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Transcript for June 6

Special Edition--Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004
/ Source: NBC News

Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

GUESTS:  Senator John McCain, (R-Ariz.), James Baker (Former Reagan Treasury Secretary), Ken Duberstein (Former Reagan Chief of Staff), Hugh Sidey (Time Magazine), Peggy Noonan (Former Special Assistant to Reagan), Doris Kearns Goodwin (Presidential Historian), Andrea Mitchell (NBC News), Tom Brokaw (NBC News; Author, "The Greatest Generation"), Tom Hanks (Actor, "Saving Private Ryan," Co-producer, "Band of Brothers"), Steven Spielberg (Director and Co-producer, "Saving Private Ryan," Co-producer, "Band of Brothers")

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS (202)885-4598, (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT:  This morning we remember our 40th president, who died yesterday afternoon at age 93, the longest living of all former presidents. We are joined by a very distinguished group of people who have known and covered President Reagan for a long time.

Senator John McCain, when did you first meet Ronald Reagan?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ):  When I came home from a Vietnamese prison camp. And it was the first time--chance I had to meet him face-to-face.  But I knew prisoners who were shot down after I was were very well aware of his commitment to the POWs and to our release and his extreme affection that he and Nancy had displayed to the families of those who were in prison.

MR. RUSSERT:  You write in your book that he asked you an extraordinary question.  He said, "Did you ever feel like killing yourself when you were in a Vietnamese prison?"

SEN. McCAIN:  Yes, he asked me that.  He was very curious about what had happened to us.  But most importantly, he was committed to the belief that America was still great.  He believed that the men and women who served in Vietnam, including the POWs, were the best of America.  And, you know, America was very divided in those years.  When I came home from a time warp, from '67 to '73, America wasn't sure of itself.  A lot of people think we'd lost our way.  And he had an unwavering belief and faith in the greatness of the nation.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ken Duberstein, you were President Reagan's chief of staff in 1988 and 1989.  You talk about him regularly as someone who is "comfortable in his own skin," particularly at the end of his presidency.  Tell us the scene when he was ready to turn over the reins of the presidency.

MR. KEN DUBERSTEIN:  Well, he was comfortable in his own skin.  He didn't have anything to prove to anybody.  On January 20, 1989, in his last visit to the Oval Office, as we were getting ready to depart for the inaugural, he went into his wallet and pulled out his nuclear code card, and offered it to Colin Powell and to me.  And we said, "No, no, Mr. President, you're still president until noon."  He said, "Oh, OK," and put it back in his wallet. Reagan always felt comfortable being himself.  He wasn't playing the role.  He was playing himself.  And that was the leadership skill that everybody connected with.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hugh Sidey, let me show you the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazine
coming out tomorrow.  There they are on the screen.  Ronald Reagan, exactly the same photograph, Michael Evans from 1976:  the open denim shirt, the Stetson hat, the big smile.  You're from Iowa.  You remember Ronald Reagan when he was a sportscaster for WHO, and you said the one word that resonates in your mind is "happy."

MR. HUGH SIDEY:  Yes, indeed.  It was back in the Depression years, Tim, and in the 1930s out
there, everything went wrong.  Nobody had any money.  There were dust storms that came in, the drought, the Depression, the whole works. And I'd go home from the old print shop and, you know, turn on the radio for whatever--he had a little broadcast at night.  And there was Dutch Reagan, and he was happy.  And I often said he was the only happy man in Iowa at that time.  But he was.  He was a very good sportscaster.  He pioneered the whole thing.  He'd go out and cover these little games, go to wrestling, swimming. You know, that never happened to us before out there.

MR. RUSSERT:  When you covered his presidency, did you sense, even in dark times, that innate optimism?

MR. SIDEY:  Oh, yes, indeed.  In fact, I tell the story:  Fifty years later, I go in the Oval Office and he's the only happy man in Washington at the moment.  No, I just think that was part of him.  It was there, that somehow that this was good and he was going to make it work, and that people were good, in this country particularly, and somehow we would get through.  And we did.

MR. RUSSERT:  In Houston, joining us is a man who worked as President Reagan's chief of staff and Treasury secretary, James Baker.

Mr. Baker, good morning.  When you hear the words, the name, "Ronald Wilson Reagan," what do you think of?

MR. JAMES BAKER:  Well, Tim, good morning to you.  I think of a strong leader with an uncommon gift:  his unbounded optimism.  I heard a little bit of the top of the show, where your guests were talking about his optimism.  And, you know, I think one of the secrets, a major secret to his success, was that he always made people feel good.  Many people in Washington disagreed with Ronald Reagan's policies, but I don't know any in the eight years that I served him that didn't like the man himself as a person.

