Tags: The | Reagan | Knew

The Reagan I Knew

Tuesday, 05 February 2002 12:00 AM

Well, thank you, Jim. I just want to say I don't know that guy at all. I'm real pleased to be here and it's just an honor to have Jim Miller introduce me, first of all, because it's always nice to have somebody with less hair. And secondly, because if there was really a dedicated, true blue Reaganite in the Reagan White House, it was Jim Miller. If Ronald Reagan had been lucky enough to have everybody in his White House with the same dedication and the same principles as Jim Miller, why, a great President would have been even a greater President.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be here this morning, but then I'm always pleased when I get a chance to talk to fellow conservatives. But I look around this room, and I know some of you have heard this before, because one of the things I learned from Ronald Reagan a long time ago is it's easier to change audiences than it is to change speeches. So, I make the same speech. And, for those of you who've heard it before, I also remember a little thing that Reagan used to talk about. He would talk about Dean Martin going over to Las Vegas, and he had an act in one of these cocktail lounges. And, after going out there every day for a couple of weeks, or every evening for a couple of weeks, and giving the same line of patter, he got tired of it. And so he goes out one day and begins to change it. And he's halfway through and this little lady in the audience jumps up and she says, "That isn't the way you said it last night."

So, having learned my lesson from one of the great speakers our time, why, you get the same speech. And, those of you who have heard it before, you're excused if you wish to be.

When I was invited to speak here today, I said, "Sure, I'd just love to, but is it all right if I talk about Ronald Reagan?" And they said, "Well, that's what we want you to do." And I said, "It's a good thing, because I was going to do it anyway." You know, there is a hunger in this land to hear about him. He's been gone for over eleven years now, and I think people miss him today more than ever. I don't think there's many people in this country who are as loved and respected and admired as he is today, or that there's any Republican president, at least in this century, who is more loved and admired, and that includes Warren Harding.

It's funny, but Americans who were grown when he was in office want to hear about him again. They want to be reassured about him. And so many Americans who were kids or not even born when he was first elected, twenty years ago, want to know about him, too. Because he's a unique figure in our political history. I know he wasn't perfect, and I'm sure there are some of you out there who thought he was a little less perfect than I do. But, that's life. And, I know he made mistakes and I know there are people who think he wasn't all he could have been. But, I always have a question to ask them. Who would you have replaced him with? Who would have done more to restore the American spirit, the belief that Americans can do anything they put their mind to? The spirit of optimism that he re-installed in this land and that still reigns. Who else would have stood against the big taxers in Congress and shoved supply side economics down their throat, with the help of people like Jim Miller? And, make the last years of the twentieth century the most prosperous in our history, and believe you me, it was Ronald Reagan, not Slick Willy, who was responsible for that.

Name me one other man who would have stood against the tide of communism and rolled it back. Well, maybe Margaret Thatcher, if she'd been an American, and if she hadn't insisted on wearing skirts. But, no, he wasn't perfect. But, I miss him, and America misses him, and I think the world misses him, too. But, time goes by and he's gone, and the old Reaganites are dying off. Jim is on his last legs down there. Or, they're going home or, in some cases, even switching parties. And, there aren't that many of us left who knew him in the olden days before he became president, or even before, without firing a shot, he destroyed the Soviet Union and won the Cold War. That's so far in the past now that, when you talk about winning the Cold War, the young people think it means you're taking zinc tablets.

I am, purely through the luck of the draw, one of the earliest Reaganites. I like to think of myself as the oldest, next to Nancy, who keeps getting younger, the oldest living Reaganite both in terms of age and service. I joined Reagan's campaign for governor, in February of 1966, and served in every one of his campaigns after that, except his second gubernatorial campaign, when I was in Washington trying to keep Dick Nixon out of trouble. Failed again.

I also worked in his governor's office and in his White House. I had two heroes in my life, and Ronald Reagan is one of them, and the other one is Ted Williams, but I'm not going to talk about baseball here. I look at what's happening to the Baltimore Orioles and I'm elated that the guy who owns them, who's a liberal Democrat, is getting his comeuppance.

