NRO has posted the commentary of our friend Steve Hayward on President Reagan: “Making our best days possible.” Steve is working on the second volume of his history of the Reagan era, The Age of Reagan, from which this commentary is adapted. Steve writes:
Shortly after Ronald Reagan’s landslide election to the presidency in 1980, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company produced a study of the effect of the presidency on life expectancy, finding that being president shortens a person’s life expectancy nearly as much as cigarette smoking. On average, being president reduced life expectancy by 3.9 years (or 5.2 years among 20th century presidents). Reagan, Met Life projected, could expect to live another 11 years, to 1992.
Typical of Reagan to become the longest-lived ex-president in American history; his entire political career consisted of transcending the expectations of the legions of people who underestimated him. Reagan’s critics and opponents never did figure this out. “People who come up against him think he’s a dumb movie actor,” a Reagan aide told Newsweek in 1970, “and they wind up in pieces.” In 1980 House Speaker Tip O’Neill welcomed Reagan to Washington with a condescending remark that “You’re in the big leagues now.” Reagan quickly taught O’Neill new lessons in hardball.
The Met Life mortality study was merely a more subtle and indirect way of expressing the conventional wisdom of the time