Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "President Reagan"
Re: the survivability of McKinley's injuries. Your comment that President McKinley likely would have survived if he had received the same level of care that President Reagan did got me thinking - could the same be said for Presidents Lincoln and Garfield?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

With modern medical care, James Garfield absolutely would have survived his wounds. In fact, a case could be made that Garfield would have been better off if nobody even tried to treat him after he was shot. It was unsterilized instruments and dirty fingers being poked into Garfield’s wounds in an effort to find the track of the bullet which introduced the infections that eventually killed him. Of the four Presidents who were assassinated, Garfield’s original wounds were the least severe, and the gunshot wound that Reagan survived in 1981 was less severe than both Garfield’s and McKinley’s. Charles Guiteau shot James Garfield, but it was the President’s doctors who killed him.

Lincoln is a different story. Sure, there’s always the possibility that with an immediate response and modern technology, Lincoln could have remained alive via life support, but he would have been in a vegetative state. But even that is highly unlikely. John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at almost point-blank range. There were powder burns around the wound in the back of Lincoln’s skull, so Booth was very, very close — probably less than six inches away from the President — when he shot him. Also, it’s important to remember that Lincoln was shot with a Civil War-era weapon, so he wasn’t struck with a bullet as we think of bullets today, but a .41 caliber ball from a Derringer pistol. The ball flattened as it passed through the back of Lincoln’s skull and carried bone fragments from the skull as it passed through the full length of Lincoln’s brain. There was no exit wound and the pressure and trauma fractured both of Lincoln’s eye sockets (from inside of his head). The ball probably lodged in bone near or behind Lincoln’s right eye — several attending physicians immediately after the shooting and in the autopsy the next day disagreed about which eye the bullet lodged behind because as they opened up Lincoln’s skull during the autopsy, the ball literally fell out of his head and through the fingers of a doctor. Most believe that it lodged behind the right eye because it was protruding after the shooting.

Lincoln’s wound was fatal in almost every instance in 1865, and it would probably be just as fatal in 2014. He kept breathing until 7:22 AM the next morning, but Lincoln was also known to be a surprisingly strong man physically so his respiratory system put up quite a fight. However, it’s pretty much a given that Lincoln was brain-dead by midnight or 1 AM; the trauma to his brain was too severe — the autopsy showed that the bullet not only passed through the entire brain and carried skull fragments with it, but it also left sharp pieces of bone from his skull in various parts of the brain. The doctors attending to Lincoln acted immediately and did as good of a job as could be expected — in 1865 or 150 years later — but it was a fatal wound.

Reagan was very lucky for the quick reaction of the Secret Service. At the Washington Hilton, the lead agent, Jerry Parr, quickly shoved the President into the limousine as shots rang out and Tim McCarthy did exactly what the Secret Service is supposedly trained to do — he instantaneously turned towards the gunman, made himself a bigger target, and literally took a bullet for the President. If Parr hadn’t shoved Reagan into the limo when he did, Reagan likely would have taken a bullet to the head; instead, two bullets hit the limousine and one of them ricocheted off the side and struck Reagan. If it wasn’t for the quick reaction of the Secret Service during the shooting and immediately afterward when Parr diverted the limo to the hospital instead of the White House, Reagan would have died from either a more direct shot or from the massive blood loss that he was suffering from. The doctors at George Washington Hospital believed Reagan would have died if he had arrived at the hospital even just a couple of minutes later. It also helped that Reagan was in really good physical shape for a 70-year-old man. But if Reagan had been shot in 1881 instead of 1981; he’d have ended up with the second-shortest Presidency in history. And if Garfield had been shot in 1981 instead of 1881, he wouldn’t be the guy holding that record.

"But from the front of the room, these squabbles in the crowd, even the crowd itself, were probably all a blur. Reagan never looked too closely at his audiences. Since childhood, he’d been frightfully nearsighted. His parents paid for thick eyeglasses, which he wore dutifully, but without them, his visible world was mostly blotches of color and drifting shapes. He had adapted without much questioning, the way that children can, forgoing baseball for football, a sport in which you didn’t have to see well enough to hit a tiny ball, only well enough to hit another player.