I'd like to start off today with one of Ronald Reagan's favorite jokes. Because, as I said, he loved jokes and he liked to make his points with jokes and with stories and anecdotes. And I remember, of course, when that great Republican senator, Bob Packwood, went out and complained that all Reagan would do is tell stories. And, he wanted somebody in the White House who was smarter than Ronald Reagan. So, Bob Packwood, unfortunately, never made it. I think that some women got in his way.

But, his favorite joke is about this little old lady who'd been a Republican all her life. And she was getting very old and weak and she knew she didn't have much longer to live. And so she called her grandson to her and she said, "Sonny, go out and get me a registrar of voters. I wish to change my registration to Democrat." You know, the kid as aghast and he said, "But Granny, you've been a Republican all your life." He said, "Your parents before you were Republicans, your grandparents voted for Abraham Lincoln. Why? Why now?" And she says, "Well, Sonny, as you know, I'm getting old and I'm going to die one of these days, and if I die, better one of them than one of us."

So anyway, I feel the same way. I'm going to digress just a minute here. I wasn't going to take this time, but I just love this little part, so you're just going to have to put up with me a little longer than usual. I used to tell people when they asked me why I'm a Republican, I said it's because Republicans tend to leave me alone more than Democrats do. And, the keyword there, of course, was "tend." Republicans also want to butt into my life too much. But, anyway, a friend of mine then passed on to me a quote from an old Massachusetts senator named George F. Hoar, that's H-O-A-R, for those of you who wondered. And, I want to read it to you. Because what he said, I think, will tell you why I'm a Republican and why you are and, if you are not, why you should be.

He said, "The men who do the work of piety and charity in our churches, the men who own and till their own farms, the men who went to war and saved their nation's honor, by the natural law of their being, find their place in the Republican Party. While, the old slave owner and slave driver, the saloonkeeper,, the ballot box stuffer, the criminal class of the great cities, the men who cannot read or write, by the natural law of their being, find their congenial place in the Democratic Party." So, you see, I really haven't had much choice.

But seriously, I am a Republican because, like Ronald Reagan, I believe that freedom is America's most important product, while most Democrats and too many Republicans are too willing to trade freedom for security. Ronald Reagan believed strongly in freedom, not only for Americans, but for all peoples.

Now most people are not aware of it, because he didn't wear it on his sleeve, but Ronald Reagan was a devout Christian. A strong believer in the need of, and the need for, the power of prayer. And he believed that God had put this country here, between two oceans, for a very special purpose. And, that purpose was to be a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world. And he was determined that it would be just that.

He was also convinced that God had spared him from that assassin's bullet and - by the way, we're never going to let that guy out of that nut house, I'll tell you this. But he was convinced that God had spared him for a very special purpose. And he didn't know what it was then, but I suspect if he were well today, he would think he was put here to be the instrument for the destruction of the Soviet Empire. Now he was unique among politicians for a number of reasons. Most important to me was that he never got a fat head, never got self-important, never saw the time when he thought he was better than anyone else. You could always talk to him, disagree with him, kid with him. And he was just one of the guys. I remember one time, Tony Dolan, who was one of his speechwriters, and the president and myself were going up to the living quarters. And I've even forgotten the occasion. But I remember what happened on that elevator. The president turned to me and he said, Lynwood, which is not my name. But he said, "Lynwood, I remember you when you were young." And I said, "Gee, Mr. President, I don't remember you when you were young." And he laughed and I laughed and I looked over the corner and there was Tony Dolan kind of shriveled up in a little knot over there, you know. And afterwards I said, "What's wrong with you?" He said, "I thought lightning was going to strike."

But, as I say, you could always kid with him and he liked it. He liked to exchange jokes and stuff like that. He was a genuinely nice man, a thoughtful man, and a considerate man, even when I first got to know him back in 1965. And he was the same nice, thoughtful, considerate man, when he left the White House.

