Dallas Morning News journalist Alan Peppard gives us this week's Sunday Long Read as he interviews Poppy Bush about the events of the last day of March, 1981, the day John Hinckley shot President Reagan, and how that turned Reagan's most bitter GOP foe into his best friend.
Accounts of the afternoon tend to be dominated by the sensational storyline of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s declaration that “I’m in control here.” But Vice President George H.W. Bush’s pitch-perfect reaction to the crisis lies largely unexplored in the shadow of history. He had only recently been Reagan’s energetic opponent, a fact that was fresh in the memories of Reagan loyalists. The steady hand he showed after the assassination attempt would linger in the minds of his admirers as one of the defining moments of his public career.
Now 90, Bush consented to an email interview for this story. His comments, along with hours of tapes from inside the White House Situation Room, never seen photographs taken aboard Air Force Two and interviews with participants in the crisis shed new light on the day Reagan became the fifth sitting president to be shot and the only one who lived.
“I recall thinking about Nancy and the president when I first heard how bad the situation really was,” Bush told The News. “Even though it was still early in the administration, I didn’t think about them as president and first lady, but rather as friends.”
Yeah, I know. Reagan and Bush went on to cause untold damage to the American middle class over the next eleven years. But I also remember sending the White House a crayon picture I drew of Space Shuttle Columbia as a get well card for President Reagan when I was six. And Al Haig tried some crazy, crazy stuff back then.
It's worth a read just from a historical perspective, at least.