Skip to main content

Attention Joe Scarborough: Reagan Stayed On Vacation Through a Lot More Than a Downed Airliner

Conservatives like Joe Scarborough who decry Obama's decision to stick to his schedule should recall the time the Gipper rode horsies through the downing of a passenger jet, a Marine barracks bombing, and a hurricane.

Everyone is making fun of Joe Scarborough for being horribly wrong about Ronald Reagan's response to the downing of a South Korean civilian airliner by the Soviets in 1983, but surely he wouldn't have stuck to his schedule in the face of that disaster and a roiling crisis in the Middle East, like NOBAMA did, right?

While Fox News and The New York Timeswork on their narratives about President Obama's response to the Russia-abetted shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the Israeli invasion of Gaza, MSNBC's Morning Joe was busy being completely wrong about Ronald Reagan's response to the 1983 downing of Korean Air Flight 007 by a Soviet fighter. Social media is all abuzz about this clip of Mika Brzezinski trying to correct Joe's certainty that Reagan "immediately canceled his vacation," and that he did not wait four long days to address the nation:

Earlier in the show, though, Scarborough told his viewers a little more about "what Ronald Reagan did."

"Reagan had just started a vacation. He immediately came home, canceled fund-raising, he canceled all campaign events for ten days. He refused to go out there because he knew he had to immediately be briefed, and immediately get his people out to hold press conferences, he had to immediately go forward and condemn the Soviet Union in the strongest terms possible, and get ahead of the crisis. That's what Reagan did."

In fact, it wasn't until after news reports of Reagan riding horseys in the aftermath of the attack that he returned to the White House, in what Reagan administration officials acknowledged was a public relations move. Prior to that, they had long taken a line that should sound familiar to today's pundits, that there's nothing the President could do at the White House that couldn't be done elsewhere via telephone.

Scarborough later apologized, via Twitter, for his "boneheaded error," but he wasn't just wrong about Reagan canceling his vacation immediately.


As it turns out, Reagan hadn't "just started a vacation," he was already in the last few days of a holiday that began on August 15. What's more, President Reagan actually did leave his ranch in Rancho Del Cielo for important things like an August 26 fundraiser at the Republican Women's Leadership Forum in San Diego, California, or another fundraiser that same day for Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Calif.), but not for Hurricane Alicia, which killed 21 people as Reagan fiddled at his ranch.

But President Obama, who isn't even on vacation, and is actually just doing normal president-y things, is also being criticized for not stopping dead in his tracks because not only did a Russian missile shoot down an airliner, but all hell is breaking loose in the Middle East. Say what you will about ol' Dutch, there's no way he'd keep chilling at the ranch under those circumstances.

Except when he did, of course. On August 29, 1983, two U.S. Marines were killed in Lebanon, the first American combat fatalities during the operation that would eventually culminate in the October 23, 1983 bombing of a U.S. barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen. Reagan's response to these killings, and the wounding of 14 other U.S. Marines, was to stay on vacation:

Mr. Reagan, on vacation in California, and others in the Administration were ''shocked and grieved'' at the deaths, a spokesman said. An Administration official suggested that Syria and the Soviet Union bore some responsibility for the fighting.

According to the Reagan Presidential Library, though, the Gipper did find time to speak "by telephone with members of the White House staff to discuss the situation in Lebanon," after which he called the Marietta, Georgia 1983 Little League World Series champions, so that's nice. Can you imagine what would happen if Obama stayed on his vacation through a fatal hurricane, deadly attacks on American soldiers in the Middle East, and the downing of a commercial airliner by a Russian missile?

These comparisons of Obama to Ronald Reagan never work out well for conservatives, yet they insist on continuing to make them. In doing so, though, they only succeed in highlighting the contrast between how they judge a president like Ronald Reagan, and one who is different, somehow, from their Dear Leader.