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David Hines [userpic]

Ave atque vale, RWR

June 5th, 2004 (10:58 pm)
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President Reagan has died.

It's always sad when anyone suffers the kind of long, slow decline that marked President Reagan's twilight years, but Reagan was such an vigorous man that his disappearance into Alzheimer's was especially tragic for the contrast with his earlier vitality. Perhaps that contrast provides some consolation for his family and admirers; Rudolph Giuliani's comment to media was that it was a sad day, but also a joyous one -- because President Reagan had been gone for a long time, and people had missed him, and now they didn't have to miss him in that way anymore.

With all the comments about his career and his legacy and his historic significance, one thing about him has gone largely unmentioned: he was a damn fine ex-president. That's an unappreciated art. Reagan was a successful and popular president in office, but once out of office he did a great job of supporting the man who followed him while not hogging the limelight. He was graceful about it, and when his complete retreat from the public eye came, it almost folded into what he'd been doing anyway. He did much better at withdrawing than either President Carter, who started out very admirably but has since made political headaches for Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush, or President Clinton, who remains the 800-lb gorilla of his party. Bush 41 faded into invisibility, but he lost, so he had to. Reagan began to fade before his illness required that of him, and that's worthy of respect.

As his capacities declined, his Secret Service aides found themselves as gentle shepherds. One story -- which I remember reading, but can't find the source for now -- has it that he was taking a walk around the neighborhood, and started to go into somebody's garden. The agent gently caught him and said, "Mr. President, we can't go in there. That's not our house." President Reagan looked embarrassed to be reminded. "I know," he said. "I just wanted to pick some flowers for my love."

Rest well, Mr. President.


Posted by: mystavash (mystavash)
Posted at: June 6th, 2004 07:42 am (UTC)

Do they still call him Mr. President even when he's not the president anymore?

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: June 6th, 2004 05:42 pm (UTC)

Yup. For some reason, many political titles (President being one) are kept through life. Though there are individuals who don't care much -- I read one memoir by a political scientist who met with Harry Truman at his presidential library for an interview, and, not knowing the custom, called him "Mr. Truman" throughout. Truman didn't bat an eyelash, and was very congenial.

Posted by: Vvalkyri (vvalkyri)
Posted at: June 6th, 2004 07:38 pm (UTC)

Actually Miss Manners says otherwise, but the custom seems to have changed.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: June 9th, 2004 02:49 pm (UTC)

Hm. If the custom changed, it's done so more than once. From chapter 1 of The Education of Henry Adams:

He knew his grandfather John Quincy Adams only as an old man of seventy-five or eighty who was friendly and gentle with him, but except that he heard his grandfather always called "the President," and his grandmother "the Madam," he had no reason to suppose that his Adams grandfather differed in character from his Brooks grandfather who was equally kind and benevolent.

Posted by: Vvalkyri (vvalkyri)
Posted at: June 9th, 2004 07:59 pm (UTC)

Calling someone "the president" is, however, different from addressing him as "Mr President."

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