He’d started his show business career on radio, where his audience was invisible. At the audition for his first job at the Davenport, Iowa, station WOC, the Scottish-born program director had explained how things worked. ‘That’s the mike in front of ye,’ he said. ‘Ye won’t be able to see me but I’ll be listenin’. Good luck.’

In Hollywood, too, seeing had never been that important. Arriving in Southern California in the late 1930s, he’d looked up Joy Hodges, an acquaintance from back home who was working as an actress in the film colony. ‘I have visions of becoming an actor,’ he confessed to her. ‘What I really want it a screen test.’ Hodges looked at the man in front of her — dressed like the Midwest, unsophisticated in the ways of the world, but tall, broad-shouldered, and undeniably handsome. ‘I think I might be able to fix something,’ she said. ‘Just don’t ever put those glasses on again.’

So he’d learned to get by without seeing things too closely. In time, it became the habit of his life. Eventually, he’d gotten contact lenses. Though they could correct his vision, their effect was strangely limited. His children, rushing into a room at day’s end to greet their father, would find him looking puzzled, as if they were strangers. Have we met? It was as if, after all the years of seeing ill-defined blotches, the part of his brain that processed the particulars of a person’s face had corroded irreparably due to lack of use. Or maybe it had never been there at all. Once, at his son Michael’s high school graduation, where he was the commencement speaker, he’d greeted a line of graduates. ‘My name is Ronald Reagan,’ he said to a grinning boy in cap and gown. ‘What’s yours?’ The graduate removed his cap. ‘Remember me? I’m your son, Mike.’”

—From Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman (BOOK | KINDLE), available from Random House on September 23rd

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan visiting the tomb of her husband, President Ronald Reagan, at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on the tenth anniversary of his death, June 5, 2014.

Mrs. Reagan turned 93 years old on July 6th.

Asker kray814 Asks:
This is a two part question: In the 1976 Republican Primaries , after Ford barely beat Reagan, why did he not select him as his VP? I understand they weren't necessarily fond of each other, but wouldn't having Reagan as his VP would've almost guaranteed Ford being re-elected. Also, is it true that after his loss in the 1976 election, Ford was deeply depressed and almost suicidal?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Even though Reagan came close to beating out President Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, he continued to focus on becoming President and I think Reagan would have seen the Vice Presidency as a major step in the wrong direction. If Ford had asked Reagan to be his running mate, I don’t think Reagan would have accepted. I don’t think Nancy would have allowed him to. Nothing could be gained for Reagan by serving as Ford’s running mate. The Vice Presidency was finally gaining influence and significance in the 1970s, but it wouldn’t have done anything to actually further Reagan’s Presidential prospects.

A Ford/Reagan ticket might have resulted in a victory, but Reagan wouldn’t really gain anything from that, either. Ford wouldn’t have been able to run for re-election in 1980 because of the 22nd Amendment (Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term, so he would have been ineligible to be elected again had he won in 1976). But if Ford and Reagan had been elected together in 1976 and the Ford had a rough four years in office, Reagan would have been intimately connected with that Administration, giving his potential 1980 opponent something to strongly use to campaign against him with. He would have been pegged as the successor or as the continuation of that hypothetical Ford Administration. Anything like that would have been a huge risk for Reagan because part of the reason he challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 (besides believing that Ford wasn’t Conservative enough) was that Reagan was already 65 years old. In 1976! He was older than Nixon and Ford and a full six years older than John F. Kennedy. People forget about that — Reagan was worried, even in the 1970s, about whether his age would be an issue. Even if he had beaten Ford out for the GOP nomination in 1976 and been elected that year, Reagan would have been the second-oldest President ever inaugurated — and that was a full four years before he actually be did become President!

