MS. DEBORAH LEFF: Good afternoon. And welcome to the Kennedy Presidential Library where we think that President’s Day is the most important day of the year. I’m Deborah Leff. I’m Director of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of myself and John Shattuck, who is CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, it’s wonderful to have such a full house here to join us in a look at three recent American Presidents who substantially changed this country, offering very different governing styles and very different views of the world.
I want to thank our Forum sponsors, our lead sponsor, the Bank of America, and the Lowell Institute, Corcoran Jennison and Boston Capital, as well as our media sponsors, WBUR, Boston.com and The Boston Globe which gives us our wonderful moderator today.
You can look at any President and see how he ages over the course of his term. And you realize that the Presidency is one tough job. But as President Kennedy often noted, it is also a job that meets the definition of happiness of the Greeks. It is the full use of your powers along lines of excellence. President Kennedy stated that by that definition, he found that the Presidency provides some happiness.
How much did he like the job? That’s a question that President Kennedy faced during his press conference on March 29th, 1962. Let’s watch.
It’s an honor to have with us today the man who Philip Seib and the Dallas Morning News called “one of the best political biographers, as well as one of America’s finest political reporters.” As Seib noted, his books about John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and now Ronald Reagan are indispensable reading for anyone interested in the modern U.S. Presidency.
The biographer, of course, is Richard Reeves whose weekly column has appeared since 1979 in more than 100 newspapers. He has been Chief Political Correspondent for the New York Times and a columnist for both Esquire and New York Magazine. He has been both a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Pulitzer Prize juror. He’s Chief Correspondent for PBS’s “Frontline.” And his remarkable television documentaries have won the hat trick of broadcast journalism awards, the Emmy, the Peabody and the Columbia DuPont awards.
At the Kennedy Library here we admire him for his biography President Kennedy: Profile in Power, which was named the Best Non-Fiction Book of 1993 by Time Magazine, and Book of the Year by Washington Monthly. I also note with great pride that we have Richard Reeves’ papers among our archives.
A few years ago we welcomed Mr. Reeves to the Library to talk about his fascinating book President Nixon: Alone in the White House. And today it is a real pleasure to have him back to discuss these books, along with his newest biography President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination. As the Sunday New York Times Book Review wrote a few weeks ago, “President Reagan is a compelling read, fast-paced and scrupulously fair. The account of the Iran-Contra affair is particularly gripping. Anyone who is interested in Reagan’s extraordinary presidency needs to reckon with Reeves.”
And to reckon with Reeves today, and to talk about Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan, it is a pleasure to welcome back to the Kennedy Presidential Library Mark Feeney, a reporter, editor and reviewer at the Boston Globe since 1979. Mr. Feeney is the author of Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief. He is also a lecturer in the American Studies Department at Brandies University.
After today’s forum Mr. Reeves will be signing his books in our museum’s store. And we encourage you to visit there and our museum, and learn some more history on President’s Day. Please join me in welcoming Richard Reeves and Mark Feeney. [Applause]
MR. MARK FEENEY: Before we begin, before I begin asking Dick questions, I’d like to ask a question of the audience. And I’m wondering if the lights could come down just for a moment for my asking that question. Is that possible? Thank you.
I don’t want to embarrass anyone. So I would ask everybody in the audience if he or she could close his or her eyes. Has everybody closed their eyes? Now then, all of you who have voted for Ronald Reagan, please raise your right hand. [Laughter] That’s about what I would have expected. [Laughter] I’d say about
MR. RICHARD REEVES: Hard to believe how he won. [Laughter]
MR. FEENEY: And this is Massachusetts where he did win in ’80 and ’84. The first question. What did you find most surprising about Ronald Reagan? He’s a man that you were acquainted with for many years before he became President. You covered his Presidency. What surprised you in your research for the book?
MR. REEVES: I think two things did. One is that I learned what it was like to be old, which was very important to me, that old men are different than younger men. The most striking difference between him and Kennedy and Nixon was the way people acted various times in their age.
The second thing is that the whole idea that Ronald Reagan was a passive man is ludicrous. And I had kind of accepted the stories about passivity and the stories about being manipulated by other people. And I’ll end the answer, or we can talk more about it.
He won the Presidency on his third try, as citizen/politician called forward by the public. Within six months of being elected Governor of California, he was running for President in 1968, and might have won. In 1976, he committed the most aggressive act that an American politician can commit which is to run against an incumbent President of your own party when he ran against Gerry Ford in 1976. So the Reagan I found, that I had half expected to find dozing in the corner, in fact was this incredibly ambitious, bold gambler.
MR. FEENEY: Well you talked to Donald Regan, a Cambridge boy, who was Reagan’s second Chief of Staff, and asked him, “What was the biggest problem in the White House when Reagan was running it?” And Regan said, “Everyone there thought he was smarter than the President.” And you said, “Including you?” And Regan said, “Including me.”
MR. REEVES: “Especially me,” he said.
MR. FEENEY: Can you talk a bit about Reagan’s intelligence and the deceptiveness of it?
MR. REEVES: Well Reagan, obviously, was not… (inaudible). To sum up the last couple of minutes, I said Reagan was no passive guy. This was one tough guy who did what he wanted. Mark quoted Don Regan when I asked him, “What was the biggest problem in the White House?” And that was that everyone thought they were smarter than the President, and certainly Don Regan did.
To begin with, the Presidency is not about IQ. If it were, there would be statues of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter and Nixon and Bill Clinton all over the country, who probably had the highest IQs of modern Presidents. And we don’t pay them by the hour. So working very hard is not the secret, as Jimmy Carter proved.
The Presidency is about judgment. It’s about one or two or three big decisions, judgments a President makes in his own way. No one remembers what Lincoln’s agricultural policy was. And no one will remember Reagan’s either except the farmers who kept getting more and money. They were corporations, really.
But the secret of Ronald Reagan’s intelligence, I think, was that, though he was no intellectual, he was a man of ideas. He had studied the ideas… He had always read. He was a reader his whole life. And he had studied the ideas… The great written influences on him were Russell Kirk and Hayek and Whittaker Chambers among important conservative thinkers.
And he had come to his own conclusions about how the world worked. And he had also come to an age where he wasn’t going to learn anything new, and didn’t intend to, didn’t want to; quite different than Nixon and Kennedy, who were younger men who wanted to know everything, control everything, who cared a great deal about what people were saying about them. Most of that was not of great interest to Reagan. He once told Ed Rollins who managed his 1984 campaign, “What should I care about history for? They’ll get it wrong. And whether they get it right or wrong, I’ll be dead.”
