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Operation Coffee Cup

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Years ago, a young agency assistant asked me if Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. Today, young people are tweeting and asking, “Who was Osama Bin Laden, and why should I care about him?” Some people just weren’t around during the reign of the Fab Four or just don’t pay attention to current events or history.

With that backdrop, I would like to suggest that you listen to an extraordinary audio recording made by Ronald Reagan — a recording that in many ways is more relevant today than it was when it was recorded 50 years ago. Let me set the stage …

The year was 1961.

John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president of the United States, and Jimmy Hoffa was elected president of the Teamsters Union. The L.A. Chargers moved to San Diego, and Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. The best film Oscar went to “West Side Story,” and Elvis had a number one hit with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

Ronald Reagan, a handsome actor (see G.E. Theater), was a year away from becoming a Republican. And in Congress, the King-Anderson bill, an early version of Medicare, was being debated. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the bill and constructed a very public program to defeat it.

What is less known is that there was a parallel, grassroots program operated by the AMA’s “Women’s Auxiliary,” comprised of 82,000 wives of doctors. The program became known as Operation Coffee Cup.

The idea behind Operation Coffee Cup was to arrange a series of coffee klatches hosted by members of the Auxiliary. The women had been instructed to downplay the get-togethers, portraying them more as spontaneous neighborhood events. They were instructed to “Drop a note — just say, ‘Come for coffee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I want to play the Ronald Reagan record for you.”