More than anything else, though, President Ford was pissed off in 1976 by the fact that Reagan challenged him (Ford), an incumbent President of the same party, and required Ford to expend energy and much-needed campaign funds just to get a nomination that is usually an automatic for an incumbent President. When Reagan notified Ford that he was going to seek the nomination that year, Reagan said he hoped it wouldn’t be divisive and Ford responded, “How can you challenge an incumbent President of your own party and not be divisive?”. The Ford/Reagan battle in the 1976 primaries really hurt Ford more than anything — even more than Ford’s controversial pardon of Richard Nixon or Ford’s big mistake in the second Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter when he stumbled and suggested that there was not Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But the GOP primary battle allowed Carter to begin the general campaign with a huge lead over Ford and Ford came extraordinarily close to closing that gap and winning the election — with another week of campaigning, he likely would have beaten Carter. Ford genuinely believed that Reagan (and Reagan’s advisers) were to blame for the fact that Ford had to fight from so far behind against Carter. In interviews embargoed until after his death, Ford admitted, “It burned the hell out of me that I got the diversion from Reagan that caused me to spend an abnormal part of my time trying to round up individual delegates and to raise money.” Ford was also bothered by the fact that even after Ford clinched the Republican nomination, Reagan did very little to help him out during the general election. Recognizing that the focus of Reagan and his team immediately turned towards 1980 following the 1976 Republican National Convention, Ford said, “They didn’t give a damn whether I won or not because they were already planning to run in 1980.”

Gerald Ford was, by all accounts, one of the most good-natured, mild-mannered, polite, reasonable, and loyal politicians in American history. That’s one of the reasons that Congressional Democrats all but demanded that Nixon nominate Ford to fill the vacancy caused by Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in 1973. Ford also knew that he needed a more Conservative running mate in 1976 because he and the Vice President that he had appointed, Nelson Rockefeller, were too moderate for his increasingly Conservative party. Ford dumped Rockefeller in favor of the more appealing (to the far right of the GOP) Bob Dole and, later in life, frequently mentioned that the biggest regret of his life was dumping Rockefeller from the 1976 ticket — not because of any disrespect towards Senator Dole, but because Rockefeller had served him well and Ford was ashamed that he had pandered so much in taking that action. But before he chose Bob Dole at the 1976 Republican National Convention, many Republicans pushed for Ford to choose Reagan as his VP and there was nothing mild-mannered or good-natured about President Ford’s response. When Reagan’s name was mentioned, he bluntly said, “Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.”

So, to answer the rest of your question, yes, Ford likely would have been re-elected if Reagan had been his running mate. However, he likely would have been re-elected if Reagan hadn’t forced him to spend the spring of 1976 fighting for the Republican nomination even though he was the incumbent President.

And, yes, Ford was extremely depressed about losing the 1976 election, but he wasn’t suicidal. It was an understandably devastating defeat — George H.W. Bush has spoken of how devastated he was, too, upon losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. General Colin Powell recalled a conversation with Bush at Camp David after the 1992 election where Bush 41 was nearly in tears while telling General Powell, “Colin, it hurts. It really hurts. I just never thought they’d elect him.” It’s an unimaginable sadness for anyone who hasn’t actually been the most powerful person in the world and then had hundreds of millions of people decide, “No, we don’t want you anymore.” But Ford was not suicidal. Some people have suggested that he was in a dark place because it was his wife, Betty, who read Ford’s concession speech in 1976, but in actuality, Ford had been making non-stop campaign swings during the last days and hours of the ‘76 campaign and had completely lost his voice, so that’s why Betty Ford gave the speech as he stood nearby.

You should definitely get this book when it is released on August 5th. I was barely able to tear myself away from it to make this post.

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE) by Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, and published by Simon & Schuster (@simonbooks) on August 5th.

