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tv   Panel Discussion on Ronald Reagan  CSPAN  September 2, 2016 2:43am-3:46am EDT

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festival. >> welcome to the san antonio book festival. this panel is called ronald reagan by my fact and fiction. i'm gilbert garcia from the san antonio express news and i'm very excited to be a part of the panel with two brilliant writers who in very different ways in the 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. this panel will air on c-span2
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on april 30. he will devote about the last ten, 15 minutes for questions so if you have questions, we'll do our best to give everybody a chance to ask those. to my far left, h. w. brand holds the chair at the university of austin and "new york times" best-selling author he was a finalist for the pulitzer prize biography for the first american and traitor to his class. he's written biographies of franklin roosevelt communities grant among others and the latest book is ronald reagan, the life to the biography of the president. to my immediate left, thomas is the author of nine novels including dewey defeats truman. truman. he's a contributor to the new yorker, "new york times" book review and the atlantic. in 2011 he received the american academy memorial award and has
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been the editor of gq in the national madonna for the humanities and the latest book looks at the reagan years by weaving fictional characters with historical events and historical figures such as ronald and nancy reagan, nixon, margaret thatcher and one of my personal favorite characters in the, merv griffin. [laughter] you write about this wall ronald reagan had at the detachment and i think nancy said she was the only person even though she could only go so far and thomas, i know you talked about how you've written about historical characters from their point of view in many times you do that with both nixon and nancy but then ronald reagan was very tough to do that with so i guess
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i will start with bill and talk about what accounts for that wall that so many people talked about and what kind of challenges posed in writing your book. >> when i was writing on the book i was doing it for a previous book and i was speaking on the radio show i'm pretty sure that it was based in chicago and at the end of the hour, the host asked a question that comes up all the time in this context. he said what's your next project and i said i was working on ronald reagan. he put his hand over the microphone and said after we get off the air, there is something i need to tell you so i'm all years. i felt okay. after we got off the air we had to hear what he had to say and if you want to understand ronald
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reagan is one thing you need to keep in mind. he said of ronald reagan was the son of an alcoholic father. and i wasn't quite sure what to make of this comment because i didn't know if he thought he was telling me something i didn't already know. but his father was an alcoholic because he wrote two memoirs and describes what like growing up as the son of an alcoholic father and so i waited to hear what i have to say further and so he said i speak as the son of an alcoholic father and i would tell you, he said, when you grow up in those circumstances you develop a characteristic attitude towards the world and learn to keep your emotions to go south because the person on whom you most want to rely who is going to be an adult, the one who will want to be your pillar of emotional strength is the
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most unreliable person in your universe and one day he is your best friend and is telling you a funny story and throwing the baseball around the backyard and is taking you out for ice cream and the next day he is beating the living daylights out of you and every morning when you wake up you don't know which one you will be dealing with so you learn to build this wall around yourself and you develop kind of an emotional self-sufficiency. this is what he told me and i was probably halfway into my research and i thought okay this was his experience. and it was an interesting insight. i think quite sincerely and accurately she knew him far better than anyone else but
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there were times when the wall went up between the two of them and even she didn't know what was going on was in his head and heart so i thought if she said this, this at least corroborates to that extent what might radio host had said. said. there's another moment and this bit of evidence comes from a. if they called winter afternoon getting dark at temperatures below freezing there's snow on the ground coming home with the ymca and he walks down the street onto the sidewalk, turns to get into the house and there is his father passed out in the snow and in his telling he pauses for a second and ask themselves whether he should just walk on inside the house. now i'm in the memoir he doesn't tease out exactly what that means but the implication is i'm
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going to let him die in the snow here. now in the next sentence in the memoir he says i've decided to bring this in. but here's an 11-year-old kid entertaining but his world might be better if his father were dead. to me that is a pretty heavyweight having an affair. so i'm not going to say that this explains everything about ronalronald reagan but does expa lot about his standoffishness. he was a person that seemed friendly from across the room from a distance but a closer you got to him, the cooler he got. ..
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>> >> i was working on reagan to weeks teefive realized that would not have them die completely got the edmund problem there are any number
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of biographers but referring to the instance of these passages but in no way he threw up his hands about warm lee m. personal quality was very real. he said i think that this is overblown. and consider the reagans as personal friends. he said he had one friend he married her. [laughter] thought however molas that even nixon had to france. [laughter]
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so to understand that the unusual quality but there were times when i thought reagan was preposterous silly but other times it that he was deep white the character in the '80s he thinks reagan in this way to know very little so one of the keys to reagan is his film career such u.s. can one time how can an actor be president and then you realize he wasn't an actor but could do the job but his acting career paid
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tremendous decisions on bill whole to imagine things very sentimentally. in a cheap hollywood way. lot of minor concern that at the time is perceived as a failure. but it comes over the transcripts of the summit but the note taker is taking very detailed notes and then reagan says 10 years from now we can come in backyard to bury the last nuclear weapon and have a party for the whole world. i will be a very old man at that time and they will say
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is that you? i will say it is good to see you. it is like running and save the world if you look at him compared to nixon of the tactician who would steady above the issue to lend astonishingly greater degree he could not bring himself to that point without the soviet union by reagan could buy the key learned that in hollywood. >> i think that is the central part of your book as it is focused on the summit and it was perceived that
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the time maybe we have a different perspective now but what was reagan's legacy if you look at the cold war? >> i will say there was a large portion of the media and those watching but most of them did not realize what the top got to. he said i will abolish nuclear weapons and there wasn't that standard so reagan can that deeply disappointed. in addition to enhancing his imagination to envision himself in the role hollywood taught reagan how to be a celebrity and put itself in public and one of the things i concluded his
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presidential success depends on a large part of the ability to perform of presidency. it isn't good enough to understand how the government works but the public comes to expect so one of the finest beaches of 20th-century rhetoric with of loss of the challenger basically the counselor and chief this is something that jimmy carter had a really hard time because carter was better in policy but he didn't understand the craft of being president to philby's roles. would they learn from hollywood it is hard to find
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the bad picture of ronald reagan coming out of that last session of rico veeck he is surly ejected because he thought he could get to the point where they could rid the world of nuclear weapons and disappointed in happen but he could spin that as a success but interestingly some people were thrilled that when he went off with his presidency reagan is more regularly criticized from the right and from the left to say he is going off with america's nuclear arsenal so even if
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he came to lead deal he never would have gotten the deal or berger chopped wouldn't have so one of the things was demonstrate so he backed down with the intermediate nuclear weapons with the strategic weapons and agreed to the deal all along and he got the deal the next year. >> so in the time leading up to the summit you're trying to give a vice and i was fascinated if there is so much research and one of the things that is mentioned as they conversed from time to time. >> nine have rather crucial
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facts. one of the things i was struck by is the frequency and the calls were initiated and nixon was on his longstanding quest and he wanted is advice to be valued by one of the things that i sorely missed that i did not have when i was writing the reagan book you can listen to the filmmaking fall calls the 10:00 at night.
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of course we don't know what the substance of of conversation like reagan's diary and he does record things irregularly and in a way that frequently with a political enemy. this in as the meeting is over they tear them apart again. i think i made the french. he goes and to nixon for of course, we don't know what he says you can imagine a
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advice to consider the relationship. but when reagan gets to china but then he told me. >> so there is room for a novelist. so what is fascinating the detail of reagan's testimony to be anticipated of the mccarthy area -- era with the new deal and the democrats in the 30's or 40's where did that
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transformation happen that is the place to look at. >> one of the big questions is even during his presidency acknowledged in terms of political philosophy but reagan was a legacy democrat. his father was a democrat he got a job for the neil -- for the new deal agency so he was quite willing to go along he was a politically engaged as a college student but one of the things he did
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admire in this transcends political philosophy was reagan was starting his radio career when roosevelt was conducting his fireside chats and roosevelt was a model of how you use radio to create a world for the listeners out there and he appreciated that as someone who eventually wanted to convey his vision to the american people but by the time reagan came along the medium was television so to the end of his political career in one of the last beach's he gave dainty 88, again he cited roosevelt as a model not so much what to do but how to be president but in terms of
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the change of the philosophy but he was never really a liberal to begin with some it was easy to shaky above that the reagan tells the story if it was his awareness of communist and hollywood and the threat that they posed not simply to the movie industry but to reagan himself. as the head of the screen actors guild a bitter strike behind the camera crews and a union that had a strong trying to carve out the turf and reagan to revise the union and partly for reasons world war two's over the
