Diaries attest Reagan's greatness

"He speaks fluent Arabic, and for some reason this upsets the Arabs." -- Entry for March 25, 1988, referring to the imminent recall of the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whom Reagan calls "a darn good man". HarperCollins in May published the long-awaited diaries of President Reagan, kept, says Nancy, because they wanted to be able to remember the presidential years better than the blur that was their Sacramento gubernatorial years. How quaint, how terrestrial, for this couple to want to remember what they considered not an entitlement due their obvious greatness, but a privilege bestowed on them by Heaven.

It was the same earthy attitude that prompted Reagan to wear a tie every time he entered the Oval Office – he appears in classic dark dress suit with pocket kerchief on the cover of the Diaries – and to remark famously, upon deciding to make no modifications to Air Force One when he took office, "It looks fine to me; it belongs to the taxpayers anyway."

That old-fashioned humility and sense of self-proportion has now given us the most detailed presidential diary in the history of the United States: a daily chronicle running from inauguration day, January 20, 1981, to inauguration day, January 20, 1989. The tone is typically charming, the prose succinct and full of shorthand. There is candor (the press as "lynch mob"), tenderness (regular affection for Nancy), precision (the detail runs to 784 pages), and the common man (animosity toward Monday mornings). But in the main they are a direct, ultra-human, and entirely un-self-conscious record of eight portentous political years by the man at the center of the storm.

Naturally, it wasn't really the Saudi ambassador's fluent Arabic that caused problems with the Arabs. It was his Reaganesque goodness and staunch defense of legitimate American interests which, as it still does today, riled other interests. It is that kind of courageous goodness now so conspicuously absent within Reagan's greatly weakened political party 18 years since the period covered by the Diaries, and that heroic presidency, ended.

Some of that goodness has been betrayed – as when President Bush handed the great and good Don Rumsfeld's scalp to the Beltway political mob following the 2004 GOP electoral disaster. But more of that goodness has simply atrophied as time and success and power have wreaked their usual destruction on conservative integrity and vision, and once-hopeful leaders have reduced themselves in routine fashion to common mediocrities. References to Reagan are never in short supply in the GOP, but the character that could produce a Diary like this is hardly to be seen.

And so we wait. And remember. If we cannot behold political greatness today, then we behold it in the pages of these Diaries, praying that in our lifetime it might be seen at high levels of power again.

And we still believe: Not in any one man or in one period of history. But in the enduring power of the conservative vision that makes a man both courageous and humble, conscious enough of grave responsibility to keep a diary and unconscious enough of self to keep it accurately, and that still believes God will never be neutral between the Truth worth conserving and that something sinister which threatens to bury the Truth forever.