It's last time round for Ron's good ol' days: Rupert Cornwell finds the Great Communicator's bumbling good humour to be in sharp contrast with the mean-mouthed conservatism of a harsher time

FOR a moment it was just like old times, as of course it deliberately was intended to be. There, hand in hand behind the speaker's rostrum at a Republican convention, were Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

The balloons cascaded down and the faithful below poured out their adoration. Some things have changed of course, most notably that thick chestnut hair, artificial or otherwise, which has now reverted to a more appropriate grizzled black. Nancy, however, looked steelier, more doll-like than ever - whisper it not, another face-lift? His popularity, too, is not what it was: according to the Wall Street Journal, his negative rating today is higher than any major national figure, even George Bush.

But on Monday night none of that mattered. Mr Reagan, who knows as well as anyone that the era to which he gave his name has ended, was not there to be nominated. This time a prime-time convention speech was aimed not at the country, but to those within the hall. And how better to stiffen backbones than wheel out the Great Communicator himself?

Measured by the old man's standards, I found the the occasion a trifle disappointing. Only once before have I heard a Reagan speech. It was in 1985, on the 40th anniversary of the fall of Nazism, when he spoke in northern Germany where once the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp had stood. That day he brought tears to my eyes, and I was ready to be moved again. This week, a very different audience just wanted to cheer. Unfortunately, they did so at exactly the wrong places.

A Reagan speech may look artless. In fact its every pause is weighed, its every rhythm calculated, and its every throw-away line prepared in advance. Break the flow, and an old man is understandably flummoxed. It is natural that a party faithful, desperate for encouragement and searching for any star to steer by, should interrupt him with chants of 'Four More Years' and 'Thank you, Ron'. But when you're 81 years old and a prisoner of your script, you tend to lose the thread at such moments. So it was with Mr Reagan in Houston Astrodome.

Still, he did have some good jokes. For four years Lloyd Bentsen's devastating line at the expense of his then vice-presidential opponent Dan Quayle - 'Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy; and you're no Jack Kennedy' - has gone unanswered. On Monday night the patriarch of modern Republicanism hilariously reached back to the Founding Fathers for the riposte, his target this time Bill Clinton, the man at the top of the Democratic ticket.

'This fellow they've nominated, he claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Now let me tell you, I knew Thomas Jefferson, he was a friend of mine. And Governor, let me tell you: 'You're no Thomas Jefferson.' '

More important, you understood suddenly just how he managed to put together that triumphant coalition of his, ranging from the religious right to blue- collar factory workers, and which is now unravelling under Mr Bush. Even in his prime, Mr Reagan may never have looked entirely on the ball. But he was a nice guy, an optimist, who, even when his fortunes were lowest, exuded not an iota of malice.

'Whatever else history may say about me,' he said, 'I hope it will record I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears.' It could have been the epitaph of Reaganism - and how different from the mean-mouthed conservatism of these harsher times.

Half an hour earlier Pat Buchanan, Mr Reagan's old speech- writer, who had challenged Mr Bush in the primaries, had been at the rostrum. If Reagan will go down as illusory sunshine, Mr Buchanan is an all-too-real darkness. His flaying of Mr Clinton was politics as usual. Less so was his vision of God's own America on the brink of the Apocalypse.

No 'shining city on a hill' for him, just mobs torching the streets of Los Angeles. 'Block by block we must take back our cities, take back our culture and take back our country.' As an appeal to worst fears, Mr Buchanan's 25-minute exercise in nastiness took some beating.

Sadly, it is Mr Buchanan's vision, rather than Mr Reagan's, which better fits the Republican mood. For all they cheered the old boy, you felt the audience was a trifle bemused - was it once really like that? They are unlikely to hear him again. This was Mr Reagan's leave-taking of his country. The most telling moment came when he had finished. Stooped and weary, the great actor shuffled back from the rostrum for the last time. But then, just for a second he seem to want to return. Protectively, but resolutely, Nancy took him by the hand and pulled him towards the exit. Just like old times.

Suggested Topics
News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game