Eleven years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, on the eve of America’s great Centennial celebration, counterfeiters formed a plot to steal his body from its honored grave in Springfield, Illinois. They had plans to hold the body for ransom. The U.S. Secret Service was able, happily, to disrupt this ghoulish plot.
Today, we have a new ghoulish plot. Liberal writers are trying to steal the body of Ronald Reagan. They don’t want to hold it for ransom. Instead, they are vigorously telling us he wasn’t what we think he was.
The Washington Post recently carried a book review by David Baldacci. I see this prolific writer’s overflowing output in every airport bookstore. This time, however, Mr. Baldacci makes his debut as historian and political commentator.
In the Post, Mr. Baldacci has high praise for Rawhide Down. “Rawhide” was the Secret Service’s code name for the excellent horseman Ronald Reagan, the first president since TR who actually could ride well.
Baldacci’s review of a non-fiction book by reporter Del Quentin Wilber advances the idea that Ronald Reagan’s heroic conduct at the time of the assassination attempt on his life—now thirty years ago—was what really accounted for his “Teflon” presidency. His courage and humor, Quentin believes and Baldacci apparently concurs, is what really formed that indissoluble bond with the American people. “America loves its heroes.”
Indeed we do. And the Wilber book doubtless provides a wealth of information about a key episode in the Reagan presidency. As with most fiction, there has to be an element of truth to it. President Reagan himself acknowledged that the assassination attempt had given him a huge and unexpected bump in public approval. At the depths of the Iran-Contra scandal, when Americans for the first time seemed out of sorts with Ronald Reagan the man, he even joked: “I could always get myself shot again.”
The Wilber book provides fascinating behind-the-scenes reportage. David Gergen and Larry Speakes, for example, failed utterly to come up with cogent answers to anxious press inquiries about Reagan’s condition.
It was the faithful Reaganaut Lyn Nofziger who relayed to a worried nation some of the great jokes the stricken president had told. “Honey, I forgot to duck,” was Reagan’s first words to his First Lady. Nofziger also relayed Reagan’s crack to the doctors at George Washington University Hospital who were working to save his life: “I hope all you fellas are Republicans.”
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