"What Does Joan Say?": The question that the president habitually asked
October 25, 2014 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Joan Quigley has passed away on Tuesday at the age of 87. Brought on as an advisor in response to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, she had been in contact with the First Lady up to three times a day via private lines set up for her at the White House and Camp David. The President is said to have asked his wife "What does Joan say?" habitually. Donald Regan, Chief of Staff in the Reagan White House, wrote that "Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advance with (Quigley)". She was an astrologer.
posted by Flunkie (46 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The SF Chron obit for her was irresponsibly generous. Complete with an uncritical comment that "Mrs. Quigley, a Vassar graduate, believed in the absolute science of astrology, which in Greek means wisdom of the stars."

I think the kindest thing you could say about her influence is that it was apparently mostly harmless.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 PM on October 25, 2014 [14 favorites]


Her relationship with Mrs. Reagan really began in 1981, after the first lady asked her if she could have predicted the assassination attempt against him that March. She said yes, if she had been looking at her charts at the time.

Hindsight being 20:20 and all that.
posted by arcticseal at 7:04 PM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


RIP, Reagan's Brain.
posted by notsnot at 7:06 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the kindest thing you could say about her influence is that it was apparently mostly harmless

Falwell, Robertson, Dobson...of all the mystical mumbo jumbo people that Reagan listened to, she definitely caused the least harm.
posted by DGStieber at 7:08 PM on October 25, 2014 [15 favorites]


No biggie. Canada had a PM with the same tendencies. In 1926.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:27 PM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


She certainly did less harm than the voodoo practitioners who were Reagan's economic advisers (and whose curse we haven't emerged from yet).
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:38 PM on October 25, 2014 [24 favorites]


(and whose curse we haven't emerged from yet).

I am seriously asking...what curse? Wall street deregulation?
posted by Benway at 7:47 PM on October 25, 2014


Sally Quinn's astrologer, Svetlana, had a regular column in the Washington Post. DC has always had a number of unconventional "advisers".
posted by Ideefixe at 7:53 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, one of the things I heard is that she was one of the people responsible for the thawing of the Cold War. That is, she advised the First Lady that Ronnie should reach out to Gorbachev, and Navy in turn advised Reagan, who was already shaken by seeing The Day After, to extend an olive branch.

Now, imagine if Ronnie had just continued to listen to his rational advisors, who believed nuclear war was winnable...
posted by happyroach at 7:59 PM on October 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


I am seriously asking...what curse? Wall street deregulation?

Supply-side economics, the trickle-down effect and belief in a particular shape of the Laffer Curve presumably. Even the first George Bush called Reagan's policies "voodoo economics".
posted by sobarel at 7:59 PM on October 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm the President
of a family of nuts
every other one
posted by Mblue at 8:14 PM on October 25, 2014


My experience with a lot of "astrologers" and "psychics" is they are a lot like therapists in that you only hear what you want to hear, so their advice is mostly harmless and self-rationalizing.
posted by saucysault at 8:28 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I assume she saw it coming.
posted by notme at 8:32 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:36 PM on October 25, 2014


Aw. I read "What Does Joan Say?" At the library and it was pretty interesting/entertaining.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:48 PM on October 25, 2014


After his victory in 1966, Mr. Regan wrote, Reagan delayed his inauguration by nine minutes, until 12:10 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1967, on the astrological advice of Miss Quigley. Reagan denied it, and so did his press secretary, who said the reason for the delay was to prevent the departing governor, a Democrat, from making any last-minute appointments.

Could someone explain this to me? It seems like that decision would give the out-going governor 9 more minutes (or at best, the same amount of time) than if Reagan had been inaugurated at 12:01.
posted by dhens at 8:53 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would generally be in favor of letting Ronald Reagan rest in peace, but the number of people who want to resurrect his corpse and pray to it as a god mean we have to keep killing zombie Reagan again and again, along with anyone who might incline us to think sentimentally about zombie Reagan. Sorry about that Joan, but you connected up with a bad bunch.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:27 PM on October 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Poor Joan. Must have been a real burden to collect $3000 a month from the POTUS. I don't see anything sentimental about this story. It is horrifying to me that an astrologist had ANY influence on presidental decisions.

It is insane.
posted by futz at 10:15 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is horrifying to me that an astrologist had ANY influence on presidental decisions.

Just add it to the long list of other influences. Actually, if my politician had to be influenced by either corporate lobbyists or astrologists, I'd pick the latter.
posted by sylvanshine at 10:18 PM on October 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


I doubt that lobbyists have a private phone line to the white house/camp david and direct access to the first lady several times a day.
posted by futz at 10:31 PM on October 25, 2014


Even a stopped astrological cycle is right twice a galactic rotation.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:32 PM on October 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


VO: After Joan graduated, she wasn't sure what to do with her life.

