Many relate to Reagan's battle with Alzheimer's

I have five nice things to say about President Ronald Reagan, who succumbed to Alzheimer's disease on June 5 at the age of 93.

The Reagan years (1981-1988) were tough for me politically. I disagreed with President Reagan on his fundamental philosophy of government and nearly everything he did.

But if it weren't for Ronald Reagan, I probably never would have discovered Nevada, my adopted home for nearly 25 years. When Ronald Reagan captured enough electoral votes to be the Republican presidential nominee in 1980, fellow Republican Congressman John Anderson was inspired to run as an independent presidential candidate in order to provide a voice for moderates of both parties who were repulsed by Reagan and Carter. I was a volunteer for Anderson in Massachusetts. When Anderson went Independent, I had the chance to come to Nevada. I grabbed it and haven't looked back.

If it weren't for Ronald Reagan, rural Nevada's sagebrush ocean would be scarred with racetracks and the vestiges of the misguided MX intercontinental ballistic missile basing mode. A united outcry of opposition by Nevadans got the attention of Sen. Paul Laxalt, who called in a favor from his friend, the former governor of California.

President Reagan canceled MX in the Great Basin in October of 1981. This personal, political solution saved rural Nevada from being decimated by the water-grabbing military boondoggle that would have been obsolete before it was operational.

Thanks to Ronald Reagan, I learned that it is possible to endure eight years of a presidency that I abhorred. I agreed with few of President Reagan's policies, and found myself hunkering down politically to wait it out. I gained a healthy respect for term limits. I did not support most of Mr. Reagan's initiatives or solutions to the problems that faced us. "We made it through the Reagan years" is a more frequent mantra as the prospect of a second Bush term looms.

Ronald Reagan was idealistic. He governed based on his beliefs, and his policies were an extension of his philosophy of government. I didn't like most of what he did, but I knew where he stood and why. He spoke clearly, and could deliver his message in a sound bite. Because he was an actor, he was a gifted speaker with flawless delivery. He embraced words and used them to deliver the message.

While President Bush shares much of Reagan's conservative bent, the comparison ends there. President Bush struggles with language. Words seem to be a necessary evil rather than the key to leadership. He is ineffective in communicating more than the hot-button buzzwords. He invokes the words terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, evildoers, and 911 to restimulate the visceral fear response in the public, over and over again, so that the American people look to his leadership to protect us. It is getting very old.

Ronald Reagan's ultimate challenge was Alzheimer's, a disease that is an epidemic among the elderly. My mother suffered a similar fate, gradually losing her quick wit, reasoning power, mobility, and language. Our family experienced the same incremental loss that Mr. Reagan's did, as he faded away, and gradually became an empty shell.

Now his family is urging President Bush to reverse his position in opposition to controversial embryonic stem cell research. It is too bad that a famous person has to be afflicted with a disease before decision-makers do something. According to National Public Radio, 74 percent of the American public supports stem cell research, which is opposed by the Bush administration

If Mr. Reagan's illness and death enable this administration and future presidents and Congresses to support stem cell research as a way to combat destructive diseases, then his long struggle with Alzheimer's will have had a purpose.

Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, public involvement and nuclear waste issues in Carson City. Her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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