tv Gilbert Robinson on Reagan Remembered CSPAN June 28, 2015 9:10am-9:53am EDT
an first lady? "first ladies: presidential historians on the lives of 45 iconic american women." a great summertime read. available from public affairs as hardcover or e-book, through your favorite bookstore or online bookseller. >> the author of reagan remembered gilbert, was joined by other cabinet members and administrators to recall the president's personal side as well as his days in the white house. the national press club hosted this event. it's 40 minutes. >> good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. we're here today to celebrate the publication of "reagan remembered." this is a true presidential first. never before have so many prominent members of an administration come together to offer up their thoughts on a former president. 81 in total including president george h. w. bush, colin powell,
george schultz, and many, many others. the man we have to thank for this great volume is here with us today, ambassador gill robinson. he will join us now to share some remembrances. thank you. ambassador robinson: and i did not remember to shut off my phone. thank you all for being here. appreciate it very much. i thought i would -- where is the publisher? where's the publisher? and the managing editor. oh, there is the managing editor. hi. megan, thank you. i think i want to give you a little bit of background on how the book came about.
when i was at a dinner with one of the presidential scholars sitting next to me, they began a talk about democrat republicans when they left office. the president's people, cabinet, and how they wrote books. and at 1.i said -- at one point i said they get together and wrote stories about their own president, the people who appointed them. they said no, not at all. he thought for a moment and said no, never, but it would be historic if they did. so over the years from my colleagues in the reagan administration, i heard wonderful stories about the president, and, you know, never
dreaming we would end up with not 20 or 30, but in my book that i organized, 81 of president reagan's appointees many of them top advisers and policymakers. when i was ready to do the book, i invited the attorney general meese for lunch, and i told him my idea, what i wanted to do and i said, "you know, you were with president reagan from the minute he was elected governor until the end of his term -- second term as president." you know him better than anybody. i would like you to write the foreword." he thought about it for a minute and he said, sure, he would do it. then he said, "why don't we get james miller -- sorry, james
baker, james miller is coming later -- james baker to write the epilogue? " jim was the chief of staff and then secretary of treasury under reagan. later secretary of state under bush. we began that way. i think that the book -- to give you a little flavor -- i will just give you a story and call on two of my colleagues to give you their story -- i am an old eagle scout. and when people talked about how nice the president was, i thought of the scout laws -- trustworthy, loyal, courteous, kind. people would talk about president reagan, but i did not think in terms of toughness. and one of the stories in the book is about that toughness. and frank carlucci who was the national security adviser before he became the secretary of defense, and he knew that the
president liked the prime minister of canada, and they were going up to canada to negotiate with the canadians on the new treaty. as they got out of the car in canada, the president looks at frank and says, "frank, be nice to the canadians." frank went his way with the negotiating team from canada. the president went his way with mulroney. they had a break and came back for lunch, and reagan went into the team's room and he heard schultz, secretary of state shultz and frank carlucci are -- are doing. so he told somebody to go tell them that they would be delayed for lunch a few minutes. he listened for 10 or 15 minutes, and when he was finished, there was a break. he put his finger almost in carlucci's chest and said "frank, i told you to be nice to
the canadians." so carlucci immediately got up left, looks around -- looked around for his counterpart in the canadian negotiations. he found him and said, "would you please tell me the canadian position again?" and he said "because now it's also ours." there were stories -- inside stories. rather than my telling you, i brought two of my colleagues along. judge webster, who was the only man to head the fbi and then the cia, and my other colleague, jim miller, who was the head of the office of management and budget and a member of the cabinet and very close to president reagan. so bill, would you mind coming up here and telling your story?