So I think the secret to his decision making and his integrity, in the sense of being a man of consistency, was really his age. He had the intelligence and the energy of an old man. He conserved his energy; used it only when something interested him. And only four things really interested him. Those were: cutting taxes to try to cut down the role of government, confronting the Soviet Union, rather than containing it, rebuilding America’s pride in itself, perhaps a little too much, and doubling the size of the military. And three out of the four things, forget the taxes and the deficits, he did accomplish.
MR. FEENEY: Part of what let him accomplish that was an act of complete happenstance.
MR. REEVES: The shooting.
MR. FEENEY: The shooting. And we’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of that. Can you talk a bit about the impact of that? And also, it’s always fun to speculate what might have happened had John Hinckley not been there outside the hotel that day.
MR. REEVES: I think the question should be, “What would have happened if he killed him?”
MR. FEENEY: President’s Day, we… Let’s take it both ways. What if he had died?
MR. REEVES: Most of them are dead.
MR. FEENEY: My recollection was that he was beginning to run out of steam come the end of March 1981. Events were beginning to catch up with him. And the whole equation was changed by his truly heroic response to what had happened.
MR. REEVES: Well obviously, yes, he was a man of physical courage, as he proved. One thing you have to know and one thing that’s important to this book… Two things. One is that Reagan almost died. And most of what we were told at the time was a lie about his health and what had happened to him. And the second thing was that he became a legend at the beginning of his Presidency. And those two things come together when the first outsider was allowed to see him. And that was Tip O’Neill. Only family and staff had seen Reagan for the first three or four or five days after the shooting. And Reagan had reacted with great courage… The pictures of him…
He thought he had broken ribs. But there was already blood bubbling out of his mouth, which meant his lungs had been punctured, even if that was it, which was why they turned the motorcade from the White House to G.W. Hospital, which was five blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. And they were going to carry him into the hospital. And he shook them off as well as he could. He had already lost half his blood. He shook them off as well. A 70-year old man. He shook them off as well as he could, and walked the 20 yards into the emergency room whereupon he collapsed. And the last words he heard were Jerry Parr, the head of the Secret Service Delegation, saying, “My God, we’ve lost him.” And he then passed out.
So, they’re giving all these reports just as they did with Mr. Whittington, or whatever his name was, in Texas. And you would have had the impression he was playing tennis, singles rather than doubles, at the hospital. And the first outsider to see him was Tip O’Neill who was invited to come see him. And Tip brought a book of Irish jokes. And he walked into the hospital, walked in the room, and saw a dying old man. And he backed out of the room, and was shocked because he had been watching television with everybody else, and thought Reagan would be fine. And when he got back to the Hill, to Capitol Hill, he told Jim Wright, the number two Democrat in the House, “We will never be able to really attack this man again, if he recovers from this,” the courage of it all, etc.
And Poland was the issue of the day, really, then, March 30th of 1981, and the beginnings of Solidarity. And Lech Walesa gave his first full televised speech about a week after Reagan was shot. And it was shown worldwide on television. And the White House talked a lot about Reagan’s reaction, and what this all meant, etc., etc. And a young doctor at G.W. walked by Reagan’s room during the Walesa speech. And the President was watching cartoons, all by himself, in this room. [Laughter]
I think, actually, he might have… On the one hand, you have this legendary… He’s now a hero, a genuine hero, not a movie hero. He is a genuine hero to the country. On the other hand, despite the fact that he was built like an ox and was in wonderful shape, Ronald Reagan was never the same again after the shooting. And it was well hidden. But he never had spontaneous contact with any citizenry after that day. He was always in an armored car. They had armored a big Lincoln, which is on display now at the Reagan Library. And he never worked a fence or walked among strangers, except in the Soviet Union, ironically, after that date. And his energy never fully returned.
MR. FEENEY: So, if it hadn’t happened, would the tax cuts, would the budget battles of ’81, would they have gone differently? Would he have had to compromise?
MR. REEVES: Well he was perfectly willing to compromise when he had to. But I think he would have prevailed. It is such a difference between the way Reagan worked and the way this kind of mini-Reagan we have now [works]. I would argue, seriously, that Reagan is still President, as Roosevelt was President for years and years after he died.
But Reagan governed by telephone in terms of the Congress. Each day there’d be a green stack of slips about members of Congress, principally conservative Democrats they were trying to win over. And they would have the guy’s wife’s name or the woman’s husband’s name, the children, what was on their mind. And Reagan would call and chat them up for a couple of minutes. He talked to more members of Congress in his first 30 days in office than Jimmy Carter did in his entire term. He had learned from the California legislature.
And basically what he was telling those people, and what he continued to tell them over all the years, first it was tax and budget. Then it was the contras. Then it was SDI. It was the MX missile. There was one Congressional crisis after another, almost all of which he won. And the weapon he used to win was southern Democrats, or what later he called conservative Democrats, later called Reagan Democrats.
And basically what he was telling them was, if you vote with me, I won’t campaign against you. The shooting had… And when he approached hero status, that helped a great deal. But his idea was I’ll preserve you. And we’ll make a deal. And we’ll work together. We now have a leadership where the theory is we’ll crush you so we can put -- Tom DeLay being an example and the redistricting of Texas -- We’re going to destroy you so we can put a Republican in there. That wasn’t what Reagan’s Congressional agenda was. It was to get Democrats to vote with him.
MR. FEENEY: You made a reference a few minutes ago to the incumbent being a mini-Reagan. Is there a sense in which George W. Bush, while he is biologically George H.W. Bush’s son, is the political son of Ronald Reagan?
MR. REEVES: Bill Keller of the New York Times argued that he was the political son. And he certainly was in the sense that the timing of events in the Bush White House, particularly with the first tax cut, were taken day-to-day from the Reagan push for his tax cuts.
But I think, without using the word, now George Bush has no known father with the possible exception of the British colonial office in the 19th century. [Laughter] I argue in this book Ronald Reagan understood the Presidency and understood leadership, understood that the job is not managing the government, the job is leading the nation, and that words are, more often than not, more important than deeds.
So that Reagan, faced with a situation Bush is faced with now in Lebanon, rather than Iraq, cut and ran. He talked big talk. But he redeployed… The new word again. He redeployed the Marines onto ships in the Mediterranean. “No, no. We’re just moving them a little bit.” Because they were in an impossible position at the Beirut Airport, which was his fault. And he was primarily responsible for the death of the 241 Marines who died there. But he cut and ran every chance he got. And I would argue so would any sensible President.
But we don’t have a sensible President at the moment. [Applause] I didn’t do that for the… But he governed quite… Bush is off on his own in what I would call his own ignorance of history. Ronald Reagan was not ignorant of history. He may have imagined the history that had to do with Shining City on the Hill and Tom Sawyer and Last Best Hope. And imagine the future which had to do with no taxes and no communists. That’s why the subtitle of the book.
