Reagan's Wit And Optimism

Ronald Reagan appears in a video still during a getaway to his beloved California ranch. The former president, who turned 92 in 2003, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994 and hasn't been seen in public since.
Weekly commentary by CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. Schieffer is the author of "The Acting President."

Americans are by nature an optimistic people. Who but the optimistic would have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to found those first colonies?

Or launched the American Revolution with the belief that it had any chance of success?

Or headed west in covered wagons, unsure of where they were going or what they would find there?

Ronald Reagan with his cheerful attitude reflected that optimism. His critics poked fun of him. But he disarmed them by poking fun of himself.

When he was accused of being distracted, he told visitors to the Oval Office that "some day they will say Ronald Reagan slept here."

People loved him for it. You could hate his policies but it was hard not to like him.

Critics underestimated him because he had started as an actor, but he always said his acting background helped him to communicate. He understood that communication is more than words. He had great respect for the Presidency and that was reflected in the way he walked and talked. You never saw a bad picture of Ronald Reagan. By his demeanor, the American people sensed that he also had great respect and confidence in them and perhaps that was the real reason for his popularity.

And he always found reason for hope. Even on that day when he announced in a handwritten letter to the American people that he had Alzheimer's, he reassured the country that as he began what he called the "journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life, I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

Ronald Reagan always had an actor's sense of timing. He knew when it was time to leave the stage. And so it is fitting that he leaves this life at the time when world leaders will be in this country for the Economic Summit which will make it convenient for them to attend his funeral.

I don't know what Ronald Reagan would have said about that, but I think he would have said something that would have made us smile.

By Bob Schieffer