As it turns out, I was reading over the last few days the new collection of Ronald Reagan’s letters, Reagan: A Life in Letters, which I highly recommend. If you want to understand what people who lament the lost art of letter writing mean, this collection will show you. Reagan, who apparently wrote over 10,000 letters, is a master of the craft of letter writing. Whether the simple gracious thank you, words of advice, stories or plotical arguments, these letters offer great examples of excellent letter writing.
Now, that may be a surprise to some. I was surprised that I was staying up late, and not blogging, as I read.
I realize that there is a political component to all of this and that people’s opinions on Reagan are pretty well set, as the recent TV movie controversy demonstrates. One thing about Reagan is that you always knew where he stood politically – you see great consistency throughout these letters. I’ve seen people who oppose Reagan politically say things about him personally that shock me. I was living in the DC area when Reagan was shot and I sometimes feel that people who didn’t live there were not as affected by the event of those who were there. I also enjoyed the fact that when we watched the Redskins games on Sundays, we always knew that our president was watching, too.
I’ve always seen a great separation between Reagan the individual and Reagan the political figure. That, to me, is a lot of what is at play in the recent controversy over the Reagan TV movie.
Here’s what I think the subtext is that matters. Reagan is very close to dying. There have been a number of signals to that effect recently.
The root issue, no matter how much people want to dress it up and wave the censorship and right wing control flags, is that the concern at this time is not for Reagan the political figure. The concern, instead, is for Reagan the individual and his family as he moves toward what he referred to as “the sunset of my life” in his letter to the world about his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s (worth a second look for how to handle such an event with grace and dignity), so that his sunset can happen with dignity and respect for him, his family and the people who revere him.
The political gloves can be put aside until later. It is a matter of public politeness at a time when public politeness seems all but non-existent. If you read these letters, you will want to give him and his family quiet and dignity at this time where the end seems to be very near and, who knows, you might even see him in a new light.