GB: [People were asking themselves] ‘Did we make the right decision? Was this maybe a rash decision?’ Then this becomes a day that once it started leaking out how Reagan comported himself [throughout the ordeal], he endeared himself indelibly to the American public. Talk about some of the things that he did and said that are just sensational.
DQW: This is the day that allowed Reagan to separate the person from the politics. You wouldn’t believe the readings I go to, the people that come up who are Democrats and say, ‘I hated Reagan’s policies, but I liked him as a person.’ Do you know how many politicians would die for that? And on this day, you saw a lot of sympathy for Reagan because he’d been shot, but it’s more than that. We got an inner look at his character because you know when you can’t fake it? When you’re facing death. You cannot fake who you are. You just can’t do it; it’s impossible. So here he is, chest tube in his side, they’re draining the blood, the blood won’t stop, oxygen mask on, people scrambling around he doesn’t know, and Nancy Reagan walks in. He says, ‘honey, I forgot to duck.’ That instinct, we know, is to calm her down. You’ve been shot, man, and you’re putting your wife’s feelings above your own? Amazing.
DQW: He gets wheeled into surgery and he runs into his three top advisors – and he says, “Who’s minding the store?” Another joke to calm them down. He gets into surgery; they’re about to operate…
GB: This is famous.
DQW: Yep, this is the best line of the day. They’re about to operate, he gets on an elbow, takes off his oxygen mask, dramatically looks around the room, and says, ‘I hope you’re all Republicans!’ The room erupts in laughter. This is important. This [information] gets out…and the American people love it…it reassured the country…David Broder – I interviewed him – the late political columnist…
GB: Who just recently passed.
DQW: Right, I interviewed him. He had written a great column the day after this incident, saying ‘this will reshape Reagan’s presidency because, I promise you, no one will forget what he did on this day. They will remember.’ And I asked him [for this book], ‘Is that true? Now that you look back thirty years later, is that true?’
‘[He said] Del, this was the day that made him a mythic figure.’
Rawhide Down is an excellent piece of historical journalism. It avoids potential partisan pratfalls by generally ignoring politics and adhering to the facts – what a concept! Rather than pushing an agenda, Wilber elegantly allows the inherently dramatic story to unfold on its own. The resulting product speaks for itself. Its detailed and engrossing presentation will capture the imagination, and likely the admiration, of Reagan’s political allies and foes alike.
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