Philip Terzian has written a great bit concerning the focus these past few weeks on Reagan’s “emotional distance.” The piece is well-worth reading in its short entirety, but here’s a taste of the juicy center:
It takes a certain kind of ego to perceive the presidency within one’s grasp, and a certain personality to endure the trials of pursuing the modern presidency. Politicians in a democratic system, by their nature, are usually the sort of people whose inner lives are ruthlessly subordinated to exterior objectives, a temperamental trade-off alien to most people.
Indeed, in terms of emotional distance and personal isolation, Reagan closely resembles his hero Franklin D. Roosevelt, another driven politician who was both publicly charming and privately elusive, with thousands of acquaintances but no close personal friends, a cheerful but remote presence in the lives of colleagues and family. We can only guess at the ferocious engine of ambition which propelled FDR from his gentleman-paraplegic status into the White House, or Ronald Reagan’s unconventional path from Hollywood to national politics. The genius of political figures like Roosevelt and Reagan lies in their instinctive capacity to prosper—to anticipate public sentiment, to shape public perception, to communicate to voters on an individual level—in politics as art, not science. And as is often the case with genius, this is accomplished at some considerable personal cost.
Actually, Terzian’s excellent Architects of Power is full of great nuggets on FDR’s “ferocious engine of ambition” and how it fundamentally altered the world. I reviewed it here, and highly recommend it.
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