updated 6/8/2004 10:44:31 AM ET 2004-06-08T14:44:31

Guests: George Shultz, Dick Thornburgh, Edwin Meese, Josh Gilder, Clark Judge

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator. 

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Whatever else history may say about me when I‘m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears. 

NORVILLE:  He was a master of memorable moments. 

REAGAN:  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye.  And slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God. 

NORVILLE:  The ex-actor who never lost his knack for delivering a line. 

REAGAN:  Tomorrow, when mountains greet the dawn, will you go out there and win one for the Gipper?

Go ahead, make my day. 

NORVILLE:  The charismatic cowboy with the quick trigger quip. 

REAGAN:  You members of the graduating class of 188 -- or 1981.  I don‘t really go back that far.

NORVILLE:  Ronald Reagan, the infectiously optimistic president who won over detractors with eloquence and deep-rooted patriotism. 

REAGAN:  We will always remember.  We will always be proud.  We will always be prepared so we may be always free. 

NORVILLE:  Tonight, former Reagan cabinet members George Shultz, Dick Thornburgh and Edwin Meese recall a man of the people, the 40th president of the United States.  Ronald Reagan, who changed the political landscape of a nation and the world with his unforgettable blend of tough talk and all-American optimism. 

REAGAN:  Good-bye, God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.

ANNOUNCER:  This is a special edition of DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT, “Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator.”  From studio 3-L in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NORVILLE:  And good evening, everyone. 

Tonight, Americans are publicly paying their final respects to former President Ronald Reagan.  The body of the 40th president is now lying in repose at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and a steady stream of people have been filing past the flag-draped coffin for the last several hours. 

The former president‘s body will remain at the library until tomorrow night and then be flown to Washington, D.C.  There will be public ceremonies all week long, including a national funeral service at Washington‘s national cathedral on Friday. 

President Bush has declared Friday to be a national day of mourning. 

It has been an emotional day for Nancy Reagan.  A touching moment, she placed her head on her husband‘s casket as her two children, Patti and Ron Jr., stood close by. 

Earlier in the day, the former first lady and her children looked over the makeshift memorial at the funeral home where hundreds of people have left flowers, notes, flags, and jars of Mr. Reagan‘s favorite candy, jellybeans. 

The hearse carrying the former president‘s bodies then made its way slowly from the mortuary to the Presidential Library, and when it arrived, it was met by a military honor guard.

(MUSIC)

NORVILLE:  Throughout his life as an actor and as a politician, Ronald Reagan was known as the Great Communicator.  He had an incredible ability to connect with people from all walks of life. 

And tonight, I‘m joined by three people who knew Ronald Reagan well. 

They served in his administrations. 

George Shultz was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989.  Dick Thornburgh was attorney general under both presidents Reagan and Bush.  And Ed Meese also served as attorney general under President Reagan.  He was one of the president‘s most important and trusted advisers.  He‘s also the author of “With Reagan: The Inside Story.”

And gentlemen, I thank you all so much for being with me on what is such a difficult week for so many Americans. 

When you got news of the president‘s passing over the weekend, I‘d like to ask each of you, what was the first thought that flashed through your mind as you remembered the president?

Secretary Shultz, you first. 

GEORGE SHULTZ, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I remembered all of the good things that he brought us: his advocacy of freedom, what he did for our security, how he restored our belief in ourselves. 

So, in a sense, I heaved a sigh.  He‘s been gone for quite a while. 

And I tried to remember all the good things he gave us. 

NORVILLE:  Was there a personal moment, a recollection of an interchange between the two of you during the many years that you spent together?

SHULTZ:  Well, there were lots of things that happened while we were working together.  And I remember a lot of them, some fun and humor, lots of humor, lots of fun as we went along.  Some very dramatic, serious moments. 

I remembered his deep base of ideas.  He was a man of deeply held ideas, and these ideas are what motivated the policies.  And these communications skills that you remarked on in your opening were, in a sense, his way of explaining the ideas to people so that they could be translated into action, into policies, and the policies worked. 

So, that was his magic.  It wasn‘t just communicating.  It was the really hard substantive material that he had to communicate. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to follow-up on the connection with that magic in just a second.  But Governor Thornburgh, same question to you.  What flashed through your mind when you heard of the president‘s passing?

DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, I remembered his infectious optimism.  People forget, I fear, that when he came to office in 1981, we were on the verge of being a demoralized country.  We faced a lot of problems that many people thought were insoluble. 

But he was the consummate patriot, the consummate believer in the United States and the American way of life and he infected the populous with that same feeling so that in the intervening eight years that he had as president, completely turned around the attitudes of the American people from one of cynicism and self-doubt into one of real confidence and patriotism. 

MATTHEWS:  And Ed Meese?

ED MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think that I thought most of his leadership and his vision, the fact that he had accomplished so much, because he knew where he thought the country should be going, what he could do to bring better conditions in the world, particularly world peace, his steadfastness in pursuing his goals, and also at the same time, his ability to take half a loaf and that‘s all he could get and then keep going to get the rest of it. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  He often remarked on that.  He said, “I‘d rather have 80 percent to take home and come back later for the extra 20 percent than go home empty handed.” 

MEESE:  Absolutely.  And he was very—in many ways, he was pragmatic.  At the same time, he had a continuing vision, and he was a man of principle. 

And he mixed principle and pragmatism to accomplish what I think at the beginning of his eight years nobody could have ever predicted, such as the end of the Cold War with the west winning, the tremendous economic expansion, the way out of that economic recession that we were in.  And has been said earlier here, this—the way in which he affected the spirit of the American people. 

NORVILLE:  The fact that he came in with such a clarity of vision and expressed it in a way that the common American man and woman could understand caused some people to underestimate him. 

I know Clark Clifford was quoted as saying he was an amiable dunce before he came into Washington.  I gather Ronald Reagan was able to use that to great effect. 

MEESE:  Yes.  Ronald Reagan prospered for years, both in California and in the nation, by being underestimated, particularly by his opponents.  And, you know, he kind of catered to that. 

You remember the press always said that he didn‘t work very hard. 

Well, actually, he was a hard worker, but he didn‘t let it show. 

And when he was at a dinner with the press, I think it was the Gridiron Club, he commented on the fact that, “You fellows don‘t think that I work very hard.”  He said, “Well, you know, they say that hard work never killed anyone.  But I say why take a chance?”

NORVILLE:  He always was good with the one liner.  George Shultz, where does that optimism come from?  Where did that sense of “I am right.  This is the right thing for America.  Steady as she goes.  Follow me.  I am taking you to a place this country needs and wants to go?”

SHULTZ:  Well, he came from the Midwest and the deep roots of America there, and then he wound up in California.  And he loved to do that hard, physical work.  So, it grounded him in reality, but at the same time, the west is a place of endless horizons, and it infects you. 

NORVILLE:  He also talked about that in what turned the out to be kind of his farewell address when he spoke at the Republican convention in 1992.  I want to play a snippet of that and then get your reaction. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others.  And whatever else history may say about me when I‘m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, through your confidence rather than your doubts. 

My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty‘ lamp guiding your steps and opportunity‘s arm steadying your way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Dick Thornburgh, how tickled was President Reagan at the change in the mood in this country when he left office as to when he came in?

THORNBURGH:  I think that was one of his proudest accomplishments.  I know my wife and I visited with President Reagan and Nancy shortly after he left office at their home out on the coast, and I took the opportunity to ask him what he was most proud of during his time in office. 

And he answered quickly and without any qualification, restoring the status of America‘s military.  He felt that the morale in the military, the physical equipment that they had, their ability to project a military force anywhere in the world and the cause of peace was his greatest accomplishment. 

And that meant a lot to me, because at the time I had a son who was serving in the submarine service.  And my wife and I looked at each other and kind of beamed. 

But, you know, I want to add something to that—to the source of his optimism.  He got his start, you know, as a baseball announcer for the Chicago Cubs in the Midwest. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

THORNBURGH:  And baseball teaches you one thing, if nothing else, and that‘s the game‘s never over until the last man‘s out. 

So that President Reagan could never believe that he had taken the defeat that was not going to be turned eventually to victory.  And he persisted and was patient and more often than not he gained that victory. 

NORVILLE:  Well, he certainly gained that victory when it came to the Cold War. 

And another memorable moment, probably the one that comes first in my mind, anyway, was when he stood there in Berlin in front of the Brandenburg gate and delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. 

