She may be 87 years old, but Nancy Reagan still has her political chops. The First Lady who had the White House chief of staff fired when she concluded that Donald Regan was no longer serving her husband's best interests can still get the attention of folks in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The current issue of Vanity Fair proves the point. She makes it very clear that she felt, well, snubbed not be invited to the presidential bill signing for the new embryonic stem cell law:
“I would have gone, and you know I don’t like to travel,” she tells Colacello. “Politically it would have been a good thing for him to do. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. He called and thanked me for working on it. But he could have gotten more mileage out of it.”
Some may think Mrs. Reagan herself was being a little petty -- pining away for one more invitation to the White House. But the funny thing is: She's absolutely right. She got the politics of the situation exactly right. That little quote truly underscores how much of a political strategist Nancy Reagan herself was. Everyone rightly credited the late mastermind Mike Deaver for the stagecraft associated with the Reagan presidency. But, someone who uses the word "mileage" in the context of this bill signing clearly knows her political imagery.
In any event, Mrs. Reagan got the the Obamas' attention. "No slight to her whatsoever," said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Well, just to be sure, the president and various aides treated Mrs. Reagan like queen during her visit on Tuesday to witness Obama signing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, legislation that gets the ball rolling for the official commemoration of the Gipper's 100th birthday in 2011. President Obama ushered the former First Lady around Oval Office on his arm -- though the body language seemed to send mixed signals as to how comfortable he felt.
Of course, the person who may best benefit from keeping Nancy Reagan close to the White House is Michelle. Before hitting Washington, Nancy was first lady of California -- and an actress before that. In short, she mastered all parts of political gamesmanship (and necessary backstabbing).
Michelle might find her advice particularly useful. You never know when you might have to dump a chief of staff. (Rahm Emanuel, you might want to pay close attention if the two first ladies are speaking in hushed tones for too a long a time.)
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.