judge webster: what would you like from me? to talk about ronald reagan? oh, yes. the book, if you have seen it outside, has a range of stories and reminiscences by a great many people who worked with ronald reagan, and it was fun being asked to participate in it. and one of the incidents i submitted that appears in the book has to do with a dinner at the, toward the close of the reagan administration. the dinner was given by claire who was our ambassador. she lived in the watergate hotel in a lovely apartment. invited a number of friends over, and the dinner was primarily for president reagan. just as we were sitting down to
dinner, the lights went out. a big storm absolutely blacked out the watergate hotel. and she didn't lose a step. she went out in the hall, with -- went up and down to her neighbors, borrowed a candelabra. we got everything back in place, and none of this is upsetting at all to the president. he was relaxed and actually had a chance to chat a little more. the subject came up about the fact that who was going to be his likely successor? and of course, his vice president was george herbert walker bush. and he started off by saying his experience with then vice president bush involved a very fierce candidate, some of you will remember, contest for the
nomination. back at the beginning, his most vigorous opponent, and his advisers had split on the subject of whether or not a place should be made for george bush in his campaign and in his administration. some of them thought it would be a wise thing to do. some of them thought it would be a very foolish thing to do. he made the decision, as he explained it, that it was the right thing to do, and he asked him to be his running mate as his vice president. and then he launched -- quite on his own. there was no need, no pressure. he was at the end of the career -- to say he could not have made a better choice. that president bush had been straight with him and he had enjoyed working with him. the president never contested or challenged, unlike what we are hearing in today's potential candidacy, the works of his
boss, and he had never in a cabinet meeting or public session offered a different view, but every thursday, they got together for dinner, and i remember that because i had the privilege of serving under president reagan for all these years. and they would meet and talk about the issues. and at that point in time, it was understood that george bush could be candid, disagree, make alternate suggestions, so forth, and he did so, but he did not embarrass or challenge or undercut the president. he talked about this. he said no one could have been more loyal to me, and i was very privileged to have him, and he thought it was a wonderful experience. it was moving and touching because it was so sincere and he had nothing to gain by being so candid. well, the secret service came with the flashlights and got him safely out of the building. the rest of us groped our way out down the stairs in the dark.
and all the time i was thinking what an unusual man to be so loyal to those he works with. no wonder they were so loyal to him. and that is one of the great memories i have. i have a lot of others and people full of any stories. wonderful, funny stories. but that one was very special to me. ambassador: i found our publisher, and there he is in the back. thank you very much for being here. i would like the -- jim is very close to the president as director of our budget and cabinet officer and has a very interesting story to tell about one sort of cabinet meeting.
meese: thank you, gill. we just had a session at the metropolitan club, and it was great. when i go out and give speeches, i am frequently asked questions having nothing to do with this speech, and invariably, someone raises the question what was ronald reagan really like. i think two decades from now, three or four decades from now, you will learn more about what ronald reagan was really like by reading this book than about anything else. it's really quite an extraordinary undertaking that gill has concluded, and i think it is something really worthwhile for people to consult. ed meese will tell you that ronald reagan is the same guy inside as he was outside, and that's very true, and i think an evidence of that is what you will see -- he is very candid, transparent, to the point.
the story has to do with a meeting with the congressional leadership in the cabinet. about at least every quarter the president would have down the leaders of congress for a meeting to discuss the issues, and there was a protocol. seating protocol. the president would sit next to him. on his right be the speaker. next would be the majority leader. then, democratic house. next it was the minority leader. on the other side would be the senate majority leader and then the senate minority leader and then the senate whip. and they would sit on the president's side, and around the table would be other leaders of congress. that day, the president asked three cabinet members to make presentations, and we were sitting against the wall. you are familiar with what the cabinet room looks like.
and all of that. and so howard baker -- this must have been 1987. howard baker talked a little bit about legislative strategy and priorities and all of that, and then jim baker talked about an issue close to his heart, and that was the expiration of the current debt ceiling, which was going to lead to a cliff to lower the debt ceiling. and as jim was pointing out today, there's a federal law dating back to the 1700s, which holds the secretary of treasury personally liable for the debts of the united states, so jim was very anxious to get congressional action on that bill. then i made a presentation on the budget, priorities and so forth. well, after i was finished -- this was after a meeting that went for 45 minutes or an hour. the president said -- was
expected to say, ok, thank you for coming. etc. but he didn't. he said, "that's right. we need to get rid of all this excessive spending overregulation, and all of that." people are saying, "yes, mr. president," and pushing their chairs back. "we have too much taxes, too much regulation. we've got to do something about excessive government." well, i looked over and i saw tip o'neill, the speaker. he got red in the race. and the next time the president opens his mouth about taxes, o'neill exploded. he says, "mr. president, there you go, trying to bail out your rich friends. you don't care about the poor and the downtrodden of america."
you only care about your rich friends." the president says, "there you go, answer to everything is more government, more spending, more regulation." "you don't care about the poor." here were these two giants these two elephants in the room, and the rest of us were scared. we were mice about to be trampled. we did not know what to do. all of a sudden, senator al simpson slapped his hand on the table and said, "cut it out, you two. all right, that's enough. cut it out, you two." i looked at reagan, and he had the same expression on his face as did tip o'neill, and i would characterize it -- maybe unfairly -- as like a boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. shouldn't have been doing that. going through everybody's minds, how is this going to a result. -- going to resolve? how is the drama going to end?
