Guests: Elaine Chao, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Watt, Ken Duberstein
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: This is Kith Olbermann at MSNBC. These are pictures recorded moments ago outside the home of the 40th president of the United States Ronald Wilson Reagan. A hearse from a mortuary in Santa Monica, California backing up the driveway into the Reagan home at Bel Air. Ronald Wilson Reagan died at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, ending 10 years of struggle against Alzheimer‘s disease and infirmity that increased in tragic at heart-rending proportion annually. The person you saw is to take Mr. Reagan‘s body at some point in the not to distant future back to the mortuary in Santa Monica, and then at a later point, Mr. Reagan will be transferred to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley in California.
He will lie in state there for about a day, we‘re told. Reagan, of course, was the two-term governor of California. And he will then be moved to Washington for what we will have for the first time in 30 long years, a state funeral for president of the United States, Richard Nixon. The only president to pass away in the time since Lyndon Johnson did not get one for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who was at the briefest of collisions with American history.
We will now see a state funeral at the National Cathedral after lying in state for President Reagan of this period of several days at the Rotunda at the Capitol. As we continue to remember President Reagan, we‘re joined now by Elaine Chao secretary of labor under Mr. Reagan during his administration. She has been kind enough to join us from Washington and we thank you for your time tonight under these sad circumstances.
ELAINE CHAO, SECRETARY OF LABOR: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Well, give us your initial reaction to this news. I thought it was interesting. Peggy Noonan, one of his speechwriters said that for the fact that we‘ve had essentially 10 years of warning, it nonetheless has struck so many today as a real blow.
CHAO: You know so many young people today have never known Ronald Reagan. And yet when he took office, there was a sense of malaise in the country. Inflation rates were in double digits. Interest rates were in the double digits. We had hostages in Iran. President Ronald Reagan turned all that around. He basically was resolute in the courage of his convictions and he basically changed the world.
Ever since his tenure as president, we now have a different view of the world. The end of the Cold War. He also uttered those immortal words, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall, which resulted in the demise, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the former Soviet Union as well. He also helped Americans believe that the government is there to serve us and he said that the government is there to be responsive to the American people.
He was a font of optimism and of positive energy. He was always very optimistic as he sought to protect this country; one of his signature lines was also peace through strength. So Ronald Reagan, in a nutshell, ended the Cold War and forever changed the course of history.
OLBERMANN: Secretary Chao, tell me of your experience and your responsibility and your inter reaction with Ronald Reagan when he was president.
CHAO: Well, I was a young White House fellow. I was apolitical. The program is nonpolitical. And I had the great privilege of serving as an assistant in the office of policy development. And in a very - from the little perch that I had then, I learned a lot about what it meant to have a philosophy in government. President Ronald Reagan embodied that. He was able to simplify the mission of government to a majority of people.
I had grown up not really understanding what the role of government was or not really agreeing with very many other politicians. And yet in his first State of the Union address, President Reagan enunciated very clearly the four goals of the government, of his administration. And that was less regulations, stable monetary policy; the government was to serve the people. He laid out in very simple terms, a very direct clear terms, what the purpose of his administration was.
And as a young appointee in the administration, it was easy to follow these themes as well. As you well know, you can‘t micromanage this big bureaucracy called government. Only direction or themes can be given. And it was, I think, easy for those who followed in his administration, to understand what he wanted. What his goals were and to carry out his themes for the American people.
OLBERMANN: Secretary Chao, I would never think that in recapping the administrations of Ronald Reagan, that this would be the thing that one would talk about in the first few minutes of remembering him. Nonetheless, this is your area of expertise. I‘m struck now in thinking about the office of the secretary of labor, that one of the first big events of the first Reagan administration, was a rather extraordinary one in this time, trying to, I guess, from his point of view, rebalance the nature of employers and unions.
That, of course, was the dismissal of the striking air traffic controllers in 1981. An event that these federal employees who went on strike when they were, as I believe, not allowed to do so by law, to have them dismissed on masse was something I don‘t think we can recreate the reaction to that 23 years later. But it‘s quite a—it was quite a bold statement from a man who had been the president of a very powerful and left leaning union in the Screen Actor‘s Guild, was it not?