RONALD REAGAN

40th President of the United States (1981-1989)

Full Name: Ronald Wilson Reagan
Born: February 6, 1911, Graham Building, 111-113 Main Street, Tampico, Illinois
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: California
Term: January 20, 1981-January 20, 1989
Age at Inauguration: 69 years, 349 days
Administrations: 49th and 50th
Congresses: 97th, 98th, 99th, and 100th
Vice President: George Herbert Walker Bush (1981-1989)
Died: June 5, 2004, 668 St. Cloud Road, Bel-Air, Los Angeles, California
Age at Death: 93 years, 120 days
Buried: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 15 of 43 [↓2]

There are many aspects of being President of the United States.  First and foremost is the President as a political leader, Commander-in-Chief, chief executive of the federal government, and administrator of all of the departments which make up the Executive Branch.  Yet, there is also the public relations role.  A role which sometimes calls for inspirational leadership, motivational leadership, the skills for challenging Americans to be their best that is almost like the skills required of a great athletic coach.  This part of the Presidency is almost a paternal role, and it is best exhibited in trying moments like the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger or the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.  No one was better at this part of the Presidency than Ronald Reagan, and that means something in these rankings because it is indeed an important part of being President.  Reagan wasn’t the best manager/administrator, but he was a rock star politically and, when the nation needed their President to make them feel like everything would be okay, Ronald Reagan was usually there to say the right things with his comforting voice and warm easy smile.  That may not make you the best President and the metrics may not put him in the top tier, but something is to be said for someone who makes Americans feel good and strong and safe.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS:
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  Not Ranked
1990: Siena Institute:  22 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  25 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  11 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  6 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  6 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  10 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  18 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  8 of 40

George Bush is a man of action — a man accustomed to command. The Vice Presidency doesn’t fit easily on such a man. But George Bush is a patriot. And so he made it fit, and he served with a distinction no one has ever matched.
Ronald Reagan, endorsing his Vice President George H.W. Bush during Bush’s campaign for the Presidency, 1988
We lost Ronald Reagan only days ago, but we have missed him for a long time. We have missed his kindly presence, that reassuring voice, and the happy ending we had wished for him. It has been ten years since he said his own farewell; yet it is still sad and hard to let him go. Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us…And we look to that fine day when we will see him again, all weariness gone, clear of mind, strong and sure, smiling again, and the sorrow of his parting gone forever.
George W. Bush, eulogizing Ronald Reagan and expressing regret that the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease had effectively ended Reagan’s public life a decade before he actually died, at Reagan’s State Funeral, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., June 11, 2004
Pride in our country, respect for our armed services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that there was no easy equivalence between East and West — in all this I had no quarrel with Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.
Barack Obama, on the strengths and leadership qualities that he admired about Ronald Reagan, The Audacity of Hope, 2006
How could anybody work up a feeling of sufficient personal malice toward Ronald Reagan to want him dead?
Vice President George H.W. Bush, genuinely puzzled about why someone would try to assassinate Ronald Reagan, to aides on board Air Force Two as Bush returned to Washington, D.C. immediately following Reagan’s shooting, March 30, 1981
Reagan is one of the most decent men I have known. He’s a good man, a great communicator, as they say, and he made a fine President. He gave us leadership when we really needed it. He was so damn good — with the press, with the people, with the Russians, with everybody. But I have mixed feelings on Reagan. He lifted the spirit of the country and he was right-on on the arms buildup, but he ruled from his gut instead of his brain. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it worked for Truman. But it was fortunate that he had some very good advisers around him because, frankly, by the end of the second term he wasn’t nearly as effective. It wasn’t his fault, but his faculties had already begun to decline. We joke about how he fell asleep in a Cabinet meeting, but that’s no way to be President. I feel for the guy. He was a very good leader at a time of great events.
Richard Nixon, on Ronald Reagan’s Presidency and leadership style, to Monica Crowley, January 27, 1991
He was not what I would [call] a technically competent President. You know, his knowledge of the budget, his knowledge of foreign policy — it was not up to the standards of either Democrat or Republican Presidents. But he had a helluva flair. He could sell himself probably better than any President since FDR and maybe JFK. So I praise his assets, but I have reservations about his technical ability.
Gerald Ford, on Ronald Reagan
You have the ability of putting complicated technical ideas into words everyone can understand. Those of us who have spent a number of years in Washington too often lack the ability to express ourselves in this way.
Richard Nixon, letter to Ronald Reagan, after reading one of Reagan’s speeches, 1959