reagan said "we better go back to work." and to o'neill said "you are right, mr. president, we better get back to work." then the meeting broke up as if nothing happened. if you had been there, you would not have forgotten that. about a decade later, maybe two decades, i talked to al simpson, and he confirmed -- he said, "i don't know" -- i mentioned the episode, and he said, "i don't know what got into me that day but i just thought it was the right thing to do." well, god bless him. because it was a way of ending it that might have been more pleasant than it otherwise might have been. can i tell my other story? no. all right. so there you go. you will have to read the book to get some others.
ambassador robinson: thank you but some other time. [laughter] ambassador robinson: we are very fortunate today to have these gentlemen, prime movers in the reagan administration. we are honored, really, to have attorney general meese, the one person who began with ronald reagan when he was elected governor and was with him all the way through until the last day as president. edwin meese holds the ronald reagan share in -- chair in public policy and is also the chairman emeritus of heritage's center for legal and judicious studies and a distinguished visiting fellow at the hoover institution and -- in stanford, california.
mr. meese served as the 75th attorney general of the united states from february 1985 to august 1988. more recently, he served on the iraq study group, national war powers commission, the evaluation committee for the national institute of justice and the congressionally authorized fbi review commission on counterterrorism. from january 1981 to february 1985, mr. meese held the position of counselor to the president in the white house. formerly mr. meese served in governor reagan -- as his assistant and chief of staff in california and as his legal affairs secretary. he also served as deputy district attorney and in alameda county, california, was a professor of law where he also was director of the center for criminal justice policy. mr. meese is a graduate of yale university, class of 1953 and holds a law degree from the
university of california at berkeley. he is a retired colonel in the army reserve. he is active in numerous, civic, and educational organizations. mr. reese is married, has two grown children and resides in mclean, virginia, and i am very proud to call him my friend. [applause] attorney general meese: thank you, gil. gil has done a great job of taking the ideas he explained and putting them into effect by contacting 81 different people who worked with ronald reagan during his presidency. there were a lot of books written about presidents. as a matter of fact, there were probably more books written about ronald reagan than most presidents. they are still coming out at the rate of about one every other couple of months, but this book is going to be unique because it is not written by a historian who is either writing what somebody else told them or what
they have made up themselves. it is really what people who were with ronald reagan during the course of his presidency actually will have written about, their own experiences how they saw ronald reagan, so you have 81 different portraits if you well, from -- if you will from the people who knew him the best, the people who work with him on a day-to-day basis. i think it is going to be -- it is an excellent book. i've had the privilege of looking at it, reading it. gil has done a great job. you know, when you go back some 30 or more years ago, you go back to where the united states was in deep trouble, 1981. probably in the most difficult straits it had been in since the great depression when ronald reagan took office. you had inflation. you had energy shortages. you had deepest economic recession. you had all of these different problems. you had national security problems with the military at
its lowest ebb as a result of the aftermath of the vietnam war. you had the attitudes of the american people, the confidence of the american people in themselves, in the country, and its institutions at a very low point, and in a sense, ronald reagan did not know if he had been elected presidency or receiver of bankruptcy. as a result of that, he came into office with a vision. he had campaigned in pretty simple terms. he said that there are three things we have to do. number one, we had to restart and recharge the economy. we had to rebuild our military capability and contest the soviet union, and we had to revive the spirit of the american people, and that is what he set out to do. by 1984 when he was running for reelection, he had most of those things under way.
in terms of the economy, he had a relatively simple program. reduce tax rates across the board. reduce the amount of regulation that was stifling industry. -- stifling business and industry. work with the fed to maintain stable monetary policy, and slow the growth of federal spending. in terms of the national security situation, it was to rebuild our military capabilities, to contest the soviet union on a moral basis, to stop them from the aggression that was taking place around the world, and to roll back the previous aggression by supporting freedom fighters. and in terms of the american people, it was his calming of their concerns, his talking with them directly from the oval office in numerous speeches and talks on television, and so by 1984, we had the start of the longest period of peacetime economic growth in history.
we had the military being built up to the point where it ultimately resulted in the strongest military force in the history of the world. the idea of peace through strength was a reality, and the people, when they reelected him by an overwhelming margin, i think he had 49 states in 1984 -- the confidence of the american people had been revived. really, what we are talking about here is a book that talks about how that happened from the words of the people who are part of the team that ronald reagan put together. i think this will be an epic and unique contribution to the literary history of not just this president but something of an example for two, by which other presidential candidates will be evaluated. with that, i think we are going to go to questions?
