tv Panel Discussion on Ronald Reagan CSPAN April 30, 2016 3:37pm-4:36pm EDT
asylum and legislature emerged? >> you can't write a book about texas without someone doing a political joke. >> i completely lost my train of thought. we still have time for a question. we have one over here. help me out. >> what are you reading right now and is there anything you always go back to to reread? i am a reader and there are too many books to read. >> there are more here. >> that is a good question. >> was it a question? i didn't hear it. >> what are we reading now? i like a lot of attica lock, i read her and i'm looking forward to summer, there are books i'm really excited about, one is by sean harris, literally called something like sex workers,
psychics and numbers runners, i was looking at black women and crime and 20th century new york, want to get my hands on that. and another one about black women on's chain gangs by sarah haley in georgia. there are a couple neat books coming out that i can't wait to read. >> you are just a little bit obsessed. >> a tiny bit. >> i have been buying guilt books, completely forgot the name of a guy who wrote a book about poverty and housing that got rave reviews, these are guilt books about journalists doing significant, important social changing things instead of writing trashy true crime mysteries and they will pile up on my bedside table and i won't read them. >> trashy true crime histories and throttle us all and there are two wonderful books and i
want to thank skip hollandsworth and kali nicole gross for joining us, i wish you well on your books, i have them both on hardcover and tablet and wish you many sales, you are supposed to be out and i'm telling everyone to go out there and buy a book and get it signed. thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> booktv coverage of the recent san antonio book festival continues now. next up a panel on ronald reagan. be change how is that?
that is fine. welcome to san antonio book festival. this is called reagan, a life in fact and fiction, i am very excited to be part of a panel two great writers in very different ways in their most recent books look at the legacy of ronald reagan. before we get started i want to let you know both authors will be signing books in the reference area on the second floor after the session ends and a portion of the proceeds benefit san antonio public library foundation. this panel will air on c-span2 on april 30th. we will devote the last 10 or 15 minutes to question so if you have questions we will do our best to give everyone a chance to ask them. to my far left, h.w. brands, at
the university of austin, new york times best-selling author, finalist for the pulitzer prize in biography for the first american and traitor to his class, he has written biographies on franklin roosevelt, andrew jackson and others and his latest book is reagan, a life, and insightful biography of our 42 president, 2 my other site is thomas mallon, author of tween 9 novels, dewey defeats truman, watergate, fellow travelers, a frequent contributor to the new yorker, the new york times book review and the atlantic. in 2011 he received the american academy of arts memorial award for prose style. he has been literary editor and deputy chairman of the national endowment for the humanities and his latest book finale is at the reagan years by interweaving fictional characters with historical events and historical figures like richard nixon, margaret thatcher and one of my personal favorite characters in the book, merv griffin.
bill, you write about this wall that ronald reagan had, while of detachment, nancy said she was the only person who could penetrate it and only she could go so far. i know you talked about how you have written about historical characters from their point of view, many times, richard nixon and nancy reagan, but ronald reagan was very tough to do that with so we will start with bill and talk about that wall, so many people who met reagan talk about it what challenge it posed for you in writing your book. >> when i was working on the book i was doing a book tour for previous book, i was speaking on a radio show based in chicago
and at the end of the hour, the host asked a question that comes up all the time, what is your next project? i said i was working on ronald reagan and he put his hand over the microphone and said after we get off the air there is something i need to tell you. i am all years. i am okay, in the midwest reagan grew up in illinois, maybe this guy's and dated ronald reagan, maybe there is something there. after we got off the air i waited to hear what he had to say. he said if you want to understand ronald reagan there is one thing you need to keep always in mind. i am waiting. he said ronald reagan was the son of an alcoholic father. i wasn't quite sure what to make of this comment. i didn't know if he thought he was telling me something i didn't already know.
but the world knew that reagan's father was an alcoholic because reagan wrote two memoirs and described what it was like growing up as the son of an alcoholic father so i waited to hear what he had to say further. so he said i speak as the son of an alcoholic father and i will tell you, he said, that when you grow up in those circumstances you develop a characteristic attitude toward the world and you learn to keep your deepest emotions to your self because the person on whom you most want to rely, the person who is going to be your model for how to be an adult, the one who want to be your pillar of emotional strength, is the most unreliable person in your universe. one day he is your best friend and telling you funny stories, throwing a baseball in the backyard, taking you out for ice cream and you think he is your best friend. the next day he is beating the living daylights out of you. every morning when you wake up you don't know which father you are going to be dealing with so
you learn to build this wall around yourself and develop emotional self-sufficiency. this is what he told me. i was halfway into my research and i thought this is his experience and it is an interesting insight so i will be on the lookout to see if this tells me something about ronald reagan. i wasn't going to take his word for it but i was alert for this thing and one of the first things i came across, rereading nancy reagan's memoir, nancy reagan said and i think quite sincerely and accurately that she knew reagan better than anyone else but there were times this wall went up between the two of them and even she didn't know what was going on his head or his heart. so i thought of nancy reagan said this, this corroborates to that extent what my radio host had said. there is another moment from another bit of evidence and this comes from one of reagan's own
memoirs in which he is talking about a moment when he is 11 years old living in dixon, illinois, he has been in a cold winter afternoon getting dark, temperatures below freezing, snow on the ground and he is coming home from the ymca to walk along the sidewalk, turns into the past to get in the house and there is his father, passed out in the snow ended reagan's telling he paused for a moment and asked himself whether he should just walk on inside the house. in the memoir, reagan doesn't tease out exactly what that means but the implication is i am going to let him die in the snow. in the next sentence in the memoir, but i decided i should bring him in. here is an 11-year-old kid who is entertaining at least for a moment that his world might be better if his father was dead. to me that is a pretty heavy weight this kid is having to bear. i am not going to say this
explains everything about reagan but it does explain a lot about his standoffish in this. reagan was a person who seemed friendly across the room or from a distance but the closer you got to him, the cooler he got and one of the ways i put it is if reagan hadn't been president, and i suppose a long time ago a film star, nobody except nancy would have come to his funeral because he really did not have any friends. there was nancy, the kids probably would have come if they hadn't still been alienated at that point but his emotional universe becomes nancy and himself and everyone else was on the outside including the kids. >> what kind of challenge was it for you? you were working in novel form so did that open up some possibilities for you as far as
trying to understand him? >> the one i wrote before this was a novel about watergate and i don't know what it says about my character but i never felt uncomfortable about writing nixon from the inside out, the closed third person narration, barrett heavily overlaid, his thoughts, the way he would apprehend things. i was working on reagan for two weeks before i decided that wasn't going to happen and i completely got the edmund morris problem. reagan is defeated many biographers, not bill but he defeated morris who resorted to instances of fictionalization, didn't know what to do with reagan. there are brilliant passages in this book but he sort of in a way through of his hands, he was at it for many many years. the remoteness in reagan, the
warmly impersonal quality of him or the impersonality of his warmth was very real, george will who i know a little bit in washington said to me i think this remoteness stuff is overblown and he knew reagan and mrs. reagan as personal friends, this sort of genial irishmen, he had one friend and married her. i felt how normal is that? even nixon had two friends and didn't marry them. mrs. reagan understood the unusual quality of their self containment but i think there were moments i thought reagan was preposterously silly and other moments i thought he was very big and very deep and like the character in one of john updike's rabbit books, thinks
about reagan in this way, that he seemed to know very little like the old hedgehog, he knew something very big and i think one of the keys to reagan is his film career. that does not go as deep psychologically as what bill is talking about but they acted -- they asked how an actor could be president and he said i don't know how anyone who wasn't an actor could do this job. i think his acting career paid him tremendous dividends on the whole. it allowed him to imagine things, sometimes sentimentally, sometimes in a cheap hollywood way but it enlarged him in a way and a lot of my book concerns the reykjavík summit with gorbachev which is perceived as a failure, they get close to abolishing nuclear weapons and
then decide, reagan decides not to do it, comes to grief over the strategic defense initiative or star wars, and the national security archives, the notetake her is taking detailed notes and when i get to this climax, reagan says to gorbachev ten years from now, we can bury the last nuclear weapon, and he says i will be a very old man at that time and you will say ron, is that you? i will say it is good to see you and use his first name. he was seeing it as a movie. in that sense, looking at the geopolitical chess player, who
