President-elect Barack Obama called to apologize to former first lady Nancy Reagan on Friday after he made an errant joke at her expense in his first post-election press conference.
Mr. Obama, answering a question about which ex-presidents’ advice he’s sought, said he’s “spoken to all of them that are living.” He went on, but appeared to realize he probably didn’t need the “living” qualifier, and explained, “I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.”
The joke at the expense of the ailing former first lady rubbed some who heard it the wrong way, and within hours Mr. Obama said he was wrong.
“President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference,” spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a statement Friday evening. “The president-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share, and they had a warm conversation.”
Mr. Obama seemed to get his facts backwards in making the joke, aiming at Mrs. Reagan when it was actually Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who wrote in her syndicated column during her time as first lady that she occasionally held imaginary conversations with long-dead first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
“I occasionally have imaginary conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt to try to figure out what she would do in my shoes,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in a June 1996 column. “She usually responds by telling me to buck up or at least to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.”
Mrs. Reagan, by contrast, consulted an astrologer friend about auspicious days for scheduling events. The White House said the practice began after the attempt on President Reagan’s life.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library didn’t respond to a message asking about the incident.
After an election heavy on personality, in which the candidates made headway with voters on “The View,” “The Daily Show” and celebrity gossip blogs, maybe it was fitting Mr. Obama found himself explaining what books he’s reading, what kind of dog he’s going to get and which presidents he has talked to for advice in response to a question from Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet.
She asked: “I’m wondering what you’re doing to get ready. Have you spoke to any living ex-presidents, what books you might be reading? Everyone wants to know, what kind of dog are you going to buy for your girls? Have you decided on a private or public school for your daughters?”
Mr. Obama said the dog — something he promised his daughters on election night — is a “major issue” in their household. They are looking for a breed that is hypoallergenic because of his daughter Malia’s allergies.
“Our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” he said, referring to his being the child of a white American woman and a black Kenyan man. “So whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household.”