He did come from the middle of the country. He did live through the Depression. He did live through World War II. And he did have a sense of history. You couldn’t avoid it if you were of his generation. And I would say George Bush, who wanted to be his kind of political son, has no sense of history, including the history of what Ronald Reagan was.
MR. FEENEY: You mentioned the subtitle of the book, and for those who aren’t aware of it, it’s The Triumph of Imagination. That cuts both ways.
MR. REEVES: Well, imagination rather than vision. It cuts both ways in a couple of ways. One is imagination also works backwards. So he imagined the past. He imagined a future. And he generally got us to believe it and buy into it.
He also -- I don’t know if this is what you remember -- He is the godfather of the kind of semi-true world that we live in today. He was so gifted at turning issues into emotions that he… All with kind of a blend of fact and fiction, a blend of reality and entertainment, he turned politics into a subset of his old business.
When I wrote about John Kennedy, I said that the thing that I’d remember about him was that he was unwilling to wait his turn. He thought he would die young. But Kennedy wouldn’t wait his turn. And now no one does. Reagan mixed truth, fact, fiction, reality, entertainment into this kind of fog of America that, I would argue, we live in now. No one knows anymore quite what’s true. And Reagan was a man who created his own truth to serve his own political ends.
MR. FEENEY: Was that inevitable?
MR. REEVES: Which part ...(inaudible)?
MR. FEENEY: In the book, you say, in so many words, he made politics and governing, too, into a branch of his old business, entertainment. Is that transformation… Was that inevitable? Or was it a product of Reagan? Or he just speeded it up a lot?
MR. REEVES: Well, you can answer part of the question. A lot of it has to do with movies. I mean it has a great deal to do… When people talk about Reagan and distance, and all of that, you have to remember that, literally, we all met Ronald… Most of the people in this audience met Ronald Reagan when he was 50 feet high on a screen, far from us. That was the distance between him and us. And he managed to maintain that effectively as a politician.
I never encountered the question you asked. I think that the communications revolution, the rise of new forms of communication may well have made inevitable this kind of semi moment of truth that we now live in. Those media may be so powerful that, whether Ronald Reagan existed or not, the same kind of things would have begun to happen.
MR. FEENEY: Is there also an argument to be made that it’s not all together a bad thing? If you can stir people, if you can reach truths that statistics and factual analyses can’t, maybe there’s something to be said for it.
MR. REEVES: Well, it’s a wonderful tool of leadership. And Reagan was a great leader. I didn’t want to go where he was taking us. But there’s no question he was a great leader, partly because he had mastered and understood those things long before any of us did. And when I say he understood them… Many people may know the famous anecdote that Reagan loved to tell about announcing Chicago Cubs’ baseball games for WHO in Des Moines, and the telegraph wire breaking while Bill Jurges -- who was a Cubs, I guess he was the shortstop -- was up. And there was no information coming in. And Ronald Reagan had him hit -- had no idea what was happening in Chicago, he was sitting in a studio in Des
Moines -- had him hit 37 straight foul balls, hoping the wire would come back up. [Laughter]
But Ronald Reagan, again and again, during his Presidency, would take these kind of nostalgia tours back to Dixon, Illinois, back to Des Moines, the places he had been. And it is almost an unbelievable -- well it is believable -- conversation between him and, ironically, the man who succeeded him as Sports Director of WHO, was still alive and working in the 1980s when Reagan revisited the station.
And they did a half hour on the station. And Reagan talked about that incident. And he said, totally without artifice, said that, well, of course, he couldn’t announce the wire had broken, because people would listen to another station. They would turn it off and listen to another station. And then, when the wire came back on, he couldn’t admit what had happened because then everyone would have known he was lying. [Laughter]
So it’s not like the man didn’t know what he was doing. If he was a great communicator, it was partly because he understood things that Marshall McLuhan and others came to understand.
MR. FEENEY: Well he just had such an intuitive grasp of so many things.
MR. REEVES: I think part of that was being old. [Laughter]
MR. FEENEY: Would you have felt that 20 years ago?
MR. REEVES: What?
MR. FEENEY: Would you have felt that 20 years ago?
MR. REEVES: I ...(inaudible) put in this book. It took me 20 years to write these three books. If I had ever, for any reason, done Reagan first, I never would have understood the way he worked. Because I’m the age now that he was when he first ran for President. And there is a certain wisdom that comes with age. So do a lot of others that hurt. [Laughter]
MR. FEENEY: Well if you were doing the Kennedy and Nixon books now, how would you do them differently? What have you gained in the intervening period of time, do you think, if anything?
MR. REEVES: I feel pretty good about the Kennedy and Nixon books. I had always hoped, and I’m convinced someday it will, that proof would come out about something I talked about with Kennedy, which was perfectly clear. But a lot of people are not comfortable with it. That is he knew in advance that the Berlin Wall was going up, and wanted it to go up, and in fact, that the Berlin Wall prevented a war. If we ever went to war with the Soviet Union, it wouldn’t have been over Cuba, it would have been over Berlin. And that’s where it would have begun.
And I wait for the day, the piece of paper… I have no doubt. Because I know what Kennedy read. It was the front… There was an issue of the old Reporter, the magazine, The Reporter, which talked in specific terms about the Wall that the East Germans wanted to put up. And at that time the Russians were trying to prevent them. And Kennedy read that.
But all in all, and total serendipity, total luck, I wrote about them all when I was about their age. Have I been surprised by anything? I haven’t been surprised by anything that’s come out on Kennedy or Nixon since I wrote those books.
I’m having dinner tomorrow night with David Eisenhower, who I met here first, and Julie Nixon-Eisenhower. And maybe they’ll tell me what I missed in the Nixon book. They wouldn’t tell me the first time around. [Laughter]
MR. FEENEY: Well, it is at the Kennedy Library that we’re having this discussion. Can you talk a bit about Reagan’s view of Kennedy?
MR. REEVES: Reagan thought that Kennedy was… Reagan, obviously, adored Roosevelt. And he didn’t like the Kennedys. He spent a lot of time, by the way, talking to Nixon. Nixon was his principal foreign affairs advisor, which comes out in this book. But he didn’t think much of the Kennedys.
I traveled with Robert Kennedy. He was my beat for a time at the New York Times. And I don’t know if other people remember this, but there was a debate in 1967, early in 1967, between Ronald Reagan and Robert Kennedy. It was done by satellite. And it was worldwide. And the questions came from young people all around the globe. It was one of the first great television experiments. And I was there with Robert Kennedy. And Reagan just cleaned his clock.