studied up on the issue to an astonishingly greater degree, nixon could not bring him to a point where they could imagine a world like the soviet union, reagan actually could -- >> talking about the reykjavík summit and it is an essential part of both your books and your book is a major part of it, focused on 1986 and i will start with bill, when you look back, the next summit was perceived, ended in disappointment and perceived as a failure. there was a different perspective on it. what do you think of the difference was not only to reagan's legacy but the cold war? >> i will say there was a large portion of the media and people watching who thought of failure but most of them didn't realize what the talks eventually got
to. reagan didn't go and say i will abolish nuclear weapons. that evolved in the course of two days of conversation, reagan came out deeply disappointed and reagan, about hollywood background being important for reagan, in addition to enhancing his imagination, imagine coming back ten years later envisioning himself in this role, hollywood taught reagan how to be a celebrity and how to comport himself in public. one of the things i concluded after studying various presidents's presidential success depends in large part on the ability of individuals to hold the office to perform the presidency. it is not enough to have good policy blues not good enough to understand how the government works. you have to perform aspect of the presidency that the public comes to expects. one of the speeches reagan gave
that is considered one of the finest speeches in 20th century political rhetoric is in the aftermath of the loss of the space shuttle challenger, where he is the consoler in chief. this is something jimmy carter would have had a hard time with this because carter was much better than reagan on policy but didn't understand almost the priest craft of being president. you have to fulfill these roles. one of the things reagan learned from hollywood is where are the cameras? it is hard to find a bad picture of ronald reagan because he always presented the best side. the photograph of reagan and gorbachev coming out of the last session he is sorely dejected because he thought for a moment that he could get to that point where they could rid the world
of nuclear weapons and he was disappointed that it didn't happen. very quickly he snapped out of it and was able to spin it as a success. interestingly there were some people who were thrilled that reagan had failed and gorbachev had failed. it is important to remember to understand reagan that when he went to reykjavík in the last two years of his presidency, reagan was more regularly criticized from the right then he was from the left. conservatives in the united states, charles krauthammer and george will and other said he is going to recollect to sell away america's nuclear arsenal, we have to prevent this happening. even if he had come to a deal with gorbachev in reykjavík he never would have gotten a deal through the senate and gorbachev would have gotten a deal through the politburo. one of the things reagan did was demonstrate to gorbachev that he is not going to do that, gorbachev backed down and delinked the intermediate nuclear weapons from the
strategic weapons and agreed to the deal reagan had wanted all along to eliminate nuclear force in europe, got a deal the next year. >> in your book, in the time leading up to the summit, you have richard nixon getting advice to reagan about how to handle this. i was fascinated with the book, so much research. and nixon, reagan, conversed from time to time. >> i have -- a rash are crucial fact which never happened, me being a novelist. one of the things i was struck by was the frequency with which reagan and nixon were on the telephone and the calls were initiated by both of them and nixon was still on his
long-standing quest for redemption and respectability and wanted his advice to be valued and i think it was. even bill clinton valued it. he was still giving it to him in 93, early 94. one of the things i sorely missed was a resource i had when writing the watergate novel and did not have when i was writing that book was the white house tapes, nixon, you can listen to him making phone calls at 10:00 at night and you can hear the ice cubes clinking in the glass, he is very unguarded but we don't know what the substance of the conversation was. reagan's diary which is sometimes as a beekley revealing a deeply reflective diary, but he does record things regularly that gives you some insight into
him, when he has to meet with some political enemy, tearing him apart in public and as soon as the meeting is over the person terrorism apart again in front of the press microphones outside the white house and reagan will write in his diary i think i made a friend but reagan goes to china once in 1984 and talk to nixon being the oldest china hand. we don't know what he says but imagine the advice nixon would give with a level of detail, the strategic quality of it, how you need to consider the relationship with the soviet union. all we know is when reagan gets to china, the first banquet, he says some great advice we got from dick nixon when he told me
when platters of food come around don't ask what anything is, just swallow it. so there is room for a novelist to feel that. >> one of the things that was fascinating to me about your book is the detail about 1947, the house committee on un-american activities. anticipated what we think as the mccarthy era. the an
