Former first lady and one-time actress Nancy Reagan, 94, died this morning. She had suffered from congestive heart failure.
The daughter of a wingnut doctor, Nancy Davis married actor and later president Ronald Reagan in 1952. He had been married and divorced from actress Jane Wyman previously. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild when they met. It was her first marriage. Their daughter, Patti, later known as Patti Davis, was born a few months later. Their son, Ron Jr., was born in 1958. As everybody knows, they had a long and happy marriage, but it was clear, despite her adoring glances at her husband, who REALLY called the shots in that household.
Ronald Reagan was an FDR liberal, but unfortunately, his father-in-law was a hopeless wingnut, and Ronnie got brainwashed into right-wing politics. The rest, as we know, is history. He was not a good president, but he wasn't the worst who came down the pike. The worst thing that he did was lay down the groundwork for neoliberal policies which have decimated the living standards of most Americans, and hence we are paying the price with the rise of extremists like Ted Cruz and weirdos like Donald Trump. Other lowlights include his firing of the air traffic controllers, which caused the decimation of unions in this country; his repealing of the Fairness Doctrine, which created propaganda networks like right-wing talk radio and Fox "News"; the Iran-Contra scandal; and his not doing enough to stem the spread of AIDS.
Nancy was not the wingnut her dad (he was actually her adopted father) was. She was a loyal Republican, but, as we remember, she was known to break ranks with them, especially on the issue of stem-cell research for diseases like Alzheimer's which felled her husband. In her later years she got increasingly disgusted with the Republican Party.
As the years went on, I liked her more and more because she didn't take any shit from people.
There is a lot of speculation when Ronald Reagan started showing signs of the disease, but it is believed it was as early as his presidency, especially in his second term. At that point Nancy was said to have more power than she had had, and she clashed with a number of Reagan insiders, including Donald Regan. I think there may have been some kind of power struggle at the White House as Ronald Reagan became increasingly unable to fully function, and I have no doubt in my mind the two Bakers--James and Howard--were actually in charge of the administration. I had said it at the time they were running things. It was a few years after he left office when it was announced he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. At that point Nancy largely dropped out of public view apart from her activism on the part of stem-cell research.
Anyway, her Hollywood career was not a total loss. She was actually pretty good in The Next Voice You Hear. The whole film was up there on YouTube for quite a while before it got taken down. I managed to upload it and put it on my flash drive before that happened.
Here is an obituary by Reagan biographer Lou Cannon:
“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said Michael K. Deaver, the longtime aide and close friend of the Reagans who died in 2007.
Mrs. Reagan helped hire and fire the political consultants who ran her husband’s near-miss campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976 and his successful campaign for the presidency in 1980. She played a seminal role in the 1987 ouster of the White House chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, whom Mrs. Reagan blamed for ineptness after it was disclosed that Mr. Reagan had secretly approved arms sales to Iran.
Behind the scenes, Mrs. Reagan was the prime mover in Mr. Reagan’s efforts to recover from the scandal, which was known as Iran-contra because some of the proceeds from the sale had been diverted to the contras opposing the leftist government of Nicaragua. While trying to persuade her stubborn husband to apologize for the arms deal, Mrs. Reagan brought political figures into the White House, among them the Democratic power broker Robert S. Strauss, to argue her case to the president.
Here is an appearance she made on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson back in 1989:
For fun here is a photo with other first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush. She seemed disinterested: