Wife. Mother. Daughter.
Actress. Advocate. First Lady.
Nancy Reagan lived an extraordinary American life.
She brought a flair and panache to the White House not seen since Jacqueline Kennedy 20 years earlier. Her intuition and sensibilities predated Hillary Clinton as a political partner to a President.
A generation of Americans grew up to her mantra of “Just Say No” to drugs. And many more watched from afar as she dealt with her husband’s decade-long decline from Alzheimer’s.
In a statement Sunday, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama said Nancy Reagan “redefined the role” of First Lady of the United States. Through those who worked in the Reagan White House and those who covered it, we are finding out just how much.
Nancy Reagan 1920-2016
Alvin S. Felzenberg – The Weekly Standard
Actor James Stewart once speculated that had Ronald Reagan met Nancy Davis before he married Jane Wyman, Reagan never would have gone into politics. “She would have seen to it that he got all the best parts … won three or four Oscars and been a real star.” That was his way of saying that, but for Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan would never have become president. Once in the job, she made sure he became a great one….
Ronald Reagan’s sunny disposition and genial nature caused him to look for and see only the best in people. Nancy stood guard against bad apples, self-promoters, and incompetents. She was also willing to take the heat for a president who was said to have glided through the controversies of his administration in a suit of Teflon. It was this aspect of her that prevented many of her contemporaries and historians, operating with the benefit of hindsight, from recognizing her true value and from appreciating her true contributions to her husband’s administration.
How Nancy Made Ronald Reagan Better
Todd S. Purdum – Politico
In the book of her husband’s love letters that she published in 2000, Reagan wrote that “taking care of Ronnie” (who sometimes signed himself “your roommate”) had always been her most important job. She encouraged his budding political career in California. In three national campaigns and eight years in the White House, she was the not-so-hidden hand behind some crucial staffing decisions, and she pressed him to acknowledge — and apologize for — the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal that had imperiled his presidency.
During Reagan’s time in office, she never sought credit for her role as sounding board. But in her post-White House memoir, “My Turn,” she allowed: “I make no apologies for telling Ronnie what I thought. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have no right to express your opinions. For eight years I was sleeping with the president, and if that doesn’t give you special access, I don’t know what does.”
Remembering Nancy Reagan: The End of a White House Love Story
Nancy Gibbs – Time
(Ronald Reagan) was, (Nancy Reagan) said, “a soft touch,” especially when it came to cleaning out dead wood: “I think it’s the eternal optimist in him,” she said, “his attitude that if you let something go, it will eventually work itself out. Well, that isn’t always so.” She was viewed as the power behind the scenes in the placement and replacement of various top advisers and Cabinet officers…
And she would always earn the ire of hard-liners who saw her as a strong voice in pressing Reagan to reach out to Mikhail Gorbachev and push for disarmament treaties. “I knew that “warmonger” was never a fair description of Ronnie’s position, but I also felt that his calling the Soviet Union an evil empire was not particularly helpful,” she revealed in her memoir. “The world had become too small for the two superpowers not to be on speaking terms.”
Farewell to Hollywood’s Great White House Romance
Eleanor Clift – The Daily Beast
[W]ith the benefit of hindsight and after watching Hillary Clinton’s failed effort to achieve health-care reform, I came to believe Nancy Reagan deserved a fairer assessment. I wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in The Washington Post on Jan. 8, 1995, with the headline “Nancy with the centrist face: Derided as an elitist, Mrs. Reagan’s impact was unequaled.” I made the point that unlike Clinton, who took an office in the West Wing and was upfront about wanting to be a player, Reagan operated undercover, usually through a surrogate, and that she was a force for good. She rarely left fingerprints, but she got the job done, and her job was to play up her husband’s strengths and cover for his weaknesses. She did both very well.
The piece concluded with this line: “She is without doubt an effective First Lady, and she may yet win our hearts.” Soon after I received a handwritten note from Mrs. Reagan saying, “I don’t really know how to say this but when something very nice comes from an unexpected source, it’s really appreciated—and if you see me in a different light now, I’m happy. I can only hope one day ‘to win the heart.’ ”
Remembering the Formidable Nancy Reagan
Albert R. Hunt – Bloomberg View
The list of influential modern first ladies always includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, but not usually Nancy Reagan. That’s a mistake.
Before Ronald Reagan reached the White House, including during his two terms as governor of California, his wife was seen more as a stylish, protective spouse than a substantive mover and shaker.
That changed after Reagan became president in 1980.