June 09, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Ronald Wilson Reagan – some further thoughts

IT is hardly surprising that some commentators have sought to highlight only Ronald Reagan’s failings, and ignore totally his not insignificant achievements.
One or two have been quite unbalanced in their commentaries. That is their right, but I am reminded of the saying “if you can’t say something about some one on their death, say nothing.”
I thought I would draw Ambit Gambit reader’s attention to a couple of Reagan anecdotes I have picked up in recent days, and to a statement from a US politician who is hardly a Reagan apologist.
One of the first three of four telephone calls to Nancy Reagan after President Reagan’s death was made by Senator Edward M Kennedy.
In his official statement Senator Kennedy had this to say:
“I’m saddened by President Reagan’s death. We often disagreed on issues of the day, but I had immense respect for his leadership and his extraordinary ability to inspire the nation to live up to its high ideals.
The warmth of his personality always showed through, and his infectious optimism gave us all a feeling that it really was ‘morning in America.’
On foreign policy he will be honoured as the President who won the cold war, and his “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” will be linked for ever with President Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin en Berliner’.”
Now to the anecdotes.
The best was retold last night by one of his Presidential staff. The President arrived late for a morning Cabinet briefing. Apologising, he made reference to a story on breakfast television concerning a young man in, I think Chicago, who saved the life of a person who had fallen in the path of a train on a railway station.
When he saw the item, the President told his staff to track down the young many so he could congratulate him. They did so and the young man told him he would be late for an interview for a new job as a result of his good deed.
The President asked him if he would give him the name and number of the prospective employer so he could ring him to ask for a favour – to give the young man the job. He did so, and the young guy got the job! (He might have got it in any event…………but a Presidential reference no doubt helped).
I wonder how many political leaders, current or past, in Australia would have taken the time to do that?
The second was also told by another staff member. The US President receives thousands of letters each week. There is a general, and probably accurate view, that he sees few of them.
Well, each weekend Ronald Reagan had his staff pick out between 30 and 50 letters from average citizens which he took to Camp David, or wherever he was going, read them, and replied in hand to most of them.
Neither of the above two stories were highlighted during the Reagan Presidency………….perhaps his popularity was so high that he did not need the good PR.
But they help tell us something about the man.
As one who despairs at the quality of national and international leadership today, I wonder if Australia, or the World, will ever again see the likes of Ronald Reagan, or Harry S Truman, who not only made a difference, but did so with a genuineness of character that set them apart from their contemporaries, and won them respect from supporters and opponents alike.
Reagan was not perfect……but he achieved more than most, and did it will real class and style. Don’t take my words for it – read over the simple, but direct, message from Senator Edward M Kenendy.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 12:34 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. I was deeply and horribly fascinated by the whole spectacle of Reagan’s funeral – a carnival staged by and for the rich and the powerful. The great popular carnivals of the Middle Ages were marked by three principal characteristics. Firstly an alternative world was created where the values of this world were reversed. Secondly the institutions of this world were mocked and parodied. Thirdly the people’s truth was told. However in the carnival of the powerful such as preformed around Reagan’s corpse- all the values of this world were reinforced. The possibility of an alternative world was full denied. It is as if the rich and the powerful said to us leaders like Reagan are all you know on earth or will ever need to know. As for the truth we had instead the lies of the powerful. Above all from the vicious and twisted tongue of Margaret Thatcher. This person, who is on record as admiring the Butcher Pinochet, spoke of Reagan as the “great liberator’. All the statistics and I mean all show that the cost of such “liberation” has been borne by the poor.
    What of the truth about Reagan? There are for instance his repeated lies about his war record. He served WW2 out in Culver City. But he had the gall to tell Yitzhak Shamir that he Reagan had liberated Auschwitz. What of his speech at the SS cemetery? What about his racist lies around the Watts riots? What about his attacks on welfare? I could go on and on and on. He was a total disaster as a leader. One just has to look at the world that he and the other victorious right wingers have created.
    But why bother? If Reagan is the best that the Right can come up then the Right truly deserve only our contempt.
    When watching the funeral coverage, I was reminded repeatedly of Oscar Wilde’s comment on the death of Little Nell from Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop. Oscar wrote ‘One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing’. The line came to me especially when Gorbachev stood to stroke Reagan’s coffin.

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — June 15, 2004 @ 4:15 pm

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