I remember when he was the governor. Ed Meese and I are a few of the last remaining people from the governor's office. But, I remember, in the early days his senior staff would sit around in the late afternoons and evenings and we'd be having these meetings trying to figure out how to rule the world, or at least the state. And Reagan, who understood very well what his job was, would get up about five or five thirty and go home. And take some papers to read with him, but he liked to go home and put on his pajamas and watch a little television and roughhouse with his son, Ronald Reagan, and then read his papers. So, anyway, he would come by and he'd look in the door and there we would be having this serious meeting. And he'd say, "Gee, fellows, it's time to go home to your wives and children." And we'd say, "But if we go home to them, who's going to do the work?" And he'd say, "It doesn't need to be done." And, you know, the amazing thing was he was right. Most of the work of government does not need to be done. And, if you can remember that, if we could all remember that, this country would be better off.

Another reason I admire him is that he was consistent; at least for a politician he was consistent. Political pressures, changes in political situations, changes in leadership around the world make absolute consistency impossible by any office holder. Reagan always knew who he was and why it was that he was first governor and then president. There's an old saying that a foolish consistency is a hobgoblin on little minds.

But Reagan was not foolishly consistent, but he was consistent in the big things. Take communism, if you will. Without question, the person most responsible for halting the spread of communism and for the demise of the Soviet Union is Ronald Reagan. From the time during his Hollywood days, when Reagan discovered that the communist menace was real, and that it was an evil that needed to be eradicated, he was consistent in his desire to put an end to it. He was the first president after World War II who stopped communism dead in its tracks. Under Ronald Reagan, communism did not gain one inch of new territory, and no other president can make that statement.

It was no accident that he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. No careless remark, no slip of the tongue. Tony Dolan wrote that speech, and he had the term evil empire in there, and they sent it over to the State Department to be vetted by those sissies there. And they looked at it and they crossed it out and they sent it back, and Reagan wrote it back in, and they sent it back to be re-vetted and they crossed it out again, and they sent it back, and Ronald Reagan put it back in and used it. But he understood that not only the American people, but also the world, needed to be told the truth about Soviet communism. He was not afraid to say the things that he believed, regardless of whether or not the people in the State Department thought it was the proper thing to do.

The same thing was true when he called upon Mikail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. The speechwriter for that went to the State Department in advance and they said now, nobody wants you to talk about the Wall, they're all used to it and everything else, and he went over and talked to some of the common people. They all wanted the Wall to come down. You know, it was really something that they felt strongly about. So he wrote those lines about Mr. Gorbachev come here and tear down this Wall. We sent it to the State Department to be vetted and the sissies at the State Department took it out. So it came back to the president and he wrote it back in and they sent it back to the State Department and they took it out. So they sent it back to Reagan and he used it. And, of course, if there are memorable lines from his presidency, two of them are the evil empire lines and the other one is "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." He was a man who firmly believed that communism was evil and you had to stand up to it, and he did not hesitate to do so.

I remember, when he was going to meet Gorbachev at Reykjavik and Gorbachev had just taken office and the talk was that this was basically going to be a friendly get-together meeting. There was a lot of concern among the conservatives in town that he was going to go over there and Gorbachev was going to spring a surprise and kind of have Reagan for lunch.

So I got some calls from some people. And I did something that I almost never did. I called the White House and I said I want to see the president. And somebody over there made a terrible mistake and said, okay, come on over at five o'clock. So I went over at five o'clock. And I get there and they said, "You're to see the president in the living quarters," which is also highly unusual. So I go up to the living quarters and there's just me and Ronnie. Which was the dumbest thing that I can remember anyone in the White House ever doing. You never want to let anybody alone with the president, especially somebody from outside the White House, because you never know what he's going to tell the president and what the president's going to believe, which is even worse. Or, you never know what the president's going to say that I'm going to go out and tell the rest of the world. And you need somebody there as a witness and somebody there to make sure the president stays on track and so forth.

