BY PHIL BARENGOLTS
“He loved being Ronald Reagan.”
So said David Gergen ’67, former adviser to President Ronald Reagan, as he spoke before a standing room only audience in Hauser Hall. Before and during the speech, HLS Republicans celebrated Reagan’s 90th birthday with cake and applause.
Turnout for the event was high, as the room overflowed with interested students from all sides of the political spectrum. Mike Adams ’01, President of the Harvard Law School Republicans, explained the popularity of the event. “He is still the icon of modern conservative thought,” Adams said. The themes Reagan introduced continue to resonate in modern debate, Adams said.
While Gergen gave the former President’s political exploits considerable attention, it was the brief glimpses into White House life that fascinated the crowd. Gergen recalled a live broadcast about the nation’s economic plan in which Reagan tried to make a point using a felt-tip pen, and found that it had run dry. It turned out that the pen had not been capped after an earlier run through, but the President continued with his speech unperturbed until a staff member crawled up to him out of the camera’s view and handed him a working pen. Without so much as blinking, the Gipper went back to his easel and used the pen as intended. No one in the television audience was any the wiser, and Gergen was able to keep his job. “Under Nixon [we] would have been thrown out the window.” said Gergen much to the amusement of the crowd.
The Reagan presidency was more than just looking good on camera, however, according to Gergen. “The rise of Reagan was the fall of the theory of the broken presidency. He restored a sense of American optimism,” Gergen stated. According to him, the presidency lost much of its luster in a string of administrations during the ’60s and ’70s. “Reagan pushed back the negative narratives. He reminded us about the positive history of America,” Gergen explained.
As one of Reagan’s closest advisors, Gergen has a unique view into the Reagan White House, and many students came out for just this reason. “Who better to talk about the Reagan years than someone behind the scenes? He saw the ins and outs of the Reagan presidency,” Jonathan Freimann ’01, founder of the Bull Moose Republicans, proclaimed.
Gergen had many kind words for his former boss, but he was honest about Reagan’s faults as well. During the question and answer period one student asked Gergen, who also served in the Clinton White House, to compare the two Presidents. “Clinton was much smarter than Reagan. He had 360 degrees [of understanding], but lacked a true north,” Gergen opined.
The real gift Gergen attributed to President Reagan was leadership. Through his belief in himself he transferred confidence to the whole nation, Gergen said.