>> we will take some questions. >> what is it about reagan that has so many books being written about him so fast? and you kind of see that two decades from now that image of what is being portrayed. edwin mees: well, i think most historians would say it takes a while for history to be written because people have to have some time to evaluate a president, to look at what has happened, to look at the results, but i would not necessarily say it's -- there have been a lot of works -- books written, and there were many books written very quickly after the presidency, but now we are more than 25 years since he left office, so there has been a considerable period of time, and the remarkable thing is that the more books that seem to be
written, the more people seem to respect the president and the more the american people seem to feel that without any question he was one of the outstanding presidents of the 20th century and in the minds of many people, one of the outstanding presidents of all time. i think one of the things that is of interest to me is -- because i wrote a book about the reagan administration that was published in 1982 -- excuse me 1992. nothing that i have seen in any of the books has been able to essentially contradict what we wrote at the time when this was pretty, still pretty fresh in my mind, at least. i think that, again, as people have looked more and more deeply into it, one of the interesting books that has come out fairly recently was lou cannon's book. his last book was about the reagan governorship and it was probably one of his best because
he was able to go back into california into the records themselves, and it was written based on documentary evidence. and i think the more people look into ronald reagan for what he did, the more respect he has. so i would say that the length of time that has continued since his presidency, more and more people are appreciating what he did. >> i am wondering what you make of the constant invocation by reagan by generation after generation of political candidates? and as someone who really came on the scene as an insurgent did you ever hear him talk about these various efforts of people coming from outside the circle of power to try to break in, and would others would try to do it, would he look down on it or or would he sort of claim to the party mores more?
attorney general mees: there's no question he came to the presidency and ran for the presidency as an outsider from washington. the reason he ran for the president, why he ran against an incumbent president against his own party in 1976 was that he disagreed with the way that things were going, particularly in terms of national security as well as in terms of the growth of government. and so he came in with new ideas, really. he changed the way in which we approached the soviet union, which was the major threat to the world in terms of world peace. he certainly came in with new ideas in terms of government. smaller government, slowing the growth of spending, those kinds of things that i mentioned. so he was really an agent of change, if you will, as far as most of the policies. now today, it's very interesting that we have a laboratory case in this country of ronald reagan's policies versus the opposite.
i would say president obama has probably on the key areas i mentioned -- taxes, regulation stable monetary policies, and growth of government -- has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction, so we have a laboratory test of ronald reagan's policies, which resulted in great economic growth versus the lack of a recovery, essentially, and the very slow economic growth we have at the present time. in terms of national security, ronald reagan's peace through strength is now countered with reducing our armed forces, and we see the problems we have today. and so i think -- the same is true, i think, with the confidence of the american people. so i think you have -- one of the reasons why so many people are trying to invoke the reagan image, if you will, on the republican side at least, is because they have such a great contrast between what ronald reagan did and what is happening at the present time.
>> yes, you mentioned the three characteristics of his -- and the third was lifting the spirits of the american people. that is kind of the character or personality thing, but how would you suggest that he actually did that? what was it about him that got people to respond in ways that sometimes people do not respond to leaders? edwin meese: i think it was the fact that ronald reagan himself was always a cheerful person and an optimist. his message was a message of hope. he always said when he was campaigning and then as president that he felt that america's best days were yet ahead and that we could do better. and so it was i think this confidence that he had in america that kind of radiated to the people themselves and the fact that he did the things that would change america for the better and the fact that he was successful in what he was able to do.
>> karl. karl: i'm from "the dallas morning news." you mentioned several times president's interest in reducing the size of government, and that was a major theme in what he tried to do. but on the other hand, it was one of the areas in which he encountered a lot of difficulty. congress did not always go along with it. and the best that can be said is perhaps that the rate of growth was increased but the government was not reduced. did he ever, given the fact he was so optimistic, did he ever expressed frustration about that or concern that some of the things he tried to do were not as successful as others? and when these: i think -- edwin meese: i think to some extent, he was frustrated because he was dealing with a congress in two of the eight years, both the houses were in the hands of the opposing party, and throughout his governorship, the house,
which is where the budget start was in the hands of the other party. but he actually was able -- the main thing that did grow actually, was our military capabilities, which is something he said we had to do in order to achieve peace and security for the country, but if you look at the non-defense part of government, that stayed roughly the same. there was some increase in the number of agencies he was able to get rid of during that point in time, and there also was a decrease in the number of federal non-defense employees during the second year. for example, which was then held throughout the rest of the time. i would say that he was -- probably of the four points, that was one in which he encountered most resistance, but still, he was able to do it. the main thing was that there was no -- you did not have the growth of government, which had been pretty much the example of
