In a grim season of hurricanes tormenting Texas, Florida and southwest Louisiana, maybe a little disaster humor is in order.
We’ll readily admit that the pain and loss touching this part of the world offers little to smile about. But for a little chuckle on the subject of natural disasters, we turn now to Ronald Reagan, the leader of legendary good cheer who even managed to crack a few jokes after he was shot by a would-be assassin.
Obsessed with politics even as a sixth grader, I was thrilled to see President John F. Kenne…
As we’ve been reminded by a new book, Reagan could even indulge in a small dose of verbal horseplay on the issue of disaster management. The book, “Letters of Note, Volume 2,” is a follow-up to Englishman Shaun Usher’s earlier volume that collected curious bits of correspondence from throughout the ages. The anthologies grew from Usher’s popular blog of the same name.
Reagan ended up in Usher’s latest letters collection because of a note he got from Andy Smith in 1984. “I am a seventh-grade student at Irmo Middle School in Irmo, South Carolina,” Smith explained. “Today, my mother declared my bedroom a disaster area. I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room. I am prepared to provide the initial funds if you will provide matching funds for this project. I know you will be fair when you consider my request. I will be awaiting your reply.”
From the thousands of letters Reagan received, volunteers would select about 30 each week for the president’s personal attention. That’s how Smith’s request reached the president, who drafted a puckish reply. “Your application for disaster relief has been duly noted,” the commander-in-chief wrote, “but I must point out one technical problem; the authority declaring the disaster is supposed to make the request. In this case your mother. However, setting that aside I’ll have to point out the larger problem of available funds.”
The president went on to list the floods, fires and storms to which the federal government had already responded. “What I’m getting at,” he added, “is that funds are dangerously low.”
Then Reagan offered a suggestion: “This administration, believing that government has done many things that could better be done by volunteers at the local level, has sponsored a Private Sector Initiative Program, calling upon people to practice volunteerism in the solving of a number of local problems. Your situation appears to be a natural. I’m sure your mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program ... congratulations. Give my best regards to your mother.”
We suspect that on this point, federal policy hasn’t changed since the Reagan years. Which means that when your mother asks you to clean your room, it’s best to do it yourself.