CHAO: Well, President Reagan was concerned first and foremost for the American people. And he also believed in upholding the law. The law did not permit these strikes. It was an illegal action. And it disrupted the economic dynamic of this country. It had massive potential impact on our economy. So the president did what he thought was necessary. That was to keep the transportation system going for the benefit of the American people, for commerce. And again he was upholding the law.
OLBERMANN: Elaine Chao, secretary of labor and formerly in the Reagan administration as a White House fellow. We thank you most under these extraordinary and sad circumstances. We thank you greatly for your time.
CHAO: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: It is one of the ironies of history that Ronald Reagan had entered the White House with a reputation as perhaps an isolationist or perhaps at best, an international novice, he left it having at least seen overseen the events that would bring the first meaningful detente with the Soviet Union. Then the destruction of the Berlin wall and all it symbolized. And ultimately the self-destruction of what he had once termed the Russian evil empire. Lawrence Eagleburger former secretary of state during the presidency of the George H. W. Bush was undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Reagan administration. And he joins us now. Secretary Eagleburger, thank you for your time during these unhappy circumstances.
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: His role in world events, was it foreseeable that he would be so influential when he was elected or were there—the rest of the people just not paying attention to who he was and what he had in mind?
EAGLEBURGER: I have to tell you this to confess here, when he was elected, I thought we had elected a cowboy. And I was very clearly wrong then and I‘ve come to see that, I came to see that very soon. And by the way it‘s good that you mentioned the attack on the air controllers and the strike. It is that at the very beginning of his term that convinced me that this was a man of singular importance and a lot of guts.
And he took this on when nobody thought he should. And he broke the union and it‘s very much like Maggie Thatcher and the coal miner‘s strike in the U.K. That made her, this at least convinced me many that Ronald Reagan was a different kind of a president. And everything he did there oftentimes against advice of the bureaucrats and the bureaucracy. Almost always, he was right.
And almost always, the bureaucracy was wrong. That goes to things like “Star Wars” and any number of these programs. “Star Wars,” for instance, I think it had a great deal to do with the final collapse of the Soviet Union. And he saw all these things very clearly. He was, I think, along with Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt, he is one of the three greatest presidents of the century.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Secretary, I‘m going to take just a second to update our viewers that we‘re getting word from Bel Air that that hearse that will contain, take Mr. Reagan‘s body to the mortuary in Santa Monica, may be leaving in a few moments. If you see that video pop up during our conversation here with Former Secretary of State Eagleburger .
EAGLEBURGER: I will shut up.
OLBERMANN: There will be no need to do that, sir. We‘ll have the pictures play. I just wanted to let everybody know in advance, if they saw a big black limousine moving, that‘s what they‘re seeing. Tell me as we talk about the internationalist Ronald Reagan, tell me about how and I asked Secretary Schultz this about 15 minutes ago. How do you go, as president of the United States from calling the Soviet Union the evil empire and making that bold statement—Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall in Berlin. To essentially having a working relationship?
Perhaps the first amicable conversation between, or a relationship between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States ever, almost a friendship. Essentially a negotiated end to the Cold War, even if it was not literally that. How does one man make that progression in a span of less than eight years?
EAGLEBURGER: I think first of all, it is one of the unique qualities of that president, President Reagan. That he could be tough and he could stand firm on issues. But at the same time, as far as people were concerned, he could deal with them in a quite different way than most of us. He always was able to get them to empathize with him and he would empathize with them. I think it made a tremendous difference when Mr. Gorbachev became head of the Soviet Union.
I don‘t think he was manageable with people like Brezhnev, who had no imagination, who were practically walking vegetables anyway. Once you had somebody like Gorbachev who had a mind and who had a sense of history and who recognized the weakness of his case, I think it was quite possible then for President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev to come together. Because they both were looking for the same thing, I think. It was basically how do we avoid the conflict between these two super powers. How do we bring this to an end? This attack on each other to at least some sort of manageable proportions. I think they did it together, frankly.
