The Rise and Fall of the American Century

Before one considers Nancy Reagan and her advisory role toward her husband, one must first provide a context for Ronald Reagan and his presidency.

Any success of the Reagan presidency has to be at least partly attributed to the previous decade, which saw Richard Nixon resigning from the presidency, then the malaise of Gerald Ford, and finally the disappointment of Jimmy Carter. William H. Chafe, in his book, The Rise and Fall of the American Century, (2009) points out that the atmospheres created by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were very different.

Ronald Reagan was breezy, ebullient funny and inspiring, Jimmy Carter pensive,

ponderous, and dour. The one brightened a room with his laughter and self-

confidence; the other engendered concern and spurred reflection as to whether

the country was going in the right direction. … the two could not have been more

diametrically opposite in their approach to governing. (239)

When Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, however, everything changed. Chafe identifies this changing of the guard. “What had only yesterday seemed to be the twilight of American power suddenly became morning time in America, launching an era that would see the Cold War end and the country recover its sense of pride and power” (239).

The glow and the warmth that was Ronald Reagan, however, while real in appearance, were indicative of nothing. There was no heat beyond the glow. Reagan was able to operate this way precisely because of what preceded him. He was the morning after.

Despite his enormous popularity that followed his succession of Carter, and

despite the intellectual prowess that his political position implied, Reagan was simply an illusion. This fiction worked because he was a zeitgeist leader, what

Nancy’s mundane, wifely concern also extended to matters of policy. When AIDS began appearing in the mid 1980’s Reagan gave it scant attention because it was a “gay disease.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, then, as now, was the head of the National Institute of Health. When he was asked by reporters about drugs to fight AIDS he simply replied that the drugs “were in the pipeline.” He had no other answer, since Reagan was not interested in fighting the scourge and had allocated little money to the cause. Nancy, however, persuaded her husband to take a softer approach. “It was Nancy who, relying heavily on her brother, a medical doctor … persuaded her Ronnie to be more open-minded about the scourge of AIDS. He resisted mightily, until it got personal – when their good friend Rock Hudson was afflicted and died on October 2, 1985” (Mitchell).

Perhaps more important to the future of the US was the role that Nancy played in reconciling her husband’s attitude toward the “Evil Empire,” Russia.

Beginning in 1985, Mrs. Reagan encouraged her husband to forge a friendly

relationship with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The relationship

between the two leaders resulted in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear

Forces (INF) Treaty. Some observers believe that President Reagan’s close

relationship with Gorbachev eventually contributed to the collapse of the

Soviet Union and the removal of the Berlin Wall. (Moser)

Nancy’s most notorious piece of advice, however, took place after her husband was almost assassinated. On March 30, 1981, after a speech at the Washington Hilton, Reagan was shot in an awkward assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. In the words of H.P. Brands, the assassination attempt

also prompted some unusual behavior on the part of Reagan and his wife that his

aides carefully shielded from the public. Nancy Reagan began to consult a secret

outside adviser whose karmic predictions affected virtually every move and

decision that the Reagans made for the next seven years. (Brands)

Ellen Moser writes that Nancy “hired the astrologer Joan Quigley to tell her when to sign treaties, hold peace conferences, and schedule important trips and events. Quigley was a source of embarrassment … when the public learned the extent to which President Reagan’s schedule revolved around the astrologer’s advice” (Moser).

H.W. Brands writes that “Nancy, with the acceptance of her husband, had consulted astrologers for years, dating back to Reagan’s stint as governor of California. … Nancy found herself consulting Quigley as to which days were auspicious for the president and which days threatening” (Brands).

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Brands, H. W. Reagan Reborn. History Reference Center. 2013. Web. 20 October

2014. Chafe, William H. The Rise and Fall of the American Century. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009. Print.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: Harper Perennial. 1999.

Print.

Mitchell, Andrea. Talking Back … To Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels.

New York: Viking. 2005. Print.

Moser, Ellen. Nancy Reagan. History Reference Center., 2006. Web. 20 October

Thomas, Helen. Front Row at the White House My Life and Times. New York:

Scribner. 1999. Print.

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