everything that had occurred from the 1930's on. >> paul? paul: thank you. i was hopeful that maybe all three of you could talk about how your impression and image of reagan has changed over these past 25 years. and also, to piggyback off this great question here, have any of the republican candidates -- let's say in the past couple of elections and certainly this one -- truly represented what you kind of see in reagan? edwin means: -- edwin meese: i will take my shot at it and then give it to gil because i have to head for a plane in a minute. i would say that i have not seen anything that changed my views about him. as a matter of fact, i think all the investigation and writing
about him has only consolidated, if you will, and confirmed the impressions of what he did, what he looked like, and how he appeared. particularly, i think again the qualities of optimism and cheerfulness, integrity, as you read more and more about him and historians do dig in, you find out his courage. in for example, the professional air traffic controllers strike in supporting the freedom fighters and neck arrival of against the people in progress who were very much opposed to that. his integrity. i think he very much today is the same person that i remember working for for 30 years. so i will turn it back to gil. >> yeah, ed has to go to the west coast. edwin meese: i have this deal
with the airlines. if i don't get there, they go anyway. [laughter] ambassador robinson: i will add to that. is that in doing the book, i have been in the administration as special adviser to the secretary of state, and i got the nice job of negotiating with the soviets. and before that, i was deputy director of usai. when i did the book, i had a really interesting education. it took about two years, but the stories that people told of their interaction with the president was remarkable. you know, you have people who -- you know, george schultz was invited to the white house one snowy night, he and his wife, to a dinner. and he knew that, it was in the
beginning and the president had never met the soviet leaders and probably would like to. so he said look, when they were having dinner on tuesday -- this was a sunday night -- the ambassador from the soviet union is coming to see him. he said why don't i bring him over? reagan said, oh yeah, he had 10 minutes on the schedule, so sure. he brought him over. he had been 24 years here in the u.s., and he said, look, we have got -- and schultz said he was really proud of the president. without notes or anything, he talked about human rights and what we need to do in the world and he said we have these religious groups in the embassy, and they have been there for two months or three months, 60 people.
and, you know, if we could somehow work something out, he said he would not crow about it. he went back with the soviet leaders, and the so-called almost hostages were released. and were able to come to the united states. and reagan never said a word about it. so there were things in his character that i did not know about. i had met him. and was very interested in, you know, some of the things about how we handle people. and -- he handled people. and i found out that there were people who worked with him. in different stories, things came up that showed the inner reagan. and one of the speech writers,
a man who should have been in the book, two of them, mike and judge clark, both of them passed away. they were very close to him. and so peter robinson said to judge clark when they were alone, "tell me, what kind of man is this? i mean, not the politics we see in the speeches." and he laid back and said, "i can only tell you he is a prayerful man." he said they would go out on rides in the country of california and he would see him stop, and i knew he was praying. another person talked about -- no, judge clark wrote about they were flying as governor, i think to washington. and the captain came out and clark was very surprised to see him. he came over and told me, "i
want to tell the governor that martin luther king has just been shot and killed." so he went over across the aisle and talked to the governor quietly. the governor just looked down, and then he sat down in his seat, and he looked back across the aisle and he saw the governor's lips moving, praying. many people did not know that he was a very thoughtful person. and another thing -- the general counsel was with the federal highway administrator who had been in politics. and he said to the gentleman , mr. barnhart, they did not know each other very well. he said he was a campaign manager.
for reagan to get the texas delegation. click said "wow. you've got 100%, all of the delegates. must've been an easy job." he said "not with the candidate." "what do you mean? " he said, "i went to the candidate and said, "i've got the best venue we could get, this major mega-church in houston," and he was very proud of himself for having done it. reagan said, "i won't do it." and he said "what? " he went over the thing, and reagan said it would reverberate around the country and he would not do it. he said he is a religious person but does not wear his religion on his sleeve and will not campaign in a church. so, you know, that is very different than what happened when i ran for congress in new york and everybody went to the churches and campaign. i lost, by the way.
[laughter] ambassador robinson: anyone else have any questions? thank you very much for coming. we appreciate it. [applause] ambassador robinson: there are books outside, for the publisher -- from the publisher. >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation like us on facebook. >> this year, c-span is touring cities across the country. a look at our recent visit to key west florida. you are watching american history tv, all weekend every weekend on c-span3. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014]
[captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> welcome to the coast guard cutter ingham museum here in key west. bishop will be 80 years old next year. -- the ship will be 80 years old next year. it was built in 1936. its first station was alaska. then in 1941, she was put on convoy duty in the north atlantic. she did 41 convoys between here in england across the north atlantic. she sank german u-boat 626. she is the last ship of float -- american ship afloat that ever sank a german submarine. this was the secretary class named after the secretaries of the treasury. because the coast guard was under the treasury department for 130, 140 years. this one was samuel d. ingham, the secretary for the treasury for andrew jackson. president andrew jackson.