Let Them Eat Jelly Beans
The #1 requirement to win the US Presidency is personality.
And a great speechwriter.
Even now, I view of our 40th President with child-like nostalgia. I was just 7 years old when he took office in January 1981. It was Oakland vs Philly in Super Bowl XV (Oakland won). Pac-Man fever was sweeping the nation. We were all glued to Dallas and the lives of the Ewings. Raiders of the Lost Ark was tops in the box office. Reading Cujo kept folks up at night. Everyone wished she was Jesse’s Girl. And MTV was born.
The milestones of this presidency are burned in my memory too. I clearly recall coming home from elementary school to find out he’d been shot. I got scared seeing my mother's reaction to the news -- surely she was reminded of JFK. And I remember laughing, years later, when I’d read his first words upon entering the emergency room after nearly being assassinated were, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
Not bad for a guy 2 months into the job with a bullet lodged near his heart.
I remember being charmed by his debate with Mondale, where he promised with a wink, not to “exploit for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” And I wasn't alone, obviously. He later was re-elected with a record 525 electoral votes, winning every state but Mondale's homestate of Minnesota (and DC). A landslide victory by any count, not plagued by W's hanging chads or ridiculous questions of Obama's US citizenship.
I still can’t read the speech he gave after the Challenger exploded without choking up when they “slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” Peggy Noonan, you wreck me.
You are dead inside (or a Communist) if you didn’t swell with American pride when he stood in West Berlin insisting, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Whether you believe it was political strategy and defense missiles or Levis and Nikes that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were all saved from the biggest threat of the latter half of the 20th century: nuclear extinction. And it happened without the US firing a single shot.
Freedom is that powerful.
But that was at a time when our enemies had the good sense to be afraid of dying.
I remember feeling confused in the wake of Iran-Contra. When asked why he denied trading arms for hostages, he somberly testified, “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” It’s sad to see a President in that position -- whether it was Nixon with Watergate or Clinton and the definition of “is.” These moments remind you that the President is just a man.
When he stepped out of the spotlight, officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, on the “journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life,” I was reminded of the devastating effect the disease had on my own family. Ever the optimist, even then he believed, “for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”
Ten years later as he left the “shining city on a hill,” I felt like I’d lost my connection to a simpler time.
He once said you could tell a lot about a person’s character by how they ate jelly beans. His favorite was licorice. So, in honor of The Gipper and the '80s, I’ll be at my brother's house tonight watching Super Bowl XLV in my Phil Simms shirt while popping Jelly Bellies (except for the popcorn-flavored ones – they’re gross).
Happy 100th, Ronnie.
tags: politics, pop culture