Bill Adler, literary agent for the Ronald Reagans and other Washington personalities such as Michael Deaver and senators Bill Cohen and Gary Hart, understands the human side of the presidency. He also has a keen eye for trends. His new book, "Ronnie and Nancy," capitalizes on America's return to romance and more traditional values.
There is no doubt that marriage is "in" again. That there is a book on the courtship and marriage of Nancy and Ronald Reagan is an important statement about the mood of the times. Unfortunately, the Reagan story as told by Adler lacks gusto. Adler didn't burn any bridges with his illustrious clients, but he doesn't manage to arouse much passion for them either.
Reagan is the most popular president in recent memory, and the way things are going, his wife's popularity may eclipse his. But it is their success as a couple on which "Ronnie and Nancy: A Very Special Love Story" is based. The Reagans have been married 33 years and their relationship appears stronger than ever.
The story this book tells illuminates the human side of the Reagan presidency and the impact and influence the first lady has on her husband. Nancy Reagan has been a great source of strength at such difficult times as the campaigns, the attempted assassination and the cancer surgery. She is always there when needed, and her top priority is his happiness and well-being. While some scoff at the notion of a wife submerging her ego to her husband's, the fact is that the most important thing a first lady can do is be supportive and understanding of her husband. One would expect the same from a first gentleman when that time finally comes.
Because the first lady has the ear of the president and is able to share her opinions and views on various issues, she is in a unique position to influence his thinking. Betty Ford calls this "pillow talk." And it has been going on since Martha Washington. How much the first lady affects her husband's decisions varies. Herbert Hoover's memoirs point out that he looked to his wife for advice and considered her a partner in all his affairs. Like Harry Truman, who called his wife Bess "The Boss," Ronald Reagan looks upon Nancy as his chief confidant, companion, supporter and adviser. He would agree with Rutherford B. Hayes, who said of his own wife: " She may not have much influence with Congress. But she has quite a bit of influence with me."
Anything and everything a first lady says or does is scrutinized by the press. She is a public figure -- more so than any elected official other than her husband -- with the press trailing her every move. What she says or doesn't say, in fact, sometimes makes more news than what her husband says. Because the media have made her position one of special importance, she can and should use it to push those things she believes in. Unfortunately, when there is nothing "special" to write about, the press focuses its attention on other first lady matters -- like her hair, her clothes, her friends, her family, etc.
Nancy Reagan has had her problems with the press. The newswomen covering her have been less than generous. For one thing, they prefer an activist like Eleanor Roosevelt, whose values they share, as opposed to a woman with a more traditional background. Also, many members of the White House press corps know that an outspoken first lady who generates news helps their careers as well. Nevertheless, her popularity has been growing and her press has improved. She has demonstrated real concern in the area of drug abuse and has affected young people around the world.
How a first lady is portrayed by the media is important not just to her psyche, but to the country's. We need a first lady as a role model, an arbiter of values and a symbol of caring. The country benefits from first ladies like Nancy Reagan who are compassionate, concerned and involved. As Lady Bird Johnson reminds us, however, "the first lady is, and always has been, an unpaid public servant elected by one person, her husband.