Thirty years ago today, upwards of 400 college students crammed into the White House to wish Ronald Reagan a happy 72nd birthday. I wrote about it here. I also wrote about it here. It disposes of the myth that Reagan was just scripted by his aides.
Last year at CFIF, I disposed of other Reagan myths.
Another time, I wrote of a visit to the Reagan Ranch.
As do tens of millions of Americans, I miss Reagan more and more, every day.
But back to that 72nd birthday party. Here’s a tidbit I didn’t include in those other two columns. One of the people among us that day was the photo editor of the Georgetown HOYA, the college newspaper I wrote for. This guy took great pictures. (I have several from that day; I wish I knew how to post them here.) Anyway, this guy was a good-naturedly committed Democrat, through and through, who would later work as an aide to a Democratic Congressman. Amidst a sea of College Republicans, he may have been the only Democrat in attendance. Anyway, after the event was over, I asked him what he thought. (He shall remain nameless, in case he doesn’t want his current employers, whomever they are, to know that he said such nice things about Reagan.) He smiled, and then he chuckled. “Well, I still don’t like his policies,” he said. “But I’ve gotta say, he sure did seem like a great guy. I mean, I really liked him. That was fun!”
Reagan’s “likability factor” has been much remarked upon, through the years, of course. This is just one more example of how infectiously likable he was. Still, it is testimony to the reality that this part of Reagan’s success was no mere myth. What is a myth is the liberal spin on it. The liberal spin was that Reagan just sort of projected a fake image of likability through the TV screen, and that there was no real substance to it. But that’s not true. Reagan was likable precisely because he was so genuinely sunny and cheerful. The likability factor was greater, not lesser, in the flesh.
In one-on-one situations he was reportedly not easy to get to know; there was a famous “distance” or “reserve” in play. But that wasn’t from a lack of warmth; it came from what was, oddly enough, a certain shyness — or so I’ve been led to believe. But it certainly wasn’t an indication of a lack of warmth. The warmth sprang from a real belief that there was an innate decency somewhere in every human being. “It was from his mother that Reagan inherited his faith in the goodness of people” wrote biographer Craig Shirley in Rendezvous with Destiny. “His humanitarian streak would surface throughout his life.”
In his presence even more than through a TV lens, most people easily and immediately sensed this about Reagan. That’s what my friend, the photo editor, did — and his response was absolutely typical of almost all who came in contact with Reagan.
So Happy Birthday, Mr. President. With a emphasis on “happy” — because happiness seemed one of your special gifts.