Presidential History

"Getting Shot Hurts."

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The Reagan Diaries, edited by omnipresent historian Douglas Brinkley, collects wit and wisdom from Ronald Reagan, the man who told Reason in 1975, "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."

Some snippets:

"Getting shot hurts."…

The turbulent sweep of the White House years provides unvarnished details of acrimonious moments with his kids—"Insanity is hereditary you catch it from your kids"—optimism after meeting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (he refers to him as Gorby) and fears of war in the Middle East—"Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon."…

Another [entry] candidly recalled Mrs. Reagan's return to the White House after a long trip and "a race" between the president and dog Rex to be the first one to greet her.

More here.

Despite some mundane entries ("Changed our clocks back to standard time"…), the volume seems likely to further the growing sense that Reagan, far from being an airheaded B-movie actor passing as a pol, was a complicated and sophisticated observer and analyst of world events and American history.

That sensibility is on display in Reagan's Reason 1975 interview with Reason, which is online here. His record as California's governor, note the interviewers, "is not particularly libertarian," even as he quotes Mises at them. It's well worth a read.

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  1. By the time most people developed an opinion about Reagan’s intelligence and awareness, he was already displaying symptoms of Alzheimers.

    What a terrible disease.

  2. “Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon.”…

    Gee, that is smart and sophisticated.

  3. I think you’re probably right, joe.
    And he did say some ridiculous things, which didn’t help.
    I sure thought he was an imbecile for a long time. I was pretty young — only 13 when he left office — but growing up with my liberal parents definitely left an impression that the guy was an appallingly stupid president.
    But I think many people are starting to realize that he was a lot sharper than they thought.

  4. You know, some may not see the wisdom in the observation “getting shot hurts”, but apparently Hollywood still has not received the message; I mean, how many more TV and movie heroes/villains are we going to see “drive on” after taking a bullet in the shoulder or the leg? So, simple though that observation may be, it’s worth repeating.

  5. Back when my dad was doing work for the Defense Dept, Regan came for a site visit. All the scientists, engineers and technicians were hauled into a big meeting room, while the senior managers gave a presentation.

    Reagan gave them a tough time, asking lots of intelligent, relevant, questions. It was clear that he grasped the engineering and science very well. My dad said afterwards, “the man is more intelligent than he pretends to be, and is much more intelligent than people give him credit for”.

    I don’t like him as president; he was too much a big government conservative for my tastes. But I did feel a lot of pity for him; for an intelligent man to slowly lose his mind, to know that he is losing it must be the most excruciating form of hell.

  6. Hi Randian!

    do you remember Eddie Murphy’s Delirious (ca 1983) where he talks about people getting shot in the movies as compared with real life?

    hilarious, and exactly what you’re saying!
    Hier (not related to post, but VERY RELEVANT!!!!)

  7. Reagan was very good at asking questions when he’d been properly coached, as he often was. Alan Greenspan, who often briefed him, said he was incapable of understanding economic data. His invariable instinct was to cherry pick whatever “proved” his point.

    Hs writings display a man who expressed himself almost entirely through homilies and cliches. Efforts by a number of columnists to portray Reagan as a bad parent are pretty trivial. He was emotionally remote, but that’s hardly unusual. To modify Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous line about FDR, “a third-rate intellect but a first-rate temperament.”

  8. If Ron Reagan dyed his hair, and I’m not saying he did, it was only to show his strength to the Communists.

  9. Many of my fellow Californio libertarians have not forgiven Ronald Rayguns (Zap) for instituting income tax withholding in the Golden State.

    I choose to ignore that inconvenience and focus on the time I saw him advocate abolishing income tax.

  10. My appreciation for Reagan stems from what preceded him. In the 1970s, presided over by Nixon, Ford and Carter, it was very easy to believe that world was only going to get worse, much worse.

    In any case, I just want to cite one of Reagan’s most graceful acts–his letter to the public about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Quoted in full below:

    My Fellow Americans,

    I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

    In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We are happy that as a result many more people underwent testing.

