Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Excerpts From Ronald Reagan's Diary To Be Published

Ronald Reagan thought Alexander Haig was "utterly paranoid," considered former senator Lowell Weicker "a pompous, no good fathead" and was "surprised at how shy" Michael Jackson was. Reagan also refused to talk to his son after Ron Reagan hung up on him, felt that daughter Patti had "a kind of yo-yo family relationship" and was invariably "lonesome" when his wife, Nancy, was out of town.

The Washington Post reports:

A self-portrait of the 40th president -- determined, funny, wistful, at times clinging to his beliefs despite countervailing facts -- emerges from diaries that he faithfully kept from 1981 to 1989, his eight years in the White House. Historian Douglas Brinkley had exclusive access to the five hardback books bound in maroon leather, each page filled to the bottom with Reagan's neat handwriting. Vanity Fair magazine, in its June issue, is publishing excerpts of the book "The Reagan Diaries," edited by Brinkley and due out this month from publisher HarperCollins.

The earnest entries are marked by a spare writing style in which Reagan reduced complicated matters to their essence. In 1982, when he accepted Haig's resignation from the Cabinet and Haig said they had had disagreements over foreign policy, Reagan wrote: "Actually the only disagreement was over whether I made policy or the Sec. of State did."

A 1981 entry on Cuban leader Fidel Castro said: "Intelligence reports say he Castro is very worried about me. I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying."

The former actor was well aware of his public image, and tweaked the Fourth Estate after he deliberately reversed the order of the opening sentences of his welcome at the 1984 Olympics: "The press having a copy of the lines as written are gleefully tagging me with senility & inability to learn my lines."

When his former chief of staff, Donald Regan, disclosed that Nancy Reagan had consulted an astrologer for advice on her husband's travel schedule, the president remained in denial:

"The press have a new one thanks to Don Regan's book. We make decisions on the basis of going to Astrologers. The media are behaving like kids with a new toy -- never mind that there is no truth to it."

The diaries, which have been stored at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., cover the gamut of his presidency, from arms-control negotiations to the Challenger disaster to his meetings with Hollywood figures. Reagan drew on the diaries in writing his 1990 autobiography.

In the excerpts released yesterday, Reagan recounted his March 30, 1981, shooting by John Hinckley in a just-the-facts, "Dragnet" style: "I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I'd been shot and had a bullet in my lung.

"Getting shot hurts."

During the first-year negotiations over his tax cut plan, Reagan wrote that congressional Democrats had made a counterproposal: "They want to include a reduction of the inc. tax rate on unearned income from 70% to the 50% top rate on earned inc. We wanted that in the 1st place but were sure they'd attack us as favoring the rich. . . . I'll hail it as a great bipartisan solution. H--l! It's more than I thought we could get." Reagan never spelled out even mild curse words.

Reagan got his tax package. But when Democrats balked during budget negotiations the following year, Reagan wrote that if he couldn't get a deal, "then I take to the air [TV] and there will be blood on the floor." Two weeks later, he complained: "The Demos. are screaming and lying like bandits charging us with cutting Soc. Security--we aren't touching Soc. Security."

Reagan often took umbrage at media coverage. When The Washington Post's Bob Woodward published a hospital-bed interview with William Casey after the CIA director's death, Reagan wrote: "He's a liar & he lied about what Casey is supposed to have thought of me." And when Soviet authorities charged journalist Nicholas Daniloff with espionage, the president wrote: "The press is obsessed with the Daniloff affair & determined to paint all of us as caving in to the Soviets which they of course say is the worst way to deal with them. The simple truth is we've offered no deal and are playing hard ball all the way."

Emotion comes through strongly in some entries, with Reagan sometimes describing "a lump in my throat." Recounting an Oval Office meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Reagan wrote: "I let the F.M. know I was angry & that I resented their charges that Daniloff was a spy after I had personally given my word that he wasn't. . . . I enjoyed being angry."

After the 1981 assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, whom Reagan had found to be "truly a great man," he directed his ire at Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi: "I'm trying not to feel hatred for those who did this foul deed but I can't make it. Qaddafi gloating on TV, his people jubilantly celebrating in the streets. He is beneath contempt."

By contrast, Reagan passively recorded his reaction to a 1986 staff meeting in which he was told that White House aide Oliver North, national security adviser John Poindexter and other officials were involved in a scheme to divert money from U.S. arms sales to Iran to the Nicaraguan rebels backed by the administration. "North didn't tell me about this. Worst of all John [Poindexter] found out about it & didn't tell me. This may call for resignations."

Even momentous decisions got terse treatment. Writing on the day he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, Reagan said: "Already the flack is starting & from my own supporters. Rite to Life people say she's pro-abortion. She declares abortion is personally repugnant to her. I think she'll make a good Justice."

Reagan enjoyed meeting the "most likable" Prince Charles in 1981, but tea proved a disaster because the royal visitor refused to drink it: "Horror of horrors they served it our way with a tea bag in the cup. . . . I didn't know what to do."