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. 

Mr. Gorbachev—Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Ed Meese, I gather there was a great deal of talk back and forth about whether Ronald Reagan should be quite that forceful when he delivered that message. 

MEESE:  Oh, yes.  There was a lot of controversy within the White House and within some of the departments of the government about whether that would be too provocative, whether that wasn‘t a diplomatic thing to do. 

But Ronald Reagan had a better sense of what was appropriate, and this was at a time that he and Gorbachev were developing quite a relationship with each other. 

And yet he felt that that challenge was a very important part, not just for the principles involved, he and Gorbachev, but particularly to give hope and give confidence to the people that there was a better day coming. 

You know, it‘s interesting.  If you go back to 1982, where in the parliament—before the British parliament, he laid out his strategy for victory.  That‘s when he said that we would transcend communism.  We would send Marxism to the ash heap of history. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

MEESE:  I think at that time he never believed—as optimistic as he was, I don‘t think he thought it would come as quickly as it did. 

But the combination of factors with which my colleagues have been—talked about, building up the military, the economic strength of the United States returning and his relentless pursuit of freedom actually brought that about just a very few months, actually, after he left office. 

NORVILLE:  Well, I‘m going to follow up on that in just a moment.  We‘re going to take a short break.  I want to thank very much George Shultz, former secretary of state, for being with us. 

We‘ll continue our conversation with Dick Thornburgh and Ed Meese right after this time out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Still ahead: he had a rare gift for talk tough and disarming his critics with charming wit. 

REAGAN:  Washington doesn‘t solve problems, it subsidizes them.

ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, Ronald Reagan‘s former speechwriters pay tribute to the Great Communicator. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

NORVILLE:  That‘s Nancy Reagan at the funeral home today, following the body of her late husband, former President Ronald Reagan, as his casket is loaded into the hearse. 

We‘re remembering Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, the man known as the Great Communicator with two gentlemen who served as attorney general under him, Dick Thornburgh and Ed Meese. 

What was the Reagan revolution, Ed Meese?

MEESE:  Well, I think it was a change in the way people looked at the philosophy and the policies of the federal government.  It was, as Ronald Reagan often said, that he depended more on the people and not on the government to solve the problems of our nation. 

And I think also there was a political revolution in the sense that he made conservative policies and conservative philosophies the mainstream thinking of the American people. 

NORVILLE:  He also—he went into the campaign asking two questions that resonated with the American people. 

One of them, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  One of the simplest questions, and it was absolutely devastating when it was asked in the campaign against then-President Jimmy Carter. 

MEESE:  That‘s right.  And that, of course, was a time when several things had gone wrong. 

Economic situation was very bad.  Our energy situation was bad.  We were losing our position of world leadership.  The Soviet Union was operating with impunity in its aggression and its expansion. 

All of these things were happening and the previous president had said that the people were in a malaise. 

Ronald Reagan said it‘s not the people who have the malaise; it‘s the leadership.  And I think that was the impetus for change, and he was the agent of change. 

He said when he finished his eight years, he said we came to change the nation and we changed the world.  So, I think that‘s what the revolution was all about. 

NORVILLE:  And Dick Thornburgh, how did he instruct you as someone who worked under him to go and effect that change?  Because he had a reputation of being a hands-off kind of manager. 

THORNBURGH:  Well, he was a hands-off manager.  He didn‘t micromanage his government.  He knew what he believed in, and he searched for good people to serve in his administration, gave them a sense of what his overarching principles were and expected us to do the job. 

And I‘d say the records shows that he accomplished that goal pretty completely. 

But I saw it from two vantage points, because before I was attorney general, I served as governor of one of our great states, of Pennsylvania. 

And one of the great things that President Reagan pushed was the notion of revitalizing federalism, of bringing the states into more prominence and letting the federal government relinquish areas to the states where they could do a better job. 

And he was always, as a former governor himself, attentive to the needs of the governors.  And Ed well knows when he served as counsel, we came to him on problems like funding the clean up of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and helping to stop dumping of foreign steel into our country. 

And he was—always had a good ear for the kinds of problems that governors face.  So, he was a complete president in that respect. 

NORVILLE:  He also, though, had a lot of challenges and right from the get-go.  I mean, he‘d only been in office for three months when John Hinckley was waiting for him outside the capitol Hilton. 