Joan: No one wants to hire art history majors!

Mother: You need to find yourself a direction, young lady!

VO: ...until she hatched a scheme...

Joan: (looking at horoscopes) Astrology?

VO: ...so crazy....

Merv Griffin: Joan, I'd like to introduce you to Ronald Reagan.

VO: ... it just might work.

Joan: (to cadre of multiethnic friends) Let's do this!

(KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" begins playing)

VO: NOW she's about to find out...

Joan: I foresee...

(Joan's eyes dart to the side, alighting on a toy airplane)

Joan: ...an air traffic controller's strike?

VO: ..that sometimes astrology...

Reagan: You've done it again!

VO: is right where you least expect it!

Joan: I guess I'm just gifted!

Nancy Reagan: (popping out of comically oversized gift box) I'LL say!

VO: "What Does The Joan Say", coming to theatres Fall of 2014!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:32 PM on October 25, 2014 [35 favorites]


Canada had a PM with the same tendencies. In 1926.

Some German politicians in the 1930's also had a mystical bent.
posted by ovvl at 10:43 PM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Presumably the inspiration for the character Gail Andrews, the presidential astrologer in the book 'mostly harmless'?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:06 AM on October 26, 2014


"She certainly did less harm than the voodoo practitioners who were Reagan's economic advisers (and whose curse we haven't emerged from yet)."
What an either thoughtless or shitty thing to say about Voodoo. Compassion for the less fortunate is a central feature of it.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:59 AM on October 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


Doonesbury is relevant. (storyline continues for five more days)

Some notes:

"Mommy" in these strips refers, of course, to First Lady Nancy Reagan; it was the President's favorite "pet name" for his wife.

"Marlin" is Marlin Fitzwater, Ronald Reagan's acting/deputy press secretary at the time. James Brady, having been gravely wounded in the attempt on Reagan's life, remained press secretary, albeit in name only, for the entirety of the Reagan administration.

The final strip refers obliquely to a recurring plot in which Boopsie, the strip's resident new-age flake, "channels" a twenty thousand-year-old warrior named Hunk-ra. This was itself a satiric reference to real-life shyster J. Z. Knight, and her claimed channeling of Ramtha.
posted by The Confessor at 2:44 AM on October 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


Just add it to the long list of other influences. Actually, if my politician had to be influenced by either corporate lobbyists or astrologists, I'd pick the latter.

The fault, Dear Reagan, lies not in the stars, but in the strategies of Capitalism.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:47 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more I read about stuff like this the more it baffles me that Margaret Thatcher held Reagan in such high esteem. Despite the fact that she was utterly evil, Thatcher was extremely bright (chemistry degree from Oxford, worked as a research chemist and then became a barrister) as well as being shrewd. She was known to have no truck with anything as fanciful as astrology. I wonder if she regarded Reagan as some kind of idiot savant? She surely couldn't have thought of him as any kind of intellectual equal.
posted by essexjan at 3:01 AM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]



The combination of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and the current House majority are going to prove too much for Democracy to overcome this time. I really feel for you youngsters who will bear the brunt of the future.
posted by notreally at 4:22 AM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


It is horrifying to me that an astrologist had ANY influence on presidental decisions.

Why not? After the Randians and the Rapturists, and astrologer sounds almost quaint and harmless.
posted by kewb at 5:34 AM on October 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


I doubt that lobbyists have a private phone line to the white house/camp david and direct access to the first lady several times a day.

Maybe not currently, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it had happened.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:58 AM on October 26, 2014


Reagan's dependence on an astrologer always seemed like the most Hollywood thing about him.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2014


> J. Z. Knight, and her claimed channeling of Ramtha.

I thought Boopsie was patterned for Jane Roberts who channeled Seth?
posted by bukvich at 7:06 AM on October 26, 2014


I wonder if she regarded Reagan as some kind of idiot savant? She surely couldn't have thought of him as any kind of intellectual equal.

This quote from the Telegraph suggests that, bright though she was, Thatcher was possibly not a great judge of character:

"Savile became a friend of Margaret Thatcher – spending New Year’s Eve with her for 11 years in a row."

