EDITOR’S NOTE: This vignette is excerpted from How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.
The incident I always considered the best illustration of Reagan’s regard for ordinary individuals took place in a North Carolina parking lot. “It was during the 1976 primary fight,” says Dana Rohrabacher, who then worked on the Reagan campaign as an assistant press secretary. “We were getting ready for a rally in this gigantic parking lot at a shopping mall. I was in the staging area behind the podium, and a lady called me over to the side and said, ‘I’ve got a group of blind kids here. Since they can’t see him, I was wondering if you could have Governor Reagan come over and tell them hello.’”
Dana passed the request on to Mike Deaver, and Reagan, who was standing nearby, overheard. “He said he’d do it, but he didn’t want any photographers,” Dana explains. “Can you imagine that? He was in the middle of a presidential campaign, and the press would have gone wild for a photo of him with a group of blind kids. But Reagan wanted this to be between him and the kids.”
Deaver came up with a plan. When the speech ended, Deaver told Dana, he’d begin walking Reagan back to the campaign bus. Concluding that the candidate was about to leave for the next event, all the reporters and photographers would hurry back to their own buses. And then, when the press had cleared out, Deaver would double back with Reagan, returning the candidate to the area behind the podium, where Reagan would meet the blind children.
“It worked,” Dana says. “The press guys all went back to their buses, and I brought the lady with the blind kids back behind the podium. There were six or seven kids, real sweet little kids about eight or nine or ten years old. Since there was a lot of background noise–Reagan bent down, close to the kids, to talk to them. But somehow I could see him thinking that that wasn’t enough. So after the kids had asked him a couple of questions, he said, ‘Well, now I have a question for you. Would you like to touch my face so you can get a better understanding of how I look?’ The kids all smiled and said yes, so Reagan just leaned over into them, and one by one these little kids began moving their fingers over his face to see what he looked like.
“The only picture of that scene is the picture in my mind,” Dana says. “But I can still see those kids, touching Ronald Reagan’s face and smiling these really big smiles.”
“The Declaration of Independence,” G. K. Chesterton writes, “dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; it is right [to do so]…. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.” Although in nearly every way you could ever imagine, in other words, we humans are not equal but unequal–some rich and some poor, some bright and some dull, some healthy and some sick–in one way we enjoy perfect equality all the same. Did the 40th chief executive ever read Chesterton? I can’t say. Yet Ronald Reagan demonstrated an implicit belief in the sacred and equal importance of all men as children of God.
–Peter Robinson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and host of Uncommon Knowledge, is author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. Robinson is an NRO contributor (who writes regularly for The Corner).