By Edward Snow
Is the American public ready for another White House astrologer advising the President on timing issues and other matters of state?
In a thoughtful obituary in the New York Times, reporter Douglas Martin broke the news that socialite astrologer Joan Quigley of San Francisco, 87, had passed. Miss Quigley is best remembered as the astrologer who circuitously passed along astrological advice to President Ronald Reagan through her friend, First Lady Nancy Reagan.
In his 1988 memoir, Martin reports that Donald T. Regan, the President’s former White House chief of staff, revealed what he called the administration’s “most closely guarded secret.” Although he didn’t know her name, Regan said the astrologer had set the time for summit meetings, presidential debates, Reagan’s 1985 cancer surgery, State of the Union messages and more. Without an O.K. from the astrologer, Air Force One did not take off!
Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of these revelations, both the President and First Lady downplayed the astrologer’s influence. However, according to Donald Regan, “virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as chief of staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.”
Regan also served as Treasury Secretary under President Reagan and had been the chief executive of Merrill Lynch. In his book, “For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington,” he noted that Miss Quigley made her recommendations through phone calls to the first lady, often two or three a day. Mrs. Reagan set up private lines for her at the White House and at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Reportedly, the astrologer was paid a monthly retainer of $3,000 for her work as a consultant.
Joan Quigley had worked on one of the President’s campaigns for Governor in California but didn’t begin surreptitiously advising the President until after his brush with death at the hands of a deranged would-be assassin in March, 1981. The astrologer reportedly sealed the deal by assuring Mrs. Reagan that astrology could help the First Family avoid incidents like this in the future.
The public’s response to Donald Regan’s disclosures was predictable. Religious leaders condemned astrology as a “devil’s tool.” And members of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) railed at the idea that government decisions might have been informed by fantasy. Among the more vocal critics was celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan. “Some portion of the decision-making that influences the future of our civilization is plainly in the hands of charlatans,” he groused.
With the Reagans in denial and engaged in damage control it’s probably safe to assume that a fair assessment of the astrologer’s work product was never made. But it does appear her advice to the President may have impacted one of the most important turning points in the Cold War standoff between the East and West.
The President had already left office in 1989 when CBS Evening News interviewed Miss Quigley. She told the network that based on his horoscope, her conclusion was that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev was intelligent and open to new ideas. The astrologer went on to say she persuaded Mrs. Reagan to press her husband to abandon his view of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also spoke favorably of the Kremlin leader at about this time, noting that Gorbachev was “somebody I can do business with.” Still, by doing her part and letting the President know the Russian leader could be trusted, the astrologer clearly came down on the right side of history. One takeaway from this revelation: she probably wasn’t simply telling the President what he wanted to hear.
According to reporter Doug Martin, New York Times columnist Molly Ivins offered this interpretation: “There the poor woman was, sitting in San Francisco with full accountability for world peace, and none of us even knew her name.”
Miss Quigley clearly believed she had the President’s ear. The title of her 1990 memoir, “What Does Joan Say?” is the question she said the President had habitually asked wife Nancy.
The denials of a master politician aside, the President’s second term went so incredibly well even his detractors had to admit his timing was impeccable. So much so that when he left office he was being called the Teflon President; none of the bad stuff stuck, not even the fact that he apparently called on an astrologer to help guide the nation’s fortunes during a tumultuous period in American history.
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