And yet, despite that terrible scare, America was thrown into a panic over the possibility that the president would have been assassinated.  As soon as he was able to speak, that trademark Reagan humor was right out there. 

Let‘s give a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  I didn‘t know I was shot.  In fact, I was still asking what was that noise?  I thought it was firecrackers. 

And then I saw those doctors around me.  I said I hope they were all Republicans. 

I had the letter with me.  The letter came from Peter Sweeney.  He‘s in the second grade and he said, “I hope you get well quick, or you might have to make a speech in your pajamas.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Ed Meese, did anything ever really rattle him?

MEESE:  I don‘t think anything rattled him in the sense that it threw him totally off stride.  There was some things that were very sad. 

When we lost 241 Marines in that terrorist attack in Lebanon, the president really—that was probably the low point of his entire eight years. 

And obviously in the Iran-Contra situation, he was concerned there for a number of reasons.  One is he didn‘t like it, that some people were impugning his credibility and his integrity when he knew absolutely nothing about it and had nothing to do with the misguided actions that took place there. 

But basically I don‘t know of anything that threw him off stride, certainly not for very long. 

THORNBURGH:  Not for long, no. 

NORVILLE:  What about—there were a number of people who were connected with the administration over the periods of eight years who did leave office under some sort of ethical cloud. 

How did he personally feel about what had to have seemed a betrayal to him as an individual?

MEESE:  Well, there were really very few of those that actually turned out to have any real wrongdoing.  There were a lot of attacks on people. 

When someone had done something wrong, like in the Iran-Contra situation, he was the first one to say this they had to be relieved of their position, even though it bothered him to do it. 

But I think the one thing that he held out for was absolutely the highest principles and the highest ethical standards of government. 

But I think that the thing about Ronald Reagan was there was an optimism.  He fell that we were on the right track, and I think that was the thing that sustained him, even when things looked sort of dark. 

NORVILLE:  Would you agree with that, Governor?

THORNBURGH:  Yes.  I think that‘s absolutely true.  And the other thing was that he was committed to the rule of law.  Ed Meese and I both know, as attorney general, how much he supported law enforcement efforts. 

Sometimes we forget how serious the drug problem was in the 1980‘s.  And through his support of the Department of Justice activities, both at home and abroad, and Nancy Reagan‘s “Just Say No” program, we saw drug usage and the drug problem nosedive after he left office.  And it was due to a concerted effort on his part. 

NORVILLE:  Also during his administration, there was the devastating loss of the Challenger shuttle.  And I think that moment, as much as any, was the closest America had come to a fireside chat with a sitting president since the Second World War. 

Let‘s revisit some of those poignant words he shared. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us in the manner in which they lived their lives.  We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  It was then that we saw the president mourning with the families and individually touching each one of them.  How difficult was that day for him, Mr. Meese?

MEESE:  It was a difficult day, obviously for everyone.  But he, again, felt a sense of duty to, in a sense, avoid undue panic or undue grief on the part of the people. 

Mourning is appropriate and certainly was in that situation.  But even then, out of the mourning, he wanted to let people know there would be a brighter day and to show respect for those people who had perished in this terrible accident, but to let people know also that wasn‘t the end and that we would continue in our efforts both in space and also generally as a nation. 

And I think it was that ability to provide that kind of leadership at a crucial time, which drew the people of the country together, and realized both the bravery of the people who had been in that tragic accident, but also that there would be a new day dawning. 

NORVILLE:  Sadly, there was no bright sunshine at end of Ronald Reagan‘s life because of the terrible disease, Alzheimer‘s. 

We‘re going to take a short break.  When we come back, some reflections on the final years of Ronald Reagan in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

NORVILLE:  As the nation pays its respects to former President Ronald W. Reagan, we‘re taking a look at his legacy with two men who served as attorney general under President Reagan, Dick Thornburgh and Ed Meese. 

President Reagan had an incredible knack for timing and I guess there was a certain irony in the fact that he passed exactly 20 years after he had made that incredibly stirring speech at Normandy. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We stand on a lonely windswept point on the northern shore of France.  The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men.  These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. 

(APPLAUSE)

REAGAN:  These are the men who took the cliffs.  These are the heroes who helped end a war. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Ed Meese, he was called the great communicator.  It has been said so many times. 

