02/06/2014 03:33 pm ET Updated Apr 08, 2014

Reagan, Sochi, and What America Is All About

The nice coincidence of Ronald Reagan's birthday and the opening of the Olympics reminds me of a wonderful story daughter Maureen Reagan told me in Reykjavik, Iceland. We were there in October 1996, on the tenth anniversary of the summit, which is the focus of my upcoming book Reagan at Reykjavik.

Sitting in the Hofdi House -- the reputedly haunted house, which hosted the Reagan-Gorbachev sessions -- I asked Maureen over a commemorative dinner whether she had any stories of her father, private stories, ones that hadn't already been told and retold.

At first, she couldn't think of any. So we listened instead to the Icelandic officials droning on. After they finished, after dessert and while second cups of coffee were being poured, she perked up and said she had remembered one.

It happened in the summer of 1984, when she was still living in the White House. Nancy was upstairs reading when Maureen heard her father call out that he was back, back from his LA trip.

After she greeted him -- "Hi, dad. How did it go?" -- he mentioned that he had been at the Olympic opening.

"Yes, I saw you on TV out there. How did you like it?"

He liked it just fine.

What, she wondered, did he like in particular?

After some shaking of that head, he said, "Oh, I know. It was the Opening Ceremonies."

What about that did he like in particular?

"Well, you see all the boys and girls marching behind the China flag, and they're all Chinese. And then boys and girls marching behind the German flag, and they're all Germans. And boys and girls from African countries marching behind their flags, and they're all Africans."

Okay, Maureen wondered. Where are we going on this?

"And then," Reagan said more excitedly, "you see the boys and girls marching behind the American flag. And they look like all the others. Our boys and girls look like the whole world!"

I thought then, as I do now, that if you had to summarize what America is all about -- why we're still what Reagan like to call "the city on the hill" -- that's about as good a way as any I've heard.