Give Nancy Reagan Due Credit

Friday, 02 Jul 2010 10:43 AM

By Matt Towery

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You can bet that, during this long holiday weekend, the name Ronald Reagan will be invoked reverentially by Republican candidates across the nation who are running for everything from city council to governor.

As they recite the momentous accomplishments of the late president, I hope some will take time to reflect on the fact that many of his triumphs, and potentially the Reagan presidency itself, might not have happened without "the other Reagan": Nancy.

President Reagan made no secret that he considered Nancy a working partner in all aspects of his life. During his presidency, the media often had harsh words for the first lady. They even took shots at her for being elegant — for wearing designer clothes and for restoring what had become a rather shabby-looking White House to a place that Americans could take pride in again.

This abuse amounted to a double standard. Jackie Kennedy could be elegant in her person and in her decorative tastes for the White House, and receive nothing but praise for it. Current first lady Michelle Obama is also stylish and graceful. She, too, catches little grief for it.

But journalists and pundits made a cottage industry of pummeling Mrs. Reagan routinely. With wit and flair, she turned things around on them at the press' annual Gridiron event in 1982. There, she dressed in rags and sang a parody, "Secondhand Clothes," that mocked her own image.

Yet I’m not urging Americans to acknowledge Nancy Reagan just for her style or grace. Instead, I am acknowledging the behind-the-scenes role she played at so many critical moments in her husband's career. Those times made her part and parcel of the Reagan legacy.

During her husband's 1980 presidential campaign, Nancy steered Ronald to one campaign manager, and then later to another. Her initiative helped rescue his presidential bid when it appeared to be faltering after the Iowa caucuses.

Once Reagan became president, Nancy was protective of his time and his image. Again and again, they demonstrated that their marriage was what a marriage is supposed to be: an alliance that's loving for being so practical. It sometimes seemed they couldn't bear being apart for any length of time. He constantly sought her quiet, firm council.

Take, for example, when she insisted that the president pursue talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The subsequent negotiations prompted the beginning of the end of the Cold War that had so haunted the world for decades.

Later, when the so-called "Iran-Contra" matter emerged and began to spin out of control, Nancy recognized that the president was being ill-served by some of his top aides, including a rather boorish chief of staff, Donald Regan. Ultimately, President Reagan showed Regan the door and survived the crisis.

Every administration has a special tone or feeling to it. With Jimmy Carter, the ambience was, at least on the surface, rather laid-back, perhaps excessively so. With George W. Bush, it was a mixture of Texas boots and GOP bluebloods. The Obama administration is still casting about for its signature mood.

With the Reagan administration, the air was unquestionably one of confidence. Although Reagan was the oldest man in U.S history to be elected president, he always seemed upbeat, energetic and thoroughly in command. And it couldn't have come at a better time — following the 1970s, when the White House always seemed to be plagued by a new crisis.

Who can doubt Nancy helped a man in his mid-70s to perform a job fit for a much younger person? She insisted that he get proper rest and relaxation, and even more important: unending moral support.

No man or woman can be accomplished in this hyper-competitive world without a spouse who stands behind him or her 100 percent — especially in politics and government.

Nancy Reagan always had her husband's back — and thus America's back, too. She never deserved the snide treatment from media and others. As politicians invoke her husband's name in the coming days of patriotic holiday festivities, they can help reverse the injustice done to this great lady by thanking her, out loud and without apology.

Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.

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