Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004
After watching political ads on television, one of my children came to me in early 1980 and asked, &uot;Mama, do you have to be a movie star to be the president?&uot;
The question really surprised me, but I answered it respectfully.
Now that we all have looked back on that era, I know that being a movie star did help President Ronald Reagan capture everyone’s attention as he entered a room in any country in the world. However, being a quiet Christian gave Reagan the faith and strength that he displayed as the U.S. President.
A student of history, I find it surprising that I lived through that era without really knowing who that president was. Like many Americans who watched the funeral services on television, I placed myself back in the Reagan years.
Having survived coronary by-pass surgery in November 1979, my husband was the first person whom I knew to have had that surgery and to recover and do well. Therefore, in 1980 with two children, a recovering husband who was coaching and teaching, and a full-time teaching career of my own, I have no doubt that I missed many of the major events of Reagan’s campaign and presidency.
Although I had voted for President Jimmy Carter, whom I respected highly and still respect for his high principles and good character, I admired Reagan’s humor, his optimism, and his determination that he displayed as president. Also, I remember well the horrible day that Reagan was shot and the way he was able to joke about the attempt on his life. Rarely did we see a smirk or a scowl on his face. For that fact I admired him. However, I do remember that when Reagan left the White House, he made speeches for one million dollars each. Yet Carter left and built houses for the poor with Habitat for Humanity. Carter too is a Christian.
During Reagan’s eight years in the White House, we reared two teenagers. Perhaps that comment is enough said. Every parent knows what it’s like to have one or more teens in the house – memorable. I can see their clothes, their rooms and their hairdos, and I can hear their music much clearer than I can hear any words spoken by Reagan in the ’80’s. Therefore, listening to his speeches and seeing the news clips really jogged me into the Reagan years.
On a lighter note in the Reagan presidency, Peter Jennings recalled that Reagan in the ’80’s had commented that all the Washington politicians, Democrats and Republicans, became friends after 6 p.m. For example, Reagan and Tip O’Neil socialized and even sang Irish songs together at parties.
Can you even image two of our &uot;enemy&uot; politicians today ever having one sincere or kind conversation with each other without the cameras rolling? Could they laugh and sing together at a social event? Are you kidding? Never in this world today. Everyone seems to be on his own high horse. Therefore, these very politicians set the stage for bashing the president.
Surprisingly, several people from Ahoskie have approached me requesting that I write a column about president bashing. To them I have responded that I really don’t know how. As a history major I truly respect the presidency, the office itself, and the leader of the free world. However, I do not always agree with a president’s decisions, and sometimes I do not like him as a person, but I respect the fact that he is the president.
Perhaps you noticed that I said HE is the president. My son recently said that maybe its time for a woman to be the president because her priorities would probably be different. Certainly I would like to live long enough to see a strong respected female president. Reagan nominated the first woman to the Supreme Court. Surely someone will be the first woman president. Will the press bash the lady? Yes, I think so. But probably the First Man, whoever he is, will even have a harder time!
My first memory of bashing the president occurred with either Nixon or Ford. Remember Nixon flew away from Washington on a hot summer day, and Ford became our instant president, one who had not even been elected to be vice president. Actually his plight was a difficult one. Then to make his transition worse, the news cameras spotlighted more than once Ford’s bumping of his head and tripping up and down the steps of airplanes.
I believe that from there the bashing began, and, unfortunately, it has, through the years, worsened. Something detrimental in American culture will have to change in order for this common practice to stop.
President Carter, it seems, was quiet ad contemplative, often pausing before the media. I remember their ridiculing him for saying that he had had sinful thoughts. President Reagan, on the other hand, made so many jokes about himself that others felt less need to do so. Also, he conducted himself as a secure gentleman. However, the press called him &uot;the movie star&uot; or &uot;the cowboy&uot; implying weaknesses. Then the elder Bush’s words, &uot;Read my lips: no more taxes!&uot; rang out for four years. Everyone grew tired of that statement and that promise.
Probably the most serious bashing set in with Presidents Clinton and Bush, both of whom have had their names and their actions smeared for very different reasons. Whatever the reason, the bashing shows no respect for the office of the U.S. President. Worse yet, young people of today probably believe that the only good presidents are the dead presidents. Yet we all know that none of the dead presidents were perfect. As Billy Graham said when discussing Clinton with Larry King, &uot;Pride, also is a sin.&uot; He implied that everyone sins and falls short.
As a student of history, I, like Reagan, believe that good days are in America’s future. But in order for that optimism to come true, we the people who know history will have to show our children and teenagers that we INFORM ourselves and VOTE, and then we RESPECT the elected U.S. President no matter who it is sitting at the desk in the Oval Office – Republican or Democrat, male or female, Christian or Jew, our race or another, movie star or not.