--Lady Diana Mosley on Ronald Reagan, via The Pursuit of Laughter
Her husband’s legacy was always Nancy Reagan’s top priority. It surpassed any concern she had for her own approval rating. As Thomas Mallon’s fascinating (and worthwhile) novel Finale proposes, Nancy Reagan worked tirelessly behind the scenes against the hardliners in her husband’s administration. She wanted peace to be his legacy. In Finale, and perhaps in real life, it is Nancy Reagan who tipped the scales in favor of a pact with the Soviet Union.
Consider her maneuver at the 1987 state dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. Mrs. Regan paid careful attention to the political implications of the seating chart. According to then-White House Social Secretary Gahl Hodges Burt, Mrs. Reagan purposefully sat United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick to Reagan’s right. The reactionary Kirkpatrick was a staunch foe of detente. To the Soviets, her presence at President Reagan’s side was “a visible sign of the country’s unity” in favor of the treaty. [via Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan]
Though not apparent at the time, the treaty and state dinner ushered in an era of relative tranquility in a turbulent world. Even though its significance is best appreciated in retrospect, the state dinner was nevertheless a hot ticket in Washington. It was one of those evenings in which luminaries actively campaigned for invitations and made excuses to leave town if not included. The event was easily the most talked-about event since the 1985 dinner for the Prince and Princess of Wales (and of far greater significance to history).