Rea­gan’s great prom­ise from early age

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

As a boy, I read hor­ta­tory bi­ogra­phies of Wash­ing­ton, Lin­coln and Theodore Roo­sevelt, each in­tended to teach young peo­ple lessons of char­ac­ter as found in our great lead­ers. The genre in­cluded more than pres­i­dents as sub­jects — I re­mem­ber sim­i­lar vol­umes on Thomas Edi­son and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Carver — but among pres­i­dents, only those three. By this, his 100th birth­day year, Ron­ald Rea­gan has be­come the sub­ject of a sim­i­lar in­struc­tional lit­er­a­ture, ex­cept these books are for adults.

Con­tri­bu­tions in­clude James M. Strock’s “Rea­gan on Lead­er­ship,” Peter Robin­son’s “How Ron­ald Rea­gan Changed My Life” and Steven F. Hay­ward’s “Great­ness.”

No one owns the “on lead­er­ship” fran­chise, which by now is vast. Mr. Strock fits the mold with good sto­ries and apt in­sights. He of­fers sound ad­vice on ev­ery­thing from hav­ing a vi­sion to speech­writ­ing to per­sonal disci- pline, as illustrated in the story of his man. Mr. Robin­son and Mr. Hay­ward are more sin­gu­lar. Both speak to a broader au­di­ence on deeper ques­tions of life and char­ac­ter.

Mr. Robin­son was a speech­writer to Mr. Rea­gan. (He wrote the “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech.) His vol­ume is highly per­sonal. Read­ers come away know­ing both sub­ject and au­thor. Lessons in­clude ob­ser­va­tions on the value of mar­riage, faith and op­ti­mism.

Mr. Hay­ward writes with a higher pur­pose. Au­thor of the mon­u­men­tal “The Age of Rea­gan” vol­umes, he sur­veys par­al­lels in the lives and char­ac­ters of Rea­gan and Win­ston Churchill. What makes ex­tra­or­di­nary lead­ers, he asks? What are the com­mon virtues as well as ex­pe­ri­ences that we can see and profit from in the ex­am­ples of these two great states­men?

Now a new au­thor has en­tered the field. Mar­got Mor­rell was part of the pres­i­den­tial staff dur­ing the 1980-81 tran­si­tion and is now an ex­ec­u­tive trainer. “Rea­gan’s Jour­ney” is an in­sight­ful but oddly spotty ad­di­tion to the list.

Ms. Mor­rell is par­tic­u­larly strong in ad­dress­ing Rea­gan’s early years. She shows a boy who from an early age dis­played great prom­ise de­spite hav­ing to strug­gle against great odds.

The young fu­ture pres­i­dent was shy, near­sighted and preco- cious. Though crit­ics later la­beled him a dullard, he could read by the time he was 5 and had close to a pho­to­graphic mem­ory.

His fa­ther was a gifted ra­con­teur with a drink­ing prob­lem, which led to his los­ing jobs and mov­ing to ever more mod­est homes. His mother used the fa­ther’s fail­ings to teach lessons of for­give­ness and God’s grace, leav­ing the child with an in­ner con­fi­dence and op­ti­mism that lasted through­out his life.

With a fam­ily un­able to af­ford higher ed­u­ca­tion, he talked him­self into a schol­ar­ship and em­ploy­ment wait­ing ta­bles to cover his way at Eureka Col­lege, a small lib­eral arts school in Illi­nois not far from home. Then he got his older brother to come to the school, with the re­sult that he re­mained through their lives the se­nior of the two.

He dis­played a re­mark­able abil­ity to seek out good ad­vice and plan ahead. Af­ter col­lege, a lo­cal men­tor told him to look be­yond the mo­ment and de­cide what “you’d like to do.” He re­al­ized his great­est loves were sports and per­form­ing. He had won a best-ac­tor award at a North­west­ern Univer­sity con­test against en­trants from Prince­ton and Yale and had been urged by the head of the North­west­ern drama depart­ment to con­sider a ca­reer in the­ater.

He de­cided on the new field of ra­dio sports an­nounc­ing and found a part-time job in Iowa call­ing games. Within two years, af­ter seek­ing coach­ing from co­work­ers, he was the most popu- lar an­nouncer in the state. A few years af­ter that, he used a Cal­i­for­nia trip cov­er­ing the Chicago Cubs’ spring train­ing to talk his way into a screen test.

Ms. Mor­rell fal­ters in her ac­count of the po­lit­i­cal man. She gives only a nod­ding ref­er­ence to the battle with Hol­ly­wood com­mu­nists, Rea­gan’s first ex­po­sure to the ide­o­log­i­cal con­flict that would largely de­fine his place in his­tory. Her treat­ment of the 1980 cam­paign, an­other defin­ing mo­ment, left me won­der­ing if she had stopped pay­ing at­ten­tion af­ter the New Hamp­shire pri­mary. Also, to the end of each chap­ter, she ap­pends a doc­u­ment — ex­tended ex­cerpts from Franklin Roo­sevelt’s first in­au­gu­ral and Rea­gan’s “Time for Choos­ing” speech, for ex­am­ple — not al­ways for any clear rea­son. De­spite such over­sights and quirks, she re­mains an en­gag­ing and in­struc­tive nar­ra­tor. This branch of Rea­gan lit­er­a­ture may have started along the well trav­eled “on lead­er­ship” path, but it has bro­ken off in a more search­ing direc­tion. Mar­got Mor­rell has pro­duced the lat­est ad­di­tion to the shelf, but un­less I miss my guess, hardly the last.

Clark S. Judge is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of White House Writers Group Inc. He was spe­cial as­sis­tant and speech­writer to Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and Vice Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

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