What was the trick?  What was his secret to being so effective? 

MEESE:  I think it was a combination of things.  He didn‘t think he was a great communicator. 

NORVILLE:  Really? 

MEESE:  He often said that it was not his skill as a communicator.  It was the great ideas that he was communicating. 

But I think we all know that his ability to present those ideas had a lot to do with it.  And I think there were a couple of things.  One was a tremendous sincerity.  As Dick knows, Ronald Reagan was no different when he was sitting in the Oval Office talking with one or two of us or when he was out talking to 10,000 people.  He was the same man.  He didn‘t have one persona in private and another in public. 

And I think this tremendous sincerity was part of his ability to put across his ideas.  The other thing was, he had a great knack for taking relatively complex situations or ideas and simplifying them in a way that people would not only understand, but be persuaded that was the right way to go.  He was really, in many ways, unique in that capacity. 

NORVILLE:  And, Dick, was there ever a time when there was something he wanted to get done and he was stymied and frustrated that it wasn‘t happening?

THORNBURGH:  Oh, I think it happened many times the.  Nobody in government, particularly the chief executive of a great nation like ours, is going to get everything done in time. 

But he was patient and he was optimistic and he was persistent.  He kept after it over and over again.  I don‘t think the man had any enemies at all during his tenure in public life.  He had a lot of people who disagreed with him on the issues and would argue and debate with him.  But he generally could turn aside the naysayers with a smile or a little bit of comedy or one of his inexhaustible supply of stories, which sometimes seemed to distract people, but more often than not, were designed to give him a pause, so that he could sally forth once again in a cause that he believed. 

NORVILLE:  So, just another way of disarming the enemy. 

THORNBURGH:  Yes, I‘m afraid so. 

MEESE:  You know, that‘s an interesting point, though.  I don‘t think he had enemies or saw people as enemies. 

NORVILLE:  Oh, Tip O‘Neill was completely not in his corner.  He said he thought he was the worst president ever, but he would have made a fabulous king. 

MEESE:  But Tip O‘Neill was a man he saw as an opponent, but not an enemy.  And he used to say, after 6:00, we‘re friends.  And Tip O‘Neill would come down to the White House.  They‘d have a drink together and share Irish stories. 

So even people who were very much opposed to each other could get together as friends, as he said, after 6:00. 

NORVILLE:  The one friend he couldn‘t make was Alzheimer‘s disease.  It is just so incredibly tragic that the last 10 years of Ronald Reagan‘s life, he was not able to savor the memories, as we‘re doing during this program. 

MEESE:  That‘s true.  But even there, one of the things he did kind of illustrated his sense of duty, because when he learned he had Alzheimer‘s disease—and this was something that people usually didn‘t talk much about in their families, by his letter to the public letting them know why he was fading into the distance and what was going on and why it was important to conquer this disease, even in his last letter there, he performed a service to the country. 

THORNBURGH:  That was his last great gift to the American people, to raise the profile of that dreadful disease and give heart to all of us who are so interested in supporting research that will someday provide a cure for it. 

NORVILLE:  Absolutely. 

Well, let me go into the break, then, with some of the words from that very poignant letter that President Reagan wrote in 1994.  He said: “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.  I know that, for America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  What was it like working for President Ronald Reagan?  Two members of the Reagan administration, together again, remember after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We‘ve been remembering Ronald Reagan tonight with two men who served during his presidency as attorney general, Dick Thornburgh and Ed Meese. 

Gentlemen, on the wall at the memorial in California where the president will be buried, the following inscription is going to be placed.  It says of the president: “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there‘s purpose and worth to every life. 

What epitaph would each of you write if you were give this responsibility for the president?

Governor? 

THORNBURGH:  I think my focus would be on the degree of optimism with which he infected the American people.  We were a nation of naysayers.  And I think cynics when he came to office.  And he is gave us back the birthright that‘s always been characteristic of this country, patriotism, optimism, looking forward to a better day.  And thank heavens for that. 

NORVILLE:  Do you think there will be a rebirth of that, as people remember those qualities of the Reagan years? 

THORNBURGH:  I would certainly hope so.  I think one of things about a passing of a great man is that we focus on his deeds and his thoughts and perhaps draw new inspiration for facing the task of the day. 

