(Nov. 25) On Thanksgiving Day some years ago, an outgoing president of the United States recorded in his longhand diary that “the Johnny in the bathroom had a mechanical problem” that he tried to fix. The next two days, he lamented that cold, wet conditions kept him from riding his horse, but at least he got a chance to split some wood for the fire.

But by the next Monday, he was back to work, extending a major trade deal with an international rival, deciding against issuing a pardon to a politically controversial figure, and risking a backlash by denying a visa to a foreign rabble-rouser who enjoyed significant international support. The rest of the week included hard work on the coming year’s budget proposal and preparation for a diplomatic visit by a powerful foreign head of state.

Worked in with all of this was what he called “a most productive talk about her future” with his eldest daughter, who had been a frequent guest at the White House and a valued political sounding board.

This might sound like an account of one of those Civil War veteran presidents, or maybe Teddy Roosevelt, but it was Ronald Reagan in 1988. In his historically invaluable unabridged diaries (which I have just finished reading), Reagan provides an intimate, insightful, incisive, and thoroughly engaging window into his remarkably unpretentious life.

Reagan is one of only five presidents who maintained what biographer Douglas Brinkley called “written diaries on a consistent basis. … Unlike so many new diarists who trail off after the first few weeks, he took his task seriously, and in eight years never neglected a daily entry except when he was in the hospital.” Reagan not only was dutiful about his diary, but delightful in it. Even for no audience but himself, his wit and essential decency shone brightly….

[The full column is here.]


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