MR. RUSSERT:  It is extraordinary.  You were the campaign manager for George Herbert Walker Bush in 1980.  Ronald Reagan defeated Mr. Bush in the primaries, won the nomination, chose Mr. Bush as his vice president, and then asked to you come in as his chief of staff.

MR. BAKER:  Yeah, that was rather remarkable.  Nobody was more surprised, of course, than I was, because I had also worked against Ronald Reagan for Gerald Ford back in 1976.  But I think this gives you a little bit of an indication, Tim, about how comfortable Ronald Reagan was in his own skin.  He was a man completely without guile.  What you saw with Ronald Reagan was what you got.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think he was often underestimated as a political adversary by Republicans and Democrats alike?

MR. BAKER:  I think that was one of the secrets to his success.  I think it was one of the most important ingredients to that success.  Everybody who knows anything about politics knows the name of the game is to beat expectations, and when people talk you down and they're wrong about it and you can prove them wrong, you're going to succeed.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the extraordinary moments in our lifetime, January 28, 1986.  And I want to bring in Peggy Noonan, if I can.  She served as special assistant to the president and worked with Ronald Reagan on many of his speeches.  The day the space shuttle Challenger exploded, Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan talked to the country, in many ways as the healer in chief.  Let's listen and come back and talk about it:

(Videotape, January 28, 1986):

PRES. RONALD REAGAN:  The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted.  It belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

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

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Peggy Noonan, you must remember that night very, very well.

MS. PEGGY NOONAN:  Oh, I remember that afternoon.  That was some kind of day in the White
House.  The president had been meeting--he was supposed to give his State of the Union address that night.  He had been meeting with various network anchors in the morning, telling them about the speech that was coming up when suddenly he got word that the Challenger had blown up.  One of the first things he said was, "Christa McAuliffe is on that.  The teacher is on that."  And he knew immediately that America's kids were watching for the first time the space shuttle go up at auditoriums in their schools. They were all watching it on TV.  So he was very concerned to speak to them and to talk to them about their trauma.  They saw a live explosion of a vessel with astronauts on it, and it was shaking for them.

And he was very keen to let them know this is part of exploration, this is part of pushing forward, these things happen, but it changes nothing.  It was very keen to make a number of points.  One was to the world.  He wanted to say, "When we have terrible moments like this, we don't keep it a secret. Some people do.  We do it up front and in front of the world.  We have nothing to hide.  We're going to tell you all about it."  So it was very Reagan in that he used an event as he used Normandy to make larger and deeper political and philosophical points.

MR. RUSSERT:  What was he like to work with in terms of crafting a speech and then ultimately
delivering it?

MS. NOONAN:  He was a doll.  He was just a deeply courteous boss.  He was so nice.  Tim, you know what I was thinking about him this morning, is a funny thing about Reagan.  I don't think you can say this of any other president. You knew Reagan was coming in the halls of the White House because suddenly you would hear laughter.  That's how you knew the boss was on his way.  He always had an entourage, and he was always saying something and people were always cracking up around him.  So I was thinking very much about his humor.

But he was a doll to work with.  I wrote a very big--well, my first speech for him, I was so excited.  It was for something very small like the teacher of the year, but I was a brand-new speech writer and so I was keen to make an impression.  I wrote a 20-page speech that was a defense of the West and a damnation of the Soviet Union.  I sent it to Reagan.  The poor man got it.  He knew it was utterly inappropriate.  It was just wrong in every way.  Instead of sending it back to me and saying, "This is a bunch of garbage," he neatly put a line through about 80 percent of what I wrote, then rewrote a few things, then wrote a note to me at the end that said, "What a wonderful speech this is.  Unfortunately, it's a little too long.  I had to shorten it.  I hope you don't mind." And I was so stupid, I believed him.  It took me months to figure out, "Oh, man, this is a courteous boss."

MR. RUSSERT:  Extraordinary.  And, Hugh Sidey, you talk about an interview you had with former President Bush where President Bush asked President Reagan, "How do you give a speech that's an emotional speech without breaking up?"

MR. SIDEY:  Well, he was talking about Reagan's visit to Normandy on the 40th anniversary, and he gave a couple of speeches, the one at Pointe du Hoc and then the other one at the memorial.  And Bush was always tearing up.  And so he asked him, "How did you do that?  I don't know how to do that."
And so Reagan said, "What you do is you write it out, and then you go over and over it and over it," and he said, "and then when the time comes, there is still emotion.  You'll still feel it, but you'll be certain about what you've written down and you'll be certain that you can get through it."  And so Bush tried it, and lo and behold, he had better luck after that.

MR. RUSSERT:  The issue of accountability.  I want to bring in Doris Kearns Goodwin and Andrea Mitchell, if I can.  In 1983, the terrible loss of 282 Marines in Beirut, the barracks blown up.  The president again went to the country and said this:

(Videotape, December 27, 1983):

PRES. REAGAN:  If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president, and I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris Kearns Goodwin, how often do we hear that from a president?

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:  Much too rarely.  But I think that was part of the magic of Reagan, that he was able to establish a national bond with the people so that he projected his own sense of confidence, his optimism, his jauntiness, onto them.  It wasn't just that he was confident.  They felt more confident and more trusting, and he revitalized the office of the presidency, just, interestingly as FDR did.  You know, he started out life feeling that FDR was his hero and voted for him for four times, and though they were polar ideological opposites, they shared that ability to talk to the people, that sense that the presidency and they were fit for one another, and that internal confidence that was projected.

It'll take time, however, I think, for history to sort it all out.  Think about it:  When President Truman left office, he only had a 28 percent approval rating and he's now one of the best.  When Harding left office, he was beloved and national mourning, and yet his esteem has fallen over time. So it'll take the biographies coming out, the memoirs coming out, people thinking about the arms race and what Reagan did.  But there's no question, nothing will take away that bond that he had with the American people, which in a democracy is maybe the essential quality of the leadership.

MR. RUSSERT:  It is quite striking.  President Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs, President Reagan with the Marines in Beirut; when presidents step forward and accept responsibility, there is a sense of acceptance by the American people.

MS. GOODWIN:  And you would think that more presidents would understand that. It's such a simple thing.  But I think you get surrounded by people in the Oval Office who don't want you to take any kind of error and make it seem like it was yours, when once you do it, it almost cleans the slate and you can start again.

MR. RUSSERT:  The arms for hostages, Andrea Mitchell.  Let me show you two Ronald Reagans, one in November of 1986 and then another March 4 of 1987. Let's watch:

(Videotape, November 13, 1986):

PRES. REAGAN:  We did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, March 4, 1987):

PRES. REAGAN:  A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages.  My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  A real scandal in the Reagan administration, where weapons were sold to the Iranians. In return, hostages released from Lebanon and the profits from weapons sales were used to fund the Nicaraguan rebels, and Ronald Reagan insisting to the country it didn't happen, later coming on and using very interesting words.  He said "My heart and best intentions tells me it's not true, but the facts and evidence tell me otherwise."  Very believable.

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  Well, it is very believable because he didn't really believe it had taken
place.  And interestingly, if you go back to what you just played earlier, which was his reaction to the bombing of the Marine barracks, that's where the age of terror began really, where the Americans made a commitment to stabilize Beirut, Lebanon, torn apart by civil war, the PLO being kicked out, and it was the American commitment there that began to make us the enemy in that part of the world and led to the hostage-taking.

He personalized everything about the hostage-taking.  When William Buckley died, the CIA station chief that was tortured, he was every day saying to his national security team "Tell me about the hostages. How are we doing on the hostages?"  And they took that to be instructions.  And then he did the broad strokes.  He wanted the hostages out, and they just carried the ball, Ollie North and the others, and ran with it.  He didn't really believe it was taking place as eventually it was proved to him, and we had a news conference where he denied that this had taken place, and they had to do a correction 20 minutes later.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ken Duberstein, how did President Reagan survive that political scandal?

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  He survived it because he knew what he had done.  He knew what he had created. He was willing to take responsibility.  You know, it's interesting, Tim; Howard Baker and I came to the White House at the beginning of March of 1987--I came back then.  We did not know whether Reagan was telling the truth or not.  And over a period of some months, we asked Reagan all the mean, rotten, nasty questions, trying to see not only his answers but whether or not there would be eye contact or a facial twitch, until we finally became convinced that he was telling us the truth.  And what Reagan then did was start developing a strategy to, in fact, end the Cold War, to keep our economy going, to rebuild his strength on Capitol Hill.  But always to make sure that on Iran-Contra, he was being straight with
the American people as far as his thoughts.

You know, somebody said to me, "Well, you have to remember he was an actor. And of course you didn't know whether or not he was telling you the truth, he was an actor."  And I kept saying, "Yeah, but he was a B-movie actor."  And we went through it for months asking the questions until we became convinced. And I think the American people again finally became convinced that he was shooting straight with them.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Baker, as White House chief of staff, what was it like the day that the
assassination attempt was made on the president's life just three months into his administration, and do you believe that his surviving that assassination attempt really did make an indelible mark on the minds of the American people?

MR. BAKER:  Well, I think it did, Tim.  It was, of course, a very chaotic and difficult day.  We never knew until he'd gotten, actually, to George Washington Hospital the extent or degree to which he'd been injured.  At first, it was reported--I was back at the White House.  Mike Deaver took the trip in my stead.  I was supposed to go on that trip.  And it was reported back to us through Nancy Reagan's Secret Service detail, that shots had been fired at the president but that he'd not been hit.  And I think it was really the quick thinking of his lead agent, Jerry Parr, who noticed a little speck of bright blood, I believe, on the president's shirt, and gave the order for the motorcade to detour to George Washington Hospital and not go back to the White House as they had originally planned to do.