Perhaps more significantly, Thatcher's greatest asset was not her intelligence, but that she was, like Blair (who had a similarly bizarre connection with his US counterpart), a politician for whom reality was less important than vision. For such dangerous people, doing what feels right is much more important than the constraints of mere data. Occasionally, in the right circumstances, such people become heroes; more often they are monsters.
posted by howfar at 7:16 AM on October 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


"The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation were awarded a huge research
grant to design and produce synthetic personalities to order. The
results were uniformly disastrous. All the "people" and "personalities"
turned out to be amalgams of characteristics which simply could not
co-exist in naturally occurring life forms. Most of them were just poor
pathetic misfits, but some were deeply, deeply dangerous. Dangerous
because they didn't ring alarm bells in other people. They could walk
through situations the way that ghosts walk through walls, because no
one spotted the danger.
"The most dangerous of all were three identical ones - they were put
in this hold, to be blasted, with this ship, right out of this universe.
They are not evil, in fact they are rather simple and charming. But they
are the most dangerous creatures that ever lived because there is
nothing they will not do if allowed, and nothing they will not be
allowed to do..."

posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:35 AM on October 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


>> J. Z. Knight, and her claimed channeling of Ramtha.

> I thought Boopsie was patterned for Jane Roberts who channeled Seth?


If this thread turns into a discussion of the many and various channelers of the 1980s, I will not be displeased.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:04 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


For such dangerous people, doing what feels right is much more important than the constraints of mere data.

It's that Yeats thing:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And why my dreams of evidence-based governance are doomed in a political system that rewards the professing of vision and absolute certainty.
posted by sobarel at 8:27 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could someone explain this to me? It seems like that decision would give the out-going governor 9 more minutes

This was the administration that told you cars pollute less than trees, so don't expect basic logic or anything.


The bulk of Reganite magical thinking is not what Ronald thought about astrology, but what conservatives think about him. Namely thier fantasy he was thinking anything at all.
posted by clarknova at 8:31 AM on October 26, 2014


What, no mention of Rasputin? Note: I do not advocate that astrologists who advise presidents be poisoned, stabbed, shot and thrown into an icy river.
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on October 26, 2014


essexjan: I wonder if she regarded Reagan as some kind of idiot savant? She surely couldn't have thought of him as any kind of intellectual equal.

Despite the articles and not a few books that came out after their deaths singing the sentimental praises of the unique and "special" relationship between the two, this perhaps unintentionally revealing line from Thatcher sums up their relationship better than anything: "It all worked because he was more afraid of me than I was of him."

So, maybe not idiot savant as much as useful idiot.

benito.strauss: I would generally be in favor of letting Ronald Reagan rest in peace, but the number of people who want to resurrect his corpse and pray to it as a god mean we have to keep killing zombie Reagan again and again, along with anyone who might incline us to think sentimentally about zombie Reagan.

Not to mention those who want to resurrect zombie Reagan and name a group of seceding states after him.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was just re-reading an early Iain M. Banks short story, where he has this military-industrial oligarch reading magazines titled Is God a Businessman? and It Pays to Increase your Prayer Power. I thought to myself, "Hmm, that's a bit heavy handed". But no, it turns out Banks just knew the 1980's better than I did.
posted by Balna Watya at 4:58 PM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Note: I do not advocate that astrologists who advise presidents be poisoned, stabbed, shot and thrown into an icy river.

What, you won't take necessary action to defend your sovereign lord and master from the menace of evil counsel?

My ancestors spent hundreds of years in Britain risking blood and treasure (mostly other people's but still..) to keep that everlasting threat at bay.
posted by ocschwar at 10:11 AM on October 27, 2014


sobarel: It's that Yeats thing:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And why my dreams of evidence-based governance are doomed in a political system that rewards the professing of vision and absolute certainty.


Yes; this times a thousand. Other thinkers have also used Yeats to describe the impact of Reagan:
Like Ronald Reagan falling asleep forever more,
dreaming of horses and
dreaming of nuclear war.
This is where we are tonight,
everybody under survelliance from a satellite.
You can be the first one on your block to die.

And there's a plague of locusts upon us
and there's a nightmare in the swarm.
And there's a lion out in the desert
slouching to Bethlehem to be born again.

Backstreet's back, alright.
Seriously, that song is amazing.
posted by spaltavian at 12:46 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Joan says
I'm done with Sergio
He treats me like a rag doll
posted by Bugbread at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


If this thread turns into a discussion of the many and various channelers of the 1980s, I will not be displeased.

They annoy me. But fit the usual train, but week, back in the 80si was working on a science fiction setting where powerful espers could tap into and control interdimensional energy. Naturally I came up with a simple, catchy name for them...And then I found out what Channelers were.

I never could think of a better term, damn it. And if I had I'd...I'd...be bigger than Matt Howarth now. Channelers ruined my chance at fame and fortune.
posted by happyroach at 2:53 PM on October 27, 2014


I thoroughly and enthusiastically second spaltavian. That song IS amazing.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:06 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


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