A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What She Did For Love

I hope my friends in Berkeley won't be shocked, but I think Nancy Reagan, who died on Sunday, was a very good First Lady.
Yes, she got off to a rocky start in the first term, what with those designer gowns; the expensive new White House China; and the fancy lunches at Le Cirque with her pals Babe Paley, Betsy Bloomingdale and Jerry "The Social Moth" Zipkin.
Her handlers tried to turn her into an Eleanor Roosevelt-style First Lady by finding a cause for her to promote, and they chose the anti-drug "Just Say No" campaign, which only embarrassed her further when she proclaimed, "Drugs are such a downer," not knowing that "downer" was a word from the drug culture, meaning sedative.
She wasn't Eleanor Roosevelt, and they never should have tried to make her one. Dandling Third World babies on her knee just wasn't her style.
What she did well - and she did it extremely well - was being Ronald Reagan's loyal partner. And during the second term, that partnership helped change the world for the better.
Her devotion to him trumped everything, even ideology. She had been a lifelong conservative; in fact, it was she and her stepfather, Dr. Loyal Davis, who converted Ronnie from a New Deal Democrat to a Goldwater Republican.
But her devotion to conservatism was nothing compared the only thing she ever really cared about: What was good for Ronnie?
And in the mid-1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in the Soviet Union seemed to present an opportunity to make a serious deal, she decided that what would be good for Ronnie would be to go down in history as a peacemaker.
So, operating hand-in-hand with her mole in the West Wing, Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Deaver, she engineered the ouster of Deaver's nominal boss, the belligerent Donald Regan (who retaliated by writing some really nasty things about her in his memoirs), and his replacement by the more pragmatic Howard Baker. She also made sure Secretary of State Alexander Haig got the heave-ho and was succeeded by the less doctrinaire George Schultz.
She urged Ronnie to hold summit conferences with Gorbachev and establish a personal friendship. This meant overcoming not only her own anti-Communist background, but also her intense dislike of Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, whom she found absolutely insufferable.
And Ronnie listened to her because he knew she was the only person in the world whose sole agenda was his best interests.
 The new Reagan-Gorbachev relationship resulted in the 1987 INF Treaty, the first step in the process that led to the peaceful end of the Cold War - and on our terms, too.
After they left the White House she took loving care of him during his long battle with Alzheimer's, and she defied Republican orthodoxy by championing stem cell research.
That was because of Ronnie, too. If stem cells could help him or others suffering from that terrible disease, then orthodoxy be damned. Ditto for AIDS, which she convinced him to speak out about after her friend Rock Hudson died.
I don't think she set out to change the world. What she did, she did for love. But she changed the world all the same.
Thank you, Nancy.

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