So it was a really very long and chaotic day.  It was a day that we had, of course, to make a lot of decisions, including whether or not to turn over power to the vice president under the 25th Amendment.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hugh Sidey, here's a man approaching 70 years old, in the words of one police officer who said to me, "It's amazing.  Dutch took a bullet, and is still with us."

MR. SIDEY:  That's right.  No, he--well, number one, he was in good shape. He really--in fact, it's proven again because he lived to be 93, a decade with this terrible disease, but his body was incredibly good.  And he kept it that way.  He exercised.  He ate properly.  Every now and then, he'd slop over a little bit, but then he would make up for it.  I was at a little dinner one time, and there was caviar, and he took out a big dollop and then he took out a second one.  And he noticed me looking.  And this the guy who claimed he grew up on macaroni and cheese, you know.  And he looked at me and he said, "We didn't have this in Dixon."

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator McCain, let me turn to the Cold War.  We all remember Ronald Reagan going to Berlin in June of 1987 and offering this bit of advice to Mikhail Gorbachev.  Let's watch:

(Videotape, June 12, 1987):

PRES. REAGAN:  If you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.  Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Indignation.

SEN. McCAIN:  One of the seminal moments in history of the Cold War, and not without controversy. Many pundits said that this is confrontational with the Soviet Union, that this would set back our efforts. Look, there was a lot of milestones.  This was a seminal event.  But the Pershing and cruise missile, which was incredibly controversial, the expenditures on defense, which raised the deficits rather dramatically--a series of steps that Ronald Reagan took. In fact, at Keflavik, Iceland, his turning down Gorbachev's offer, which befuddled everyone, was again something that went back to his instincts, not actually to his advisers.  And he had a basic fundamental belief in the greatness and strength of America, that we would prevail, that America is a shining city on a hill.  And all of those dictated his actions which, in Margaret Thatcher's words, "He won the Cold War without firing a shot." Remarkable

MR. RUSSERT:  You remember that speech well, Ken Duberstein?

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Well, I also remember the preparation of the speech.  Peter Robinson helped the president prepare it, and when it came to my desk, I was informed that the State Department in the interagency clearance process had said that they objected to that line because it was too confrontational, as John just mentioned.  And I looked at the line, and I thought it was a hell of a line.  And I walked down to the Oval Office and I gave President Reagan the speech.  And I pointed out that in the interagency clearance process the State Department had objected.  And he said, "Well, what do you think?"  And I said, "I think it's a hell of a line, but you're president.  You get to decide." And he looked down and read the line, and he said, "I think we'll leave it in."  "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev."

MR. RUSSERT:  Peggy Noonan, there are a lot of political figures, however, who, if they gave that line, it would be considered inflammatory or pugnacious.  When Ronald Reagan was able to deliver it, it had a sense of righteous indignation.

MS. NOONAN:  And a reasonable plea:  "Mr. Gorbachev, do you want peace?  Do you want progress? Fine, we can get it.  Tear down the wall.  Let us go through this gate."  I think one of the reasons Ronald Reagan could do it was that everybody knew it wasn't just rhetoric.  The entire political meaning of Ronald Reagan's political career was "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."  It was "Let freedom reign."  It was "Let's knock back Soviet communism.  Let's not play games with them.  Let's be candid with them and call them what they are, the evil empire.  Let's get the best deal possible, but they're over."

As he said in his Westminster speech in 1982, "They're going into the ashbin of history.  America will triumph because freedom triumphs."  So I think he could come forward and say what he said because the world knew he was serious, and it was not rhetorical.  It was a natural emanation from him.  And Gorbachev knew he was serious, and the Soviets knew he was serious.  They knew who they were playing with.  It would have been very different if it had been just an American president who was playing colorful rhetorical games for fun.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw this morning interviewed President Bush and talked to him about attitudes in Europe towards President Bush, and President Bush invoked the name of Ronald Reagan, picking up on Senator McCain's theme. Let's watch:

(Videotape, earlier this morning):

MR. TOM BROKAW:  You're here in France, where there's great feeling, especially in Normandy, for the Americans as a result of what they did 60 years ago.  But throughout Europe, even your friends will say--big-time American businessmen who are over here a lot--they've never seen anti-Americanism so high or the personal feelings against you so high as well. Is that important for you to remedy?

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  I--you know, look, it's important for people to know that I've got a future that--I believe in a future that is peaceful, based upon liberty.  And I remember my predecessor, whose life we mourn, Ronald Reagan, they felt the same way about him.  Tom, that doesn't mean a fellow like me should change my beliefs.  I'm not going to.  I'm not trying to be popular.  What I'm trying to do is what I think is right.  And what is right is to fight terror, and what is right is to spread freedom, and what is right is to stand to the values that my country and our country upholds.  And I will continue to do so.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator McCain, is that a valid argument, that the attitudes in Europe towards Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are similar?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, it's hard for me to judge at the moment.  The Iraq War is very unpopular in Europe, we all know.  I do think that Ronald Reagan had a kindness and a gentleness about him that not only worked in Europe, but here in the Congress, which brings up an important point.  Ronald Reagan did some very controversial things.  The partisanship that existed in the 1980s was as strong, and--the Contras, the Persian cruise missiles, tax cuts, all of those things.  But after 6:00, he and Tip O'Neill would get together and tell stories and enjoy each other's company, and that was true in other parts of Capitol Hill.

Now, we have such bitter partisanship and such personalization of politics that I know Ronald Reagan is very disappointed, very disappointed that--look, it's fine to fight all day long, but we don't have to dislike each other personally, nor do we have to attack each other, nor do we have to polarize the nation. I think if there is a legacy of Ronald Reagan, let's stop this and let's start working together for the good of the country.  That's what's missing from the Ronald Reagan era, in my view.

MR. RUSSERT:  And that certain tenderness we saw and charm we saw throughout his career, there was also a real toughness that we saw in Ronald Reagan. And, Jim Baker, I'd like to bring you back in here. George Bush, as you well know, won the Iowa caucuses in 1980.  Going into New Hampshire, about 20 points ahead, Ronald Reagan and George Bush were going to have a debate. Ronald Reagan wanted to bring all of the other Republican candidates with him, and I want to show you this famous scene at the Nashua High School, February 23, 1980.

(Videotape, February 23, 1980):

GOV. REAGAN:  I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you remember that, Jim Baker?

MR. BAKER:  Boy, do I remember that.  I want to tell you something.  Ronald Reagan was a wonderful, wonderful person to work for.  He was a sweet, kind and gentle man, but don't make any mistake about the toughness, because it was there.  And he was, by the way, a darn good politician.  I never will forget one time when we--right after the bombing of Libya, we lost a black pilot over there named Robert Goodman, and we couldn't get the Libyans to give him back. And Jesse Jackson called and he said, "I'm going to go over there and I'm going to see if I can get that pilot back."  He went over there, he was successful; the Libyans I suppose maybe trying to do a favor for a political opponent of the president, gave the pilot back.  And I called the president at 2 or 3:00 in the morning to tell him the pilot was
coming back and that Jackson had been successful.  And the president said to me, he said, "Now, Jim, I want you to tell the fellows I don't want one unkind word about Jesse Jackson, and we're going to have a ceremony in the Rose Garden to thank him." Good politics.

MR. RUSSERT:  He moved decisively in terms of that debate even though he got the name wrong.  It was Mr. Bream rather than Mr. Green, but...

MR. BAKER:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...who's listening?  Also when there was all the speculation about the co-presidency, whether or not he was going to take Gerald Ford as his vice president.  He drove to the convention hall and said, "Boom, it's George Herbert Walker Bush.  We're closing this issue down."

MS. MITCHELL:  He gave a great speech without a text.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Andrea Mitchell, it's always that sense of decisiveness that even the opponents of Ronald Reagan had a grudging respect for.

MS. MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  But, you know, the decisiveness was mixed with that nice quality, the gentleness of the man, the way he reached out to people.  And a couple of years ago, I was interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev and said, "Why did you think that you could cut a deal with this fervent anti-Communist?  Why did you want to negotiate?"  And he said, "When they took that first walk in Geneva in 1985," which was completely stage managed brilliantly by the White House to try to show this person-to-person diplomacy--he said, "When we took that first walk, sat down, the fireplace was lit"--which was also arranged deliberately by the White House, as Ken can attest--and he said, "I just liked him.  I liked him so much and I figured, `Well, we can talk to each other.'"

And I think that Ronald Reagan always knew that his personal diplomacy, if he could meet someone, you know, one-on-one, that he could win.  And we would constantly ask him, you know, "Why haven't you arranged a summit with the Soviets?" you know, and Andropov and ...(unintelligible) everyone kept dying. They were old.  And he said, "Well, they just keep dying on me."

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  "I finally got one I can work with in Gorbachev."

MR. RUSSERT:  Ten years ago, President Reagan shared with the country that he was going to engage in a final struggle against Alzheimer's.  And he did it in a very dignified way.  This is a letter he wrote to the American people.  "In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President.  When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.  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."

Even in those final years, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the innate optimism shines forth.

