Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 11 -- we start bombing in five minutes?

On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan got ready for his weekly radio address with a mike check. According to Wikipedia, his little remark (meant only for the technicians) was a riff on the opening line of the morning's prepared speech. His speech called for him to say, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied — the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do." Instead, just for giggles -- and never dreaming that this would get out -- he said, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

It got out. (The disgruntled technician who leaked the tape may have been a Democrat. Or, given the text of the actual speech, an atheist. Maybe both.)

The Russians (then more formally known as the Soviets) were miffed. No apparatchik could survive long with a madcap sense of humor. Or any sense of humor at all. Indeed, in this one respect, and this one only, the Russians could have passed for Germans (to their mutual mortification). The Russians took the President's weak joke seriously (or claimed to) and demanded an apology. From there the story just got bigger and bigger to the point where Hallmark suggests we commemorate today as Presidential Joke Day.

It's not much to work with, certainly, but it's the best of a thin lot of choices for today.

If President Reagan's faithless technician was an atheist, perhaps he was miffed that the President failed to acknowledge Ingersoll Day. offers Ingersoll Day as a possible observance today, along with National Garage Sale Day. But isn't any Saturday a good day for a garage sale?

As for Robert G. Ingersoll, the Civil War veteran whom the Humanist Institute commemorates today, Wikipedia notes that he was Attorney General of the State of Illinois from 1867-1869. As a Republican.

That's certainly something you'd not be likely to see these days. I do not refer to any scarcity of Republican officeholders who reject religion -- there's no doubt a lot of skeptics and scoffers in both parties, even if they're not as candid about it as was Mr. Ingersoll. No, I'm referring how odd it is to think of a Republican holding statewide office in Illinois in our current day and age....

No comments: