Me and Ronald Reagan

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wanted to take a moment to remember Ronald Wilson Reagan.

I identify with Reagan personally. He is one of four US Presidents that I have met personally. (Nixon, Ford, and Bush the Elder are the other three.) My personal political philosophy was shaped by Ronald Reagan. I came of age, at least politically, during Reagan’s presidency. I remember getting off school for his first inaugural. I remember planning to go into DC to see the second inaugural; but in the end having to stay home because it was too cold and the ceremony was moved indoors and the parades cancelled.

I remember my excitement at becoming an intern for the Republican National Committee dring the last two summers of Reagan’s administration. During that time, I had the chance to see Reagan a few times on the south lawn of the White House. Whenever the President was going to be helicoptering away, or receiving official visitors, we would get a call to send down the people at the RNC for a nice crowd.

But my favourite memory of Ronald Reagan was when I got to meet him for a photo. It was in October 1988. Reagan was returning from a trip to Europe where he visited Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Upon arriving at Andrews he flew back to the White House, and then was motorcaded to the JW Marriott hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue for a fundraising dinner.

I was working (in my intern capacity) at that fundraiser. (For the Republican Governors Association.) My boss, the lovely Michele Davis, came up to me before the dinner began to give me my assignments for the night. After telling me what I had to do, she told me that I would get to meet the President and have my photo taken.

I was ecstatic. I could hardly believe my luck. I remember what happened almost exactly.

I went into the receiving room with the other people (all VIPs). I positioned myself in line so I would get a photo early, but not too early (since the VIPs all paid for their photos).

I was wearing my black suit, and a pink tie. (Pink was the power tie colour that year.) I was standing in line when “Hail to the Chief” was played and Reagan entered the room from behind the blue curtain. He was introduced by Governor Mike Castle of Delaware (now Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware). The President made a few quick remarks about his trip to Europe and his talks with Gorbachev.

Then the photo ops began. I patiently waited. Moving ahead slowly and thinking of what I was going to say when it was my turn.

When I was next in line, I stepped up to the velvet rope. A White House advance man looked at me as I was looking up and trying to judge my distance from the President. (Which I judged to be about 15 feet.) The advance man spoke to me in a muted, but emphatic, voice, “What do you think you’re about to do young man?”

“Wuh?”

“You’re about to meet the President of the United States. And look at you! Stand up straight.”

“Uh, yeah…” I said suddenly worried about everything about my appearance.

He then added, “Fix your tie for God’s sake. Button your jacket. What is wrong with your hair?”

“My hair?” I thought I had put mousse or spray or something in it to keep it in place. I busily buttoned my jacket, adjusted my tie, and tried to feel if my hair was in place. While I worried horribly about myself the advance man, unbeknownst to me, had unfastened the velvet rope and was moving from a position right in front of me to a position on my left.

He said to me, “Okay, it’s your turn. Walk up to the President. Stand on the tape. Shake hands. Look where he looks. You’ve got 1 minute.” Then the advance man took a small step behind me; and he patted me on the ass to move me forward.

I remembered the tape. I lowered my eyes and walked forward. I searched the floor for tape. I saw an “X” made of masking tape on the floor. On the tape was written the letters V-I-P. I stood on the tape. I looked up. And there was Ronald Reagan.

I extended my hand. He took my hand. I remember it feeling warm, dry, and sort of fleshy. He didn’t grasp too hard. It was a polite just-right-firmness handshake. I spoke, “Hello Mr. President. I’m Mike W… I am an intern with the Governor’s Association. I’m a real great admirer.”

Reagan said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mike.”

I added, “I’m also a college student at Longwood College in Virginia. You have a lot of supporters at the school, and all over central Virginia.”

Reagan smiled and said, “That’s good to know. So what do you want to do after college Mike?”

“Well,” I said. “I think I might go to law school. And then get more involved in politics. I might run for office some day.”

“Well, Mike,” said the President. “This nation needs more fine young men like you.”Never were more simple and inspiring and kind words ever said to me.

Then Reagan turned his head slightly. I did the same. I saw the photographer standing there getting everything read. Reagan might have said, “Smile now.”

I did smile then. The most silly stupid what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me-as-I-am-meeting-my-hero-Ronald-Reagan smile. The camera went up and the flash exploded. I felt Reagan’s hand on mine begin to loosen its grip. My moment was ending.

“It was good to meet you, Mike.” Said Reagan as his hand dropped to his side.

“It was my pleasure to meet you Mr. President.”

“Good luck in the future.”

“The same to you Mr. President.”

Then I walked slowly past him. And my one minute with Ronald Reagan was over.

I still think of Reagan as one of my personal heroes. He was a great man who did great things for our nation. He is on my personal list of the greatest presidents in our history. I firmly believe that Ronald Reagan permanently changed American politics. And the change was for the better. He may also be the last real ideologue to be elected to our highest office. None of the men who have followed him have been ideological in the same way Reagan was. And given the nature of our news cycle and ever growing campaign seasons, we likely will never see another quite like him.

Years later I visited the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. At first I wondered why it was located where it was. It seemed a long way away from LA. And it was sort of difficult to get to. When I got out of my car and walked around the grounds and saw the view I realized why it was placed there. I saw the site that will soon be Reagan’s grave. It has a great view of the mountains and the Pacific. It is a good place to be buried.

Thanks for everything Mr. President. A grateful nation hopes you reside now with your creator in heaven. From there you can keep watch over all of us still here in the shining city on the hill.

Your Maximum Leader and the President

Godspeed.

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