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June 6, 2004

Mr. President for All Time

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People in the thin slice of the American population that was born within a year or two of 1975 may have a unique view of Ronald Reagan, if my experience is common (as appears to be the case).

When he was president, I didn't have a strong reaction to Mr. Reagan. My father liked him; Phil Collins apparently did not. His presidency arrived at that point in my development when the divergent pulls and pressures of family and youth society hadn't yet come into conflict. The feeling was that this was how life should be, with adults admiring the president and the adolescent crowd (slightly older than me) and those who appealed to it rebelling.

I had a book, during Reagan's tenure, that was about American presidents generally, called Mr. President. On the cover was a picture of the current president working at his desk in the Oval Office. Mr. President — Ronald Reagan. The book has since been updated, but to those of my age, the Gipper was integral to the formation of our sense of the meaning of "president."

I remember how President George H.W. Bush felt sort of like a substitute. As if Reagan had founded the presidency and was now retiring, handing it over to a man who, as good as he might be, wasn't really the president. Like a new author taking over a long-running series of books, or a new actor being thrust into an established role. The role had been redefined, now inauthentic, so that Mr. President did not mean Mr. Reagan.

I imagine there's a sliver of the population for whom this sense is true of each president, larger for those who serve two terms. What a great blessing to have formed one's idea of President with the image of Ronald Reagan. For us, he hasn't really died. He's timeless, definitive.

God keep you in peace, Mr. President.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 6, 2004 9:32 AM

Nice! I was born in '75, and I certainly identify. I wonder if it seemed the same when John Adams took the Presidency as it did in '89. Reagan wasn't a US President, he was THE US President.

Posted by: Timbeaux at June 7, 2004 6:19 PM

I was born in 1950, and had something of the same reaction to Eisenhower.

Posted by: Tom O'Bedlam at June 7, 2004 8:26 PM