There isn't anything I can say about President Ronald Reagan that hasn't already been said, but I would like to share a few stories of how Mr. Reagan touched my life.
My earliest memory of President Reagan was the assassination attempt in 1981, and his return to the White House after his recovery. I was home from school on both occasions (kindergarten only took up the morning hours), and clearly remember Peter Jennings on ABC announcing the shooting, and the big "Welcome Home" banners hanging from White House balconies when Mr. Reagan returned. Over the years I followed the administration as best as I could, really getting into it during the 1984 race, and watching with a little sadness as he left the White House for the last time. You could say I was a bit more aware of the world situation during a time when the average boy was concerned with more meaningful things (like playing in the mud), but nobody could avoid the words "nuclear war" so my main concern was trusting that Mr. Reagan would keep the Soviets from attacking. Well-placed trust, I say.
In later years, Mr. Reagan had an even bigger impact on my life, and I can even go so far as to say helped get me through my first semester in college. It would have been late 1994 or so, before we knew how sick he really was, and I was taking my required political science class. The professor broke us up into groups and assigned each group to discuss various historical events and make a presentation on our topic. I smiled with delight when my group picked up the Iran-Contra affair. A divine accident, I called it.
Having been able to do a respectable Ronald Reagan impression for years (which was really more of an impression of Johnny Carson's impression of Reagan, and I even recorded our telephone answering machine message using the voice to the enjoyment, an annoyance, of some), we decided that I would go up in front of the class decked out in my best suit and give a reason for why we were trading arms for hostages in my best Ronald Reagan voice. The question and answer session that followed offered a perfect example of art imitating life, as I dodged a few heavy questions with some Reaganesque one-liners that kept the other students laughing. I do not recall the grade my group received, but we were not disappointed.
One thing I'd like to mention that others have already touched on is Mr. Reagan's unending optimism and good spirits about the United States and our abilities as Americans to shine above the rest of the world. We have nothing but opportunity here - if you know what to do with it – and Reagan made us believe it. The tragedy today is that nobody in national leadership is able to convey those feelings when such an attitude is sorely needed. All we hear about is how bad things are - from a media, and politicians, who seemingly want us to believe we're going down the tubes in order to push their own agenda. American needs a cheerleader now more than ever, but nobody can answer the call. As my friend Rebecca put it: "We need a cheerleader who doesn't sleep with everyone who can make her popular - we need one who honestly cheers for the whole team who is honestly on our side. That's what I loved about Reagan. He thought we were all star players instead of some of us needing to be taken care of and some of us being worker bees and just a few are the stars."
Maybe somebody we’ll get back to that.
Here are two of my favorite Reagan-as-actor moments:
First: His guest appearance on the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show in 1950, which I recently watched on TV Land.
Here's the set-up: As the show begins, George and Gracie start buzzing about "Ronnie Reagan's birthday party" and George decides to do a little singing at the event. But nobody likes George's singing and can't find a way to tell him, so Gracie engineers a plot to kidnap George to get him out of the way (it makes perfect sense if you know Gracie). The gangsters she hires, however, really aren't up to the task. When Reagan shows up at the house to speak with George, he's the one kidnapped instead because the gangsters don't know what George looks like. At the gang's hideout, the gangsters are trying to decide what do to with "this Burns guy" when Reagan breaks out and proclaims: "I am not George Burns! I'm Ronald Reagan! I was at George's house to try and convince him not to sing at my birthday party!"
Second: the 1964 re-make of "Ernest Hemingway's The Killers" (available in a double-DVD set with the original 1949 version starring Burt Lancaster, an excellent film) where Reagan plays the bad guy - and it doesn't work. He just couldn't be a shifty, crafty, evil race track robber who sets up a fall-guy; he just couldn't be mean. But it's a blast watching him try while cavorting with Angie Dickinson and trying to dodge Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, the "good" guys, as they try and track him down.
Ronald Reagan will be missed. But his personal style and point of view will live on through those he inspired.
Brian Evankovich lives in an undisclosed location formerly occupied by Dick Cheney at firstname.lastname@example.org.