After years as a political commentator, though -- and I highly recommend Reagan In His Own Hand to sample this phase of his development -- the fortieth president was qualified as both, an astute observer and analyst of the political forces and persons around him, and here, one who kept a fascinating personal diary of his eight years as president.
I got to review The Reagan Diaries for the August issue of Carolina Journal, and I have to say this is one of the hardest I've had to write. The man was so quotable and entertaining I had real difficulties confining myself to a thousand words.
One comment I didn't work into the article was when Sam Donaldson asked him if he didn't share some responsibility for the recession of 1981-1982; the president said,
"Yes, I do. I was once a Democrat."
Another matter that comes up regularly enough is whether Reagan was really as religious as the Right likes to imagine; after all, they point out, he didn't attend church that much while he was president -- a true statement borne out by his diary. What skeptics don't acknowledge is the tremendous disruption caused by a visit from the president; the Reagans decided, reluctantly, that it was too much commotion for them to inflict on the congregation. On the occasions that they do get to worship, Reagan mentions how much he misses it and his desire to be there more often.
Never mind that he found himself in the emergency room, 69 years old with an assassin's bullet in his lung, praying for the gunman. There is an enlightening entry as Reagan considers his father-in-law's rapidly declining health:
Nancy is very depressed about her father's health and understandably so. I want so much to speak to him about faith. He's always been an Agnostic -- now I think he knows fear for probably the 1st time in his life. I believe this is a moment when he should turn to God and I want so much to help him do that. (May 19, 1982, p. 85)
That just isn't the comment of a lukewarm or half-hearted believer.
There is a wealth of interesting first-person material in this volume and I can only scratch the surface in my review. You can read it in the print edition of Carolina Journal here .