U.S. Presidents.
Dave Reilly said on June 8, 2004 at 10:48 pm
While Ronald Reagan was president, I had lots of romantic adventures with pretty girls, received my MFA, won a prestigious fellowship, got married to a wonderful girl, and met and became friends with Nancy Nall. I was a poor student working at a movie theater when Reagan was elected, and by the time he left office I was a college professor. So it sure was morning in my little bit of America.
But all those thousands of farmers who lost their farms and homes during his presidency, the ones Reagan dismissed as “inefficient,” and all the people in El Salvador who died at the hands of the death squads Reagan supported by selling weapons to our enemies the Iranians, and all the young men who died of AIDS because Reagan decided they were victims of God’s righteous wrath and stayed the government’s hand in reacting to the epidemic, and all the regular Joes who had jobs when Reagan came to office but lost them in that nifty little recession that the Gipper caused with his reckless tax cuts and only helped end when Tip O’Neill forced him to raise taxes to a point even higher than when he came to office, they probably don’t think as well of President Dutch as you and I do.
alex said on June 8, 2004 at 11:54 pm
When Ronald Reagan was president, numerous of my friends and acquaintances died as pariahs. I left Fort Wayne, fearing that if anything should happen to me there, the local hospitals would do as piss-poor a job of protecting my confidentiality as they did with that of several other people I’d known. It wasn’t until 1991 that I even had the courage to get tested for AIDS, and this was after I’d ceased having sex for several years in the prime of my life.
God’s wrath? It’d be nothing compared to the unkindliness of people. Linda Ellerbee did a documentary on AIDS in the Fort in the late ’80s. I saw it on PBS in Chicago. The show opens with a burned-out trailer home, an arson job on a straight man who’d received a bad transfusion.
I knew almost every one of the patients featured in that show and none survive today. I haven’t forgotten the sort of climate that Ronald Reagan fostered. No, he didn’t create it. But he was one callous sonofabitch and his public scorn for the Brady Bill�named for the man paralyzed by one of the bullets meant for him�even further crystallized my view.
Let the nuts and kooks he pandered to lionize him all they want. Let them put his face on a dime. As far as I’m concerned that’s all he was worth as a president.
Paul said on June 9, 2004 at 12:59 am
the top three of u.s. presidents.
so do we knock out abe lincoln, george washington, or the roosevelts?
Randy said on June 9, 2004 at 10:41 am
I can only give Reagan props for delivering the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”.
Though I’m certain it was written for him, and rehearsed to death so as to be delivered with all gravity you can expect a B-list actor to muster.
As nauseating as this is, just imagine in 20 or 30 years when the late GW is being lionized as the greatest patriot since George Washington.
alex said on June 9, 2004 at 11:01 am
I wonder. When Clinton goes, do you think the “liberal media” will be putting his foibles aside and celebrating his virtues?
Dave Reilly said on June 9, 2004 at 11:24 am
After reading Joe’s post, I set out to make a list of the top 10 presidents. And you know what?
I couldn’t come up with 10.
We’ve had a lot of pikers, nobodies, and out and out failures in the White House.
My list has 8 presidents on it. Three greats, and 5 very goods. Greats being presidents who saved the country. Very goods being those who left it much better off than when they came to office.
Lincoln, Washington, and FDR are the greats, obviously. The very goods are Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman.
I can’t see how you can argue that Reagan ranks above any of those 5, let alone the top 3. He might belong to the list of good presidents, presidents who kept the country going forward, added to its value, and actually accomplished a few important changes. But what did he really do? I don’t mean what happened while he was president. Or how he made us feel cheerful. I mean what did he do to make it all happen and to give us real reasons to be so cheery.
Nixon leads off the list of good presidents. He should be on the list of very good presidents, but the evil he did (Cambodia, Watergate)comes close to outweighing the good (the EPA, detente, China). Johnson should be up there too, but Vietnam definitely outweighs all the good he did, including the Civil Rights Act, and you can argue that Vietnam was so bad that he shouldn’t even be on the good list. Dwight Eisenhower. James Monroe, even though nobody remembers him. (Think Erie Canal and post roads.) JFK, for the space program and the Cuban Missle Crisis, his handling of it and the disarmament talks that followed. Clinton, for saving the country from bankruptcy and thwarting Newt Gingrich. And Jimmy Carter, whose list of actual achievements, starting with the peace between Israel and Egypt, is longer than that being attributed to Reagan by his most gushing admirers. Boiled down, Reagan’s big accomplishment, according to even his fans, was restoring our confidence in America.
Funny. I thought the 1980 Olympic hockey team did that.
Any other nominees for the lists?