reagan was a legacy dem contract. his father was a democrat and injuries so reagan was quite willing to go along and follow that path of his father's. but he hadn't really thought.college. he was not plately -- he had other ambitions to go to hollywood. one thing he did admire, especially about franklin roosevelt, and this transcended polital fill as city, was roosevelt's able to connect to the american people by radio. reagan was starting his radio career when franklin roosevelt was conducting his fireside chats over radio and roosevelt was the model of how you could use radio to create this world for the listeners out there, and reagan appreciated that, both as
a radio guy and also as someone who wanted to convey his vision to the american people. now, in fact, by the time reagan came along the medium was television. the goal was still the same, and so the end of his political career -- one of the last speeches he game in 1988, reagan, again, cited franklin roosevelt has a model of how to be president in terms of the change in his philosophy, some was they fact he was never really a convinced liberal to begin with. it was relatively easy to shake him from that. reagan tells the story that it was his awareness of communists in hollywood, and the threat they posed not simply to move the industry, but to reagan himself. he found himself head of the screen actor's guild at the time
of a bitter strike in hollywood with some of the behind the camera crew and there was a radical union with a strong communist influence that was trying to carve out some turf of a a more consecutive existing unit, and reagan, as president of the screenactor's guild, had to make a decision whether to advise the members of his union, screen actors guild to cross the picket line or not, and partly for reasons of pocketbook stuff, world war ii is over and the actors want to get back on their real peace-time pay scale and partly because he was a screen actor -- the screenactors were the highest skilled of the unions, and they were as much on the side of the studio, of management, as they were of labor. anyway reagan makes a decision it's a jurisdictional spite and therefore the actors can cross the picket line, and for this reagan was physically threatened, and so the cold war came home to reagan at that point, and reagan cites that as
the moment when he began to rethink his liberal ideas. actually, may have felt that emotional but doesn't wash politically because american liberals were as strongly opposed to communism -- in fact more strongly opposed to communism more than the republicans and the cold war was harry truman's idea, not robert taft's idea. so that doesn't exactly answer the question. part of it was simply that reagan had become a wealthy man and was making a lot of money at the time when the top marginal rate on income tacks was 90%, and you don't to be a consecutive to think that 90% is highy you want to support people who will bring it down. another part, this is really important. reagan's political evolution development was that he got a job as a spokesman for the management of the general electric company, and they were paying his way for eight years of his life between his
hollywood career and political career, and this was a time when they were writing the check for him, and reagan was used to basically playing the roles of whoever the screen writers were, and now he is writing his own script but understands where the money is coming from. i didn't -- he didn't ask to -- have to lose a strongly held belief to gradually think that the private enterprise system works pretty well and one of his jobs was to convince the workers, the ge workers, from strongly unionizing against manage. and there's some telling moments. he is also beginning to believe that government is getting wasteful, and so he is citing various programs with waste, and one of the programs that he is criticizing again and again is the tennessee valley authority tva. the tva was one of the biggest customers of ge equipment, and
it became known to reagan this was causing problems for ge management, but reagan would say that he really valued the fact that the ge management did not censor him. they didn't have to because he censored himself. he understood that i can find other examples of waste and i don't have to pick on something that's going to hurt the ge bottom line. so it was relatively easy for reagan to move across political spectrum and it's because he didn't have deeply haven't beliefs and essentially became a pocketbook republican before he became a fill -- philosophical republican. >> along those lines, reagan in 1976 ran an inurn presidential campaign. he attracted a lot of democratic crossover votes, and i think his history of the -- as a democrat helped convert people. this year we're seeing donald
trump, leading the republican presidential field, looks like he is get something substantial democratic crossover votes. his message is, make america great again, or we don't win anymore, and i think reagan in '76 was saying we're getting push around by the soviet union, giving away the pan mo canal. we don't win anymore. there's big differences between their personalities and the political climate at that time, but i'm curious as far as -- to get both your perspectives on the similarities and differences you see between what reagan was doing in 1976 and what we're seeing with donald trump in 2016. >> i have politically wildly ambivalent feelings about reagan. i think reagan accomplished some tremendous things, mostlily on the foreign sphere, domestically, i feel he was lacking in all kinds of ways. and yet -- it's always --
whether you're writing history or historical fiction to imagine what would say about the current affairs is a fool's errand. i would venture out on this limb. thing reagan would be aghast at donald trump. i think he would be appalled. >> what would bother him the most? >> his grotesque lack of manners. ronald reagan, even deep into alzheimer's, was courtly around women, would move aside when one of them to was getting on the elevator in the office building in los angeles. he was not a loudmouth, and he was not a shrieker, he was not punitive. he know how to throw hard moves and elbows, but reagan's campaign in '76 was largely