MS. GOODWIN:  Oh, by confronting his illness with such dignity, he gave hope, I think, and solace to millions of Americans and families who have confronted a similar illness.  There was a sense about him of dignity.  There was a sense about him.  You know, when you think about it, opponents for him did not become enemies.  There wasn't that bitterness, and I think that came from this extraordinary confidence inside that even allowed him to face his final death with that kind of confidence.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hugh Sidey, how will Ronald Reagan be remembered?

MR. SIDEY:  Well, it's a tough call, because the historians really have to do it.  I think do you put him in the great category?  Perhaps a little premature about that, but I think successful, a highly successful presidency.  And then we'll--Nixon used to say we've got to wait 50 years or 100 years before we can really assess it.  But that personal bond that the senator talked about and everybody has is there, and that's going to be--and this generation will remember it and I think pass it along to their children.

MR. RUSSERT:  Peggy Noonan, how will he be remembered?

MS. NOONAN:  I think he will be remembered as a giant.  I think he's going to be remembered as a very big man.  There were two great presidents of the 20th century.  I think they were Mr. Roosevelt, F.D.R., and Mr. Reagan.  He ended Soviet communism.  He took the decisive steps that led to the end of Soviet communism.  And he turned around the American economy by allowing it to be liberated. These two things made Americans in general feel that they were not victims of history and they didn't have to suffer through history, as they'd gotten the impression they had to in the '60's and '70's.  He brought back the sense that you can try to make the world better and succeed.  That's huge.

MR. RUSSERT:  John McCain, Franklin Roosevelt, the liberal, Ronald Reagan, conservative, and Peggy Noonan says both giants of the century.

SEN. McCAIN:  I agree.  Historians, either rightly or wrongly, judge--put great weight on foreign policy and national security issues, I think appropriately.  There's no doubt that at the beginning of President Reagan's presidency we were mired in a Cold War, and every day we lived with the threat of annihilation in nuclear exchange.  He won the Cold War, and he did it through steadfast belief in the greatness and strength of America, that it was an evil empire, and his overweening confidence that we would prevail because we were right.  And it's an amazing, amazing story.  And I think his stature will grow rather than diminish over time.

MS. NOONAN:  Hear!  Hear!

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, we conclude our conversation with President Reagan, 40 years' D-Day
celebration at Normandy.  Let's watch:

(Videotape June 6, 1984):

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

(End video)

MR. RUSSERT:  And 20 years later, we're celebrating D-Day, Normandy, one more time.  And we'll be back to talk to Tom Brokaw, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as they talk about their experiences in talking to the greatest generation.

Then, Ronald Reagan's first appearance on MEET THE PRESS from January 1966. He was then a
candidate for governor of California.  All coming up right here as we continue our special edition of MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks on the 60th anniversary of D-Day, plus a special MEET THE PRESS Minute with Ronald Reagan, after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back, joined by NBC's Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who are in Normandy, France, to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day.  Tom Brokaw has just concluded an exclusive interview with President George Bush, where he talked to president about D-Day and Iraq. Let's watch that and come back and talk to Tom.


MR. BROKAW:  One of your predecessors, who was the commander in chief during the time of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was well known for his canny ability to hold the alliance together and to be patient and plan.  D-Day was not easy.

PRES. BUSH:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  A lot of people wanted to rush it.  Some people say that's the difference between then and now.  They planned.  They took their time.  Then when they were ready, they went.  In Iraq, we rushed it.

PRES. BUSH:  Well, it's hard to say we rushed it, because there was a great military victory going into Baghdad.  I mean, it was well planned and well thought out.

MR. BROKAW:  But it was the planning afterward.

PRES. BUSH:  Well, that's--it's been different in some ways, unexpected, obviously.  And there's been some successes we didn't expect.  I can remember sitting in the White House talking with friends and allies and planners about whether or not the oil supply would be disrupted, which would have been catastrophic for the Iraqi people; it wasn't.  Or whether or not there'd me mass starvation, or whether or not there'd be, you know, great movements of people, refugee flows, none of which happened.  What did happen was the quick victory enabled some of Saddam's loyalists to meld into the population to fight another day, and that's what we're doing now.  But I--you know, look, I--now whether you say we rushed it and didn't have a strong coalition, we had a strong coalition.

MR. BROKAW:  I'm not talking about the planning that was...

PRES. BUSH:  Oh, the plan--well, look, I think if you were...

MR. BROKAW:  Isn't that a fair criticism?

PRES. BUSH:  I think it's fair to say that, you know, the enemy didn't lay down its arms like we had hoped.

MR. BROKAW:  And you were not greeted as liberators like Vice President Cheney said that you would be.

