Rewriting Ronald Reagan
Table of Contents:
I. Reagan the Man
While most Americans appreciated Ronald Reagan‚Äôs love of country and common sense conservatism, the media elite scorned him as either a showman fooling his audience, or a dunce who was unfit for high office. As the media told the story, Reagan was an airhead living in a fantasy world, a mesmerizing Music Man fooling the public with a phony bill of goods, a man who was cruel or uncaring to poor people and a puppet for the greedy rich. Reporters often agonized over why the American public liked Reagan and could not see through the White House spell and share the media‚Äôs contemptuous view of him.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúPretty simplistic. Pretty old-fashioned. And I don‚Äôt think they have much application to what‚Äôs currently wrong or troubling a lot of people....Nor do I think he really understands the enormous difficulty a lot of people have in just getting through life, because he‚Äôs lived in this fantasy land for so long.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw speculating on Reagan‚Äôs values in Mother Jones, April 1983.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúThe mission that Reagan has embarked upon has nothing to do with his personal charm. He has set out to reverse the course of American government that was charted by Franklin Roosevelt. If F.D.R. explored the upper limits of what government could do for the individual, Reagan is testing the lower limits. Reagan‚Äôs opinions and policies would be enough in another time to have protesters marching in the streets, or worse. And yet something about Reagan soothes and unites ‚ÄĒ even though the effects of his programs may repel.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Essayist Lance Morrow in the July 7, 1986 Time magazine cover story, ‚ÄúWhy Is This Man So Popular?‚ÄĚ
‚Ė† ‚ÄúSo I think [Ronald Reagan] is going to have to pass two or three tests. The first is, will he get there, stand in front of the podium, and not drool?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ ABC White House reporter Sam Donaldson on a planned Reagan press conference, NBC‚Äôs Late Night with David Letterman, March 18, 1987.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúThe Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Title of 1989 book by Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent, and Gary Paul Gates, co-authors of The Palace Guard.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúThey [Reagan and Thatcher] quickly formed a bond that overcame their differences of age, gender and ‚ÄĒ many whisper ‚ÄĒ IQ scores.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Washington Post reporter David Broder, May 27, 1989.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúTo the self-indulgent age of the ‚Äô80s and to the characters that gave it special flavor at home ‚ÄĒ Oliver L. North and Ronald Reagan, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Arthur Laffer and his curve, the Yuppies and the leveraged buyout dealmakers ‚ÄĒ good riddance.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Former Washington Post editor Haynes Johnson, December 29, 1989.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúReagan‚Äôs approval ratings never put him in the top rank of most popular Presidents; that was always a myth. And his confectionary, heavily scripted presidency tended to lead the country backward.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Newsweek Senior Writer Jonathan Alter, December 31, 1991 news story.
‚Ė† ‚Äú[Bush] is about to make matters worse by hauling out Ronald Reagan at the Republican convention. Reagan has become a symbol of what went wrong in the ‚Äô80s. It‚Äôs like bringing the Music Man back to River City, a big mistake.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, August 1, 1992.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúI think the best evidence I can give that we do a lousy job covering politics is to look at the politicians: Ronald Reagan was President of us for eight years ‚ÄĒ Ronald Reagan! Reporters should have been writing for the entire eight years of his reign that this man was gone, out of it....He should have been covered as a clown.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ NBC reporter Bob Herbert during a panel discussion at Columbia‚Äôs Graduate School of Journalism in Fall 1992, as reported in a June 21, 1993 National Review article by Stephanie Gutmann. Herbert is currently a New York Times columnist.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúAll of us who covered the Reagans agreed that President Reagan was personable and charming, but I‚Äôm not so certain he was nice. It‚Äôs hard for me to think of anyone as nice when I hear him say ‚ÄėThe homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless.‚Äô To my mind, a President should care about all people, and he didn‚Äôt, which is why I will always feel Reagan lacked soul.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas in the July 1993 Good Housekeeping.
