Saturday, February 6, 2010

Noted Review: Happy Birthday Edition

Reagan, Ronald. Edited by Douglas Brinkley. The Reagan Diaries. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. 767 Pages. Paper. $19.99. (N)

What could you learn from this one-volume edition of President Reagan's diaries? Consider these insights:

  • "Getting shot hurts" (12).
  • Reagan's plan as President to get to Church on Sunday: "Church in the A.M.--same plan as Easter--didn't put it on the schedule--told press pool at the last minute. It felt good to be there--I've missed it" (162; cf. 36). He refutes the "astrology" report on 604 and reports of a new Chapel at Camp David on 625.
  • For Reagan on the importance "of religion in a Democracy" see 261.
  • An Official Presidential Schedule for November 15-16, 1984 (279-280)
  • Defense of life before birth: "Thanks to modern science (ultra-sound) they have filmed inside the womb a baby being aborted. The Dr. responsible had performed 10,000 abortions--this turned him around. He is not anti-abortion activist" (296).
  • Behind the scenes with "Mr. G., " aka Gorbachev (370). See 506 for the day of the famous speech, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
  • What did the president know about "Iran-Contra"? See 453 (and 472 on Khomeni).
  • His opinion about different proposed terms of office for elected officials (292)
  • Reagan began the tradition of returning military salutes. George H. W. Bush was the first to agree to continue the respectful practice (665).
  • Reagan on terrorists: "D--n terrorists--h--l is too good for them" (348).
Reagan has a unique way of summarizing his day. I didn't notice any obvious let up in the length or content level of daily entries over the course of his eight years in office (cf. 581). Readers may giggle at the occasional misspelling. They were original. Editor Douglas Brinkley has removed some material for security reasons. Other material may not be as interesting to the average reader.

We live in a time when many of our new young voters do not remember the Cold War at all. We are still threatened by terrorism around the globe. The intelligence reports that reagan processes before the reader are a reminder of how things were before the Berlin Wall fell (58). One could only imagine how different the world would have been had D Day failed (245).

Names and topics change, but politics appears to endure forever. Reagan hoped for fair treatment in the press. He had eternal optimism for the United States of America. He grew frustrated at times.

I see both frustration and humility in his treatment of an historic election victory: "Wednesday, November 7: Well 49 states, 59% of the vote & 525 electoral vote. A short press conf. The press is now trying to prove it wasn't a landslide or I should I say a mandate? Then on to the ranch for a beautiful day" (277).

This is a portrait of a thoughtful, compassionate, praying president. He prayed that his father-in-law would convert to Christianity before he died (85).

I am personally fascinated by first hand accounts by our presidents. So much material has become available since President Reagan left office. His letters and pre-presidential radio broadcasts give additional evidence of an eloquent, creative, and prepared leader.

Ronald Reagan's diaries as presented in this collection are timely for a discouraged, economically nation in a long struggle against a dangerous, widespread ideology. Our current and future national leaders have the opportunity to learn a lot of perspective from this volume.

Douglas Brinkley has done a masterful job of editing these presidential diaries for public consumption. The 767 pages might be intimidating to some, but there are more. I look forward to the multivolume complete edition to be released by HarperCollins at some future date (695).

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.