More Reagan 

More Reagan

1. The Distant Delegator.

First a line from my new biography of J.D. Rockefeller Sr. (Yes, I have too many books on the go).

[JDR's father relied, at best, on con games and snake oil sales for a substantial part of his income; at worst he was a thief and a rapist.]

"One must ... note his penchant for denial, his potent capacity to filter out uncomfortable thoughts, especially about his father, just as he later deflected criticism of his questionable business behavior. John D. Rockefeller drew strength by simplifiying reality and strongly believed that excessive reflection upon unpleasant but unalterable events only weakened one's resolve in the face of enemies."

This surely has some application to Reagan (and maybe to W). Kuhn writes in amazement that Reagan has cancerous tissue removed, and from then on tried to avoid the subject. If it does come up, Reagan says "hell, I never had cancer--a kind of tissue was removed, and there was cancer in it, that's all...."

Iran-Contra: Kuhn sticks to the official story that Casey and Poindexter between them funnelled money to the contras without the president's explicit say so.

Regan-Baker: James Baker went from Chief of Staff to Secretary of the Treasury, and Regan switched, for Reagan's second term. Regan was probably never very good at maintaining all the contacts he had to--especially with Nancy Reagan and Congress. Yet it took forever to get rid of him--in fact, it took an unsuccessful press conference over Iran-Contra. To what extent was the President clued in, willing to act? For that matter, Nancy had a kind of veto over the president's daily schedule, and Kuhn and a few others knew that her decisions were based partly on astrology. (I still can't tell if he was even more superstitious than her). There's one episode where Howard Baker (who took over from Regan) said the schedule would have to be run by Nancy after the president, and the president was irritated. Didn't he know she was vetting it every day?

2. The Pragmatist.

I think this is all to Reagan's credit. He seemed to know how to sound like a real right-winger, on both economic and social issues, and keep the true believers on side. Yet he would make major decisions in the manner of a centrist: negotiating with the Soviets, trading arms for hostages in Iran despite an avowed principle of never negotiating with terrorists. (Again the denial: he kept saying he was just trying to help the moderates in Iran, in the hopes that they might improve the regime there in general, and freeing the hostages would be one--but only one--possible result). He was severely criticized by conservatives for negotiating with Gorbachev. This was at least partly Nancy's idea--something that would go down in history. (As of course it has done). He is still known as the tax cutter--and he has certainly made it difficult for anyone in the U.S. to raise taxes--but Kevin Drum has shown recently that Reagan actually raised taxes, especially in his last years as President--probably in order to reduce the deficit.

Kuhn says Reagan always insisted on being optimistic: "Never say never" was one of his favourite sayings. Did some of his proposals cross over from idealistic to crazy? Did he simply have the good luck to encounter a Soviet leader in desperate circumstances who was willing to deal? Or is truly stubborn optimism simply a good strategy for a leader--in strictly pragmatic terms?

Reagan appointed moderates to key positions. Kuhn says shrewdly that Reagan wanted to pursue conservative policies, as he had promised, but while listening to all sides.

3. Napping, etc. In a way the silliest stuff, but it keeps coming up. Kuhn says he never saw Reagan take a nap during business hours. On the other hand, there were two meetings with the Pope during which Reagan visibly nodded off. Kuhn explained to the President and First Lady afterward that there must have been something about the Pope's voice that Reagan found particularly hypnotic. On the other hand, was it true that Carter was in the Oval Office early every day, and put in much longer hours than Reagan? Kuhn says he has it from White House staff that Carter would indeed come in early--and then take a nap.

Reagan found any criticism of his movie career absolutely crushing. In his mind, he had worked hard at a career, starting with very little as a boy in the Midwest. He had built on a good voice and affable personality, and learned how to walk, talk and ride a horse as impressively as possible. He worked out every day--long before this was a widespread fashion. He remained conscious of how he looked and dressed at all times--even without the help of his wife and his staff. He wanted to be seen as a great example of American rags to riches, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

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Comment rosifz ucne efdz ypktmso maknrecvo ebtkc zytb

Mon Jul 24, 2006 12:38 am MST by olhrwesg sjvctduzb

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