President Reagan is the master of the one-liner and the quick comeback, which reveal him both at his best and at his most befuddled.
In 1985 the president's sayings and slip-ups defined priorities, misstated the obvious and misplaced a prominent guest. As Reagan rests in this sunny oasis, let us look back in fondness on the Reaganisms of the Year:
In early 1985, the budget and farm problems were on the president's mind. Reagan said in March, "If the definition of a good budget proposal is to distribute dissatisfaction, ours is a real winner." Soon after, he told the Gridiron Club, "I think we should keep the grain and export the farmers."
The presidential backhand also extended to education. Asked in September about the value of a liberal arts education in today's high-tech society, Reagan said, "Well, I have one myself and I've been trying to figure how it set me back."
Presidential news conferences in 1985 became rarer than Republican votes for tax reform. In August, Reagan greeted reporters by saying, "Well, it's nice to see you all. Where have you been keeping yourselves?"
As usual, Reagan was accused of delegating too much and knowing too little. Describing how things worked when he was governor of California, the president said in an April interview with The Washington Post, "For eight years somebody handed me a piece of paper every night that told me what I was going to be doing the next day."
But when Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew arrived at the White House on Oct. 8, Reagan said, "Well, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs. Yew to Singapore -- Mrs. Lee to Washington."
He had his wits about him, however, when ABC's Sam Donaldson asked him, after his cancer surgery, how he "felt on the inside." Reagan replied, "The same as I do on the outside."
At 74, Reagan found age and his acting career to be sources of inspiration. Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Boy Scouts, Reagan said, "I'm delighted to celebrate anything older than I am." At Annapolis he recalled his final movie, "Hellcats of the Navy," and said that if he received another script "it would probably be for 'The Old Man and the Sea.' " Preparing for an address on the release of hijacked U.S. hostages, Reagan said, "After seeing 'Rambo' last night, I'll know what to do next time."
The cinematic approach had limitations. Before he visited a German cemetery where Nazi SS troops were buried, Reagan was asked by a European journalist if he knew about the SS massacre of the residents of the French village of Oradour. "Yes, I know all the bad things that happened in that war," said Reagan, who spent it making Army training films. "I was in uniform four years myself."
Another dubious Reaganism was the claim, in an Aug. 26 radio speech, that in South Africa "they have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country -- the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertaining and so forth were segregated. That has all been eliminated."
Reagan gave ground on South Africa but stuck to his guns on his Strategic Defense Initiative antimissile plan. As he explained to European broadcasters Nov. 12: "But we will make available to everyone this weapon. I don't mean we'll give it to them. They're going to have to pay for it at cost."
The year's high point for Reagan was the summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, where the president made telling points before crossing into outer space. It would be fascinating to know what Gorbachev thought when Reagan confided that they would find their tasks easier "if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We would forget all the little differences that we have between our countries, and we would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings oring with some of his work. whispered comment to Gorbachev before they read a joint statement at summit's end: "I'll bet the hard-liners in our countries are bleeding when we shake hands." Or as Reagan put it to Congress the same night, "No one ever said it would be easy. But we've come a long way."
Reaganism of the Year: Speaking to business leaders in the East Room on March 6, Reagan said, "Nuclear war would be the greatest tragedy, I think, ever experienced by mankind in the history of mankind."