OLBERMANN: As we were speaking here, perhaps you caught a glimpse of it in the gloom there in the two eves of the Reagan house, the flag covered coffin of Ronald Reagan obviously being loaded from the home into the hearse on the way to the mortuary. Right in the center right of your picture there. Just barely visible. And some motion there suggesting that process is ongoing as the picture begins to break up a little bit in this time.
But there‘s another angle in which the hearse is quite clearly visible. The gloom seems entirely appropriate. Secretary Eagleburger, I just talked to Peggy Noonan about this. And we just talked about it with Secretary Chao. Ten years this man has been sick and has been in a receding state of health in which less and less of the rest of the world has been knowable to him or he to it.
And yet there is this sense of gloom and the impact of this death. That‘s an extraordinary thing considering how long we should have been, in theory, we should have had to get ourselves used to the inevitability.
EAGLEBURGER: That‘s true, but I must tell you, I think in a sense, the gloom is misplaced. What we ought to be doing, when you watch the television programs and so forth, what we are doing, is talking about his very great accomplishments. I think in a way, to now be out of this agony of the last decade that he‘s lived with. I think we shouldn‘t be gloomy about that. We should be rather thinking about this great American and what he accomplished for this country.
And more important than anything else, the fact that he had confidence in this country. There are too many people around now who have decided we are back in the case of being on the wrong end of history. And Reagan proved that‘s not true. That‘s what‘s great about the man. We ought to be glorifying and not gloomy about the passing.
OLBERMANN: As the final stage of that passing begins here, the long journey that will end in a private ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the hearse now just leaving the Reagan home, quiet fully and mournfully. Against that backdrop sir, the celebration that you suggest is appropriate for the time, as we watch this moment, tell me your dealing with him personally.
I asked Peggy Noonan this question before and I would like to ask you. How much of that person, I guess the average American citizen thought they saw on television and said that must be the real guy. He strikes me as really genuine. How much of that person was the one that you would see behind closed doors?
EAGLEBURGER: The genuineness was absolute. Just one example, I was representing the State Department at a meeting of the National Security Council that the president chaired. My position was, the State Department position on this particular issue was completely different than what the president and everybody else in the national Security Council wanted. And to say it mildly, I lost.
And the president made this decision, which went in a different direction. As we ended the meeting, he turned to me and put his arm around my shoulder and he said, Larry, I hope on my next ask for a passport, you‘ll give me one. Now that to me is the man he was. He knew I had taken a licking in front of an awful lot of people and he would make it a little easier if he could. On a number of other occasions, he called me to tell me something had gone well or whatever.
He was a man who kept thinking about the subordinates in his government. He cared about it and cared about them. And I thought he was a wonderful person. In addition to the fact he was a great president.
OLBERMANN: Lawrence Kudlow who is with CNBC now and was an economics advisor as he said he worked fairly low in the office of management and budget in the time in which Reaganomics was being honed. Told a very, very similar story about 45 minutes ago of being in one of those rooms and getting the sign, oh boy your thought didn‘t go over to well. And presuming that he was just going to be as he said, he saw Ronald Reagan come by the office of management and budget, duck his head into Mr. Kudlow‘s office, and he figured, he‘s come in to fire me personally.
Instead, he came in and told him an anecdote of some kind. A funny story, that was a way of saying, don‘t worry. It is all right. And I took your point even if I didn‘t happen to agree with you. And that was many of Mr. Reagan‘s critics suggested that all of that good will and perhaps jolliness was some sort of performance. We‘re getting story after story that indeed, the word you just used. It was nonsense.
EAGLEBURGER: Nonsense, absolute nonsense. He was a decent human being. You can‘t name many presidents of the United States who are also decent human beings. He‘s one of the few I could name for you.
OLBERMANN: Tell me about, as we speak of the other presidents of the United States, the question that I have brought up before. A couple of occasions. That he had been portrayed upon election as literally, a throwback to not 1981 but 1881. The criticisms were that perhaps this would be a total reversal of everything that had been seen in the 20th century. Was he the last president of the 19th century? Was he in fact the first president of the 21st century?
