there are the usual things to celebrate (liberty, independence,
the pursuit of justice), but also something not only unusual but
unique: a book celebrating Ronald Reagan, his life and accomplishments.
It is the handsomest book of its kind ever produced. One hopes desperately
that Mr. Reagan, on seeing it on July 4th, will be able, athwart
his illness, to view it with eyes enough to see, and mind sufficient
to grasp this tribute to his life and memory.
To clear the
decks, I wrote the brief introduction to Ronald
Reagan: An American Hero. I was not paid for it and have
no royalty in its sales. It is a production of the Ronald Reagan
Library and an extraordinary achievement, done by Tehabi Books of
San Diego, and published by the Dorling Kindersley Publishing Company
of New York. Its plan is, in six sections, to recapture the life
of its subject. The chapters are aptly titled: "An Emerging
Voice," "An Aspiring Voice," "A Voice for California,"
"A Voice for America," "A Voice for the World,"
and "An Enduring Voice." The book sets out to devote about
50 pages of photographs to each of these chapters in Reagan's life,
and the magic begins immediately.
The book is,
as observed, a work of devotional art. Its design is functional
and ingenious, the text unabashedly worshipful, which is expected
of Fourth of July celebrations. But in the 263 pages the text is
spare and exquisitely presented on the page. Much of it is one-
or two-sentence references to Reagan the man and Reagan the president,
done by scribes and statesmen of an astonishing variety. Very early
on the reader quite forgets that the subject of the book was the
chief and conclusive Cold Warrior, especially on reaching the page
in which former president Reagan places a medal on former president
Gorbachev, at the Reagan Library in California. That is a long way
from the ashen holocaust predicted by the Quakers, who always counseled
unilateral disarmament as the best way to effect coexistence.
Even with so
brief a text, a narrative is effected. The section on Ronald's school
days summons to mind a letter from the White House to a former teacher:
"There are advantages to being elected president. The day after
I was elected, I had my high school grades classified as Top Secret."
The narrative goes on and at the very end — in contrast to the pictures
earlier in the book, which tend to fill up the pages to the very
edge — there is a single, small, candid photograph capturing a kiss
on his cheek on his 89th birthday by his wife, lover, nurse, and
idol, Nancy Davis Reagan.
Such a book
could not have been contrived about any other couple. Just to begin
with, there is the physical factor. An indulgent nature went extravagantly
to work, endowing him and her with an extraordinary beauty. There
is also the photogenic aptitude, matched perhaps by the two Kennedys,
but otherwise unrivaled. Reagan's career, like Lincoln's, was mythogenic
from beginning to end. In Reagan's case, the parents were unschooled,
the father alcoholic, raising a teenager who worked his way through
college on an athletic scholarship, a college graduate looking for
work during the Depression, buoyed by the very idea of radio coverage
of sports events. Reagan excelled at this, even on the day the wires
went dead, leaving him to imagine and relate over the radio what
was going on in the blacked-out stadium he couldn't see. On to Hollywood,
union activity, the governorship, and the White House. We are reminded
that his mother had assured him, as a boy, that Providence would
care for a dutiful son. Providence looked to one side through several
personal and professional reversals, and turned finally away that
day in 1994 when, arrested by that final diagnosis, he wrote out
his final communication to his countrymen.
is wonderfully reproduced in this volume, at the end. The little
gold presidential seal, then his famous handwritten letter, which
he begins by explaining his motives in giving out news of his health.
You see, he's done it before, and Nancy's done it, and some people,
prompted by their example, "were treated in early stages and
were able to return to normal, healthy lives."
the problem. "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
sentence reads especially well today. "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 [the
next two or three words are scratched out], whenever that may be,
I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and
eternal optimism for its future."
You can't beat
that on July 4th.