The Reagans and Astrology
The Reagans and Astrology(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
In May 1988, the late Donald T. Regan, secretary of the treasury (1981–85) and chief of staff (1985–87) for President Ronald Reagan, published For the Record, his account of his years in the Reagan White House. Regan’s description of the role Joan Quigley, first lady Nancy Reagan’s astrologer, played in the Reagan presidency became an occasion for the press to ridicule both astrology and the president. The New York Post, for instance, ran the headline “Astrologer Runs the White House.” According to Regan, astrology was a daily, sometimes an hourly, factor in Ronald Reagan’s schedule. In Regan’s book, he made it appear that this control over scheduling amounted to placing the president’s life—and consequently the American nation—under the control of Quigley.
Nancy Reagan’s memoir, My Turn, was published the following year. She devoted an entire chapter to a defense of her reliance on the science of the stars. Reagan defended herself by portraying astrology as a kind of emotional “pacifier.” She said, for example, that “each person has his own way of coping with trauma and grief, with the pain of life, and astrology was one of mine.” She also downplayed the role astrology had in the Reagan presidency, asserting that Quigley did nothing more than time events.
For her part, Quigley claimed that, in deference to the Reagans, she was reticent to talk about her relationship with the Reagan White House until My Turn appeared. Asserting that what Nancy Reagan had “left out about the way she used astrology and my ideas would fill a book,” she decided to write her own. What Does Joan Say? was published the next year. If My Turn underestimated the role the science of the stars played in the Reagan presidency, What Does Joan Say? seems to overstate astrology’s—or, at least, Quigley’s—role. Her book makes it appear not only that her advice was an essential ingredient in most of President Reagan’s successes but also that she was responsible for such important advice as persuading the president to stop viewing the Soviet Union as the “evil empire.” Quigley, in other words, portrayed herself as the pivotal influence behind the rapprochement between the United States and the Soviet block and, by implication, as responsible for the subsequent collapse of the iron curtain.
For astrologers, What Does Joan Say? raises broader issues. In the first place, the relationship between Quigley and the Reagans reminds astrologers that their science was founded by people who studied the stars for the benefit of powerful political figures. Thus, while some contemporary astrologers might condemn Quigley’s advice to Ronald Reagan (a president viewed as too right wing by the generally liberal astrology community), she clearly falls into the tradition of court astrologers of former eras—a tradition that nurtured and even gave birth to the type of astrology known today. What are the ethical ramifications of providing astrological information for political leaders? As astrology acquires greater acceptance in the larger society, these issues will become increasingly important to future generations of astrologers.
Another issue raised by the Quigley case concerns the way the practice of astrology is portrayed in What Does Joan Say?, which emphasizes electional astrology (determining or “electing” the appropriate times to initiate certain actions) almost to the exclusion of other branches of astrological science. Contemporary astrology has tended to go to the opposite extreme, downplaying the importance of such “elections” and focusing instead on the interpretation of clients’ personality and personality potentials. Thus, part of the importance of What Does Joan Say? is to remind astrologers of a powerful technique that has been in the background for a long time.