Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What Reagan actually said when he got shot

I always thought that when Ronald Reagan woke up after being operated on at George Washington University hospital he’d actually quipped “Where’s the rest of me?” (the line he famously delivered in King’s Row after discovering that a sadistic surgeon had amputated his legs). But no, it was Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan imaginging what Reagan might have said.

We can confirm that the President actually did say the following: 

(To Nancy) “Honey, I forgot to duck!” (a variation on a line used by boxer Jack Dempsey after being beaten by Gene Tunney).

(To a nurse holding his hand as he lay on a trolley) “Does Nancy know about us?" (my personal favourite).

(To the doctors about to operate on him) “Please tell me you’re all Republicans”, which received the eye-moistening response from the Democrat-voting chief surgeon, “Mr President, we’re all Republicans today.” (And to think there are people who actually don't like Americans.)

Written on a piece of paper after waking up from the operation to remove the bullet lodged a quarter inch from his heart: “I’d like to do this scene again – starting at the hotel.”

To the troika of White House appointees who turned up the next morning to reassure him that the government was running smoothly: “What makes you think I’d be happy to hear that?”

No quip here, but another eye-moistening incident occurred when, three days after the shooting, House Speaker, Democrat Tip O’Neill – no friend of Reagan’s – became the first outsider to visit him in hospital. According to Stephen F. Hayward’s account in the second volume of his titanic The Age of Reagan, O’Neill later said “He was in terrific pain, much more serious than anybody thought.” Hayward then tells us, “In an extraordinary moment, O’Neill, in tears, knelt next to Reagan’s bedside, held the President’s hand, and recited the Twenty-third Psalm with Reagan.”

This reminded me of an earlier Reagan comment about the big-spending Democrat. When the home computer industry was just starting to take off, somebody asked Reagan if he knew what Pac-Man was: “Somebody told me it was a round thing that gobbles up money. I thought it was Tip O’Neill.”

Of course, a good sense of humour isn’t necessarily the first thing to look for in a politicians – but in Reagan’s case it seems to have been an intrinsic part of the cheery optimism which helped make him the greatest American President of the 20th Century.


  1. The funny thing is that it's the President with no sense of humour whatever who is described as a clown:

    Hugo Chávez says Obama is 'a clown and an embarrassment'

  2. That's a bit like being accused of recklessness by Fred Goodwin. I'm with Hugo "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges" Chavez on the "embarrassment" front, mind you - but Obama is far too sinister to be a clown. As for Hugo himself, it really is odd that someone so evidently several tostones short of a full Venezuelan beach picnic should accuse another leader of being a clown - I mean, all he needs are a red nose, a fright wig and size 16 shoes! But then, he also called Bush "Hitler" - which is pretty rich from such a classic carpet-chewing dictator. There's a parallell with Castro, who, before Reagan even took office, described him as Hitler - the man who turned Cuba into one vast prison camp accusing the only US President of the 20th Century to believe in a small state and that government wasn't the answer to the problem - it actually was the problem - of being a fascist.

  3. Was Hugo listening to Obama's recent address to the nation entitled "Let's pretend we are leaving Iraq with dignity"? His team must have got the West Wing script writers to dig out the Bartlett monologues they had rejected as credibility- damaging even with the most dumbly patriotic.

  4. ".... make him the greatest American President of the 20th Century."

    FDR gave this country an open cheque in 1940 to wage total war against the Nazis.Riddled with Polio he crossed the Atlantic for conferences with the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine nosing about.Unlike Churchill, he allowed his Armed Services to run themselves. And he was fighting wars in Europe and the Pacific at the same time.

    President Reagan was the great office holder post-1945. Please reconsider your judgement.

  5. Well, ex-KCS, as Sarah Palin might say to the Iraqis - "How's all that 'leavin' with dignity' stuff workin' out for ya?"

    I couldn't watch West Wing - it always struck me as a rather pathetic exercise in liberal wet dreamery. Gee, if only George Bush wasn't in charge and we had like a rilly intelligent, caring, compassionate left-winger in charge, wouldn't thinge be so much better?

    Well they ultimately got their wish - and their answer. I wonder how all that hopey-changey stuff is workin' out for them?

  6. Big issues here, SDG, but, in a nutshell, my problem with FDR is that his semi-fascistic left-wing approach to the Depression halted in its tracks the recovery that was already happening when he took office: Britain, with a less dirigiste approach, suffered a shallower Depression and emerged from it far quicker.

    The other thing is that the endless government agencies Roosevelt set up turned the US from a basically small state, right-wing country into a BIG STATE liberal-left one. As always when you set up that sort of interfering leftist technocratic layer, it is utterly impossible to get rid of. The only one who really, sincerely tried to was Reagan. And while I realise Roosevelt was a sick old man when it came to carving up the post-war world, he gave far too much away to Stalin: he tacitly accepted the USSR's right to run half the world, and it wasn't until Reagan - an enthusiastic Democratic New Dealer in his youth - came along and called the Soviets' bluff that the whole lousy, disgusting, rotting corpse collapsed. Roosevelt helped destroy the second greatest tyranny the world has ever known - but took his time. Reagan - in the face of even stiffer opposition at home - actually set out to do what everyone told him was impossible - and in the process destroyed the greatest tyranny the world has ever known. No, I don't think my assessment of Reagan's place in 20th Century history is wide of the mark. Also, Ronnie's wife - whatever her faults - wasn't a raving Commie like the appalling Eleanor, who spent so much time banging the drum for fellow-travelling traitor scum in the 1950s.