Michael Deaver, R.I.P.

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

When re­porters asked Michael Deaver to size up his role as Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s im­age-maker-inchief, he in­vari­ably gave a vari­ant of the fol­low­ing: “I didn’t make Ron­ald Rea­gan, Ron­ald Rea­gan made me.” This fo­cus on Mr. Deaver as im­age-man, and his mod­est re­sponse, is re­fresh­ing and un­der­stand­able given all the im­age-mak­ing suc­cesses. But it ob­scures the rest of his sub­stan­tial legacy. Mike Deaver, who died Aug. 18 at 69, was a per­son who “speaks truth to power” (as well as to the read­ers of this news­pa­per as a con­trib­u­tor of com­men­taries and book re­views). Good pub­lic re­la­tions was just one of the strands of a re­mark­able life.

He ex­celled at get­ting the trap­pings, the flags and the nat­u­ral set­tings and back­drops, just right for Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s pub­lic ap­pear­ances. “The boys of Pointe du Hoc,” his speech on the bluff over­look­ing the Nor­mandy in­va­sion beaches on the 40th an­niver­sary of D-Day, is per­haps the most fa­mous of those. The Deaver images re­flected the in­her­ent pa­tri­o­tism of Amer­i­cans and their sense of na­tion­hood. The prac­ti­cal Wash­ing­ton les­son here is that strong ideals and sound pol­icy can founder with­out the trap­pings of great­ness to con­nect pub­lic af­fairs to the na­tion’s his­tory and sen­si­bil­i­ties. The larger les­son is that th­ese images res­onate be­cause the un­der­ly­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties, though of­ten de­rided and lam­pooned, are in fact real. Their power to grip the emo­tions con­firms it.

None of this tells much about Mike Deaver the ad­viser and con­fi­dant. He could de­liver un­wel­come nec­es­sary ad­vice, and he did. One mem­o­rable ex­am­ple cited last week by pres­i­den­tial jour­nal­ist Lou Can­non tells how Mr. Deaver coun­seled the fir­ing of chief of staff Don­ald Re­gan in the wake of the Iran-Con­tra af­fair. The pres­i­dent, em­bit­tered, vowed that he never would do it. Mr. Deaver told him: “You stood up on the steps of the Capi­tol and took an oath to de­fend the Con­sti­tu­tion and this of­fice. You’ve got to think of the coun­try first.” An an­gry presi- dent threw his pen so hard at the floor that it bounced off the car­pet. Mike Deaver was right, of course. There were good rea­sons Ron­ald and Nancy took him into their in­ner cir­cle and kept him there.

The man could turn a bad sit­u­a­tion good with prin­ci­pled ac­tion. He turned his re­cov­ery from al­co­holism into mo­ti­va­tion for Clean and Sober Streets, a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram which long en­joyed his pa­tron­age. He de­clined a pres­i­den­tial par­don af­ter he was con­victed of per­jury fol­low­ing a highly charged par­ti­san con­gres­sional lob­by­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He would not risk be­smirch­ing Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s of­fice.

Farewell, Mike, and God­speed.

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