amiable dunce

amiable dunce

Ronald Reagan’s critics often referred to the president as an “amiable dunce.” The phrase was meant to suggest that Reagan was friendly and likeable, but fundamentally not very bright.

Clark Clifford, the former Defense secretary and presidential adviser, was the first to coin the term. He made the remark at a private dinner party, and probably never intended for it to be repeated. However, his hostess was secretly recording the conversation at dinner. A copy of the recording was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which published Clifford’s remarks.

Explaining himself afterwards, Clifford said:

In the fall of 1982, President Reagan said he would cut taxes by $750 billion, substantially increase defense expenditures and balance the budget in the 1984 fiscal year. Those were public promises. I made a comment that if he would accomplish that feat, he’d be a national hero. If, on the other hand, it did not work out after such a specific and encouraging promise and commitment, I thought the American people would regard him as an amiable dunce.

Clifford wasn’t the only one to disparage Reagan’s intelligence. Peggy Noonan, a former Regan speechwriter, said that the president’s mind was a “barren terrain.” Noonan also implied that Reagan was easily influenced by his advisors. ”The battle for the mind of Ronald Reagan was like the trench warfare of World War I: Never have so many fought so hard for such barren terrain,” Noonan declared.

Of course, Reagan’s friends and supporters rejected the “amiable dunce” label. The former president of Canada, Brian Mulroney, told the press, “The Reagan supporters will tell you that Ronald Reagan never made a mistake in his life. And his denigrators would tell you he is an ‘amiable dunce,’ as I’ve said. Well, neither of course is in any way true.”