At 100, why Ronald Reagan still matters

Published: Saturday, Feb. 5 2011 10:29 p.m. MST

Bangerter: Well, it certainly helps. And it may be overrated. We have had some pretty good presidents that were great speakers, Dwight Eisenhower was a motivational speaker, but I think that, again, it isn't just his speaking. I'm one who believes, "Watch what they do not what they say." And that was one thing that was consistent about Ronald Reagan.

Chamberlain: In his ability to communicate, sometimes just by short one-liners, he communicated things even beyond exactly what he said. When he was shot, when he was right there in the emergency room, he tried to put everybody at ease: "I hope all you doctors are Republicans." Now apparently things were so tense at that period of time that nobody paid any attention to it, they didn't even laugh. Once he got into the surgery and they were prepping him and getting him in there, he used the line again and that time it brought some laughs. What he was communicating was, 'I'm okay.' I thought that was an amazing example of just a short one-liner of a man who wanted to communicate, "It's all going to be okay and I'm all right." And even then he trusted the doctors, even if they weren't Republicans; he wasn't insisting that they had to be. I love that about him.

De Groote: What were Ronald Reagan's greatest mistakes? What would he have done differently if he had the chance to go back and do it over again?

Richards: I think the biggest mistake he made was replacing Jim Baker as Chief of Staff with Don Regan.

Edwards: I might say Anthony Kennedy would be a concern. I think he was less consistent with the judicial philosophy that we saw with so many other court appointments. Not widely divergent, but it failed to solidify the legacy he wanted for that court.

De Groote: Reagan was born 100 years ago. What things will people be saying about Reagan 100 years from now?

Garn: I think one of the most important things was to "Tear down this wall." To symbolize the way he was on national defense, the attitude with the Russians and amazing what he accomplished with the Russians. He changed the whole world.

De Groote: Does he deserve that credit?

Garn: Yes. Yes he does.

De Groote: Why?

Garn: Because we was willing, publicly, to stand up and make those challenges to the Russians. I was there and I was on the (Senate) Defense Appropriations (Committee) and I literally believed his attitude, not just what he said, but his attitude changed that relationship with the Russians so dramatically. You just can't imagine how it made a difference when we visited Russia. How we were greeted as senators traveling over there, after he stood up to them.

De Groote: What kind of attitudes did they have?

Garn: Well it was so anti-American and so suspicious of everything. It really felt uncomfortable when visiting Russia or any of the officials. And I can't describe, night and day, what a change it was.

De Groote: Was he really that indispensable to this issue, the Soviet Union versus the United States?

Garn: Absolutely. Absolutely because of his willingness. A lot of people were critical at the time, "Oh, he's going to cause a war because of being so candid and so direct and so forceful." Well the result was just he opposite and dramatically improved relationships with the Soviet Union.

Edwards: Remember there was so much misinformation about the performance of the Soviet economy. He got better intelligence. It was really grinding to a halt. It was not performing and if we could force their hand on this military spending it would be the end of their ability to compete with us.

Richards: Reagan said, "I don't know whether it's gonna work," speaking of Star Wars, "But neither do the Russians." And he said that's the beauty of it, we'll spend them into bankruptcy trying to find out.

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