‚ÄúIn the plague years of the 1980s ‚ÄĒ that low decade of denial,
indifference, hostility, opportunism, and idiocy ‚ÄĒ government fiddled
and medicine diddled, and the media were silent or hysterical. A
gerontocratic Ronald Reagan took this [AIDS] plague less seriously than
Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn‚Äôt need the ghettos
and he didn‚Äôt want the gays.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ CBS Sunday Morning TV critic John Leonard, September 5, 1993. [MP3 Audio]
‚Ė† ‚ÄúI was a correspondent in the White House in those days, and my work which consisted of reporting on President Reagan‚Äôs success in making life harder for citizens who were not born rich, white, and healthy saddened me. My parents raised me to admire generosity and to feel pity. I had arrived in our nation‚Äôs capital [in 1981] during a historic ascendancy of greed and hard-heartedness.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ New York Times editorial page editor (and former Washington Bureau Chief) Howell Raines in his 1994 book Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs not debate his presidency, but his passing. As opposed to a man like Reagan, Nixon is, was highly regarded as a genuine statesman with a first-class mind.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Bryant Gumbel, April 26, 1994 Today.
‚Ė† ‚ÄúHow much did Reagan fool the American people and how much did he simply play into their wishes? Were they misled by the nature of his campaigning or were they led into ways they wanted to go? Was Reagan sort of a modern Pied Piper? It‚Äôs my instinct about it that he very successfully delayed the apprehension of reality by this country for about a decade. He made people feel that things were better than they were, that the external dangers were greater than they were.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Former PBS anchor Robert MacNeil in the 1995 Liz Cunningham book Talking Politics: Choosing the President in the Television Age.
‚Ė† Time‚Äôs Jack White: ‚ÄúAnd he was extraordinarily lucky in that he wasn‚Äôt brought down by the Iran-Contra scandal.‚ÄĚ
Columnist Charles Krauthammer: ‚ÄúOh, come on.‚ÄĚ
White: ‚Äú...It verged on treason. He was extraordinarily lucky on that. He tried to turn the clock back on civil rights. There‚Äôs a whole history of problems with this guy that some of us don‚Äôt join you in the view that he‚Äôs the most successful presidency.‚ÄĚ
Krauthammer: ‚Äú...He ushered in the collapse of the Soviet empire, which is the greatest achievement of the last 50 years.‚ÄĚ
Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas: ‚ÄúHe had kind of an intuitive idiot genius.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ September 25, 1999 Inside Washington. [MP3 Audio]
‚Ė† ‚ÄúGood morning. The Gipper was an airhead! That‚Äôs one of the
conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that‚Äôs drawing a
tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the
‚ÄĒ NBC co-host Katie Couric opening Today before an interview with Reagan biographer Edmund Morris, who actually wrote that President Reagan was ‚Äúan apparent airhead.‚ÄĚ He told Couric, ‚ÄúHe was a very bright man.‚ÄĚ [MP3 Audio]
‚Ė† Co-host Bryant Gumbel:
‚ÄúWell, later on this morning we‚Äôre going to be talking on this
President‚Äôs Day about this presidential survey. Who would you think
finished first?...Of all the Presidents when they did first to worst. Oh
c‚Äômon, you would know.‚ÄĚ
Co-host Jane Clayson: ‚ÄúRonald Reagan.‚ÄĚ
Gumbel, dropping his pen: ‚ÄúFirst?!?!‚ÄĚ
Clayson: ‚ÄúWho was it?‚ÄĚ
Gumbel: ‚ÄúNo! Reagan wasn‚Äôt even in the top ten. Abraham Lincoln. Maybe you‚Äôve heard of him.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Exchange on CBS‚Äôs The Early Show about C-SPAN poll of historians which ranked Reagan 11th, February 21, 2000.
‚ÄúI used to say I thought if you were down on your luck and you got
through the Secret Service, got in the Oval Office and said, ‚ÄėMr.
President, I‚Äôm down on my luck,‚Äô he would literally give you the shirt
off his back. And then he‚Äôd sit down in his undershirt and he‚Äôd sign
legislation throwing your kids off school lunch program, maybe your
parents off Social Security, and of course the Welfare Queen off of
‚Äď ABC‚Äôs Sam Donaldson, who covered the White House during the 1980s, on Good Morning America, June 11, 2004. [MP3 Audio]
‚Ė†‚ÄĚReagan, like just about every other actor who ever passed through Hollywood, had a very hard time viewing sex as something to repress. This genial hedonism would later express itself in Reagan‚Äôs embrace of supply-side economics. Tax cuts would pay for themselves, he told himself, and when they didn‚Äôt, he left to his two White House successors the drudge work of reducing the huge budget deficit.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄĒ Former Newsweek reporter and U.S. News & World Report editor Timothy Noah in a Washington Post book review, March 29, 2007.