whether one liked it or not, largely an idea-based campaign, and he had a -- by that time, and i think a lot of what bill i saying is true in terms of his evolution, but by that time he knew what he wanted to say and he had positions. may not have been the most nuanced positions but he had positions that didn't change within the space of two twitter cycles. the 1976 campaign was very bracing, actually, intellectually to watch. whereas this is nothing bracing the campaign going on right now. it's an absurdist moment in american political life. one thing that '76 did when he lost to ford at the convention, and fairly narrowly, he was way behind, only began to take off in the late months of the primary season, but at that
point cbs, which was still smarting from thing that spiro agnew has been saying about the liberal bias of the networks, cbs offers reagan a position which would have him basically as a conservative counterpoint to eric severide when he would deliver short comments, and reagan said, no, he said people get tired of me, which showed he was planning on running again, old as he was. it was -- 69 was considered prohibitive to be running for president by some people in 1980, and also shows that he had some good instincts and he was -- he said, i'll do radio instead and did a lot of very short radio programs while carter was in the white house. had my first job in texas. i lived in lubbock, and i would
hear ronald reagan on the radio in the morning, thanks for listening. this is ronald reagan. and he wrote his own script. you can say that's simplistic, one-minute radio script, but they were crisp and definite. as you can guess i'm a very unhappy personal politically right you. >> you talk about the radio shows, when i was growing up, people referred to reagan as the great communicator. didn't get it. but in listening to the radio shows and becoming aware he wrote. the himself, he was dealing with the big issues could whether you agreed with his positions these were really well put together five-minute -- >> even less than that. >> -- three minutes. they were tightly scripted and well performed, and i thought this is a really good communicator. >> i think this was essential to reagan's political development.
his intellectual development and political development as well help has to school himself on five topics a week, and the depth that he wrote in was just right for a presidential candidate because when you're on the stump, you're not going to speak for 15 minutes on the latest epa regulation. you might speak for 30 seconds, and his two-minute talks were just the right length, and it gave him a breadth. it prepare him for the political space in terms of what reagan would think of the current state. my book on reagan was published last may, and when the book came out i did the round's of the talk shows, especially the various fox news shows, and the question came -- i was hoping that there would be a desire to sort of grapple with reagan as this historical figure, but the first question, almost immediately, so, how would reagan fare today or which of the candidates looks most like reagan? so, in may -- this is may, remember -- so i was asked this
question, and i said, this is going to sound perhaps a little bit odd, given the fact that the candidate that i'm going to tell you is most like reagan is not polling very well right now but i think the candidate most like reagan is rick perry. and i said, consider it, for example. long-term, successful big state governor, conventional lay good-looking guy, can give a good speech and has a good sense of humor. five days later perry dropped out. and the first thing i said, i guess that demonstrates rick perry is no ronald reagan. the more i thought about and it the more the campaign developed, i concluded that now the basic difference is that 2016 is not 1980, and first of all, donald trump in 1980 would not have become anything like the phenomenon he is, but comparing reagan most directly, the first thing i noticed about the difference between reagan and trump is the immense respect that reagan had for the office
for which he was running, and so reagan entered politics after this big speech he gives for barry goldwater in 1964, intending to run for president. but understood that you don't run for president never having been elected to anything else. you have to show you have the chops. show respect for the highest office by get egg electricitied to lower offices. the didn't want to be governor of california but he wanted to be president of the it's, and you work your way up, and donald trump just jumped in at the top. this is the fundamental difference and i'm saying this, i will admit i'm less convinced of this than i was six months ago about the basic difference is that reagan played to people's hopes, and donald trump plays on and to people's fears. and i -- in my observation of the way americans vote, they might get riled up by their
fears, by their anger, but when it finally comes to it -- those people who are motivated primarily by anger and fear have never in the history of northwestern presidency elected anybody. the ones who get elect are the one piston play to people's hopes, play to a convincing vision that yes, indeed, america can we great and not simply mouth the words and not say we're going to bully other countries around and build walls, but in fact appeal to voters' visions of the american dream. the openness of american society. and the fact that the greatest thing this country has going for it is it's ability to appeal to other countries, and reagan was that very unusual individual in recent american political history, and that is an optimistic conservative. conservatives by their nature tend to be pessimists. you're conservative becauseow think that cheng is generally for the worse.