The meeting with Jackson -- "the sensation of the pop music world" -- came during a 1984 ceremony to honor the singer for contributing to a campaign against drunk driving. "He is totally opposed to Drugs & Alcohol & is using his popularity to influence young people against them," Reagan wrote.

Strains in Reagan's relationship with his children punctuate the diaries. He bristled at Ron's stubbornness:

"He wants to Sign off Secret Svc. for a month. S.S. knows he's a real target -- lives in a N.Y.C. area where the Puerto Rican terrorist group is active. In fact he's on a hit list. He thinks we're interfering with his privacy. I can't make him see that I can't be put in a position of one day facing a ransom demand. I'd have to refuse for reasons of the Nation's welfare."

In another entry, Reagan described how Ron and his wife had "arrived for a family pow-wow. He'd been rude to Nancy on a phone call and when I phoned him about it he said he thought we needed to clear the air. It wasn't the greatest meeting but still I think it opened the door to a closer relationship. He seemed to be carrying water for Patti who has a kind of yo yo family relationship. She's either warmly attentive or very distant & Nancy seems to bear the brunt of it."

Six months later, the problems with his son were continuing: "I don't know what it is with him. . . . I'm not talking to him until he apologizes for hanging up on me."

How did these diaries come to be? The Washington Post reports:
Ronald Reagan kept a diary -- handwritten, blue-inked reflections and observations of nearly every day of his eight years in the White House -- and now it will be published, executives of HarperCollins and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation announced yesterday.

The existence of the five leather-bound volumes embossed with a gold presidential seal was not a secret. Key entries were quoted in the press during the investigation into the Iran-contra arms sale controversy in the mid-1980s: "I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran" -- Jan. 17, 1986. Reagan drew on the diary for his 1990 memoir, "An American Life: The Autobiography," and certain scholars have had access to it over the years.

But very few people have seen most of it. And in an investigative era when written introspections have a way of becoming public -- President Bush recently told journalists that for that reason he declines to send e-mail, even to his daughters -- it may be the first and last contemporaneous daily glimpse of a presidency through the eyes of the president himself.

"We are not aware of any president in the modern presidency who has kept a detailed personal diary," said Fred Ryan, an assistant to the president in the Reagan White House and now chairman of the library foundation. "It literally begins the day he's sworn in as president and it ends with his flight back to California eight years later. . . . It has a very unique type of candor."

The only significant gap is the few weeks after John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan in 1981, said Edmund Morris, one of the few scholars to have read the whole thing and who quoted bits in his 1999 book "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan."

"The diaries are amazingly dispassionate, clear and sequential," Morris said. "They show a man, a chief executive, with an extraordinary degree of objectivity. There's very little vanity and self-congratulation in the diaries."

Nor apparently is there much news.

"No bombshells at all," Morris said. "What you saw with Reagan was pretty much what you get with the diaries."

Still, scholars are greeting publication with anticipation: "We've known of these diaries for a long time, and it'll be interesting to see if they tell us anything that's new," said Lou Cannon, a former Washington Post reporter and author of several books about Reagan, including "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," his biography. "One of the things all of us who write about Reagan know, no matter how much we thought we knew him, there's always something else to learn."

HarperCollins will publish the diaries next year, said Jane Friedman, president and chief executive. The precise format -- one volume with highlights of the hundreds of pages or multiple volumes containing every word -- has not been decided. The company has not even seen the entire work yet, having been shown only a portion during negotiations in recent weeks, when several publishing houses were vying for the prize.

A person with knowledge of the transaction said HarperCollins is paying "in the high seven figures," but Friedman declined to confirm that. Whatever the price, all the money will go to the nonprofit library foundation.

Ryan said none of the president's words -- possibly a half-million by Morris's estimate -- will be withheld from the HarperCollins editors, but the prose may be subject to a national security review for inadvertent mentions of classified information.

The story of the presidential diaries goes back to the end of Reagan's term as governor of California. "When we left Sacramento, we felt the time passed so quickly, we could hardly remember the eight years," Nancy Reagan said in a statement released by the library foundation. "When Ronnie became president, he wanted to write it all down so we could remember these special times."

He bought the bound journals from a local bookbinder -- Ryan forgets which -- and paid with his own money. By all accounts, he was a diligent diarist, setting aside time every day. The handwriting is wobbly when he is flying by helicopter to Camp David.

Reagan gave the diary to the foundation about a decade ago, with instructions to dispose of it as the foundation thought best. The decision to find a publisher now was not driven by Reagan's death last year. Nancy Reagan and the foundation board "concluded it's a valuable piece of history and this should be available to the public," Ryan said.

HarperCollins secured world publishing rights in the deal, perhaps counting on Reagan's comments on foreign leaders having particular appeal to different audiences. "We feel there will be a tremendous amount of world interest in this," Friedman said.

The first volume of the diary was put on display for the first time yesterday at the library in Simi Valley, Calif.

What does Reagan sound like when he's confiding to his diary? The library declined to release excerpts yesterday. But Morris included some snippets in "Dutch."

"The inauguration was an emotional experience," Reagan wrote at the beginning, according to Morris's book, "but then the very next day it was 'down to work.'