Mixed reviews for Ronald Reagan

The reviews for Ronald Reagan — first as an actor, then as a politician — have always been mixed. Reagan served as our country’s 40th president from 1981-1989, and before that served as Governor of California.

I say “served” out of more than respect for traditional lingo on the topic — because I still believe that holding elected office is an act of public service. We do it a grave injustice today by reducing it to politics and punditry.

I remember my daughters considering service in the Senate when they were younger, having been raised to appreciate and admire the role of legislators.

They liked the idea of getting to know people in the community, listening to their diverse ideas, and working with others to craft ways to move collective dreams forward.

But one politician in particular, who rallies Reagan’s name to further her own causes, gives me serious pause (an expression attributed to Shakepeare’s “Hamlet”).

Lately I’ve been wondering whether actors, like Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor of California from 2003-2010), make good politicians — and whether politicians are becoming more skilled as actors.

I wasn’t terribly steeped in politics as a child. I suspect my mother, holding a more circular than linear view of time, was “apolitical” at best. As a young adult I didn’t pay careful attention to Reagan’s policies.

But I distinctly recall two bookends of his presidency — the 1981 release of American hostages and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany (Reagan’s famous call to “Tear down that wall!” came during a 1987 speech).

Like most people, it’s the history to which I have some personal connection (however remote) that I remember best. Having studied in Heidelberg as part of the Pepperdine University “Year in Europe” program, I’ve always been finely tuned to events taking place in Germany.

When Pepperdine students learned that the Iranian hostages had been released and would be flown to a military hospital in Wiesbaden, we felt a surge of patriotism —  traveling by train to join the relatively small crowd welcoming them to this stop on their journey home.

We rushed to make signs, including a long banner that somehow made its way to the balcony from which the rescued hostages would wave to supporters there to greet them. It read: YOU’RE FREE! “AFTER ALL, WE ARE AMERICANS” (Click here to see the sign in an AP file photo.)

Our son Christopher, now age 21, was born the year the Berlin Wall fell. Parenthood has fueled my growing interest in history and public policy — and motivated me to act each day (if even in small ways, like writing these posts) to make some measure of difference for both my own family and the community we all share.

Ronald Reagan died June 5, 2004 — and was honored with a seven-day state funeral in Washington, D.C. I was attending a national mental health conference at the time, as executive director and non-compensated lobbyist for an Arizona non-profit.

Like many Americans, I stood several hours in line to write a message in one of many condolence books that reside now at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

I didn’t agree with everything Reagan said or did as President, but I respect the office — and those who sacrifice so much of self and family to faithfully carry out their duties each day (and night). I was humbled to witness our nation’s capitol mourn his loss.

I got to thinking about Ronald Reagan the other day as the airwaves broadcast celebrations of what would have been Reagan’s 100th birthday. One interview struck me in particular — I believe it was with his son Ron Reagan (just two years my senior) and another man who knew Reagan well.

Two thoughts offered during the interview left me feeling empathy with Reagan in ways that hadn’t ever occured to me before.

First, that Reagan’s political optimism was fueled by his dogged determination as a child to will painful experiences into positive perspectives somehow.

And second, that Reagan — despite being a deeply caring and genuine man — had very few, if any, close friends.

In both these ways I feel a certain sympatico with Reagan that I might never have developed otherwise.

But what, you might wonder, does this have to do with the arts?

I also heard a gentleman explain that Ronald Reagan loved inviting a few friends over for politics-free evenings of swapping stories. He noted that Reagan’s favorite storyteller of all time was his father.

Whatever your reviews for Ronald Reagan, on screen or off, embrace the power of storytelling. Make sure your children know about your own experiences with pivotal moments in history.

Remind them that public service is a noble profession. And work alongside them to create a better future for all Arizona families.

— Lynn

Note: Visitors to the website for the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library can enjoy an introduction by actor Gary Sinise, who will be attending this month’s 2011 “Sedona International Film Festival

Coming up: A week of firsts

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