reagan managed to be a conservative but one who is optimistic, and part of this to do with touching on the radio scripts. those 120 second radio scripts which one might think think would give you a shallow view of things, and i will say that reagan had deeply felt but only shallowly thought out views on the world, and the combination is magic in politics because if you think too deeply in politics there's always another hand. on one hand, on the other. it intellectual does not move the political world. they comment on the political world. they often wring their hands at the -- i'm not going to call reagan an antiintellectual. he is a nonintellectual and his simply identified views of the world, of american history work those that resonated really well with what americans like to think about their country, and so there was this very nice fit between the vision that reagan
had for the country and the vision that most voters have for america, and it worked really well. donald trump is entirely different story. i hope i'm not going to have to explain five years from now how trump came to be president of the united states. >> your book said -- most of it said when america was at the height of the aids crisis, and one of the most enduring critique others of reagan's presidency he moved too slowly on dealing with the aids crisis, and aim i curious about your perspectives, is it a fair critique and what wins -- what was reagan thinking at the time? >> he wasn't thinking at the time. and he -- it is a fair critique. the only person in the united states who seems to understand that reagan's record on aids was terrible, who doesn't seem to understand that, is hillary
clinton, who gave the single most bizarre interview of the political season, if you don't count all of the interviews that donald trump has given -- at nancy reagan's funeral to andrea mitchell, where the said the reagans started the national conversation about aids. they did no such thing. if reagan had -- the sole contribution reagan made to the aids crisis was having dr. coop as surgeon general, and that's to not why he was appoint but when the crisis was there at least dr. coop had the realism to sit behalf congressional committee and say that people should be using condoms to save their lives. that's his honorable act in history. it was not president reagan's, and it's a tremendous failing. i think ambivalence is a good condition for writing fiction and poetry. i'm not so sure -- history i
don't know. had these tremendously mixed feelings about reagan. admired a lot of what reagan was doing in the 1980s, particularly in foreign policy, i was aghast at what was going on in my own world. i was burying my friends and we were waiting to hear kind words from reagan and it was a failing on his part. but people are -- they're made up of parts and i think on the whole reagan's record is going to be judged pretty favorably by history. i personally -- one thing the democrats love to do, and do it at their political peril, they love telling the american people how complicated things are. it's too complicated. they're being too simplistic. one reason reagan was very effective in getting elected and then in accomplishing certain
things, was that he did have simple views of certain things, and the same story about the man who became his first national security adviser and is advising him on the issues during the campaign, says to him, governor children which was still his titling -- let's start by me asking you what is your view of the cold war? and reagan says, we win, they lose, and i think that people had been waiting for a long time to hear that, and they didn't necessarily want to see another term of jimmy carter, cowering in his car card digap sweater and i found that version of reagan electrifying and sure lay man who could think that big could have done better by his fellow citizens in the met ol' of a terrible health crisis. one quick story. little things you find out in
researching book -- >> by the way, i'm sorry to interrupt you. when you start something like this, does it all begin with the research and then the writing goes from there. >> fiction it's the little things that you realize, that's going to be a scene or chapter or even a plot line, and one of the things that i was completely bowled over to discover was that in early 1987, reagan had the aids test, which was newly reliable at that point, and dr. hutton, the white house physician, wanted him to have it because it was reliable, and he said the chances that he had the virus were infinitesimal, but had received an awful lot of transfused blood. after the shooting in 1981. and the blood supply was not protected from hiv at that point. so reagan had the test and of course tested negatively.