4dbirds said on June 9, 2004 at 11:36 am
I can’t agree when it comes to Wilson. He was such a racist, it’s hard to think of him as ‘very good’ in modern terms.
4dbirds said on June 9, 2004 at 11:41 am
Hope this isn’t too long but Kevin Drum who writes a blog for the Washington Monthly, had a great peice on the luck of Reagan. I’ll post it but his excellent blog can be found at. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ I promise, no more long comments.
THE LUCK OF THE GIPPER….It’s hard to avoid blogging about Ronald Reagan this week, so I guess I’ll just give in and do it.
I have to admit that I flip back and forth on Reagan a lot. On the one hand, I can read something like this and be instantly reminded of everything I hated about him � welfare queens, AIDS, Iran-contra, James Watt, El Salvador, Ed Meese, his confusion of movies with reality, and on and on. On the other hand, sometimes those things recede in my memory and I also remember his sunny optimism, his eventual willingness to negotiate with the Soviets, the fact that he never really made good on his social conservatism, his final victory against communism, and, as my mother put it, the fact that “we came out the other end OK after all.”
But there’s another aspect of Reagan that doesn’t get much attention: he was extraordinarily lucky. I don’t especially intend to demean his accomplishments by saying this, since it’s surely true that people often make their own luck, but nonetheless: Reagan was a very lucky guy. Here are some examples:
The Iranians decided to let the hostages go on the precise day of Reagan’s inauguration. There are dark theories that this was prearranged by Reagan’s people during the campaign, and equally suspect theories that it was because the Iranians were deathly afraid to deal with Reagan the gunslinger. More likely, the hostages had accomplished their purpose and the Iranians just didn’t want to risk having to reopen lengthy negotiations with a new administration.
But whatever the case, the timing was fortuitious. Not only did Reagan not have to deal with the hostages, but his first days in office coincided with a gigantic national celebration over their return. It really did seem like a new era.
One of Reagan’s signature early moments came when he fired the air traffic controllers who had gone on strike in August 1981. He won that battle and cemented his reputation as a firm leader who wouldn’t allow himself to be extorted by a bunch of hooligans.
But what if a couple of 747s had collided a week after he broke the strike? What would his legacy have been then?
The 1981 recession ended just in the nick of time, didn’t it? One more year and we’d be writing about President Mondale’s legacy right about now.
Reagan eventually agreed to arms reductions with the Soviet Union, but that became possible only when two Soviet leaders in succession died after little more than a year in office and the reforming Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.
It’s obviously to Reagan’s credit that he seized the opportunity to work with Gorbachev, but he was still lucky to get the chance. If Konstantin Chernenko had remained in power for a few more years, that chance probably never would have come.
It’s easy to forget now, but in 1987 the folks around Reagan were genuinely afraid that the Iran-contra scandal might lead to his impeachment. In the end, though, no smoking gun was found, John Poindexter took the ultimate fall, and the entire affair slowly drifted into the haze of history.
But no one seriously believes that Reagan was entirely unaware of either the deal to trade arms for hostages or of the deal to covertly supply the contras with weapons. All it would have taken was the leak of one unambiguous memo and Reagan would have been toast. It was a lucky break that no such memo ever became public.
And finally there’s the biggest piece of luck of all: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, just a few months after Reagan left office. This is surely the iconic emblem of Reagan’s victory over communism, and the timing is etched indelibly in our national consciousness.
But regardless of how you feel about Reagan’s contribution to toppling the Soviet Union, it was only coincidence that the Wall fell when it did. It could just as easily have fallen, say, in 1993 when Bill Clinton was president. If it had, would it still be remembered as Reagan’s victory? Fairly or not, there’s little doubt that the passing of a few years would have made an enormous difference in the public mind.
And there’s one more thing: Reagan was even lucky in choosing his predecessor well. It’s not just that it was easy to look good compared to Jimmy Carter, it’s that Carter laid an awful lot of the groundwork for Reagan’s accomplishments. For all the contempt that conservatives shower on him today, the fact is that it was Carter who first used human rights as a serious cudgel to bash the Soviet Union; it was Carter who began the deregulation movement; it was Carter who first approved the secret war in Afghanistan; it was Carter who formed a “Management Strike Contingency Force” � scabs � to prepare for the air traffic controller strike; and it was Carter who appointed inflation hawk Paul Volcker to the Fed � someone who surely had far more to do with fixing the ailing economy than Reagan himself did.
So what to say? It’s true that every president has a mix of good and bad luck. And it’s true that there are different kinds of luck: in the case of the air traffic controller strike Reagan rolled the dice and won, while in the case of Gorbachev he was presented with a lucky opportunity and had the wit to take advantage of it. Making the best of your chances is sometimes the truest mark of a winner.