And I remember walking out of the studio, and Kennedy saying to someone, “Who the hell’s idea was this? Don’t get me alone with this guy again.” [Laughter] But I think it had that effect on Bobby Kennedy. And I think it had the opposite effect on Ronald Reagan, who thought, “These guys,” in his mind, “are not as smart as I thought they’d be.”
MR. FEENEY: You say in the book that this is the end of the trilogy. But, if you were to do a similar study of President Clinton and one of the present President Bush, what would the subtitles be? [Laughter]
MR. REEVES: It gives me a chance to go back. The working subtitle of this book, which we could never use was President Reagan: Based on a True Story. [Laughter] Simon and Schuster had the same reaction as everyone here. But that lasted about 20 seconds. And someone said, “We want people who like Reagan to buy this book.”
If I did Clinton, I’m pretty clear on what the subtitle would be. And it’s the reason I wouldn’t do a book. It would be President Clinton: Nothing Happened. Presidents are creatures of events. And in a very real way, nothing happened while Bill Clinton was President. I thought his destiny would be to institutionalize the Rooseveltian and semi-Johnsonian welfare state. By that I mean national healthcare. And he blew that out of the box, to coin a phrase. And so I don’t think there was.
With George Bush, I would say it’d probably be George W. Bush: The End of Superpower, in the sense that, at the beginning of the Bush Administration, this Bush Administration, it was the one superpower in the world, not only militarily, but economically, morally. The United States was, at the end of the Clinton years, really, at a kind of peak, not that Clinton will get the credit for it, even from me. And by the time George Bush finishes, that will no longer be true.
We will be in hock to the other superpower, which will be China. We have destroyed the moral …(inaudible) that we wanted to… We worked so hard to build up after Vietnam. These people just threw it away. The one thing, the worst thing, in many ways about Reagan that they have adopted is the whole idea that our grandchildren will pay our bills for us. Ronald Reagan, a man who made a career of attacking tax-and-spend Democrats, then invented borrow-and-spend Republicans. And that’s what we’re being governed by. And both the trade deficits and the operating deficits that we have, most of us are not going to live to see what the effect of that is. Whether the economy will grow enough that they won’t take down the economy of the country, I don’t think we’re going to live to find out because they pushed those bills so far out.
This is a political opinion. I tried to avoid my political opinions when I wrote about Reagan. But George Bush is going to be right up there or down there with James Buchanan as the worst President in American history. [Applause] I didn’t say that for… It just seems to me he’s a terrible President repeating mistakes that have been made over and over again by people through history. And he seems to be totally unaware of that.
MR. FEENEY: How do you think Reagan, had he been in office, would have responded to 9/11?
MR. REEVES: I think Reagan… You’ve got to remember that Reagan always… Whatever happened bad to us, bad things happen to good people, Reagan immediately was on television that night saying what an outrage it was, and what we were going to do about it, and they’d never forget it. Well they may never have forgotten it. But we did. Because he rarely responded to anything.
He gave cut-and-run a good name. And I think it deserves a good name. And I don’t think that he ever would have been fool enough… Ronald Reagan was a very cautious man. He made mistakes. He understood how far you could go verbally, and get away with it. Sometimes he went too far. After the 241 Marines, Ronald… The reason I say Ronald Reagan caused their deaths was that… Our Marines in Beirut, in 1982, instructed… So remember, we went in there after the Israelis, under their Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, invaded Lebanon to try to wipe out the PLO. And the Israelis were there for 22 years. It took them 22 years to get out. It’s about what it will take us to get out of Iraq.
The United States became part of the… The Israelis were literally leveling Beirut, or at least the Muslim sections of Beirut. And the United States, Italy and France became a multinational force to try to separate the Israelis from the Muslims. That’s what they were doing. That was the mandate.
And Reagan, in a reckless moment, and he often had them, rhetorically, in a press conference, said that we were there to train -- these things never end -- to train the Lebanese army so that they could pacify their own country. But, of course, the Lebanese army meant Christians. The Lebanese army was a Christian army. And from that moment on, with some help from Iran, the Shiites of Beirut, who surrounded us, concluded the United States is our enemy. And that led to the truck bombing that killed all the Marines.
In the period immediately after that, I’m sure all of you recall, we invaded Grenada. But the decision to go into Grenada had been made before the bombing, despite what’s been written in a lot of Reagan books. It was the Marine amphibious team, two ships, were on their way to Beirut to relieve and help redeploy the Marines who were there. Forget the redeploy. Before that, we had been watching, had a lot of aerial photos of Grenada and whatnot. Reagan was absolutely convinced, probably wrongly, that it was about to become a Soviet satellite. He ordered one of those… When Maurice Bishop, the kind of friendly Marxist leader, as opposed to unfriendly Marxist leader, of Grenada was killed… He was a communist. And other communists killed him to take power. Reagan decided… The famous medical students were there. And they were a pretext for invading that island. And Reagan wanted to do that. Reagan loved low-risk military situations, as he should, as he should, as a President should.
And in the final meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Reagan dozed off during the meeting. Well I’ve been in meetings with the military. I wouldn’t mind a little nap, either. [Laughter] But he dozed off, was obviously not paying attention to most of it. And the Chiefs were burning mad.
And they got up to leave after a little more than an hour of briefing, which Reagan clearly had not absorbed or heard much of. And as they were leaving, Reagan said to John Vessey, who was the Army Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “Jack, come back here a minute.” And Vessey came back. He said, “How many people did you say you were going to send in there?” And Vessey said, “It’ll take us about a thousand, 1100 or so, Mr. President.” And Reagan said, “Double it.” And Vessey said, “But Mr. President, we don’t have to double it. Why should we double it?” And Reagan said, “If you’d doubled the number of helicopters in desert one, you’d be giving this briefing to Jimmy Carter instead of to me. Double it.” [Laughter] So, he understood the American… America’s military strategy has always been to overwhelm, outproduce, to outmanufacture, outman the opposition. And Reagan understood that very well.
The clown prince of the world, Don Rumsfeld, doesn’t understand that. We don’t have enough… We never had… We shouldn’t have gone into… This is a different subject. We shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. But if we did, we should have gone in there with enough people, etc. Reagan never would have… He would have said, “Double it,” and they would have doubled it.
MR. FEENEY: I’m just going to ask a couple more questions. And then if members of the audience would like to ask questions, there are some microphones, or at least one microphone I can see, strategically placed. So if anyone wants to start going to the mike to ask questions, I’ll call on you in a few minutes.
Theodore Draper, the political writer, argued that, around contra, from a Constitutional standpoint, was far more serious than Watergate. A) Would you agree? And B) Why has it seemed to go down the memory hole? What’s IranContra? Who remembers it?
