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Ronald Reagan: ‘The Great Mobilizer’

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One memorable skit from the TV comedy show “Saturday Night Live” portrays President Ronald Reagan as a doddering, clueless figurehead while he’s in the public eye, then switching in private to a fierce strategist in command of every fact and leaping to direct every action.

It’s only comedy, of course, but to a greater degree than most people realize, the world changed in the ’80s because Reagan wanted it to.

It’s true that Reagan didn’t “do” as much as John Kennedy or Richard Nixon. Those presidents wanted to know and control as much as they could, and they obsessed about what people thought of them.

Reagan didn’t care about that stuff. More than “do” things himself, he persuaded others to do them for him. He led them.

He imagined results and endings. Asked before he took office what his strategy was for dealing with the Soviet Union, Reagan summed it up in four words: “We win. They lose.”

So, while pundits laughed as Reagan dozed off during a photo session with Pope John Paul II, they didn’t realize that Reagan and the Pope had cooked up a secret plan to undermine Poland’s communist government.

And, while conservative pundits attacked him in 1987 and 1988 for losing the Cold War, Reagan made friends with Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of what Reagan had called “the evil empire.”

Of course, that played directly into Reagan’s shining achievement as a leader: realizing that communism would implode … and quietly helping it along.

—Adapted from “My Years With Ronald Reagan,” Richard Reeves, American Heritage.

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