For some Republicans and Independent voters, former President Ronald Reagan is their sainted hero; these folks credit him with ending the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States and allies; many feel that he resurrected and restored the nation’s good name from the abyss it had sank into under the direction of President Carter to the shiny star and symbol of power that it had once been. Currently, Republican candidates for President frequently seek to align their personalities and ideologies with their former iconic leader. Indeed, he is revered and honored at many Republican meetings and conventions.
Other people do not hold Reagan in high regard. Polemics have said “he was as dumb as a stump” and a “phony and loon”. In fact, many of his detractors regarded him as an intellectual midget, capable only of memorizing pithy scripts provided to him, and for regurgitating thoughtful simple tidbits of wisdom from intellectuals and leaders of the past; he did not have many original thoughts. Although he was regarded as being far from taciturn, some believed that the President was mentally inattentive, and incapable of understanding the fine details, during briefings and other meetings at the White House. These concerns increased as insiders started to report that he was not tracking when he conversed with staff and others.
In the book, “Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency”, authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, attempt to shed some light on these divergent views as they trace Reagan’s political and acting roots. The “Killing Reagan” language refers to John Hinckley Jr., and his attempt to assassinate the President; the details are interspersed throughout. His ex-wife, Jane Wyman, and other woman he romanced, are covered. His special relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, his children and members of his political team play major roles in the book.
The most interesting aspect of the book to me is how the role of his wife, Nancy Reagan, is portrayed. She is presented as a cold, manipulating, and heartless woman hell bent on steering Reagan to the top without regard or empathy for anyone (including the children) who may stand in her way. It seems that she is doing so, not so much for the President, but rather for herself; she clearly enjoyed the power and stardom that came with her husband’s rise to the highest office in the world. If the book is to be believed, and we are unaware of any plausible reasons why it should not be, her presence and power at the White House is at a minimum, very disturbing.
The book raises interesting ideas concerning the mental stability of the President when he was in office. Some reporters, including Lesley Stahl, a then CBS correspondent, expressed concern about his mental status. An insider team, the book says, was formed to watch and observe the President, during normal official affairs, to determine whether he was tracking normally—they apparently decided he was.
The book has been criticized by others, including authors who have written about Reagan in the past; they mainly claim that the authors have not documented their findings adequately, and in some cases, merely perpetuated unfounded and discredited beliefs about Reagan that have been circulating for years. I found the book to be persuasive and that O’Reilly included substantial pieces of information that were against his own conservative self-interests. I would find the criticisms more compelling if the book had been written by liberals. I recommend this book.