he would almost certainly have manifested symptoms of the disease in the six years, but again, that was another opportunity. what good he could have done by saying, i actually fall into a category of person who ought to have this test, and i had it it today, and he didn't want to do that. but in the -- it's a scene in at the book when nancy, the doctor's daughter, 0 who was much more liberal than the president on a lot of social issues -- gets the recommendation. >> what are your thoughts of the reagan's administration handling of the aids crisis. >> reagan like many people, particularly politicians, was got a rationalizing things that were convent for him and as a way of rationalizing why he didn't speak out on the aids crisis he could point out that he was the head of a political party that was, well -- in those
days, that generally believed -- there was a large faction in the republican party who believed that aids was god's judgment on homosexuals, and -- or the president of the united states to take a position on that would contradict this large run party. -- large republican party. he could also say we're funding aids research has much as he conveniently can, as much as we usefully can. he could note that opinion was divided on what the appropriate public health measures were, and so what should he say? but that really was rationalization. reagan was made uncomfortable by much of the social agenda of conservatives. reagan was a conservative, but his conservative was primarily
politics and fiscally. he was opposed to abortion but never spoke out about it. when he did speak about it he never did anything about it. social conservatives were very disappointed in reagan. he believed there probably ought to be prayer in schools but took no action on behalf of that. and on the issues of gay rights, on aids and the like, he could say that that's not really my job. now, this was quite in contradiction to his willingness, eagerness to use the bully pulpit on all manner of other things. so this was simply a failing of reagan. i don't know that he would have admitted it was a failing. but reagan almost never admitted he failed in anything else, so it was something that made him uncomfortable, would have made -- it made him personally uncomfortable and would have made him politically uncomfortable and he chose not to do it. >> talk about him being
unwilling to admit failings, and apologies for pushing the donald trump connection to much. trump will never admit he is wrong, do you think reagan was somewhat more willing at times in his political life to -- >> i'm not going compare reagan to -- >> iran-contra might be an example. >> well, here's a very interesting thing about reagan and iran-contra. in reagan's diary, which i agree with tom was not particularly reflective, off though reagan wrote the first entry in the diary on he day he was inaugurated in 1981. the last entry was his last day of president in 1989, so clearly writing this for the presidential memoir that he is going to write, and he is aware that nose where people like me and tom are going to be reading over his shoulder at some point. so at least early on you get the sense that this is written for the historians. and it reads that way. but like a lot of people who
start diaries, like -- and maybe the candidates, when you do interviews of people, do you have a tape recorder going, at first they're quite aware that the tape recorder i going and you can almost see them carefully pick their words, but gradually they forget that the tape recorder is there, and they just start talking, and at moments reagan's diary reads that way help was not a self-reflective person so doesn't get deeply into his own soul but does say more about his reactions to other people, and one of the things that comes out very clearly in his diary is her -- he is fully aware from the beginning that the iran side of the iran-contra story is about we send them weapons, they release hostages. it was weapons for hostages. again and again in this diary. he said that, okay, we're going to send them a new shipment of antitank missiles and they're going release two more hostage. in fact they don't release the
hostages but it's clear he understands the linkage. so when the story breaks and he stands up in public and says, this was not arms for hostages, i'm trying to figure out what to make of this. these days with youtube, you can go watch the video. you can watch it again and again. and first of all, i'm think, okay, he was an actor. right? so, is he just acting a part here? and i don't think so. because frankly issue don't think he was that good an actor, and i think he would have been a better actor, he wouldn't have gone into politics. but reagan had this ability -- i've seen it in other political figures and you have seen until other people -- to convince yourself of things that are necessary for you to believe. even if there's a body of facts that contradicts what you're saying. now, reagan did have a fig leaf whereby weapons were going to
tehran and the hostages were held in lebanon. so technically it wasn't the hostage holders who were getting the arms. but if his opponents tried this on him, he would have ridiculed them. there's onother aspect, this one on this issue, and that is -- this is deep into reagan's second term, deep into reagan's eight decade of life, when i was interviewing people, i talked to john poindexter who was raying'ses' national security council at the time iran con extra scandal broke the thought the reagan could say what he did was he was beginning to become forgetful, and he could forget the details, and i will give -- i will cut the president slack on this because as a historian, i've got that written record in front of me, and i can go down almost any day of reagan's presidency -- he was doing this
at 10:00, and this at 1:00, and this at 1:30 ask all this. well, if you're president, you're a busy guy, and the meeting with he was told about the arms for hostages, they were meeting that mwai last ten minutes and then on to the next thing. and in the middle of this stuff do you remember exactly you said or you were told? so if you're also becoming forgetful anyway -- so poindexter thought that the fact he was forgetting stuff allowed him to say what he said with a straight face. >> well, we have other few minutes left and will try to take some questions from the audience. we have someone who is passing a microphone around so wait for the microphone and if anyone has any questions. >> david, with regard to the collapse of communism, a lot of been said about president
reagan's role, and i think three others that had the same impact is settle neat send, church chill, and pope john paul who was very close to ronald reagan. my questions for. do you think his role in the collapse of communism is as great as we think it is? >> i think finally you have to put reagan at the head of this parade, and he did inherit the anticommunism -- as bill was saying -- of americaliberal presidents but one of the things that reagan felt -- again, felt deeply -- was that by the '70s, by and large the democratic party wanted to walk away from the cold war. that's what he was feeling.
