Study Guide

Nancy Reagan in Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Address

By Ronald Reagan

Nancy Reagan

Why Does She Keep Looking at Me That Way?

The First Lady gets a special shout-out from Reagan in his Challenger address because by 1986, the two were well-established as America's premiere power couple. Having gotten together some twenty-two years earlier in Hollywood, their well-publicized relationship translated easily into a highly visible political partnership.

Like most First Ladies, Nancy Reagan was frequently seen and photographed in public at her husband's side. Unlike most First Ladies, Nancy expressed her dedication to her husband during speeches and important events by staring at him like an attention-starved sheltie. Equal parts adorable and terrifying, it was simply referred to as "The Gaze." (Source)

Fancy Nancy

She was an active and politically influential figure during the Reagan administration, with friends in high places (like Alf and Mr. T.). Her drug abuse awareness campaign, "Just Say No," was a major weapon in the President's War on Drugs, and she was an invaluable adviser to Reagan during his presidency. (Source)

She was also a controversial figure because of her expensive taste in clothes and unconvincing justification for extravagant purchases (like ordering $200,000 china service for the White House). Hey, we all have our weaknesses. (Source)

Together, the Reagans had a strong public image. It was one that strove to be relatable to the American people, with their marriage symbolizing traditional and conservative values that much of Reagan's public appeal was based on.

And they were deeply anti-communist.

So when Reagan states that both he and Nancy were "pained to the core" by the tragic events of the Challenger Disaster, it added a personal touch to his introduction. Notice how he referred to her as "Nancy" and not the "First Lady"? It enhanced the authenticity of his emotional address and the personal connection he aimed to achieve with his audience.

It also evoked an image of the elegant and gentle Nancy Reagan sitting alone somewhere in the White House while wearing an Oscar de la Renta dress and weeping, which is pretty powerful in itself.

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