But there was just Ronnie and me. And, I said, "Mr. President, I'm here because there's a lot of concern about what's going to go on at Reykjavik, and people are fearful that you're just going to take a beating over there." And he said, "Lynwood," still not my name. He said, "Lynwood, I don't want you ever to worry about me and the communists. I still have the scars on my back from fighting them in Hollywood." That's right, and you remember, he and George Murphy, who later became a United States senator, were the two Hollywood actors who stood up to the communists in Hollywood and their effort, and it was a serious effort, to take over the movie industry. And they were the people who stopped that, also in its tracks. And that was kind of a rough time for him. And, so, he knew what the communists were like long before he ever got to Washington.

I want to tell you one other little story about Reagan that has to do with his foreign policy, and it doesn't have anything to do with the Soviet Union, but it tells you what kind of a man Reagan was. Some of you may remember a town called Bitburg when Reagan was going to go over and lay a wreath. This was over in Germany and the head of the German government, whatever you call him, de fuhrer, I guess, but, anyway, he wanted Reagan to come over and lay this wreath. And we'd sent people over and they picked out this cemetery in the town of Bitburg, and they'd gone there and there was snow on the ground. So they didn't notice that a lot of the tombstones were those of SS troops who were, of course, Hitler's elite and people who participated in the persecution of the Jews and so forth. And, so, when that was discovered, there was a big to-do here in the country and there were a lot of complaints about the president going over there, and a lot of pressure was being brought on him not to go.

And, so, once again, yielding to the pleas of some of my friends, I called Nancy, and I said, "Nancy, you can't let the President go to Bitburg." She said, "You talk to him." She had talked to him without much result. Anybody who thinks that Ronald Reagan was run by Nancy Reagan doesn't really understand. You know, on things that didn't matter, she had her say. On things that were important, he had his say, and I think that's well to remember. So, she said, "You call him." So, I said, "Okay, I'll call him." So I called the president and I said, "Mr. President, I don't think you ought to go to Bitburg," and he said, "Lynwood, I'm going to Bitburg." He said, "I made a commitment to Chancellor Kohl, and I am not going to back off on that commitment." He said, "He wants me to come and I'm going." So he went, and they made some little changes in the ceremony so it wasn't quite so bad. But he went and, you know, even though there had been complaints about that, there was no lasting objections, because people understood and appreciated the fact that he was willing to live up to a commitment and to stand for the things that he had promised.

You know, among other things, and that was an illustration of it, but among other qualities, Reagan was truly a brave man. The story I always like was the one when he was governor. He was having his weekly press conference. And outside the door of the press room, there was a demonstration going on by members of Cesar Chavez union. You remember Cesar Chavez, the grapes and the lettuce and so forth. They're trying to make a saint out of him in California, St. Cesar, I think we call him. But anyway, his security man came up to me. And in those days Ronald Reagan had one security man. You see governors with tiny states now with dozens of security men. But he had one security man. And, the security man came up to me and said, "Lyn, there's a demonstration going on outside, I think we ought to go out the back way." And, I said, "Fine, we'll do that." So, as soon as the press conference was over, I grabbed the governor, and I said, "Governor, I think we'll go out the back way this time." And he started to walk with me and he said, "Why are we going this way?" And I said, "Well, it's just another way to go." And, he said, "No, that's not so. Why are we going this way?" And I said, "Well, there's some of Cesar Chavez' people out there and they're creating a little disturbance." He said, "Nobody's going to tell me where I can go in my capital." He turns around and he walks out the door. And the demonstrators parted just like the Red Sea and he walked on through them, you know, and just kind of chuckling. Followed by me and his chief of staff and his lone security man. He was not afraid to stand up to people and to assert himself when he needed to do so.