that after kennedy and johnson, who had had a tremendous anti-communist policy, the misadventures, in the case of vietnam, he felt that the detente of nixon, for one thing, republican as well, walking airplane from the cold war -- away from the cold war and the soviet union was on the march in africa and central america, and i think they -- the combination of personalities and policies were what brought it about, but ultimately he was the man holding and dealing the biggest cards. the other person i would ad would be-miles-an-hour thatcher, who had a good deal to do with things and and who is furious when he comes home from reykjavik and she realized he was almost willing to make this deal give away, from her point of view, give away nuclear weapons. she takes him to the woodshed --
>> one thing i liked in the book is nixon is trying to get information, have it in reykjavik not in london because what margaret thatcher -- >> when they got the offer debitor was supposed to be a minisummit to lay the groundwork for the next summit, but the soviets said reykjavik or london, and they chose reykjavik, and i think that some of reagan's advisers -- this is fiction -- but it's reasonable inference, i think, they didn't want this to be taking place on mrs. thatcher's home turf because she was in many ways somebody people might have wanted instead of reagan to be in the negotiator, but she -- her firm belief was that nuclear weapons had kept the peace in europe, and that if nuclear weapons were gotten rid of, the soviets would roll over western europe with forces and it was dangerous. if the deal had been struck at reykjavik you have to ask
yourself, would the see yet union had survived if there had been a dramatic lessening of military spending by both sides, would the soviet union have been able to hold itself together longer, and so the fact is, by not making the deal, reagan really unexpectedly got his heart's desire. >> would aide mikhail gorbachev. by allowing the soviets to looks at what was wrong he basically released released released the genie that led to the demise of the soviet union. of all the american presidents, reagan deserves the largest credit but timing is everthing.
if --ed required somebody on the soviet side to say we need to change some stuff, and they realized how -- reagan said, mr. gorbachev, tear down his will. when reagan left office the wall was standing and it wasn't until the end of 1989 that the wall metaphorically was breached. and it is worth noting -- this is where reagan's influence was at least as great as putting spending pressure on the russians. when people talk to the folks who brought down the wall this east germans, who put their lives on the line and demands the opening of the gate, asked about this afterwards, they've said they in some cases literally had heard but certainly metaphorically had heard reagan say, tear down this
wall, and they knew that they had a sponsor on the other side of the wall. richard nixon didn't say that. jimmy carter didn't say that. so they knew they had moral support from the other side and that meant a whole lot to the folks in poland and the folks in east germany, and to the folks in the soviet union. one last thing. people associated with the george h.w. bush administration, they say we had a lot to do with this, too, and we don't get credit for it, and i agree. >> any other questions? , yes, sir. we have a minute left. >> just simply because you're both such wonderful historians, can you talk about the lack of civil discourse because of the media and twitter mentality we're living in. the effect it's going to have or is having. >> good question. one of the things i don't think
has been much remarked upon in this cycle, as they say, this election year, is the decline of the speech writer. i have a lot of speech writer friends in washington, and a lot of them are making a lot less and doing a lot less than they used to because the age of the big speech -- you remember, whatever the candidate was, we'll be giving a big foreign policy address today or a big education address today. that's not what moves the news these days. it's twitter and these -- the tweet writers, because they don't -- politicians don't know how to do 140 characters. they -- somebody tweets for them and it's back and forth and sped up and there is something, i think, rhetorically infantile about it.