Presidential Scholarship

Every weekend, a typical American family often sits down on their couch and turns on a movie. Perhaps a cute animated movie, to entertain the children; perhaps a crime drama, to entertain the adults; perhaps a scary movie, to spook both the children and the adults. Perhaps a classic, to see how cinema evolved. It’s more than just a two-hour entertainment, however; it’s a bonding moment with friends and family. Orson Welles observed, “A film is a ribbon of dreams. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.” A bit lyrical perhaps, but the point is understood. A movie is more than just moving-pictures on screen, but something emotionally connecting to others.
Mark Weinberg’s new book lets us, the reader, go back in time to the private weekends with the Reagan Family.

Movie Nights with The Reagans: A Memoir is a sweet book that takes us back to the 1980s. Perhaps a more idyllic time. Certainly, more hopeful. The Reagan Family always had an interest in movies – the president, after all, was a former popular Hollywood actor and hugely successful president of the Screen Actors’ Guild. No surprise there.

What is pleasing is how much detail Weinberg, who had personal access and days with the First Family (and was an important and beloved Reagan aide) gives in this book. This isn’t a simple list of movies they watched, or enjoyed, or a psychoanalysis of what that may mean about their relationship or personality. It’s much more, often filled with heart-warming anecdotes. This is important. To understand presidents, we have to understand their personalities, the relations with their spouses and, yes, their feelings. One can imagine Reagan and Nancy Reagan holding hands, watching movies, which speaks volumes about the state of their marriage. One can also imagine Bill Clinton never reaching for Hillary’s hand, or Hillary accepting Bill’s proffered kindness, which also speaks volumes about the state of their marriage, which all reports say is akin to the armed conflict in Bosnia.

Take here, Valentine’s Day, 1981. How would Reagan, constantly under the watch of the media and security, give a surprise to his dear wife? A personally-picked card – in which he ventured outside the White House to buy, to the Secret Service’s chagrin – and, more impressively, a trip to Camp David, where they watched 9 to 5, a comedy released in December of 1980 starring Jane Fonda, a surprise to many in the White House staff. Fonda was well-known for her antics and protests during the Vietnam War, which placed her and conservatives at separate corners of the ring. She was also well-known for her vicious, bitchy and mindless attacks on Reagan and her championing of the murderous Pol Pot over the helpless people of Cambodia.

Nevertheless, the President and First Lady laughed throughout the movie. One scene angered the president – when the cast of characters smoked marijuana – but otherwise, it was enjoyable, resonating.

Weinberg’s book is, again, more than a list of movies. There’s honest, factual history here. When the President saw Wargames and Return of the Jedi, both in early July of 1983, Weinberg tells clear and concise history on Reagan’s opposition to the Soviet Union, his SDI – the “Star Wars,” as detractors mocked it – program, and even Jedi’s competition with Superman III, both the third movie of a beloved franchise. This chapter, in particular, is just as much about Reagan’s anticommunism and his policies as it is about the two movies they saw that weekend.

And, so, each of these chapters and each movie goes with more than you’d expect from the title. It’s a memoir of Weinberg’s time with the family, a history lesson in Reaganism and the presidency, a nostalgia trip through pop-culture of the ’80s. At 237 pages, it’s small enough not to be intimidating, but big enough to provide serious stories and scholarship that will bring this time to life.

Continuous Reagan scholarship is required to push back against the lies of shallow Chris Matthews, superficial Rick Plagerstein, err, Perlstein, the ignorant and crayon-challenged book editors and so-called writers at the Washington Post, (who think plagiarism is scholarship, as long as it’s written by liberals) and other liars and prevaricators of history. Mark’s book is important because it does just that.

Reagan history is too important to be left to corrupt and ill-informed and ill-intentioned liberals.

Well done, Mark.

Craig Shirley is one of the leading biographers of Ronald Reagan, having written four definitive books on the 40th president, and is currently working on two more. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, December 1941, and is also finishing a biography of Mary Ball Washington entitled, Honored Madam. Scott Mauer is his research assistant. Mr. Shirley is a contributor or to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.