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actors want to get back on the regular peacetime pay scale. for the screen actors there rather highest skilled of the union's favor on the side of management as labor by reagan make the decision of a jurisdictional dispute that actors can cross the picket lines and for this he was physically threatened. so the cold war came home to reagan that is the moment he began to rethink his ideas actually he may have felt that emotionally but it doesn't wash politically because american liberals were as strongly opposed to communism actually more subtle but the cold war with harry truman was his idea and not taft. so that doesn't exactly answer the question but part of that is he was a wealthy man at the time when the top
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marginal rate on income tax was 90% and you don't have to be a conservative to think 90 percent is pretty high. and other part that is important with reagan's political development is he got a job as a spokesman for general electric and they paid his way eight years and they were writing the checks and reagan was used to playing of rolls of the screen writers but now he writes his own script so he and stands where they come from he didn't have to endure in the strongly held belief to gradually think that the private enterprise system works well and the
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jobless to convince the ge workers against unionizing to go out on strike so he also begins to believe the government is wasteful so he looks at various programs and one of the programs he is criticizing is the tennessee valley authority but it turns out that is one of the biggest consumers of ge equipment so became known to reagan that this was causing problems for management that he would say he really value the fact that the ge management did not sincere him they did not have to because he censored himself he understood i could find other examples of ways and don't have to pick on the bottom line so is relatively easy for him to gravitate across the spectrum partly because he
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had no deeply held beliefs in the first place and essentially he was a pocket book republican before a philosophical republican. >> along those lines in 76 with a presidential campaign he attracted a lot of the democratic crossover votes and is history as a democrat probably helped him to convert people but this year we see donald trump leading the presidential field and looks like he is getting substantial democratic crossover votes his message is make america great again but reagan and 76 essentially said we are pushed around by the soviet union beginning away the panama canal we don't win anymore so is there a difference between their personality and the political climate at that time?
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so to get both of your perspectives on the differences when reagan was doing and what we see with donald trump. >> politically i have a ambivalent feelings mostly in the foreign sphere domestically and feel he was lacking in all kinds of ways but yet whether your writing history or historical fiction to imagine what they would say about current affairs is a fool's errand we don't know but i would venture i think reagan would be aghast at donald trump and be appalled. >> what would bother him the most? >> his grotesque lack of
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manners ronald reagan even deep into alzheimer's was court the around women and would move aside on the elevator in the office building in los angeles. he was not punitive or asia weaker. and whether they liked it or not in a lot of what they said was true that by vat time to be its most nuanced position but that did not change within the space of the two twitter cycles.
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that was very bracing to watch where there is nothing about the campaign right now. but one thing 76 did he was way behind he only began to take off in the late months of the primary. at that point cbs was still smarting from spear agnew to offer a position as a conservative counterpoint to the great liberal commentator when he would deliver his short comments. the that was revealing for
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two reasons as old as he was. and to show that sense that i will do radio with a very short radio program. and i would hear look ronald reagan on the radio. >> to think that was simplistic. >> when i was growing up but to not necessarily get it
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but to be where he wrote that himself he was dealing with the big issues of the day if you don't agree or not they were well put together five men there radio. >> even less than that they were tightly scripted will perform to and i thought this is good. >> this was essential to his political development because he had to school himself on five different topics of weekend death he wrote was just right for a presidential candidate because on the stump you of my speech for 15 minutes of the latest epa regulation maybe 30 seconds so his two-minute talks were just the right link and gave him a breath and prepared him for political life but what
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he would think of the current state my book was published last may and when the book came out i did the talk shows especially fox the question came up and i was hoping there'd be a desire to grapple with him as a historical figure but almost immediately how would he care today but which are the most like kim? su remember this is may i said this will sound odd fit with the fact of the candidate that is most like reagan is not pulling very well right now but i think it is rick perry. consider long-term big state governor, good looking a bit since the humor, five days later he dropped off. [laughter]
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by said again said demonstrates he is not a ronald reagan as the campaign developed i said the difference is 2016 is not 1980 and donald trump in 1980 when not have become a phenomenon that he is but comparing him directly the first thingthat i noticed of the difference if is the immense respect reagan have for the office of which he was running. he entered politics after big speech for barry goldwater intending to run for president but he understood you don't run for president never been elected to anything else you have to show you have the tops you show respect by the highest office by being elected to the lower offices he did want to be governor but you work your way up.