MR. REEVES: Yes, I think it was more serious. Certainly broke more laws. And you didn’t ask. But the third, yes, Reagan knew. And it’s what he wanted to do. And he had the people who were privately financing the contras in the Oval Office. He didn’t send the Bible to Ralph Sangani because he thought Ralph Sangani had nothing to read.
They were never able to… I’m quoting a man who is dead, but who is a friend of mine. Iran-Contra was so bad that… And the fact of it was a coup against our own government, really. It was military action -- we’re doing a little bit now -- that was not known to the public, nor approved by the Congress or by anybody else. And Reagan wanted it that way. And he thought he could get away with it. And so broke a long series of laws in doing it.
Three things happened that took it down the memory hole. One is it was always complicated to explain. People never… You could never get a single word like “burglary” to it. Two, the establishment… This is where I would quote my late friend, Arthur Liman, who became the Special Counsel to the Senator, the Senate Investigating Committee of Iran-Contra. People like him, and people like Howard Baker, other people of consequence in the country -- Arthur Liman was a Democrat and a great lawyer -- felt that it was in the national interest to have this go away as soon as possible. And they did not want to lay out the full facts. There was something of an establishment conspiracy to get this thing over with.
And finally, Reagan was a good enough actor to do his Alzheimer’s number years before he had Alzheimer’s, if you read the text of the interviews with him, he managed to confuse the issue almost beyond belief, and then go on television and say, “See, there was nothing there. Let’s all go home.” And we did.
MR. FEENEY: Why did the likes of Liman and Baker want it to go away? Was it too soon after Watergate?
MR. REEVES: No. I don’t think it was because it was too soon after Watergate. It went too deep into how national security was really being practiced in the country. The best thing to compare it with in many ways, although they did a better job in 1975, was the efforts the United States always makes to cloud the issue of whether we actually assassinate people, whether we were trying to assassinate Castro or the guy in Chile, Allende, and others, Trujillo. It was getting too close to the bone of the American national security and intelligence and covert action apparatus that came out of World War II, and grew and grew and grew, and particularly grew under Reagan.
And I think that these people thought it was too dangerous for the American people to know that. Literally this is what Arthur Liman told me as he was leaving for Washington. We were friends. And it was a private conversation. “What is your job?” “My job is to get this over with as soon as possible.”
MR. FEENEY: You had personal experience with both Reagan and Nixon, though not Kennedy. It’s my final question. Would you talk a little bit about what they were like in the same room, how you responded to them as people?
MR. REEVES: There couldn’t be two men more different than Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Although, as I mentioned, they got along. And Nixon was quite important in the Reagan Administration. And that was very well hidden from public view.
If you looked at Reagan’s telephone logs, his telephone calls would last two or three minutes. He’d tell a joke. He’d ask about your problem. He’d get your vote. And he’d tell another joke, and he was gone. But if you just look down the numbers, and if you see 19, 38, 41, length of phone calls, it was always Nixon that he was talking to. And it was always just before something happened, like Grenada.
I met Richard Nixon first. Richard Nixon and I got along. Most reporters are desperately curious introverts. And what we do for a living gives us a kind of cloak in which we can act the way we want to, though most of us, I think, are the kind of people who stand in the corner at the party.
Nixon, obviously, was introverted well beyond that. And I first met him in 1965. Talked to him a lot, mainly because I did a book on Alexis Tocqueville’s travels. And Tocqueville had interviewed John Quincy Adams, an embittered former President. And in my book I was repeating the process. I had an embittered former President right there on hand.
I’ll tell the story about how I left Nixon and how I found Reagan, as it were. The last time I talked to Richard Nixon, his offices were in New York City. He was so awkward. He was so smart and so awkward that you… It could never be a pleasure talking to him. You were so nervous, not for yourself, but for him. What would happen next?
In a particular conversation we had about the contras, actually, the Governor had given him a big office in the federal building, the Javits Building in New York City on Federal Square down there by the courthouse. And he was on an upper floor in what had been storage space. There were huge steel doors that rolled open. And inside was a huge rectangular room with two Secret Service agents sitting outside. It must have been the worst duty in the history of the Service. And it was laid out exactly the same as Nixon’s Oval Office had [been] the couches, the flags, except it was rectangular. And the view was water towers, water tanks and roofs across the Warehouse District of New York City.
So we talked an hour and a half. Nixon would talk for long periods of time, and usually had interesting things to say. And then we got up, and we walked exactly toward where the door is in the Oval Office before you come to the secretary’s office, Rosemary Woods’ office. [Laughter] And he opened the door for me, and we both walked through it, into the stationery closet. [Laughter]
So, now I’m in the stationery closet with the former President of the United States. It was a great scene. I was ahead of him because he had-- after you. [Laughter] It was like a bad movie. We both backed out like it hadn’t happened, and then went over to where the door really, really was.
Ronald Reagan, the first time I met him, I met him in 1967. I met him in December of 1967, maybe November. And there was great talk then of a
Republican dream ticket of Rockefeller and Reagan. And Rockefeller dispatched John Lindsay then, the Republican Mayor of New York, out to talk to Reagan about this. And I was then the City Hall Bureau Chief for the New York Times. And wherever Reagan went, I went. Wherever Lindsay went, I went.
John Lindsay and I were walking down this long corridor of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, to the Presidential Suite, which was a big double door. And as we got there, Lindsay raised his hand to knock on the door, and the door popped open. And there was Ronald Reagan, who was, as always, bigger than you thought he was. And he had obviously been looking through the keyhole, somebody had, and popped open the door. [Laughter]
And he said, “Mr. Mayor, I’m so glad to meet you because I’ve always wanted to ask a question of a real New Yorker.” And Lindsay said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Have you ever been to the top of the Empire State Building?” [Laughter] I have enough stories about this, and I’m not going to tell anymore. But Reagan saw his job was to make you comfortable. It’s why people were so comfortable around him, even if he was as far away as the movie screen. And that was his little… It didn’t make John Lindsay, or me either, comfortable. But that’s what he meant to do. And they just were kind of different men. Before the questions start, can I say just…
MR. FEENEY: Yeah.
MR. REEVES: I should have said at the beginning, what I tried to do in these books… And I’m a journalist, not a historian. Although I’m proud, I think, that the… I think the great historians of this generation are, in fact, journalists. And people like David McCullough and Tony Lucas and David Halberstam, that the great… Most of the best history has been done in our time, I think, as narrated, has been done by journalists.
After covering the White House and knowing something about it, but certainly not enough… But you can’t come out on television and say, “Well, Mike, what’s going on in there?” How the hell would I know, which is the real answer. But you can’t do that. But I did realize that the lives of Presidents are so well recorded. That is, every phone call they make, there’s something on it. Everything they say, someone notes. Some of the stuff gets classified. Some of it’s upstairs sealed in boxes. And everybody who meets a President, it’s usually the high point of their life. And everybody takes notes. And there’s a little Rashomon. But they remember what happened.