    They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

    So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

    At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

    Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

    In closing let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

    I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright new dawn ahead.

    Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.

    Sincerely,

    Ronald Reagan

  11. “Insanity is hereditary – you catch it from your kids”

    My parents often quoted this one – which wikiquote attributes to Sam Levinson.

  12. NOAM CHOMSKY

    The Reagan Era

    Reagan’s duty was to smile, to read from the teleprompter in a pleasant voice, tell a few jokes, and keep the audience properly bemused.

    The Apotheosis of Ronald Reagan
    Divinity Thorugh Marketing
    By NOAM CHOMSKY

    During his years in office, Reagan was not particularly popular. Gallup just published poll figures comparing him during office with other presidents. His average ratings during his years in office were below Kennedy, Johnson, Bush I, and Clinton; above Nixon, Ford, Carter. This is averages during their terms in office. By 1992 he was ranked just next to Nixon as the most unpopular living ex-president. Since then there has been an immense PR campaign to convert him into a revered and historic figure, if not semi-divine, and it’s doubtless had an effect, radically shifting the rankings. Not on the basis of facts: rather, extremely effective marketing. The current performance is reminiscent of the death of Hirohito and Soviet leaders. One of the more depraved moments of US media. The lying is quite impressive, even by people who surely know better.

  13. Has anybody actually seen the book? I pre-ordered a copy but it hasn’t arrived yet.

    I second Ron’s comment about Reagan and the ’70s. At the time Reagan was elected, it really did seem like Road Warrior was only about 20 years away.

  14. Antoher dissenting view from Christopher Hitchens http://www.slate.com/id/2101842/

    Ronald Reagan claimed that the Russian language had no word for “freedom.” (The word is “svoboda”; it’s quite well attested in Russian literature.) Ronald Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles-a corruption of language that isn’t his fault) could be recalled once launched. Ronald Reagan said that he sought a “Star Wars” defense only in order to share the technology with the tyrants of the U.S.S.R. Ronald Reagan professed to be annoyed when people called it “Star Wars,” even though he had ended his speech on the subject with the lame quip, “May the force be with you.” Ronald Reagan used to alarm his Soviet counterparts by saying that surely they’d both unite against an invasion from Mars. Ronald Reagan used to alarm other constituencies by speaking freely about the “End Times” foreshadowed in the Bible. In the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan told Yitzhak Shamir and Simon Wiesenthal, on two separate occasions, that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps.
    There was more to Ronald Reagan than that. Reagan announced that apartheid South Africa had “stood beside us in every war we’ve ever fought,” when the South African leadership had been on the other side in the most recent world war. Reagan allowed Alexander Haig to greenlight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, fired him when that went too far and led to mayhem in Beirut, then ran away from Lebanon altogether when the Marine barracks were bombed, and then unbelievably accused Tip O’Neill and the Democrats of “scuttling.” Reagan sold heavy weapons to the Iranian mullahs and lied about it, saying that all the weapons he hadn’t sold them (and hadn’t traded for hostages in any case) would, all the same, have fit on a small truck. Reagan then diverted the profits of this criminal trade to an illegal war in Nicaragua and lied unceasingly about that, too. Reagan then modestly let his underlings maintain that he was too dense to understand the connection between the two impeachable crimes. He then switched without any apparent strain to a policy of backing Saddam Hussein against Iran. (If Margaret Thatcher’s intelligence services had not bugged Oliver North in London and become infuriated because all European nations were boycotting Iran at Reagan’s request, we might still not know about this.)
    One could go on. I only saw him once up close, which happened to be when he got a question he didn’t like. Was it true that his staff in the 1980 debates had stolen President Carter’s briefing book? (They had.) The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard. His reply was that maybe his staff had, and maybe they hadn’t, but what about the leak of the Pentagon Papers? Thus, a secret theft of presidential documents was equated with the public disclosure of needful information. This was a man never short of a cheap jibe or the sort of falsehood that would, however laughable, buy him some time.