PRES. BUSH:  Well, I think we've been thanked by the people of Iraq.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw, your sense.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, I--the president has been talking a lot about the comparison between World War II and now saying that the choices are the same between tyranny and liberty.  In the Air Force Academy speech, he said we were the subject of a ruthless, treacherous attack.  I pointed out to him that that attack came from al-Qaeda, not from Iraq, but he plainly believes that the choices are the same in terms tyrannical behavior.  When I talked to President Chirac on Friday, he said, "We don't see it that way." He said, "I know where the president is trying to go with all of this, but 60 years ago France was occupied by Nazi Germany."  And, of course, we also know that in the Pacific, the Japanese were trying
to take over all of Asia.  But the president is trying to starkly, I think, identify the tough choices that he has to make here by comparing the two eras, and whether he'll be successful remains to be seen, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom, what's your sense of relations between the United States and France after having just observed President Chirac and President Bush?

MR. BROKAW:  I think they're both determined to move into a better, higher ground.  President Chirac on Friday, when I did the interview with him, broke out of his native French and into English to say how much the French people appreciate what the United States did here 60 years ago.  He also said that he was confident that they would get a U.N. resolution that everyone would be happy with perhaps as early as this week.  That was reinforced by President Bush as well when he when he came here.  There's a determination on the part of both parties, I think, to go to the next level both in Iraq and in the relationships between Paris and in Washington, but there are still some very big obstacles to overcome, because President Chirac said, "We just don't believe that you can impose your values on another country, and you can't really do that by declaring war on another country."  That's the essence of what he had to say, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks about what they have been seeing and feeling and observing at the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

Steven Spielberg, we all remember back in March of '99 when you received the Academy Award for "Private Ryan" and you looked up and said, "Dad, you're the greatest.  Thank you for showing me there's honor in looking back and respecting the past."  Talking about your dad, Arnold, a radio operator of a B-25.  What are you seeing and hearing and feeling at this anniversary of D-Day?

MR. STEVEN SPIELBERG:  Well, today I had about 150 fathers that I look back on as the liberators of freedom and the people that saved the world.  We're here today.  And it was like looking back to be able to say "Thank you" to them, not just my dad, who I've been thanking for my entire life, but the--veterans from all walks of life, all forms of combat, were here today. And just hearing their stories--andthey seemed so happy to have somebody to share their stories with, and everybody was listening to them today.  This was the second Veteran's Day.

MR. RUSSERT:  Steven Spielberg, you were talking about how young these soldiers were and how many of them carried photographs of their parents when they stormed the beaches of Normandy.

MR. SPIELBERG:  I had a young Army engineer, Army Corps of Engineer today--young then, 19 years old--who was assigned to graves registration.  And as he was gathering the fallen from the beaches of Omaha and Utah, he said so many of them had clutched in their hands photographs of their fathers and their mothers, that while they were dying, they had time to spend their last moments with the photographs they brought into combat with them.  That was just one of the very moving stories that I think brought us all to tears today.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Hanks, you saw men 75, 80, 85 years old going back to Normandy, and your observation was that many of them were behaving like kids again.

MR. TOM HANKS:  They seem to be, I think, enjoying the fruits of survival.  I don't think for a
moment that any of them ever forgot their compatriots and their friends and their pals who are buried behind us here and also all around the world.  But I really got a sense from them, the vast majority of them--true, they all had smiles on their faces.  They were here with their wives.  They were here with their kids and their grandkids.  I just got the sense that even they somehow felt as though they had done their job well.  I felt that that was an extraordinary and very pleasant thing to be a witness to.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Hanks, how has playing the role of Captain John Miller in "Saving Private Ryan" changed or affected your life?

MR. HANKS:  Well, I'd have to say--and I speak on behalf of everybody, the entire cast of "Saving Private Ryan" and also, as well, as to--"Band of Brothers."  We all went through an emotional journey in the course of making that film.  By and large, actors get paid to put on other people's clothes and pretend to be doing something that they would never do.  In this case, I felt as though--and we all did--that somehow we were burdened with a responsibility to do it right, not just in the physical sense but also in the emotive sense, that we had to be as afraid as those men were.  We had to be as swept up in the tide of events as those men were, as prepared as they were.  But we also, I think, had to face up to the fears that the entire time, the entire aspect of living during the Second World War meant.

I can tell you that, by and large, I have a lot of jobs that I carry with me for years or so afterwards, and they last forever, whether they're good or bad.  And in this case, with "Saving Private Ryan" and, to a degree, "Band of Brothers," I'm a changed--I think I'm a changed man.  I'm definitely a changed artist, and I'm a bit of a changed American, because we were trodding--we were representing sacred ground and we were representing, I think, the epitome of what the American experience has given to the world.

MR. RUSSERT:  Steven Spielberg, are you a changed American after doing "Saving Private Ryan"?