I felt that it was possible, with all of that information, for a writer to put himself in the President’s place, and to write history as if it were forward, knowing only what the President knows, knowing that on the day that Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, that Kennedy, who had never allowed himself to be photographed with King because he really wasn’t sure… J. Edgar Hoover was telling him he was a commie. And then he sees him on television giving that speech. He knows he’s a star. And John Kennedy liked stars, like himself, and said, “Have him come down.”
And in 20 minutes, King came to the White House to be photographed with the President for the first time, and talked to the President, really, for the first time. He signed, at an NSC meeting, Kennedy signed off on the overthrow of the Diem government in Saigon, which was done with American money and American weapons. And he did that because he had finally been persuaded that Diem could not really govern. He had the wrong guy in there. Kennedy tended to believe, if things were going wrong, it meant you had the wrong guy there. Kind of FEMA mentality. [Laughter] But he had no idea that he was starting a war in which hundreds of thousands of people would die. He thought he was just changing ambassadors or regents, as it were.
So that’s the way, at least I find, over these 20 years, history to be. Traditional historians, the academic historians -- obviously, many of them are great -- tend to clean it up. History cleans up what happened. And even no matter how much information is used and whatnot, if you classify the information by theories or by category -- economics, war, race, whatever -- it makes it all seem logical, and as if the President knew what they were doing, and never gets across the point that all these things happen at the same time. And there is just one person… Only 43 know what it’s like in there, trying to deal with it all. I should have said that. But that’s what I tried to do in these books.
MR. FEENEY: Well, in fact, that’s a question I meant to ask. Could you do it backwards? Could you or someone taking this methodology do a similar book for FDR or Lincoln?
MR. REEVES: Yes. Well you could do it for FDR. I don’t know enough about what… You need archives. And I don’t know what the Lincoln Archives are.
Although the Archivist is a hell of a writer, the Director of that Library, Richard Norton Smith. But I don’t know what records existed. And, of course, tapes didn’t exist. [Laughter] I don’t know how far back you could do it. I suspect with Roosevelt you could do it.
MR. FEENEY: Let’s take some questions from the audience. I see that there is a person already at the microphone. Sir, do you have a question for Dick Reeves?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Reeves, thank you, first, for legitimizing getting older. I do appreciate that. [Laughter]
MR. REEVES: Legitimizing?
MR. FEENEY: Legitimizing getting older.
MR. REEVES: Like we have a choice, right? [Laughter]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Reeves, it’s the other microphone that’s speaking. Thank you.
MR. REEVES: Oh, I see. The lights are very bright up here. Sorry. I wondered why. Because the fellow over here is a little bit younger. [Laughter]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ventriloquism.
When 43 was elected, I had the idea it’s sort of recompense for the indignity that was given to us, that he might listen to 41. And his cadre of advisors, other than the incumbents that we see with him, has that played out for good or for ill?
MR. REEVES: Well, I would have hoped the same thing. And I think it’s played out for ill. And I think that, beneath the surface… It was interesting. We talked about the child of Reagan thing. I think there’s great anger, the son against his father, in that relationship. I always felt, again, talking about archives, they’re pretty stingy, to say the least, up at the Reagan Library, and also with 41’s papers in Houston. And the conventional wisdom is that that’s because George Bush is trying to protect his father, and his father in history.
My own reading -- and I don’t have any degrees in psychology or psychiatry -- is that George Bush’s real drive is to be kind, to outdo his father. The father succeeded at everything he did in life, up to the Presidency. And then was at best a mediocre President. The son failed at everything he did in life, until he became President, and obviously sees himself as a successful President, outstripping his father. And I think that’s his motivation. And it’s a shame, but he doesn’t seem to listen to anybody.
MR. FEENEY: This gentleman here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: First of all, I’d just like to thank you for opening a window to all of us into the Presidency. I think it’s great that you came down. I have one question of Kennedy and one question of Nixon. One is, who do you think killed President Kennedy? And two is, what do you think of Richard Nixon? I think he was one of the original architects of national healthcare. And what do you think about it?
MR. REEVES: One, on the question of… I accept most of the conventional wisdom on the killing of John Kennedy. Although I think that he set the stage for his own demise, that is… Although it’s regularly denied. We were out there trying to kill leaders we didn’t like, and particularly Castro. And people in organizations like Fair Play for Cuba and whatnot, there was a whole community of people, most of them sane, who disagreed with Kennedy’s obsession, both Kennedys’ obsession with Castro.
And it seems to me perfectly logical or possible that, out of that atmosphere of people, that this became their lives, someone crazy enough to try to take care of it would emerge. And Oswald, to me, fits that description. And all of the things I’ve seen over the years have not changed that.
Richard Nixon and healthcare. Richard Nixon, of course, also introduced and got past the first real environmental laws, etc., etc. Richard Nixon, to quote him, “did not give a shit about domestic affairs.” He cared about… He had a great architectural mind. And he cared about bouncing nations around with Kissinger to make it work. And that national healthcare, along with the environmental laws, were things he signed off on practically without looking at. They were done… The environmental laws were all an attempt to attack Ed Muskie who we thought would be his opponent in 1972. So that that sheen of liberalism over the Nixon Administration, to me, was just to hold the other side at bay.
As Nixon once said to somebody, “I didn’t come here to build outhouses in Peoria.” That’s what he thought of domestic policy. He didn’t care as long as it didn’t interfere with his notions of creating a brave, new world, and also of creating a different kind of government. He was not much on checks and balances, either.
MR. FEENEY: Over here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you for this. Getting back to when President Reagan was shot, I remember the next day in the paper, The Globe, it said that, when he was admitted, he said, “I should have zigged instead of zagging.” And then he was checking out the surgeons, whether they were Republicans or Democrats. Was he being full of jokes right out of the gate? Or was he up to all that?
MR. REEVES: All that happened. And he woke up. And when he came to… I mentioned he collapsed and he was unconscious. When he came to on the gurney going into the operating room, his hand was being held by a nurse named …(inaudible) who was also checking his pulse. They couldn’t find his pulse for a while. And he opened his eyes and said, “Does Nancy know about this?” [Laughter]
I mean he had this wonderful catalogue of mind. All those things he said. And he had an assistant named Lyn Nofziger who came from California, who was a very sloppy, very likeable, sloppy guy; quite un-Republican in everything but his political views, and who had a pad and was writing down these things as Reagan said them, and stuffing them into his pockets. And after one of the press conferences, a reporter said, “Did the President say anything?” And Nofziger said, “Oh, I forgot.” And he pulled out this pile of kind of folded and crumpled paper, and read these things off one after another. But none of that was faked. And it added -- “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” “Honey, I forgot to duck” -- all added up to grace under pressure.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.