Of course, you always go back to when he was shot. And that's always, to me, a very interesting story. Because he didn't know he was shot, you know. Hinkley is shooting this little twenty-two over everywhere, and Reagan's security men, Secret Service, threw him in the limousine and threw him on the floor of the limousine and jumped on top of him. And the limousine sped off and the security man gets off of him, pulls Reagan up on the seat, and Reagan starts coughing blood. Then he turns to him and he said, "Damn you. When you jumped on my back, you broke one of my ribs and punctured a lung." Well the Secret Service man wasn't so sure of that and he raised Reagan's coat and he rubbed his hands all over the back of Reagan to see if there was any blood; there was no blood. But because Reagan was coughing blood, instead of going to the White House, which they initially tended to do, they headed for George Washington hospital. And they get there and they find out that a fragment of the bullet apparently had gone between the door of the car and the door jam and hit him right under his arm. So, they get him into one of these little rooms that they have in emergency hospitals and the doctor comes in and they start cutting off his suit, which just made him madder than hell. One thing about Reagan, he was a little bit of a tightwad, you know. He grew up poor and he understood the value of a dollar. All I remember, when I first met him, he had shirts that he'd worn for years because he had them tailor-made, but he had them so that when the collar frayed, you could reverse the collar so you could keep on wearing on the shirt. And, some of his trousers were so old, the fly still buttoned, you know. And that's true.

And anyway, he said, "This is a new suit." You know, and he was worried about his suit. These guys were trying to save his life, and he was worried about his suit. So anyway, they get his suit off him and eventually get him on a gurney and start wheeling him into the operating room, and he was wheeled by four of us standing there - Paul Laxalt, Ed Meese and Jim Baker and myself. And, he looked up and he said, "Who's tending the store?" And he gets into the operating room and he looks at the doctors and he says, "I hope you're all Republicans."

No, and it was a funny thing. Being an old reporter, I was there, and I'd found some paper. We'd gone over there because Jim Brady had been badly wounded. And I was not in the press part, but I'd been his press secretary and I knew him, so I went on over and began taking notes of all these things, these witty things he'd said, just for posterity. But we managed to get a hold of an auditorium and to hold a press briefing there. And there were, I suppose, by this time, a hundred or so reporters there. And I finished the press briefing and I turned to walk away. And somebody in the audience asked, "Did Reagan have anything to say?" And, I said, "Oh, my goodness, I forgot." So, I go back to the microphone and I pull out these notes that I'd made, and I read all these quips that he'd said, and those were the things that got out on the air and convinced the American people that Ronald Reagan was going to be all right, and the country was going to be all right. And if that man out there in the audience had not said that, I'd have never gone back and said those. I might have done it a couple of hours later at the next briefing, but I truly think that that was just not a happenstance, that that man was put there for a purpose.

Anyway, that, of course, was Reagan at his very bravest, quipping, laughing his way through what could have been a terrible disaster.

Now one of Reagan's greatest qualities was his optimism. And it was real and it was contagious. One of his greatest accomplishments as president was to restore a sense of optimism to the country. And as I said earlier, a feeling that Americans can do anything they put their minds to. You know, about a year before the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter, who is my favorite dog to kick, went up to Camp David and spent a week there cogitating and thinking and knuckling his brow and cracking his knuckles and trying to figure out what this world was all about. And he came back down and he made three points. One of them was that there's a natural malaise in the country. Another one was that maybe our problems are so big that we can't solve them. And the third one was maybe the job of president has gotten too big for any one man. But, you know, that's a very funny thing for a guy who wants to serve another four years.

But, in any event, Ronald Reagan was not like that at all. He understood, first of all, and believed in the American people. He did not believe there was a national malaise. As I say, he believed the American people could do anything they put their minds to. And, more than that, he was absolutely confident that he could do the job of president. Because he knew what the job of president was. When Jimmy Carter went into office, he kept track of who played tennis on the White House tennis courts. He insisted on vetting the secretaries of his senior staff. Those things are not the jobs of presidents. And Reagan understood that the job of president was to set policy, to set a direction in which the country would go, and then to make the tough decisions. And he knew that you didn't have to work sixteen hours a day to do that. He always said that he needed eight hours of sleep and he did better on nine and he never hesitated to take it.

