Good morning, it's Friday, July 2, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise quotations intended to be uplifting or educational. Today, I'm borrowing from President Reagan, with an assist from the Los Angeles Dodgers -- and the intrepid Russian people. Bear with me. The Dodgers are in Washington this weekend to play the Nationals in a four-game set pitting the 2020 World Series winner against the 2019 champs.
Yes, it would have been better for the home team had last night's storm arrived about 15 minutes earlier, before Nats starter Patrick Corbin gave up a grand slam, but I digress. My real point is that the Dodgers are visiting the White House today, where they will be greeted by President Biden. It's the first time since the coronavirus pandemic that a professional sports champion has followed the custom of being hosted by the president. And it's been a while for the Dodgers. The last time they were at the White House was Oct. 26, 1988, when Ronald Reagan was in office.
By late October 1988, President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan were showing signs of their eagerness to return to California. There was an election to win first, though, and Reagan was doing his part by campaigning for Vice President George H.W. Bush and other Republican candidates, but there was a twinkle in his eye when he mentioned going home.
Two days after the Dodgers' visit to the White House, Reagan appeared at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles where he spoke about foreign policy before taking audience questions. In that brief speech, delivered in the twilight of the Cold War, Reagan made two observations. First, he said, "thanks to the perseverance of the American people and her allies … lights are going on all over the world -- the lights of freedom." Reagan then added a cautionary note.
"It's truly ironic that even as those Western insights and traditions -- the tinder and fuel of human liberty -- start fires all across the world, here at home they are called into question," he said. "Their legitimacy as areas of required study on some of our campuses is even questioned."
Well, 33 years later, that concern has proven prescient. But Reagan didn't use angry words to make his point. He used humor. He'd even prefaced his remarks that evening with light banter about being a private citizen again, "We've already started to bring a few items back with us from the White House," he said. "When we came out here -- Nancy had me bringing several rolls of paper for lining shelves."
"As you may have heard, the Dodgers came to the White House on Wednesday," Reagan added. "They were awfully nice; they volunteered to bring a lamp back to Los Angeles."
Reagan ended his World Affairs Council appearance on a similar light note, though the subject was more serious. He told the audience that he had been collecting the jokes told among people in the Soviet Union. The people there used gallows humor to deal with to the chronic shortages in goods and services that beset the people of the U.S.S.R., along with their lack of freedom. Reagan told one of them:
"For example, you know, in the Soviet Union, for a private citizen to buy an automobile there is a 10-year waiting period. So, one of their stories has to do with that. This man is finally -- you have to put the money down, too, 10 years in advance. So, this man has gone in, and he's doing all the signing, all the papers, and putting out his money. And finally, when he makes that final signature, the man behind the counter said, ‘Now, come back in 10 years and take delivery.' And he said, ‘Morning or afternoon?' And the man … behind the counter said, ‘Well, 10 years from now, what difference does it make?' ‘Well,' he said, ‘the plumber's coming in the morning.'"
Reagan was right about these jokes: Many of them came to be known by Russians as "Armenian Radio jokes." The typical set-up was a one-line question, and then the one-line answer -- more revealing than intended -- from a government functionary towing the official line. Like this:
Q: This is Armenian Radio. Our listeners ask us: Is there a difference between capitalism and communism?
A: In principle, yes. In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it's the reverse.
My favorite of this genre invoked Ronald Reagan himself.
Q: This is Armenian Radio. Our listeners ask us: Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is the U.S.A.?
A: In principle, yes. In America, you can stand in front of the Washington Monument, and yell, "Down with Reagan!" and you will not be punished. In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, "Down with Reagan!" and you will not be punished.
And that's our (still relevant) quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.