President Reagan tells Nancy one morning:
“I had a really, really bad dream at night. I was at the 30th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. The chairman announced the next orator: “The First Secretary of the Alaska Regional Party Committee, Comrade Reagan, Ronald Johnovich!”
“And what did you do?”
“And I… I didn’t have my speech ready!”
I only grasped the double irony years after hearing the joke. Firstly — and obviously, to the teenage me, — most Communist leaders were poor impromptu orators, so not having one’s speech ready meant a complete disaster. (Although Yeltsin was rumored to have the gift of the gab; his rival Ligachev surely did.) Public speaking skills were not essential for a party career; those of management and ass-licking certainly were.
And secondly, Reagan was, politely speaking, the best at reading prepared speeches. Improvisation was not his specialty.
The 26th Communist Party Congress was in 1981; the 30th would have been in 2001.