Last night I had the good fortune to be invited to an event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, CA entitled “A Nation Engaged: Power and The Presidency” hosted by NPR News and featuring our beloved patron and founder @peterrobinson and noted Reagan historian Craig Shirley. The discussion that flowed from this pairing of Reagan aficionados was not quite what I expected (although given the participants and the venue not entirely surprising) but, as always with these kinds of things, very enlightening.
The evening began with the audience being lead through the Pledge of Allegiance, and as an immigrant I must say that these small slices of American ritual really do provide a sense of community and shared identity. While my libertarian lizard brain rebels at the idea of pledging allegiance to any government or flag, my sense of American-ness was moved.
Initially, the conversation delved into the life, history, and philosophy of Ronald Reagan and having just finished Peter’s book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. I found this part of the discussion the be the most interesting. Craig Shirley discussed how, despite having chosen to follow his mother’s protestant faith, Reagan grew up with a very Catholic understanding of community and shared values. This greatly impacted how Reagan communicated with the public — always speaking in community terms of we, and our, a stark contrast with our previous or current President.
Peter spoke more about Reagan the man — offering insight into Reagan as the consummate writer and thinker, but more importantly Reagan as a human being. The most moving moment was a story Peter told about an elderly woman who had donated to Reagan’s reelection and through a series of amusing circumstances and miscommunication showed up at the White House for the inauguration. When President Reagan heard the stories floating around the West Wing he instructed his Secret Service to find the woman and bring her to the Oval Office where he spent 20 minutes with her. The story almost brought Peter to tears.
There were many other threads of conversation touching on various subjects such as comparing Ronald Reagan to President Trump in both positive and negative lights, the impact of various policies and appointments, and an extensive Q&A session. Unfortunately, I found the Q&A to be disappointing (and not solely because they didn’t pick the most handsome and intelligent audience member to ask a question), but because the questions did not seem to be vetted beforehand and rarely touched on the subject the panel was there to present. Most of the questions touched on current politics such as immigration, and only a handful dealt with Presidential power such as executive orders or war powers. Some of the questions were nigh incoherent — such is peril of not vetting and NPR should have done more to serve such two distinguished scholars.
I began the night full of libertarian vinegar, ready to ask a whole raft of questions related to the reining in the imperial presidency on executive orders and illegal wars in Syria, but as is often the case when listening to learned men, my question changed dramatically as the night wore on. As I alluded, I never did get to ask my question, but the wonderful thing about Ricochet is that I get a second bite at the apple. So here goes:
@PeterRobinson, It is quite apparent that the public’s skepticism of presidential power shifts with whatever party happens to hold the White House. As a man with intimate knowledge of the Presidency and more importantly the character of a President, what kind of man will it take to actually begin the devolution of power back to the people and the several states?
P.S.: Many thanks to @BlueYeti for the opportunity to attend this wonderful event. Any Ricochetti who make their way to California would be well served by a trip to the Reagan Library. Not only are the grounds spectacularly beautiful, showcasing what makes California one of the greatest places to live in the world, but the museum itself is well curated and insightful — I learn something new every time I go.