- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

First lady Nancy Reagan was better known for her shrewd political instincts than her policy chops, except when it came to her fight against drug abuse.

Her “Just Say No” campaign, which she continued to promote after leaving the White House in 1989, raised awareness about the dangers of drug use for children and teens, prompting the creation of thousands of clubs in schools nationwide.

Mrs. Reagan said the idea for “Just Say No,” a phrase that has since entered popular iconography, came from a talk she gave at an elementary school in Oakland, California.

“A little girl raised her hand,” she recalled, “and said, ‘Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’ And I said, ‘Well, you just say no.’ And there it was born. I think people thought we had an advertising agency over who dreamed that up — not true.”

As part of her anti-drug push, Mrs. Reagan met with Pope John Paul II in 1987 and made appearances on popular television shows “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Punky Brewster.”

She spearheaded two international “Just Say No” policy conferences, one of which was held at the United Nations.

The “Just Say No” campaign ultimately became a target for opponents of the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs, but also came as evidence of the changing role of the first lady. Most presidents’ wives had been involved in home-based projects such as beautifying or refurbishing the White House.

Betty Ford changed that by advocating on behalf of the failed Equal Rights Amendment, and Rosalynn Carter followed up by focusing on mental health. Despite being criticized on the left as a throwback to the pre-feminism times, Mrs. Reagan continued the trajectory with her anti-drug crusade as well as her involvement in her husband’s personnel and political decisions.

Besides “Just Say No,” Mrs. Reagan also launched a policy initiative to promote foster grandparents, result in about 19,000 such grandparents participating in the lives of 65,000 children in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library.

Reagan biographer Craig Shirley recalled her anti-drug work as well as her commitment to welcoming returning prisoners of wars from Vietnam, as well as “bringing grace and dignity back to the White House.”

Former Secretary of State James Baker, who also served as Mr. Reagan’s chief of staff, praised Mrs. Reagan for her “extraordinarily fine, sensitive communications antenna.”

“She did not insert herself into every policy decision in the White House, but on the big ticket items, we on the staff always knew if you had Nancy Reagan on your side, you had a hell of a lot better chance of seeing what you wanted to see accomplished,” Mr. Baker said Sunday on Fox News.

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