In a Parade excerpt from his book “My Father at 100,” Ron Reagan suggests that his father may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s during his term as president.
Three years into Reagan’s first term, in 1984, the younger Reagan writes that he had the “first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father.” He cited the first presidential debate he had with Walter Mondale, “when he floundered his way through his responses. He looked tired and bewildered.”
But Reagan rebounded in the next debate, when he delivered the famous line, “I would never exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Ron Reagan, however, says that the circumstances of Alzheimer’s make it almost certain that his father was in the early stages during his terms in office.
He writes, “Does this delegitimize his presidency? Only to the extent that President Kennedy’s Addison’s disease and Lincoln’s clinical depression undermine theirs. Better to judge our presidents by what they actually accomplish than what hidden factors may be weighing on them. We are entitled to approve or disapprove of my father’s conduct in office irrespective of his medical condition. That likely condition, though, serves as a reminder that when we elect presidents, we elect human beings with all their foibles and weaknesses. I find something courageous in my father’s dedicated pursuit — even in the face of his declining powers — of peaceful rapprochement with the Soviet Union, the world’s other nuclear superpower, throughout his second term. He never stopped wanting to save the world.”