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fifth force donald trump johnson at the toff and also the fundamental difference ims convinced then a was but reagan played to people's hopes but trump's plays to people's fears and in my observation of the way americans but they may get riled up by their fears and anger grow when it comes to it the fear motivated primarily by anchor and fear and never in the history of the presidency elected anybody so the ones who are elected that play to the hopes a convincing vision that america can be great and not simply say the words or bully the other countries to build a wall but appealed
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to the voters visions of the american dream the open america society the biggest thing the country has going for it is the ability to appeal to other countries and reagan was that unusual individual and that is an optimistic conservative by their nature they tend to be pessimist the thing changes for the worse but somehow he managed to be a conservative but optimistic in part of the past to do with the radio script those 122nd scripps that may give you a shallow view but i will say he had deeply eiffel to believe shallow thought views on the world than the combination is magic in politics because it you think too deep there is
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always one hand intellectuals do not rule the political world they comment and wring their hands and will not call him the anti-intellectual but his simplified views of the world and american history is what resonated well with what americans like to think about their country. so there was a nice fit with the vision that reagan had and most voters have for america it worked well tromp is an entirely different story i hope that on have to explain five years from now laugh laugh top trump became president of the unit is states. >> your book is set at the height of the aids crisis one of the most enduring
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critiques of his presidency is the move to slowly to deal with the aids crisis. is that a fair critique? and what was his thinking at the time blacks in $0.91 laugh laugh that is fair believers the seams to understand his record on aids was terrible who doesn't understand that is hillary clinton. the single most bizarre interview of the political season if you don't count all of the interviews with donald trump that nancy reagan's penal she said he started a national conversation about aids but if he had the sole contribution he made to the aids crisis was having dr. dr. coop as surgeon general
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but when it was there at least he had the realism with to set before congressional committee to say people should be using condoms to save their lives. that is his honorable acted not the president reagan that is the failing. >> i have a tremendously mixed feeling. that i was burying my friends and rating for words from reagan and it was a feeling on his part but they
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are made up of parts and on hold his record will be judged favorably by history but i personally, one thing the democrats love to do at their own political peril they love to tell how complicated things are it is too complicated there too simplistic and one of the reasons that reagan was effective to get elected and accomplish these things they were simple but firm views the same about the man became the first national security advisor on those issues of the campaign who says governor, let's start by me asking you your view of the cold war? he said we win and they lose. [laughter] i think people had been waiting for a long time to hear that they did want to
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see another term of jimmy carter in a cardigan sweater and i found that aspect of regin electrifying and assure the the man who could sink that big could have been done better by his fellow citizens in the middle of a terrible health crisis. but the little things that you find out while researching. >> sorry to interrupt so when you begin does a star with the research greg. >> yes in with fiction is of little things you realize that will be a scene or a chapter and one of the things i was completely bowled over was early 1987 reagan had the aids cabinet
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was relied at that point in the white house physician wanted him to have it because it was reliable and said the chances that he had the virus infinitesimal but he did receive a lot of transfused blood after the shooting in 1981 to the event it was not protected at that point so he did have the test and tested negatively certainly he would have manifested within the six years but that was another opportunity for what he could have done to say i have actually fallen into a category to take this test and i had that today. but he did not want to do that. but this is seen in the book when the doctor's daughter who was much more liberal
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than the president. >> would your thoughts with the reagan and frustration handling of the aids crisis greg. >> like many people was good rationalizing things for convenience. as a way to rationalize why he didn't speak out he could point out that he was the head of a political party that in those days there is a large faction in the republican party who believed aids was god's judgment on homosexuals in for the president to take a position on that would contradict the party but he could also say we are funding aids research as much as we can he could note
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that opinion was divided on the appropriate public health measures were so what should he say? but that really was rationalization he was made uncomfortable by much of that social agenda of conservatives he was a conservative but primarily of politics and fiscal issues. he was opposed to abortion but almost never spoke out and when he did he never did anything about that social conservatives were disappointed in reagan he took no action and, the issues of gay-rights or aids he could say that isn't my job but this was in contradiction to his
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eagerness to use the of bully pulpit on other things so it was simply a failing of his i don't know if he would have ignited it is a failing but then it may again almost never admitted he failed the anything else that made him uncomfortable personally and politically and he chose not to do it. >> talk about him and willing to admit failings and those that are pushing that trump connections with that is the common criticism that he was somewhat more willing at times quite. >> i will not compare reagan >> but here is an interesting thing about reagan with the iran contra so in his diary it is a reflective although he wrote the first entry on the day
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he was inaugurated 1984 the last was his last day of president 1989 so very clearly he is writing this for the presidential memoir and is aware that nosey people will be reading over official press some point so early on you get the sense this is written for the historian. a reads that way but like people who star diaries or if you do interviews especially with a tape recorder going of first they are aware the tomas sees them carefully pick their words congratulations they forget to and they just are talking and in those moments it reads that way he was not self reflective so he doesn't get deeply into his own soul but he does say more by his reactions to other people and one of the
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things that comes out very clearly he is fully aware from of beginning the iran side of the story is we send them weapons they read these hostages weapons for hostages again and again he said okay we will send them a new shipment and they will release two more hostages now they don't but it is clear he and the standstill link so when the story breaks he stands up in public and says five this was not arms for hostages said try to figure out what to make of it because these days with you to view can watch the video again and again. first of all he was an actor he is just acting apart. i don't think so because frankly it'll pinky was that good of an actor.