So it was sense of optimism, this feeling that he could do it. This feeling that the American people could do it, that swept through the country and changed, I think, things for the better for a long time. He used to tell a joke that I think tells more about him than it did about the point he was trying to make with this joke. It was about these two little kids about six years old. They were twins. And one of them was an incurable pessimist and the other one an incurable optimist, to the point where their parents were really worried about them. And being modern parents, they called in a child psychiatrist. And the psychiatrist says, "Oh, I think I can handle this." So he takes the little kid who's a pessimist into a room and the room is all filled with toys and games and a bicycle and all these wonderful things, you know, and the kid burst into tears. And the psychiatrist says, "Well, you know, Sonny, what are you crying about?" Well, he said, "Look at all these toys and games and everything. Somebody's going to steal some of them, they're going to wear out, I'm going to lose them, they're going to break." And, he was just inconsolable. Well, the psychiatrist said, well, maybe I'll do better with the kid who's an optimist, so he takes him into a room and he opens the door of the room and the room is filled with horse manure. And the kid utters a squeal of delight, and he goes borrowing into the pile. And the psychiatrist grabbed him and he pulled him out and he says, "What are you doing in there?" And the kid says, "With all this stuff, there's got to be a pony in there somewhere."

Well, Ronald Reagan could always see the pony. He always knew there was a pony in there somewhere, and that was the kind of thing that, the kind of attitude, as I say, that infected and infested the whole country while he was here and helped bring back the can-do spirit that Americans are so noted for.

Let me talk just a minute about Ronald Reagan the politician, and then I will shut up. I promise you. I think he was the best candidate that I've ever seen, and for one main reason. He let you run his campaigns. He knew that his job was to be the candidate, and he let other people worry about the nuts and bolts of the campaign. Too many candidates, I'm not pointing any fingers here, too many candidates think that they have to worry about the details of the campaign. It's a full-time job being a good candidate, making the speeches, knowing the issues, getting to know the people. And, he instinctively understood that. He knew what was best for him. And the only time he would disagree with you, running the campaign, was if you wanted to do something that he thought was not helpful to him, he would say, "I know me, I know what's best for me." And, he did, that's the amazing thing.

He was a great extemporaneous speaker. You know, we always think of Ronald Reagan with his notes and his little three-by-five cards, but he was a great extemporaneous speaker, too, and he was greater at answering questions.

You know, when he first was running for governor, his campaign people, like so many other people, thought, well, gee, we've got a dumb actor on our hands, and all he does is memorize lines. And that irritated him. He didn't mind being called an actor, he didn't like being called dumb. So, he said, "I'm going to go out and take questions," and it just scared the heck out of his campaign people. They said, "He's really going to get in trouble." But, he went out and took questions, and he studied his policies and so forth and so on. And his ability to take questions, any questions from the audience, were one of the things that convinced the people of California that here is a guy who's fit to be president, or governor. I always thought he was fit to be president.

But one of the things he did, somebody in California, a man named Bob Walker, now deceased, but some of you may remember him. He was one of the good, conservative politicians of our time, and he dreamed up something called the eleventh commandment. He gave it to the chairman of the Republican Party out there, who gave it to Ronald Reagan. And the eleventh commandment was "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican." And that worked very well for him in the gubernatorial campaign, because every time his opponents in the primary picked on him, he'd holler eleventh commandment. You see, and everybody would say, well, they shouldn't be picking on Ronald Reagan.

But it was, nevertheless, a good thing. Because when Republicans fight with each other, they tend to lose. When Republicans unite, then they tend to win. And Reagan understood that. And he understood that the Republican Party should be a party of inclusion and not exclusion. And when you begin excluding people from our party, of course, you don't agree with them on one or two issues, then you begin losing. And if George W. Bush forgets this, if he thinks he can get by without some segment of the GOP or without bringing in the Reagan Democrats and the blue-collar workers and the social conservatives, bringing them into his campaign, then he's not going to win. And, I think you all agree, that before the sun goes down on more elections, for the sake of that old man out there in California, we need to win one more for the Gipper. And, I hope we'll do that, and I hope you'll all go out and work towards that, and I thank you very much.

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Well, thank you, Jim. I just want to say I don't know that guy at all. I'm real pleased to be here and it's just an honor to have Jim Miller introduce me, first of all, because it's always nice to have somebody with less hair. And secondly, because if there was really a...
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