MR. SPIELBERG:  Well, I think I was a changed American before "Private Ryan," which allowed me to have the confidence to tell that story without blinking. And that was, I think, my challenge:  How close to the real thing could I possibly get and not alienate audiences and send them fleeing from the theaters?  And I really didn't care about sending audiences fleeing from the theaters.  I cared more about acquitting the actual stories of the veterans as first brought to our attention by my own experience with my veteran father and all of his veteran friends, and my knowledge and acquaintance with Stephen Ambrose, the greatest World War II historian ever to have lived.  And so I came with confidence to tell this story, and I just tried very, very hard not to pull my punches, especially with the opening 23 minutes of the storming of Omaha Beach.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw, you are the author of "The Greatest Generation." How has that book changed your life?

MR. BROKAW:  Oh, it's changed it profoundly, Tim.  You and I have talked about that at length.  I think at the end of my professional career, which has been spent mostly in television, I will look back and say, "That book and the two subsequent books are the works that I'm most proud of as a professional journalist."  And with Tom Hanks and with Steven Spielberg, I think the three of us have our own little band of brothers here because our lives have been changed so much by our experience with these veterans.

It's hard to describe.  They come up to you here and they say "Thanks" to us, and I always say, "No, you've got it the wrong way.  We were the doormen.  We opened the door so that people could say `Thanks' to you and know your stories."  They come back here not because of how proud they should be about what they did 60 years ago.  They come back here to pay homage, to pay tribute to those who didn't get to come back.  They go three stages, really.  First, there was guilt that they survived, and then there was relief that they survived, and then there's a sense "I owe it to those who didn't survive to live not just a life but a good life."  And to be able to write that kind of a story about that particular generation, frankly, has been a great privilege, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom, before we go, you covered Ronald Reagan.  You were a young reporter.  He was the governor of California.  Your thoughts today as we mourn his loss.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, he truly was larger than life, and I know that a number of people have said this but it's true:  In politics, he was always underestimated.  Many people didn't believe that he could ever be elected governor of California.  I got the assignment to cover him in part because he didn't have a chance. That's what all the geniuses said on the NBC news desk in 1966--twice elected governor of California by landslides, twice elected president of the United States by landslides.  And, Tim, you were with me that final week that he was in office when I did that last interview with him.  And then he took me out into the Rose Garden and there was the other Ronald Reagan.  No one knew exactly why he wanted to take me out there, but he had a photographer in place, and he said, "Tom, Nancy and I were talking this morning, and we remember when you were there at the very beginning."  And he got that twinkle in his eye and he said, "It worked out pretty well for the both of us, didn't it?"  And that's the Ronald Reagan I'll always remember.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, thank you all very much.

And we'll continue to remember the legacy of Ronald Reagan with a special MEET THE PRESS Minute, his very first appearance on this program as a candidate for governor of California in 1966, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back. Over the course of his political career, the great communicator, Ronald Reagan, appeared on MEET THE PRESS seven times.  His first appearance, January 9, 1966, just five days after he announced his candidacy for governor of California.

(Videotape, January 9, 1966)

MR. LAWRENCE SPIVAK (NBC News):  Mr. Reagan, may I ask you a few comparatively simple and probably naive questions?  Why do you want to be governor of California?

MR. RONALD REAGAN:  I happen to feel very strongly that we've reached a period in which the
philosophical differences between the two parties are so great that it's high time that more people from the rank and file of the citizenry involve themselves so that we can have government of and by as well as for the people.

MR. SPIVAK:  Well, why do you think you'd be a good governor?

MR. REAGAN:  Well, maybe because I believe this so strongly.  Maybe because I have so much faith that governments should be of the people and my belief that we've had too much government, particularly in the state of California, by administrative edict and rule, and I happen to believe that the people of California can do a pretty good job of running their own affairs.

MR. SPIVAK:  Don't you yourself think it might have been better if you'd gotten some political
experience running for a lower office, though?

MR. REAGAN:  Well, this might be true if I had set out to have a political career.  But frankly, until last November, it had never occurred to me; as a matter of fact, completely the opposite.  I would have denied, and meant it with all my heart, they I ever intended to do this.  I've spent a number of years talking, preaching, as a matter of fact, my philosophy, my belief, in constitutional limits on government and fiscal responsibility and so forth, and I thought that that was my contribution to the public welfare. So I'd say it just--this is a result of a lot of circumstances.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Political neophyte Ronald Reagan went on to defeat the incumbent governor of
California, Pat Brown that November.  Fourteen years later, he became the 40th president of the United States.

This morning we say goodbye to Ronald Reagan in the same words he said goodbye to us in his last convention speech, August of 1992:

(Videotape, August, 1992):

FMR. PRES. REAGAN:  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. Goodbye, and God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.

(End videotape)