The Gipper would have been 100 on February 6. While one never will forget his refusal to acknowledge the existence of AIDS (or his handling of other political decisions), facets of his personality bear examining in these bitter and divisive times.
President Ronald Regan was an actor. He knew how to play to the crowd—and straight out play the crowd. He also was able to be less partisan and more willing to accept less than 100 percent, while ceding the limelight to others on occasion, as was noted in the February 7 issue of Time Magazine.
For Regan’s 100th, Time pulled out all the stops: among others, a feature by Richard Norton Smith, director of five presidential libraries, including Reagan’s; and a reminiscence by Reagan’s oftentimes-estranged daughter, Patti Davis.
Admittedly, in none of the pieces was the AIDS elephant, Reagan’s fatal silence on the epidemic, placed in the room, but here, I’m interested in the positive things one can glean—my way of looking for the pony instead of the elephant.
Not for nothing was Regan known as the “Great Communicator.” His humor showed a keener understanding of the way things are than he often was given credit for, as when he remarked, “Our right hand doesn’t know what our far right hand is doing.”
Wounded by John Hinckley’s bullet during an assassination attempt in 1981, Regan arrived at the hospital to find a multitude of doctors gathered by chance that day for a meeting. Though gravely injured, he eyed them, and cracked, “I hope they’re all Republicans.” His grace (and wit) under fire resonated with the American people.
Reagan is described as being modest, and, while pursuing his own goals, not insistent on having all the glory. Smith cites the plaque on Reagan’s presidential desk that read: “There is no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Reagan joked he’d been upstaged for years in Hollywood by scene-grabbers.
Bravery, optimism, and humor—along with a penchant for storytelling that individualizes and connects, instead of didacticism and vituperation that divide—drew the loyalty of Americans who see It’s a Wonderful Life as exemplifying what the little person can do when the chips are down.
Optimism and a sunny nature don’t ensure the best political, business, or social decisions, but they beat polarization, partisanship, and downright meanness.
Speak kindly, and carry a well-crafted script.