More ev­i­dence of Rea­gan’s range and in­sight

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

By the time he left of­fice, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan had ac­com­plished two of the three ma­jor goals he had set for him­self. The first was get­ting the econ­omy back on track and ex­pand­ing it us­ing pri­mar­ily growthori­ented tax poli­cies. Sec­ond was a strat­egy to steadily push the Soviet Union to the brink of bank­ruptcy in an arms race un­til Mikhail Gorbachev cried “un­cle” and ended the Cold War.

His third ob­jec­tive, to curb the growth of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, brought mixed re­sults. Nev­er­the­less, the other two were sig­nal suc­cesses.

Many aca­demic lib­er­als and left-lean­ing me­dia com­men­ta­tors could not bring them­selves to give him credit for this. They clung to the be­lief he was an “empty suit,” with a per­sua­sive speak­ing style, but other­wise de- void of in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity and de­tached from the de­tails of pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship.

Then in 2001 came the book “Rea­gan in His Own Hand” by Martin and An­nelise An­der­son and Kiron Skin­ner, schol­ars at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion.

They had gained ac­cess to Rea­gan’s hand­writ­ten scripts for sev­eral hun­dred of his daily ra­dio com­men­taries be­tween 1975 and 1979.

The top­ics were widerang­ing and, as they put it, he was some­thing of “a one­man think tank.” I can at­test that he re­searched nearly all of the hun­dreds of scripts he wrote.

(I was his prin­ci­pal as­sis­tant on the ra­dio pro­ject.)

In his of­fice, at home and on his many flights to speak­ing en­gage­ments he used his time to read and write.

Now, 10 years later, his­to­rian Dou­glas Brink­ley has given us fur­ther ev­i­dence of the range of Rea­gan’s cu­rios­ity about the world in “Ron­ald Rea­gan: The Notes.” Mr. Brink­ley re­ports that in early 2010, staff mem­bers at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Foun­da­tion came across a card­board box hand-la­beled “R.R.’s desk.” It con­tained batches of his 4x6-inch cards, like the ones on which he wrote (in his own short­hand) his “stump” speeches over the years.

Mr. Brink­ley was called in to re­view and or­ga­nize them. As he put it, “These notes re­veal the real Rea­gan — a fiercely patriotic, pro-democ­racy avatar of lim­ited gov­er­nance.”

I re­call many times on flights with him when he was pre­par­ing notes for an up­com­ing speech, his brief­case was filled with batches of these notes, each held to­gether by a rub­ber band and sep­a­rated by sub­ject mat­ter.

He’d pull a card out and tuck it into the cards he was or­ga­niz­ing for his speech.

On the next flight he might pull out the spe­cial ci­ta­tions and re­place them with new ones for the next stop.

As edi­tor, Mr. Brink­ley has or­ga­nized the Rea­gan “Notes” un­der sev­eral use­ful head­ings:

On The Nation, On Lib­erty, On War, On The Peo­ple, On Re­li­gion, The World, On Char­ac­ter, On Po­lit­i­cal The­ater and Hu­mor.

There is also a glos­sary iden­ti­fy­ing many of the peo­ple who were sources of his quo­ta­tions. Here is a sam­pling: The oft-quoted dec­la­ra­tion of John Winthrop on the deck of Ara­bella off the Mas­sachusetts coast in 1630:

“We shall be as a city on the hill.” From Thomas Jef­fer­son: “The pol­icy of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is to leave their cit­i­zens free, nei­ther re­strain­ing nor aid­ing them in their pur­suits.”

From Cicero, some 2,000 years ago:

“The bud­get should be bal­anced, the trea­sury should be re­filled, the pub­lic debt should be re­duced, the ar­ro­gance of of­fi­cial­dom should be tem­pered and con­trolled.”

There are hun­dreds of sources within this col­lec­tion of quo­ta­tions and ob­ser­va­tions.

The sources are eclec­tic, and some are sur­pris­ing: Mao, Lenin, Pravda, Goebbels.

He put their words to use to un­der­score the im­por­tance of lib­erty.

Any­one look­ing for a joke with which to warm up an au­di­ence will find a trove of pos­si­bil­i­ties here, such as, “A protest march is like a tantrum, only bet­ter or­ga­nized.”

And, “Why can’t life’s prob­lems hit us when we’re 18 and know ev­ery­thing?” And: “Most peo­ple’s fi­nan­cial prob­lems are very sim­ple — they are short of money.”

This is a book to re­turn to of­ten and sam­ple the col­lected wis­dom found there that but­tressed a re­mark­able man’s vi­sion.

Peter Hannaford is a mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee on the Present Dan­ger. He held se­nior po­si­tions in Ron­ald Rea­gan’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and in the Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

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