BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

I'm glad she wrote this book ...

I finished this a few weeks back, but am only getting around to reviewing it now. I'd been a Republican most of my life (since driven out by the Fundies to the less-stable arms of the Libertarian Party), so I'm one of those guys who actually liked Ronald Regan. As such, there was a certain "preaching to the choir" element in my reading Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King, her heart-felt biography of this iconic figure.

I was amazed, when mentioning this book to a "younger person" the other day that they had no idea that Reagan had been a movie actor ... how odd what can drift down the cultural memory hole in only a decade or so! However, there's quite a lot in this book that's been left out of the "general memory" of Reagan, and it's interesting to encounter it all in a go. Noonan has a very special stance from which to write this, as she'd been a producer with CBS News before becoming a special assistant to Reagan from 1984-86 (and later being chief speech writer for Bush Sr.), and much of the feeling here is that of a memoir of somebody she very much admired, rather than a purely objective biography.

One of the things that our current P.C. culture likes to forget (in its demand for white/black dichotomy) is how much a "despised minority" the Irish were in the half century or more following the Great Famine in the 1840s, and the resulting diaspora. Reagan's father was of a generation which was all too familiar with this prejudice and discrimination and raised his son in what would likely to be considered a rather leftist bent. Reagan grew up very much as an "old labor" Democrat, and remained so even upon finding minor stardom as a Hollywood actor. It was the blatant (and, again, P.C. culture prefers to ignore this) infiltration by Soviet-run communist organizations into the movie industry that began to make him take a different look at the world. At the time he was the head of the Screen Actors Guild and spent a lot of his schedule giving speeches, which eventually got him noticed as a potential political figure.

The rest of his biography is well known, becoming the Governor of California, then running and losing against Gerald Ford for the '76 GOP nomination, and then eventually rolling to victory in '80 and '84. What is less well known, and told as only an "insider" could, were the importance of certain struggles in the global political arena, including how the Air Traffic Controllers' strike was a turning point in how the Soviets perceived Reagan, and how important the "Star Wars" program was in eventually fracturing the Soviet Union. It is fascinating to read Noonan's take on how these various challenges shaped the course of events, and the book is worth the reading just for her perspective on the history being made around Reagan.

Nancy Reagan was so successful at protecting the President's privacy after leaving office that most of us never had the sense of his decline, but Noonan pulls up a corner of that curtain and lets us peek in at some of the sadness of his final years, telling stories of how, several years past his leaving office, he did not even recognize the close friends' house where he'd had get-togethers on every one of his election nights, or, in his final year, not even knowing why people knew him or wanted to speak with him.

When Character Was King is a great book for understanding this pivotal figure of our time. The book is still in print, but you can get "like new" copies from the Amazon new/used guys for as little a 1¢ (plus, of course, the $3.99 shipping), if you don't want to give the business to your local "brick and mortar" book vendor. This is a very special look at a very special man, and I'd recommend it to anybody but the raving Lefties (who could still probably benefit from reading it).

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