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Mediocrity in the White House is cyclical. Logic tells us that greatness is, as well.
Happily, we can look back in recent history and see what a president looks like and, more importantly, acts like.
A terrific new book by Newt and Callista Gingrich, and David Bossie, offers a rich look at greatness: Ronald Wilson Reagan. As a publishing nerd, I noticed right away that the book’s format is an elegant depiction of greatness and offers a perfect complement to this larger-than-life president. As an 8 x 8 hardcover with a dust-jacket (Reagan, in a relaxed pose at the White House), it is quite a nice package. Great job, Dunham Books.
As a book person, one who doesn’t mind reading thick books, I have to say that “Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous With Destiny” has a really cool interior format: dozens of photographs (mostly color) with captions or brief descriptions. The book, therefore, is accessible to almost any audience, and gives young people especially a comprehensive overview of President Reagan.
Among his many admirers, Reagan called on his friendship with Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.
A quote from her in this new book sums him up so well: “We have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example.”
The book begins with a neat image: the Reagans’ Christmas card image taken during World War I. A grinning (optimistic!) Ronald Reagan proudly displays the “Dutch” haircut that inspired one of his iconic nicknames.
As one moves through the pages, Reagan’s life flickers like an old newsreel, yet his profound belief in America as the Land of Opportunity is realized in full color. An image of him taken in 1934 shows a serious, determined young man at the height of the Great Depression. He is nattily dressed and appears ready to take on his great future, which was truly a rendezvous with destiny very different from that realized by most of us.
Another thing the reader will notice is that Reagan is smiling in virtually every picture. And he was no phony; the optimism was real.
Just after he became president in 1981, Reagan was photographed aboard Air Force One, his arms folded. He has a look of bemusement as he listens to his advisors. As the book’s authors note, Reagan was considered “by many as an enigma.” Yet they also note that his critics mistook his affability for weakness; it was their misunderstanding. Reagan the president was a leader fully in command of his policies and decisions.
There are subtle reminders throughout the book that Reagan’s ideological opponents paid him grudging respect. One photo of President Reagan giving the 1981 State of the Union address depicts Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill looking down with a sardonic expression. From the crusty O’Neill, however, this was almost effusive praise. Reagan’s opponents in Washington were continually baffled by him, and more often than not frustrated at his ability to connect to the American people.
Reagan’s great triumph as president, the fall of communism in eastern Europe, is told with a few compelling photos, including one of Poland’s Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa, speaking at the Lenin Shipyard strikes, before Reagan assumed the presidency. Reagan’s ideas had been made public for years before he moved to Washington, and by the time he took office, seeds of freedom that had been planted were producing a harvest.
A photograph from his second term also sums up his ability to remain sunny no matter what was going on. As he rides in his limo past a crowd on the side of the road, one man appears to be voicing his displeasure at the commander-in-chief. Reagan beams as he waves!
“Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny” is bulging with stirring photographs, but perhaps the most stirring (and poignant) is one of Reagan – wearing his trademark white scarf and dark overcoat – saluting the crowd as he boards his helicopter on the last day of his presidency, January 20, 1989.
Another wonderful photo shows the president and first lady in a quiet moment, as they sit by the lake at their ranch in Santa Barbara, post-presidency. This was during the time that Reagan wrote a letter to the nation, informing all of us that he had Alzheimer’s. He passed away in 2004, and a final image of Nancy touching his flag-draped casket is quite moving.
The last part of the book deals with the making of a film of the same name. Gingrich obviously loved Reagan and admired him tremendously. Bossie, who produced the film, is shown with Newt and Callista Gingrich, reviewing film footage and posing at the Reagan ranch.
Interestingly, the book ends with several shots of Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, where Reagan observed the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings. There is also a 2008 photo of Walesa and Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic.
All were inspired by the man who not only lived history … he wrote it.