Remembering Reagan

Don’t you always wonder how tough the he-men of the silver screen really are? I’ve always wondered about that. John Wayne, for instance… his real name was Marion Morrison. Was he the real-life equivalent of “A Boy Named Sue,” or was he a wimp? From “Flying Tigers” (1942) to “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949), the Duke fought World War II on movie sets, not on battlefields.
Ronald Reagan likewise spent his war on a Hollywood back lot, staring in such B-reelers as “Hellcats of the Navy” and “This Is the Army.” He donned a real uniform as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, but served in the First Motion Picture Unit, and not in the skies over Europe or the Pacific.
On March 30, 1981, aged 70, Reagan faced the first real bullets of his life. The assassination attempt, which wounded him, proved he was more than just a movie tough guy. At death’s door, he quipped to wife Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck,” a line he borrowed from fighter Jack Dempsey. To the doctors in the emergency room he said, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” Less than two weeks later, he was back in the White House.
He bluntly called Russia the “Evil Empire” and shamed Gorbachev at their second summit by strutting out into the Icelandic chill without an overcoat to greet the bundled-up Soviet leader. In my book, Reagan was tough… and he did more to end the Cold War than historians probably will ever admit.
The cover of last week’s Time Magazine put Reagan back into my head. Thanks to the power of computers, Time featured America’s 40th president in profile with a big tear running down his cheek. “How the Right Went Wrong” is the cover story’s headline. The piece contends that the GOP must reclaim “the Reagan legacy” and wonders what Reagan himself would do today.
If you want to know Time’s answer to that question, buy the magazine. My non-partisan answer draws its inspiration from Ron Regan’s irrepressible optimism. At a time when America’s might seemed at its lowest ebb — we were still licking the wounds of Vietnam when the Iran hostage crisis resulted in an abortive rescue attempt, leaving our choppers shattered and scattered in the Persian desert — Reagan launched his “Star Wars” initiative. His gut genius recognized that, while the U.S. was demoralized, the nation remained fundamentally powerful. By contrast, he somehow sensed that, beneath it monolithic surface, the Soviet Union was rotten to the core. He out-spent the Soviets right into history’s dustbin.
Where today’s politicos duck for cover, or whimper and wring their hands, when those hands get caught where they don’t belong, Reagan faced the cameras — and the music — with courage and good humor. Even in the Iran-Contra controversy, his reaction to a tough question from the news media was his infectious “ha, ha, ha.” Some called him “the great communicator,” others “the Teflon president.” The truth is that, if the Reds couldn’t scare him, a mob of pesky reporters sure wouldn’t ruffle him much.
Ronald Reagan was in his huge heart a happy warrior. Whether John Wayne aka Marion Morrison — or Humphrey or Clark or any of his other contemporaries — was really a tough guy, Dutch Reagan surely was. His Hollywood career was less illustrious than theirs. He was less of an actor than they were. What most historians still don’t get is that in his finest moments, Dutch wasn’t acting. That’s the lesson to be learned by most of today’s presidential wanna-be’s.

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3 Responses to “Remembering Reagan”

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