Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Michael, left Ron Jr., right

I haven’t been feeling 100% this week, so I selfishly took the first couple days of this week to recharge. But I figured what better way then to beat a flu bug, than to do some blog writing. Plus, I couldn’t resist commenting on the topic of today’s post: The Reagans. President Ronald Reagan and his family have always been an interesting bunch. Everybody is well aware of the love story that is Ronnie and Nancy. They were fiercely loyal to one another and truly adored each other. It seems that this loyalty may have been lost on their children though, as the Reagan kids have been unafraid of voicing their own, independent opinions. Ahead of President Reagan’s 100th birthday in February, his sons are locked in a battle of words over his legacy. Ron Jr. claims he noticed symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, while the president was still in office. Meanwhile, Michael Reagan states his younger brother is an embarrassment, who is only interested in selling his upcoming book. So who is right?

It appears that each of the Reagan children have in some way or another had issues with their parents. Reagan was first married to Jane Wyman, who he had three children with. Oldest daughter Maureen (who died in 2001) has been fairly kind to her father, but in the book she authored, she noted that after her parents’ divorce, she was shipped away to boarding school and had a strained relationship with her father. Reagan and Wyman then adopted son Michael. He has been very loyal to his father, and is a well known conservative. However, like his sister, Michael suffered after his parents’ divorce, seeing his father less than he would have liked. A third child, Christine, was born, but died in infancy. Reagan then divorced Wyman and married Nancy Davis. He and Davis had two more children. Daughter Patti has been labelled the black sheep of the family. She is a liberal and has publicly disagreed with her mother and father on many issues. She wrote her own book, explaining how her mother was a very cold woman and it was always her mother and father first, and the children second. Youngest is Ron Jr. He has not kept his liberal views silent either, and has a new book set to be released ahead of his father’s birthday.

When Reagan died in 2004, the family maintained a fairly unified facade for the national funeral. I am skeptical that unified facade remains today. Nancy Reagan has worked tirelessly to make sure her husband’s legacy is squeaky clean. It is well known that anyone who opposed Reagan, or was deemed to not be acting in his best interest was immediately canned, on the recommendation of Nancy. I can only imagine that she is none too happy with her son’s upcoming book. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Nancy and her daughter Patti were estranged. The two mended their relationship once it was announced that Ronnie had Alzheimer’s. At the time of Ronnie’s death, Patti and Nancy were reportedly on good terms and the family appeared to have put their disagreements behind them.

However, that harmony was shattered this week, when the two Reagan brothers began to battle over whether or not their father was afflicted with the terrible memory altering disease while he was still in office. Ron Jr. claims he saw many signs that his father had memory problems, well before he was actually diagnosed. Meanwhile, Michael says that Ron Jr. is simply tarnishing his father’s legacy in an attempt to sell his book, and has always been an embarrassment to the former president and first lady.

I think you have to remember that President Reagan was in his 70’s when he served. As people get older, their memory starts to fade, that is no secret, so it is perhaps easy to equate moments of temporary memory loss with Alzheimer’s Disease, using hindsight. Experts on the subject have examined old Reagan tapes, and believe that moments where he seems to lose focus, or forget what he is doing are not signs of Alzheimer’s, as he was always able to pull himself back into the moment.

I will definitely be reading Ron Reagan Jr.’s book when it comes out. It is entitled My Father at 100, and it will be interesting to see the tone that he uses. It may seem like he is not doing his father any favours by making these accusations, but the way he approaches the subject could turn out to be kind and caring.

A very dated photo of the Reagans and their children

We don’t know much about Reagan’s life post-presidency. Nancy has made sure that her husband’s battle with the disease, which by all accounts affected him greatly, was never made very public. It is interesting that if you google Ronald Reagan and look at the images that come up, the majority are very flattering. Most show Reagan looking very presidential, rugged and dignified. For the most part, Nancy has been successful at protecting her husband’s legacy. Unfortunately, it could be her own children that are his ultimate undoing.



About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on January 18, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hey, excellent job on writing this Happy Birthday, Mr. President « The Ordinary Political up, I am going to link this from my personal blog!

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