NORVILLE:  Ed Meese, what would you put on the stone besides the president‘s memorial there? 

MEESE:  I would think that two things, his faith in God and his feeling of duty to his country guided his actions.  And he was successful. 

NORVILLE:  There‘s also that incredible love affair between Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan. 

MEESE:  That is certainly one of the great love stories, true love stories of all time.  And Nancy was a very important part of Ronald Reagan‘s life right to the end. 

NORVILLE:  Have you spoken with her?  How‘s she doing? 

MEESE:  I think she‘s doing very well.  I have left a message for her. 

I thought this was not a time to bother her, with all the things she has on her mind today.  But I left a message for her.  And just seeing her there at the ceremony at the library indicates that she‘s bravely carrying on at probably one of the most difficult times in her life. 

NORVILLE:  Well, I know there are a lot of Americans who are certainly there in spirit trying to hold her up during what is, as you say, just a difficult, difficult time. 

Dick Thornburgh, Ed Meese, thank you so much for being with me. 

THORNBURGH:  Thank you, Deborah. 

NORVILLE:  I should note that, in his article this week in “Newsweek” magazine, Jon Meacham talks about the president‘s grave.  And he says of it: “His grave looks out over the Pacific, where the sun sets on America every evening.  It‘s still light there on the edge of the continent when darkness has fallen across the rest of the nation.  How like Reagan, soaking up the last possible ray of sun, savoring the day until the very end.”

When we come back, two men who helped craft some of the powerful speeches for which Ronald Reagan was so well known—in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  I have only thing to say to the tax increasers.  Go ahead. 

Make my day.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  When it came to delivering a speech, Ronald Reagan had it down pat.  Whether it was a serious policy statement or to heal a hurting nation or just a good joke, Ronald Reagan definitely knew how to deliver a line. 

I‘m joined now by two people who wrote some of those lines for President Reagan, some of his speechwriters.  Josh Gilder was a speechwriter for the president from 1985 to 1988.  And Clark Judge was a speechwriter for the former president from 1986 to 1989. 

Nice to have you both with us.  Thanks for being here. 

Mr. Gilder, you actually wrote the make my day speech.  How did that one come to be? 

JOSH GILDER, FORMER REAGAN SPEECHWRITER:  Well, there was a big push in the Senate, particularly for a massive tax hike, and we wanted to stop it cold.  And we—I came up with that—well, I didn‘t come up with the line—I stole it from Clint Eastwood—put it in the speech.  And he just said it with such flair. 

See, that‘s the thing about Ronald Reagan is that he came across so nice and he was a genuinely nice man, but he had a core of steel.  And they knew that.  When he said that, they knew that he was—if they wanted to send it up, he would veto it and he would enjoy doing it, too. 

NORVILLE:  And when you would be working on a speech for the president, how much input would he give you?  Would he say, I want to say this and give you specific phrases, and were there more general themes and it was your challenge to come up with the phrases that would be memorable and impactful at the same time? 

GILDER:  Well, both.  It was a combination.

The president is speaking all time, which is why you need speechwriters.  Otherwise, he wouldn‘t have time to do anything else.  One thing you‘ve got to know about Ronald Reagan is, he was one of the most consistent politicians in American history.  If you go back to his time for choosing speech in 1964, all the themes and actually a lot of the words and phrases that we were writing in the 1980s are all back there in 1964 in the time for choosing speech. 

NORVILLE:  And that, of course, was what Reagan aficionados refer to as the speech. 

GILDER:  That‘s right. 

NORVILLE:  It was the speech that he made in support of Barry Goldwater, who went on to lose miserably in the election, but it certainly put Ronald Reagan on the map as far as a national figure went. 

GILDER:  Yes, it really did.  It really catapulted him to the forefront of the conservative movement. 

NORVILLE:  And, Clark Judge, what was it that made Ronald Reagan such an effective communicator, in your opinion?  Was it the clarity of vision and because you could go back in history and always know what the consistency of message was going to be, or was it something else? 

CLARK JUDGE, FORMER REAGAN SPEECHWRITER:  Well, the clarity of vision was a key part of it. 