  15. “Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon.”…

    Gee, that is smart and sophisticated.

    Wet-eared young punk:

    In my own youth I spent a lot of time reading non-fiction books, authored in the 1970s and early 1980s, about science and technology and the space program and the future.

    It seemed that just about every author of such books — intellectualy, sophisticated, and usually left-leaning — felt obligated to say, in the closing pages, something to the effect of, “The human race is destined to achieve great things in the future — provided, of course, we manage not to destroy ourselves first.”

    Intimations of imminent apocalypse — whether in purely secular terms or, much less often, literally Biblical terms, but in either case made liberal use of terms from the Book of Revelation — was very much in the spirit of the times. If you’re too young to remember that perpetual background fear, or were too oblivious to notice it, thank your lucky stars.

  16. So, Stevo, you don’t agree with Hitchens that Reagan was a cruel and stupid lizard?

  17. On balance, no.

    I think he was a flawed, but generally goodhearted therapsid who was probably smarter than most people think.

  18. Yeah, how was he to know that Russian does have a word for freedom?

  19. What’s a “theraspid,” by the way?

  20. Yeah, how was he to know that Russian does have a word for freedom?

    Yeah, that particular error cuts me to the core, since that word also happens to be my mother’s maiden name. But we’ve done lots worse — e.g., presidents who don’t seem to understand what the English word “freedom” means. Or have much use for it.

    Oh. And he was also instrumental in staving off the Red Hordes until they collapsed peacefully, without plunging the world into nuclear war. That buys off a number of stupid things said, and also a number of outright but lesser evils.

    What’s a “therapsid,” by the way? [spelling corrected]

    As currently defined: You are.

    Me too.

    And all these guys, and all their descendants.

  21. Edward quoted Christopher Hitchens:

    Ronald Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles-a corruption of language that isn’t his fault) could be recalled once launched.

    It’s always amusing to see someone anoint themselves as an expert, then promptly stick their toe in the fan while trying to prove how much smarter they are than the person they were criticizing.

    There are many many many types of non-ballistic missile. If we restrict the usage to the subfield (aerospace vehicles > guided weapons) which Reagan (and Hitchens) were commenting on, Hitchens’ ignorance is even more obvious. As a Civil Air Patrol cadet, decades ago, we 12-year-olds learned that there are two primary types of guided missile, ballistic (aimed by direction of thrust, travelling in ballistic arcs) and aerodynamic (guided and stabilized through the use of control surfaces acting against the airflow going past the missile).

    Of the two types, aerodynamic missiles outnumber ballistic missiles by several tens of thousands to one. These range from the cruise missile (invented during World War I) to the Bazooka to the Sidewinder to the TOW to the Stinger.

    As far as the ability to “recall” them after launch (actually, to prevent them from striking the target), test articles CAN be guided by remote control. This capability is removed from the control packages put in live weapons, to prevent the Bad Guys from guiding them off course. Reagan was simply not any more aware of the difference between test missiles and deployed weapons than Hitchens is of the difference between the handful of ballistic missiles and the vast majority of non-ballistic missiles.

    Hitchens goes on to claim that:

    . . .the South African leadership had been on the other side in the most recent world war.

    The Union of South Africa was part of the British Commonwealth during both world wars. South African pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, South African troops fought the Germans and Japanese. Strange behavior for a country whose leadership were on the other side, ha?

    Hitchens thinks that we are all idiots — how else could he make such comments online, when the most cursory Google search proves him so wrong?

  22. Reagan’s wise sayings:

    “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” Reagan ’81

    “A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?”
    Reagan ’66, opposing expansion of Redwood National Park

    “I have flown twice over Mt St Helens out on our west coast. I’m not a scientist and I don’t know the figures, but I have a suspicion that that one little mountain has probably released more sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.” Reagan ’80. Actually, Mount St. Helens, at its peak activity, emitted about 2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day, compared with 81,000 tons per day by cars.

  23. Not many people remember this, but Reagan also owned slaves!

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