When President Reagan was sworn into office, the country had become divided by almost two decades of problems – Vietnam, Watergate, high unemployment, skyrocketing interest rates, the taking of American hostages in Iran, the energy crisis. The President had a swagger that some people liked. He spoke optimistically of America’s future. His confidence and the release of the American hostages made me feel that the country was once again moving in a positive direction.
On Monday, March 30, 1981 that confidence was briefly shaken. I will never forget how the events unfolded. I was at work and as I passed my bosses office, he rushed out into the hall. He grabbed me and a co-worker, and pulled us into his office where a TV was tuned to a news broadcast.
President Ronald Reagan had been shot by a would-be assassin. We watched intently as the story broke, discussing the possibilities among ourselves. Was this the work of America’s enemies? Were we reliving President Kennedy’s murder at the hands of a politically disgruntled loner? Would the President survive? Our confidence in our country began to wane as we sat there. How could another American President be shot in public less than twenty years after the murder of John F. Kennedy?
Over the next few days as the details of that day’s events gradually became public, my confidence slowly returned. There was no conspiracy. The bullet was fired by a lone gunman with severe mental problems. An elderly President had not only survived the shooting, but had joked with the surgeon about which candidate the surgeon had supported in the election. The President was shown working in his hospital bed while recovering from surgery.
Whether these post-surgery events were staged or real has been the subject of much discussion by people on both sides of the political aisle, but in reality, it did not matter. They created the perception that our elderly cowboy President was recovering from a bullet near the heart, and by creating that perception they encouraged the belief that if he could recover, then perhaps America could also recover.