But still: Ronald Reagan was an exceptionally lucky man during his eight years in the White House. We haven’t seen its equal since JFK won his bet with Khrushchev and emerged into history as a steely eyed cold warrior instead of the man who started World War III.
Danny said on June 9, 2004 at 1:00 pm
Nancy, I’ve read your site for years, but never commented or emailed. I would like to offer one correction. According to Paul Kengor, author of “God and Ronald Reagan : A Spiritual Life,” Reagan attended church all of his life except while president (citing security concerns). Given that he was shot a few weeks into his first term, the concern was understandable.
Mary said on June 9, 2004 at 6:08 pm
I’m glad Patti made a buck from writing about this touching scene, too. Lord knows her acting career never took off, and after writing about hating her family, then loving her family, she had pretty much tapped out. Brother Ron does those dog show commentaries on cable, so he’s gainfully employed.
Nance said on June 9, 2004 at 6:28 pm
Danny: Sorry, I didn’t know that. I do know he never attended while in the WH. It always chapped my ass that Reagan was favorably compared, by evangelicals, to Jimmy Carter, a man whose faith informs his life in ways I can only gawk at in awe. But he — J.C. — came down on the wrong side of the abortion issue, so you know? HEATHEN! I guess all the Habitat for Humanity houses in the world won’t get HIM into heaven, eh?
Paul said on June 9, 2004 at 7:09 pm
Oh, come on, Nancy–we all know Jimmy Carter was history’s greatest monster!
(I’ve had people tell me that in dead earnestness.)
Dave, I imagine that if our ideas about proper governance matched our forebears’ a bit more closely, we’d be ranking Jackson and Polk among the near-greats.
Paul said on June 9, 2004 at 7:11 pm
(Ah, you did put Andrew on your list. Nevermind.)
(Eisenhower, but for Francis Gary Powers, would be on the very good list. The Spirit of Camp David left the world much better than it was before his term–that’s why Jack Kennedy had to run from the right-wing.)
Linda said on June 9, 2004 at 7:20 pm
You know, I’ve never been very good at understanding politics, or whether or not a president was a good one, so I usually refrain from comment on the topic. But I do want to say this: Several years ago I read a really good book written by a retired Secret Service man (unfortunately I don’t remember his name or the title of the book). He talked about his service from JFK through, I think, George Bush Sr. Maybe Reagan was the last one. Anyway, he had a lot of amusing things to tell about all of them, and also he told about how all of them did crooked things while in office (JFK defied his own trade embargo with Cuba and had Cuban cigars smuggled in to him) and had family members who were obnoxious (one of the Nixon girls threw an unholy fit on Air Force One because the cook didn’t know what a Monte Cristo sandwich was). All of them except Reagan. He said Reagan was the ONLY one of the Presidents he worked for who was as nice in private as he appeared to be in public. Even Carter could be an SOB at times.
I’ve always remembered Reagan fondly, despite mistakes he may have made, and will continue to do so.
first-time caller said on June 10, 2004 at 11:01 am
A couple of the posts above beg the question — when we gonna see a lance mannion blog? High time, man.
Dave Reilly said on June 10, 2004 at 10:30 pm
Lance is too much of a feckless playboy, too busy being a hound to be bothered with the daily or semi-daily busy-ness of running a blog. Same goes for his counterpart Honeyboy Wilson.
Every now and then I think about opening up shop as myself, but whenever I do it’s not as either one of Sam Malone’s secret identities that I see myself. I see me as Frasier Crane and hear me reacting to one of my own posts in Frasier’s voice:
“God, aren’t I a pompous ass.”
It takes a special talent and grace and deftness of touch to do what Nance is doing here. The web doesn’t need Lance Mannion. It needs more Nancy Nall.
first-time caller said on June 11, 2004 at 10:57 am
About your last paragraph: Agree. Disagree. Agree.
Penultimate graph? I go back and forth on that one. (I’m forcing myself not to add an obnoxious winky icon here.)
(*I’ve probably lost my “F” status, but anyhoo…)
sasha said on June 12, 2004 at 1:58 pm
aside from all the bullshit ive been reading that you people have posted about Ronald Reagan, the bottom line is that the light that was someones life has gone out, and regardless of your opinions of them, you should be decent enough to be respectful….
sarah said on June 12, 2004 at 6:02 pm
right on sasha! u said it best. nancy…it’s very cold of you to suggest that patti was thinking of a paycheck as she wrote that article. shame on you to even suggest such a thing!!
4dbirds said on June 13, 2004 at 8:09 pm
You think Ronnie lost a minute of sleep over the lives lost in Central America? How about the 240+ marines killed in Lebanon in his little “show the flag” show? He’s dead, big deal. I think the man had blood on his hands. He’s burning in hell.