He believed what had he said.  He had conviction.  He was following through in every way and all the actions.  And there‘s nothing like sincerity and clarity and focus to make for great communication.  At the same time, he had tremendous sensitivity to language.  He—you just heard Josh tell about how he conveyed the core of steel in the way that he delivered that line that Josh gave him. 

That was key to—that ability to feel the language and then project it was also key.  And it was a reflection both of his great intelligence and his great conviction for the ideas and policies that he espoused. 

NORVILLE:  And yet there was also that ad-lib quality for Ronald Reagan.  While people may have first taken notice in 1964 at the speech, they certainly sat up again in 1980 when he was in a hot contest with George Bush in the New Hampshire primary and at a debate where his campaign had helped to underwrite the funding of this event, they tried to turn off his microphone.  Remember this one? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan‘s mike off? 

(BOOING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you turn that microphone off, please. 

REAGAN:  I have paid for this microphone!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

NORVILLE:  Something tells me Mikhail Gorbachev had seen that clip.  And when he said, tear down that wall, he knew Ronald Reagan wasn‘t kidding. 

JUDGE:  Yes.  Actually, I was sitting up to his right when he said that in the bleachers, cheering with everyone else.  And that kind of—that ability to rise to the moment, to create the moment, to change the moment was key to him.  It was part of—it was another aspect of what became familiar, his incredible wit. 

NORVILLE:  I want to replay the closing farewell address that he gave, the clip that we heard a few minutes ago, from the Republican Convention in ‘92 and then follow up with something about in 2004 and America‘s mood. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others.  And whatever else history may say about me when I‘m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence, rather than your doubts.  My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty‘s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity‘s arm steadying your way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Incredible words for 1992.  But, in 2004, we have lived through the terror bombings of September 11.  We‘ve endured the war in Iraq, which continues fighting afoot. 

Josh Gilder, what would President Reagan be saying to America today if he were president and standing in front of the podium? 

GILDER:  Oh, he would be encouraging us to stand strong, to stand up for our values and our beliefs.  He would talk about the nature of tyranny, which is what we‘re fighting with these terrorists.  He would talk about the importance and the special role that the United States has in the world, to protect freedom and to spread freedom around the globe. 

NORVILLE:  Clark, is there a particular phrase that Ronald Reagan would have wanted you to work into a speech right about now? 

JUDGE:  Well, I don‘t know about a particular turn of phrase, but I think Josh is right, staying the course, being strong, having confidence in our values, not wobbling, but going forward in this fight to bring freedom to those—to now Iraq and Afghanistan, just as by being strong and firm and resolute, ultimately, freedom came to the Soviet Union.  That‘s the—the fight continues and he would be there leading us. 

NORVILLE:  And, finally, both of you worked so closely with the president.  It was your words often coming out of his mouth.  I guess you have to mind-meld a little bit to go through that.  How are each of you individually dealing with the loss of President Reagan today? 

GILDER:  Well, on my part, I‘ve been missing Ronald Reagan since I saw his helicopter take off from the South Lawn of the White House for the last time.  It‘s as Nancy Reagan said.  It‘s been a long goodbye.  And it brings home again how I think all of us who worked with him felt deeply affectionate.  And it‘s a deep loss for all of us. 

NORVILLE:  Indeed. 

Clark Judge? 

JUDGE:  Well, I echo that. 

I‘ve—it hasn‘t been the same since he left office.  But, you know, he—he had a great life and he changed America and—in ways that were unimaginable.  And speaking personally—and I think I speak for Josh and others who worked with him and for him, we were deeply privileged to have been allowed to be part of that enormous effort. 

NORVILLE:  Absolutely. 

JUDGE:  And so, you know, it‘s a time of sadness, but it‘s also a time of thanksgiving and, in another way, a celebration of one of the great lives of American history. 

NORVILLE:  We‘ll let that be the last word.  I guess, sometimes, even for speechwriters, it is hard to come out with exactly the right turn of phrase.

Josh Gilder, Clark Judge, thanks so much for being with us tonight and sharing your memories. 

GILDER:  Thank you. 

JUDGE:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  When we come back, we‘ll talk about Nancy Reagan, the woman behind the man. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Tomorrow night, our coverage of President Reagan‘s death continues with a close-up look at Nancy Reagan, how she‘s coping during the end of this long goodbye.

Good night.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,