Remembering Ronald Reagan
By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
a life-long Democrat, I was against many of the programs that Ronald
Reagan espoused as governor of California and later as president of
the United States. Yet I (along with tens of millions of Democrats)
considered him an exceptionally charismatic and charming political figure.
His long journey to the top started under
less than auspicious circumstances. Born into a very poor family in
Illinois, and carrying the brutal burden of an alcoholic father, he
showed his tenacity early on, graduating from college, then becoming
a sports announcer, and later migrating west where he eventually became
a well-known film actor.
Throughout his life, one of Reagan’s
most endearing qualities was his modesty. Whenever speaking of his movie
career, he was always self-effacing. Yet his work in King’s
Row, Knute Rockne—All-American and The Hasty Heart was
superb by any standard.
As president, his humility was mixed with
understanding. He was always able to work with political opponents so
as to allow them to retain their dignity—a quality that made him
a unifier rather than a divider. One cannot imagine him presiding over
a deeply splintered, suspicious and hostile U.S. electorate, as is currently
Yet he sometimes had a blind spot when
it came to dealing with the nation’s poor; ironically, many were
from families much like his own back in Illinois. His attempt to use
ketchup as a “vegetable” in children’s school lunches
was but one example.
He was called the Great Communicator,
and in my lifetime there have been few presidents who were his equal;
FDR, JFK and Bill Clinton, but there the roll-call fades away. Reagan
also had more than his share of genuine wit, which manifested itself
at the most trying of times, e.g., when, after almost being assassinated,
he explained to his wife that he “forgot to duck.”
The rap on Reagan throughout his political
career—that he was an amiable air-head, leaving all the heavy
lifting to his subordinates—was proven manifestly untrue when
after he left office, his handwritten policy speeches and voluminous
personal correspondence were published to respectable reviews. Yet his
EQ was undoubtably superior to his IQ.
Many credit Ronald Reagan with bringing
about the demise of the Soviet Union, thus ending almost fifty years
of the Cold War. Most historians counter that the USSR was already tottering
on its rickety timbers, though no doubt Reagan hastened its collapse.
But again it was his human qualities that caused USSR Premier Gorbachev
to accept the inevitable so graciously.
His instincts were not always so infallible.
In Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico, his policies created a hostile backlash
that still exists today.
Reagan’s greatest attribute was
one demonstrated in the worst moment of his eight-year presidency. When
it was revealed that his government had secretly sold high-tech weapons
to America’s arch-enemy, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, then
had compounded the catastrophe by using the proceeds to covertly fund
the Contras in Nicaragua—in violation of “the will of Congress,”
it became a potential time-bomb which could have destroyed his presidency.
Yet it was defused when Reagan, though
allegedly kept in the dark about these double-dealings, took personal
responsibility for the grievous mistakes of his administration. Would
that more recent presidents were made of such sterling stuff.
So as they used to say in some of the
westerns he made back in the 1940s, “Happy Trails,” Mister
President—and as the song goes, thanks for the memories.