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[laughter] if he was he would not have gotten into politics but he had an ability the legacy in another political figures to convince yourself of things that necessary for you to believe even if there is a body of facts that contradict now he did have the figleaf were the weapons were going to tear ron and of hostages were held so technically it was accosted to holders who were getting the arms but his political opponents tried this he would have ridiculed them but there is one other aspect of this issue that this is deep into his second term his eighth decade of life. i was talking to poindexter the national security advisor at the time when the
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scandal broke and he said he thought part of the reason reagan could say what he did after having done what he did he was beginning to be forgetful and he could forget the details i will cut him some slack on this because as a historian i have the written record in front of me and i can go down almost any day of his presidency this the 10:00 this at 1:00 and 130 per your president you are busy in the meetings where he was told the arms for hostages they may last 10 minutes and he was on to the next thing and in the middle of this year remember where you were setter what you were told but if you also become forgetful any way they said the fact he was forgetting stuff allowed him to say what he said.
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>> we have a few minutes left will take some questions from the audience to pass the microphone around. >> with regards to communism for the others that have the same impact of winston churchill and pope john paul then is close to reagan do you think that his role will of communism is as great as we think it is a wax. >> i fink finally you have
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to put reagan at the head of this parade. he did inherit the anti-communist some but one of the things that he felt deeply was that by the seven days by a large democratic party wanted to walk away from the cold war that after kennedy and johnson who had tremendous anti-a communist policies and misadventures like vietnam he felt with nixon and republicans were walking away from the cold war and the soviet union was on the march in africa and central america. the combination of
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personalities and policies but ultimately he was the man called the cards but also mrs. thatcher to have a good deal to do with things and is furious when he comes home and she realizes he was almost willing to make the deal from her point of view they give away she takes them to the woodshed. >> i think nixon suggest in london? five. >> yes when they got the author with ashley offer for the mini summit and they chose rate to evict and they think some of his advisers say it is fiction but it is reasonable inference they did not want this to take place on thatcher's home
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turf because maybe they wanted reagan to be the negotiator but she knew if they ever got rid of the soviets would roll over western europe with conventional forces and that was dangerous but if the did deal was struck ask yourself with the soviet union have survived if there had been a dramatic lessening of military spending on poolsides could the soviet union will result together longer? so by not making the deal he unexpectedly got his heart's desire. >> i would add to the list is mchale gorbachev inadvertently he did not intend but by allowing the
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soviets to look at what was wrong he basically released the genie at lead to the demise. i put it that of all american presidents fagan deserves the most credit keefe but is far beyond the work of any one person timing is everything if living another six years there would not have been any major change here requires somebody to say we need to change this up with a start to remodel the house they realize how rotten it was but one of the reasons it was reagan but he said teardown this call it is important to note with he off left office call was securely standing but not until the end that and what metaphorically was breached
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by here is where his influence was as great as putting pressure on russia so those who talk to those who demanded an opening to ask about this after birds they almost literally add heard metaphorically to say tear down this wall with the sponsor on the other side they knew they had moral support from the other side. it meant to those folks in poland and east germany in this soviet union. >> those of socialist george h. w. bush administration say we don't have credit for this.
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>> simply because you are wonderful historians. >> talk about the political discourse to talk about this cycle is the decline of the speech writer and a lot of them make a lot less than they used to because they will have a big foreign policy address but is it
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what news the news it is pdf twitter most politicians don't even know how do 140 characters. and there is something rhetorically infantile. and by comparison so that is one more thing that is wrong with nonsense communication. >> but with social media
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allows the candidates without the filter of the editors or tv shows. one of of things for historians have things really change your is donald trump unique? was expected people would have these speeches on foreign policy but trump seems to have changed the rules to establish the set of ground rulesof the other candidates but if donald trump finds his way to the white house the that is the model shown to work it doesn't then maybe things haven't gone so far. maybe the next door around be will be back where we were four years ago. >> we will have to wrap that there.
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[applause]
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