June 14, 2004


Me and Reagan: Andrew Ferguson, Reagan intimate. (Andrew Ferguson, 06/21/2004, Weekly Standard)

MY FAVORITE BOOK TITLE of all time is Sukarno: An Autobiography As Told To Cindy Adams, which was published by Bobbs-Merrill in the 1960s and later, so I've heard, reissued as Me and Sukarno by Cindy Adams. Not even Sukarno and Me. Ms. Adams, of course, is as highly respected a gossip columnist as you are likely to find, and the effect of her book's title--which commingles the importance of a man who governed a country of 100 million souls with the self-importance of a tabloid reporter who interviewed him long enough to get a book out of it--strikes a plummy note. It neatly sums up the uneasy relationship between those who achieve greatness and those who try really, really hard to get somebody to thrust greatness upon them.

You could see the same thing on display on TV all last week. Cable news channels lapsed into what is fast becoming their natural condition--a kind of frenetic pseudo-activity, furious and empty busy-ness, in which the amount of airtime the producers have to fill is unimaginably greater than the amount of information they have to fill it with. After the sixtieth or seventieth replay of Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, I found myself thinking, heretically, "Aw, tear it down yourself, already." Much worse than the shopworn clips were the former Reaganites who emerged from the Washington lagoon unbidden. Swamp water dripping from their J. Press pinstripes, seaweed draped around their Ann Taylor ensembles, they huddled outside the studios of MSNBC and CNN and Fox News, hoping for a little airtime. Of course they were not disappointed. Everybody was escorted into the studios and put on the air for a few moments at least, and often those precious moments grew into hours.

I have lived in Washington a long time and, as they say in the interrogation room, many of these persons are known to me personally. But I was astonished at the intimacy each had enjoyed with Reagan himself. From junior politicians and special assistants and advance men on the distant end, to campaign consultants and cabinet secretaries on the near--all were pleased to testify, modestly, about the real Reagan they knew and about their own closeness to the great man, notwithstanding that anyone familiar with Reagan's way of life will know that even at the height of his mental acuity he couldn't have picked a single one of these people out of a police lineup. It's a funny thing about greatness: We always hear how rare it is, but when it finally appears, there always seems to be enough to rub off on everybody.

As it happens, I am in possession of my own Reagan memories, which I uncork at the slightest provocation and which, I've noticed, grow richer in detail as the years pass.

As so odten with America's best political essayist, the point is driven home in his final line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2004 11:45 AM

One Reagan memory I will always cherish is new. I don't remember hearing it at the time.

When the shuttle blew up, he went on TV to provide those soothing bromides that America looks to its leaders to provide and that he did so well -- until you actually listen to the words.

He said, "They have slipped the surly bonds of Earth . . . "

Well, actually, that's what they meant to do, but they didn't do it.

Great Communicator

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 15, 2004 2:35 AM


Are you really a reporter?

High Flight-- Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2004 7:28 AM

Well, weren't they on a rocket designed to reach escape velocity (otherwise known as 'surly bonds'), and didn't it fail, and didn't they fall back to the ground?

I am not competent to say whether they later touched the face of God.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 15, 2004 7:59 PM

escape velocity is known as surly bonds? The poet had obviously never achieved escape velocity, so it seems unlikely.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2004 9:04 PM