The Reagan Ghost

Last week, it was the Democrats in South Carolina; this week, it's the Republicans in California.

The 10 GOP contenders for president -- yes, there are 10 of them -- will be debating tonight at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Reagan, like Hamlet's father, will be lurking nearby -- casting a considerable shadow.

Lately, the library has been in the news for other reasons: a small treasure trove of diaries kept by the late president are finally being published. They offer a glimpse into his thinking, and his relationships with cabinet members (not always cordial) and family members(much like his relationships with cabinet members.)

Yesterday, the Washington Post offered some tantalizing tidbits, culled from a Vanity Fair article:

The earnest entries are marked by a spare writing style in which Reagan reduced complicated matters to their essence. In 1982, when he accepted Haig's resignation from the Cabinet and Haig said they had had disagreements over foreign policy, Reagan wrote: "Actually the only disagreement was over whether I made policy or the Sec. of State did."

A 1981 entry on Cuban leader Fidel Castro said: "Intelligence reports say he Castro is very worried about me. I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying."

The former actor was well aware of his public image, and tweaked the Fourth Estate after he deliberately reversed the order of the opening sentences of his welcome at the 1984 Olympics: "The press having a copy of the lines as written are gleefully tagging me with senility & inability to learn my lines."

When his former chief of staff, Donald Regan, disclosed that Nancy Reagan had consulted an astrologer for advice on her husband's travel schedule, the president remained in denial:

"The press have a new one thanks to Don Regan's book. We make decisions on the basis of going to Astrologers. The media are behaving like kids with a new toy -- never mind that there is no truth to it."

As the 10 GOP candidates line up for their moment in the spotlight tonight, most would like to inherit the Reagan mantle. Or at least be deemed "Reaganesque." If anyone still wonders what exactly that means, I suspect those diaries explain it better than anyone else could.