While it’s generally not considered cool or acceptable for those of us on the left-hand side of the political fence to wax nostalgic about Republican presidents when they pass, I did feel a twinge of sadness when I saw that President Reagan died earlier today.
He was my first Commander in Chief, the top of the military totem pole when I took the oath of office and joined the military in 1982. One of the first things I had to learn during plebe summer at the Naval Academy was my chain of command . . . me, squad leader, platoon commander, company commander, battalion commander, regimental commander, brigade commander, Commandant of Midshipmen, Superintendant of the Naval Academy, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of Defense, Commander in Chief. I don’t remember the names of most of the folks who held all those other positions at the time, but I remember that President Reagan was in charge of us all.
I can also say as the son of a career military officer that President Reagan did more for military personnel’s quality and standards of living than probably any other president since World War II: by the late ’70s, serving in the military was not much of a way to make a living, economically speaking, and as inflation spiked during the Carter era, it got harder and harder for soldiers and sailors and aviators to support their families while serving their country. President Reagan dramatically increased the annual cost of living increases given to the armed services during his administration, getting the pay scale at least closer to civilian parity, and allowed military personnel a lot of new and improved options when it came to where and how they were gonna live, and how much money they could set aside for their post-military days. So I give him due credit for that.
He also spoke at commencement at the Naval Academy when I was there, I think our junior year, so I got to hear his “Great Communicator” skills in person and, hey, they were indeed pretty good, even if he did sound a little bit winded by the time he was all done. I remember thinking “yeah, I guess that’s reasonable,” when they named a nuclear powered aircraft carrier after him, an unusual honor for a living statesman. But he was, after all, the President who pushed for the 600-ship Navy, which played a key role in the fall of the Soviet Union as the Russian Navy bankrupted itself trying to keep up with our shipbuilding programs. (Intersting [to me] side note: my room-mate at the Naval Academy is serving on the USS Ronald Reagan now as I type, the last of my immediate parcel of close friends there to still wear the uniform).
So, yeah, I know there are historical blights on the record . . . Iran-Contra (featuring another personality to whom I have a personal, family connection: Oliver North) . . . running up the deficit . . . Nancy and the fortune tellers . . . letting the reins of state get a little bit too slack in the his second term, etc. . . . but, still, I gotta tip my hat and lift my glass and say “I’m glad your struggles are over, President Reagan.” If nothing else, he certainly loved his country and served it with zeal.
Even though I had absolutely no interest in horses as a kid, my dad had me come watch the Belmont Stakes with him in 1977 and 1978 when Seattle Slew and Affirmed won . . . it didn’t mean a lot to me then, but I’m glad, now, to be able to say that I watched them. (Watched Miami complete its perfect NFL season and Hank Aaron hit homer number 715, also because my dad said I’d appreciate it later . . . which I do!). So I had Katelin sit down to watch Belmont with us tonight, and it looked like Smarty Jones was gonna complete the deal . . . until he was scooped by Birdstone, the worst possible horse to win the race from my perspective. Why? Because he’s owned by Marylou Whitney, grand dame of the Saratoga money crowd, the most over-covered, over-exposed, over-indulged human being in New York’s Capital Region, which means we’re going to be subjected to endless reporting on how Marylou felt, what Marylou thought, how Marylou looked, what Marylou’s gonna do next, where Marylou’s gonna do it, what fabulous celebrities Marylou’s gonna do it with, etc. She’s our own local media monster, and this is gonna make newspapers and television around here cringeworthy for at least a month. And I made Katelin watch it. Sheesh.