MR. FEENEY: Over here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Richard, I was hoping that you would mention that Reagan was the first President to serve a full two terms since Eisenhower, and also that he was the first President elected in a zero year to serve a full two terms since Jefferson and Monroe. Can you hear me?
MR. REEVES: Yeah.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Did you hear everything I said?
MR. REEVES: Yes. Obviously, being elected for two terms was a testament to his popularity, and the feeling the American people had for him. As to the doublezero, it’s funny. I don’t put any stock in that at all. But Ronald Reagan did. The funny thing was that Nancy had to take the wrap on astrology, when it actually was Ronald Reagan who had, for years, been… He was a very superstitious man, and worked for an astrologer named Carroll Righter. He hosted parties for him to try to get newspaper clients and all that. But I’m educated as an engineer. And those statistics don’t work for me.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Did it work for you?
MR. REEVES: No. It’s a numerical curiosity to me. But I don’t think it has any significance. And I don’t think that astrology has any real significance, either.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why didn’t you mention those two facts?
MR. REEVES: Why didn’t I mention them?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, in your speech.
MR. REEVES: The thought never entered my mind.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I see.
MR. REEVES: I just didn’t think of them. I might have… There is no reason I didn’t mention them.
MR. FEENEY: I should have asked. My fault. Over here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good afternoon. Would you please revisit the assassination, and your opinion on what would have occurred if Hinckley had been successful and Reagan had died?
MR. REEVES: If Reagan had died, I think that… The arc of Reagan’s Presidency is extraordinarily interesting. And, as he comes to a peak with the taxes, then he begins a decline through Iran-Contra. And after Iran-Contra, he was almost alone. The press didn’t like him. Liberals, obviously, didn’t like him. The conservatives thought he was selling out the country. And it came down to… Really, Reagan had one fixed idea his entire life, which was that communism would collapse of its own weight. And in his seventh and eighth years of office, a Soviet leader emerged who believed the same thing.
And so that suddenly, you have the climax, really, of this Presidency. And the reason it ends well is that these two men come to, first, kind of like each other, and then trust each other -- this is the first book that has the transcripts of their conversations -- and then depend on each other. One guy is trying to save his Presidency and his ideology. And the other guy is trying to save his ideology and his country.
So that these two people really alone, in a political sense of the word, cut this deal that ends… Ten years and a month after Reagan was inaugurated, the Warsaw Pact dissolved. And its members applied for membership in NATO. You had to have some imagination to think that was going to happen in ten years.
If Reagan had been killed, even if the other events had happened -- unrest in Eastern Europe, failing economy in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev becoming leader… George H.W. Bush, who would have then been President probably thought… He was of the school, as were most of the people in the White House, that this was another dirty commie trick, and I don’t think ever could have…
Reagan was probably unique in being able to work out that deal. And the Cold War, if he had died then, probably would have continued. And it would have ended. And we would have prevailed. But it wouldn’t have ended then. And, conceivably, it could still be going on now.
This is all conjecture, obviously. But I don’t think George Bush would have trusted… The father, I don’t think he trusted the Russians enough to do what Reagan did. And Reagan, when I say he was bold and a gambler, it was a hell of a gamble.
MR. FEENEY: Well, you were saying earlier how, in many ways, he was conservative. But when he gambled, it paid off.
MR. REEVES: Yes, in that instance.
MR. FEENEY: He knew not to cut and run that time.
MR. REEVES: He gambled on supply-side economics. And we still don’t know how that will end because the bills haven’t come due yet.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good afternoon. And thank you very much for being such a great ...(inaudible). I’ve got two questions. One is about JFK and one about Nixon. And the first one is about the Catholic issue concerning JFK being the first Catholic President of the United States. I’d like to know how you would like to define the Catholic issue according to JFK. And the second question concerns Nixon and Kissinger’s politics. Would you define it as strategy or just a technique?
MR. REEVES: A critique?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Technique.
MR. REEVES: The first question was?
MR. FEENEY: The Catholic issue.
MR. REEVES: My own feeling -- and I write this in the Kennedy book -- is that the Catholic issue was not settled in that election or settled in Houston at a meeting of evangelical creatures. I think World War II was what settled the Catholic issue. But it just didn’t happen.
But if you look back at… I think you and I once talked about this. If you look back at the propaganda movies, the World War II movies, John Wayne and all that, an underlying theme in those movies, with Bill Bendix playing the guy from Brooklyn, and Richard Conte playing the Italian guy from Jersey City, which is where I’m from, what those movies were about was, suddenly, we were facing… It was a Protestant country. And Catholics were pretty actively discriminated against up until World War II.
Suddenly, we had this all out national effort. And we need everybody. And all those movies are of the theme, “We’re all in this together. We’re all Americans.” And I think it was that national mobilization, which the films reflected, that took 30 percent of the population. At the beginning of World War II, 30 percent of Americans were Catholics. And to fight that war, they had to be brought into the common wheel, or else. And I think that, after that, the Catholic issue, yes, in some part of the country, etc., etc… Christ, in some parts, it probably still is. But, it’s also, I think, while I’m at it, the Jewish, the black, the woman thing have all been settled. It’s just a question of the circumstances now, and of the right candidate coming along. Kennedy happened to be the right candidate to be the first Catholic President.
Nixon and Kissinger, was it all technique? I didn’t understand the…
MR. FEENEY: Was it more of a strategy or technique, their GOP politics?
MR. REEVES: Nixon was the senior partner by far in his relationship with Kissinger. Kissinger happens to be a better writer, and could get books out faster about how, “And then I told the President…” [Laughter]
Richard Nixon had a wonderful architectural mind. Other ways, it was quite different. But Herb Klein, his Press Secretary, once said of him, “He can see a cloud there, feel a raindrop over here, and say there’s going to be a flood in Bangladesh next year.” And there was some of that. I know from my own conversations… And in the Nixon book, they tend to be something… I don’t know if they’re actually a footnote. But they’re played down. Because, again, I’m trying to stay in place and time.
Richard Nixon told me that he thought the job of a President of the United States-- that a war between the East and West, with the West led by the United States, the East led by China, was inevitable. It might be a shooting war. It might be an economic war. But their interests were fundamentally different over the long-term. And eventually they would clash. And the job of the leaders of the West were to prevent that from happening, or prevent that for as long as possible because he believed, Nixon, that the East would win that confrontation. That is strategic thinking, I think.
And Kissinger was his helpmate. He certainly had the intellect to stay with him, and to understand, and to fill in some blanks and whatnot. But, in truth, it was Nixon’s strategy.
