I can’t say I recall every minute of that first day for me, as Imy memory is overtaken by the attempt on the President and the effects of that on the country and the world. I imagine I spent most of the morning filling out paperwork as a new employee of the government. Which would mean that, after lunch, I was in my first hours of actual work, or learning what it was I was supposed to be doing, when we got the news that President Reagan had been shot. It was a memorable day on many levels.
I had worked on Reagan’s campaign as the spokesmen for it in Connecticut. I came to that job not out of loyalty to Reagan, but because I knew many of the people who had run the George H.W. Bush campaign in Connecticut – a primary won by Bush, not Reagan.
I came to the campaign, though, after Reagan named Bush as his running mate. Two factions in the party who fought tooth and nail against each other, joining together for the good of the party and the country. Two men who opposed each other, but who could sit on the same ticket and, then, on the top of the government for eight years, Bush remaining totally loyal to Reagan for those eight years despite their policy disagreements.
Imagine that happening today? Imagine Cruz accepting the second slot on a Trump ticket? About as likely as, well, not likely. Imagine what “loyalty” would look like in that White House?
As I think back over the 35 years since I started working in Washington, I also think about what a great leader Reagan was – leader, role model, just coming out of the anesthesia and cracking jokes about not ducking, keeping the country top of mind. Bush refused to have his helicopter land on the White House lawn when he flew back to D.C. that day even though he was the acting president. He had too much respect for President Reagan to do that, and knew it would send the wrong message to the country and the world. For both men, demonstrations of leadership, and class.
Reagan, whether you agreed with all his policies or not (and I didn’t agree with all of them), was a leader. He kept the country first in mind always, not himself.
I never thought 35 years would make such a difference but it has, Politics has changed, Society has changed. The media have changed. How we get information has changed. indeed, a different world. 1981 was a world of strong positions laid out by Reagan, who then worked out compromises with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to move the country forward. Today, if Trump were the president, I imagine he would not even compromise with the Republican Speaker of the House.
This is a man who doesn’t know how or when to apologize for anything, never admits making a mistake. He was asked last night by Anderson Cooper if he’s ever apologized for anything. He had two answers, after rummaging in his memory for a minute or two: once to his mother, he said (but for what he never said – my guess is he was making that up) and another to his wife who, he said, criticized him for not being “presidential.”
When a female reporter was manhandled by Trump’s campaign manager, Trump blamed the victim for the incident, not his thug. Asked to name the top three things the federal government should be doing for the people, one he named was education. This from the man who said he believes the federal government should not be involved in education that education is a state and local issue. He not only knows not what he believes, he can’t remember what he believes. He has no core.
Trump, though, is a topic for another day. Today, it’s good to remember how Ronald Reagan dealt with an attempt to kill him and how he kept the country’s, and the world’s, reaction top most in his mind, thus demonstrating leadership in a moment when his life hung in the balance. Country before self. It’s good to remember how Reagan had core beliefs and how he could compromise on them to move the ball down the field.
On many levels – personal and political – hard to imagine that was 35 short years ago. The time has passed quickly, as have some of our values.