After the 1976 Republican Convention, when Reagan almost beat Gerry Ford, the Republican Party -- and Ford then lost to Carter -- realized that Reagan would probably be their next nominee. And many of them thought he was a dolt. And they set up a series of briefings for him on national issues. The communism briefing was done by Richard Allen of Notre Dame, who later became his National Security Advisor. Allen talked for a couple of hours in Pacific Palisades. Reagan didn’t say much. He never said much in meetings like that. And at the end, stood up and said, “I appreciate what you’ve told me.”
And what Allen basically said was the country expects a candidate to have a strategy for dealing with communism and the Soviet Union. And no one can be elected President unless they do. And here’s the strategy. He talked a lot about containment, more containment in Dayton and Allen’s thing. And Reagan said at the end, “I appreciate very much your taking the time to do this. And you may not consider it one, but I do have a strategy, Dr. Allen.” And Allen said, “What is that?” And Reagan said, “We win, they lose.” [Laughter]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the personal interaction between Reagan and Gorbachev.
MR. REEVES: The personal interaction? Considering that, obviously, neither of them could speak the languages, what happened between Reagan and Gorbachev, and we may never see their like again, when you read the transcripts of what they said… Obviously, they were both political leaders trying to solve their own political problems first.
The Reykjavik Summit, which was considered a failure at the time, and they tried to put a spin on it… But what happened in Reykjavik was it got totally out of control. The room that they were meeting in was the size of this stage. And there were only six people in the room. Each had one advisor, and there were two translators in there.
And when they went at it, Jack Matlock, who was the American Assistant for Reagan, and later became the Ambassador to the Soviet Union, said what happened in that room was that each side saw the other side’s bottom line for the first time. It was the first honest conversation between an American leader and a Soviet leader. Both of them admitted their strengths and their weaknesses, their certainties and their doubts. And although they walked out in a huff because Reagan wouldn’t give up SDI -- Gorbachev’s mission was, at that time, it changed later, to get rid of SDI -- the two men knew each other, and had begun to trust each other. And that comes through in the dialogue.
In the beginning, back in Geneva, they talked to each other as if, “Now you’re going to tell me those American lies” or “You’re going to tell me those Soviet lies.” By the end it was, “You know, I never thought about that. But if you put it that way, maybe we can…” kind of thing. So it’s quite… It’s the most extraordinary dialogue of the late 20th century. It has to be, if not of the whole century. It’s just extraordinary stuff, as these two men unravel each other. And it’s very clear, if you read the transcripts, who prevails. And it was not the young one.
MR. FEENEY: There is time for just two more questions, one from over here, the next one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Have you ever given any thought to what would have happen if Richard Nixon had narrowly won the Presidency in 1960 rather than John Kennedy?
MR. REEVES: I have not given it a lot of thought. Although I think the major thing that… The major difference between Kennedy winning that election and Nixon not… Nixon was a capable fellow, and he wasn’t as crazy then as he later became. That was part of what made him so crazy.
But the decision that could not, I think, have been postponed… John Kennedy, after the Freedom Riders and the integration of the University of Alabama in that cluster of incidents in 1963, went on television and gave the speech which basically put the government of the democracy on the side of the minority.
Lyndon Johnson and other people had helped Kennedy figure out that, as long as the Southerners in Congress, white, who ran the Congress, and the black kids in universities for the first time, both thought that the President was on their side, the violence would escalate, that the President had to take sides. A great tribute to John Kennedy, I think. John Kennedy got on television and said, “This is not a political issue. This is not a regional issue. This is a moral issue. This is a question of what kind of people we are. And if there is equality…” I’m paraphrasing. “If there is equality in this country, then whom among us would choose to be Negro.”
And Nixon, had the confrontation built, and I think it would have, would have gone on the side of the majority. And God then only knows what would have happened afterwards. I think that would have been the biggest difference. In Vietnam and things like that, I think they would have been about the same.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I can’t resist this comment about Arthur Liman because Dick Cheney was on that committee, wasn’t he, on the Iran-Contra Committee, that Arthur Liman was the counsel on? He was.
MR. REEVES: He was a Joint Committee member then?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. And Liman was the counsel, I believe. And Cheney, one of the members. Cheney was one of the members.
MR. REEVES: I was shocked when Arthur told me that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And maybe that has got something to do with his attitude toward how he’s operating now.
MR. REEVES: Maybe. It didn’t work very well.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, no, Reagan got away with it.
MR. REEVES: Yeah, he got away. And he also is the one who privately says
Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. Not the best influence we’ve had in the White House. [Laughter]
MR. FEENEY: Last question over here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just wondered if you could comment on at what point the early stages of his memory loss or Alzheimer’s affected any of his decision making, especially in his second term.
MR. REEVES: I worked on this book with David Owen, Lord Owen, who is the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, and also a physician, who got access to Reagan’s medical records. And he’s writing a book about leadership and illness, effect of.
And what that research showed was that Reagan showed symptoms -- including brain scans -- of early dementia at about 75, in the middle of his Presidency. Early dementia is not Alzheimer’s. And that the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s appeared in 1990, two years after he was President. Dementia is a condition. Alzheimer’s is a terminal disease. So he did not have Alzheimer’s, he had dementia. All of us maybe have a little when you get to a certain age. And it showed often.
But I’ll tell a final story about the underrating of Reagan by people like me. One of the more famous incidents in the Reagan Presidency because it was on film. He was usually clever enough not to be filmed in embarrassing ways. But when he met with Pope John Paul at the Vatican, and while the Pope was speaking, fell asleep. And that picture has been shown all over the world, etc., etc., and will be forever.
Before they came outside for that press conference, the Pope and the President were crawling around on the floor together of the Pope’s office going over American satellite intelligence photos of missile placements in Europe. And out of that conversation, the Pope agreed with Reagan’s request, which was that he not endorse the Nuclear Freeze Movement, and that he punish the archbishops and cardinals, or sanction them, who already had come out. If you remember, the Nuclear Freeze Movement was sweeping the world, particularly Europe. If the Pope had come out on the side of it, which he was originally inclined to, that would have tipped the balance and the history of the late 20th century. It would have probably been quite different than it was.
But we didn’t know that. All we knew was the guy fell asleep. So if nothing else, I learned, in doing this book, that naps are not a danger to the national security. [Laughter] [Applause]
MR. FEENEY: Thank you, Dick Reeves.
MR. REEVES: Thank you.
MR. FEENEY: I just want to point out that if you’d like to buy a copy of Dick’s book and have it signed, they’re on sale. And he will be available in the Museum’s shop afterwards. Thank you. [Applause]
MR. REEVES: Thank you all. As the Russians say, thank you ...(inaudible).