EAGLEBURGER: That‘s a tough one. The best I can say to you is, what he did was bring back conservatism as a reputable thing. I guess I would have to say, in that sense; it was a conservatism that was different than a lot of people describe it. I think in many ways, there were ties to Teddy Roosevelt. That‘s why I mentioned him as one of the great presidents of the century. I think he set things up in a way that for a long time worked. I think Reagan himself, he was a conservative. But what he was doing was making conservatism again a reputable thing.
For too long, it had been less than that. I think in that sense, he is the beginning of the 22nd century, whatever we‘re in. And in that sense, I think it is a transition yes. But basically, I think he is more a product of the 20th century than anything else. But he is a product of it in the sense that he gave conservatism a sensible name again and he also proved, I think he could learn. I do not think that Ronald Reagan, when he left office, was the same Ronald Reagan who came into office. I think some of the sharp edges of the conservatism that he had when he came into office were in fact honed a bit by the time he left. He was still a conservative but not quite the same way as he had been when he came in.
OLBERMANN: I‘m fascinated by that point. I‘m wondering if you thought from your perspective as undersecretary of state during those administrations, if that played out internationally. To the degree that obviously, he changed Mikhail Gorbachev. To what degree do you suppose Mikhail Gorbachev changed him?
EAGLEBURGER: I have to believe that there was some change involved here. One of the things, we can like or dislike Gorbachev. The fact of the matter is in historic term, we‘re lucky we had him when we did. Because I do think that he had a clear understanding that he was on the wrong side of history and that if he wasn‘t careful, his country would implode.
In fact, did it implode? Largely because he couldn‘t give away his Marxism and live without his marks. With all of that said, I think when it came to dealing with Ronald Reagan, because he proved he was prepared to compromise, I think it made a difference in the way Ronald Reagan dealt with him. I think Reagan, at the time he left office or when he was meeting with Gorbachev, for instance, he was a more imaginative Reagan than when he came in office. Perhaps that‘s the best way to put it. He was at least he was the same man in terms of his beliefs in what was right and wrong. But I think he was a bit more prepared to be a compromiser when it came to dealing with how you got to those to objectives.
OLBERMANN: As we continue to watch the hearse carrying the body of Ronald Wilson Reagan the 40th president of the United States who passed away after such an extraordinarily long illness. The epic and tragic battle with Alzheimer‘s disease. The body being moved from the Reagan family home. And we stuck with the picture despite the technical problems that are obvious to you.
We continue now with the Former Secretary of State and Former Undersecretary of State for President Reagan, Lawrence Eagleburger. I had one other question about his international role. We discussed whether or not your impressions of him or anybody else‘s impressions of him matched with who the man was and how he grew during his presidency from an international stage. What were the impacts internationally, or I don‘t want to say internationally. What were the impacts on his successors as president? But how did he change the role of president of the United States internationally from what it had been, say, in the first week of January 1981, compared to the first week of February 1989?
EAGLEBURGER: Well, in the first place, I think we have to remember that he came into office when the country was in something of a malaise and he turned that around quickly. And I think then we take it to the international stage. I think the, internationally again at first I think most of them believed he was an unreconstructed, very difficult conservative and they were all going to have a terrible time trying to deal with him.
In fact, at first, he could be fairly tough on some of the issues where we and Europeans, for instance, disagreed. But at the same time, one of the things that everybody talked about it, but I saw in it action. That is, his ability to communicate. And it was not just an ability to communicate with Americans, where I think it made a tremendous difference.
But as well because of the way he could put things, and the way in which he did things, I can remember in Europe I was in a meeting in Europe when he was giving a speech. We watched on it television. Most of the foreign diplomats turned to me and said does he memorize those speeches? He‘s so good at them. I didn‘t tell him he was reading off a teleprompter. But the point was, the impact of his ability to communicate, even to foreigners, was, I think, a major factor in the fact that in fact we did develop a better relationship with the Europeans. Although he was tougher on some issues with them than anybody had expected he would be.
OLBERMANN: The former Secretary of State, Undersecretary of State, during the Reagan administration, Lawrence Eagleburger remembering Ronald Reagan with us tonight. And this has been an extraordinary interview sir and we thank you kindly for it.
EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: A former president‘s children and grandchildren, as we have been saying, began arriving at the bedside in Bel Air yesterday and last night. And what we just saw in these somewhat spotty but still sad pictures from that community, the hearse bearing the body of the 40th president of the United States making its way from Bel Air, California, to a mortuary in nearby Santa Monica, California. Lets go out once again, I would like to bring in Mark Mullen who is standing outside the gates of the Reagan family home for the picture from on the ground there.
MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, it was both poignant and eerie, I think, as we saw the hearse coming down just a moment ago. Because from our vantage point right here—perhaps the camera shows you a better picture—you can see that the coffin was flag-draped and you could also see that until the hearse actually made it to the street level, as it was descending the hill of the family compound. They actually had four Secret Service agents walking alongside on different points of the hearse much as they used to in all presidential motorcades. And it was sort of a remembrance of days past and of respect at the same time.
President Ronald Reagan left his beloved Bel Air home for the very last time for the funeral home where arrangements will be made. For weeks now, we have heard rumors about the president‘s failing health. But it really wasn‘t until the last couple days that it became evident that it might be more than rumors. We saw the convergence of family members beginning last night and increasing in frequency today. For all the people that the Reagan‘s know, it still remained a very quiet family affair. And we didn‘t see anyone really leave this compound until the official word came down, at 1:00 Pacific time, it was clarified Keith in a statement from Reagan‘s office just a short time ago, that the president passed away with both wife Nancy and two of his three remaining kids. Ron and Patty, at his side.
From that point, the tone of everything changed dramatically. Once the announcement that the president had passed away had changed. Secret service came in and augmented their detail, which is automatically assigned to the Reagan family. The LA police came in. And then we saw the hearse come in just a short time ago. Although this has been essentially 10 years in the making since we found out the president was suffering from debilitating Alzheimer‘s disease, it still came as a shock with events moving very quickly once things happened today.
OLBERMANN: Boy, doesn‘t that underscore exactly what you talked about the last time we went out to Mark that despite the preparation and the anticipation of this sad time that when it finally came, the reality of human emotions overtake us and for several hours, it was not clear because there had not been a statement, whether the president had died at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time or 1:00 p.m. Pacific. That says it all I suppose.
Mark, stand by we‘ll come back out to you again. Let‘s refresh anyone who just joined us. What we‘re looking at about, 15 minutes ago, that hearse, that elongated black stretch hearse backed into the Bel Air home of Ronald Reagan where he died in his own bed at the age of 93 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 1:00 p.m. Pacific this afternoon. That hearse bearing the body of the 40th president to a funeral home in Santa Monica and the process after that will be back to the ranch at Santa Barbara, rather, to the Reagan Library for a day for lying in state.
The flag covered coffin emerging there just briefly as the brilliant sunlight of a southern California Saturday afternoon matched the—met against the gloom there. There‘s the actual loading of the casket earlier, about 15 minutes ago. About 5:10 Pacific Time this afternoon. After a day of lying in state for the state of California, where he served two terms as governor beginning in 1966. Mr. Reagan‘s body will be flown to Washington. There we will have the first state funeral for president of the United States since the death of Lyndon Johnson in 1973. There will be a service at the National Cathedral in Washington. There will be the lying in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol. All this to take place in the course of the next three or four days.
The time of mourning in America that most of the current generations have not seen or cannot recall easily. Thirty-one years since the death of Lyndon Johnson. To review again, to continue to talk about the life and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of the most famous quotations to come out about the presidency. Certainly the first term was a very simple one of four words, let Reagan be Reagan! Another one of the indelible phrases that echoes backs at us as we plumb the memories of the life and the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan. And that statement was made by our next guest, James Watt was President Reagan‘s secretary of the interior from 1981 to 1983 and joins us now from Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Watt thank you kindly for your time tonight.
JAMES WATT, REAGAN INTERIOR SECRETARY: Keith, good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Can you give us the context of that for those who, to whom it did not spring immediately into their memories? When you said that and why?
WATT: The let Reagan be Reagan comment?
WATT: We were celebrating the inauguration of President Reagan. We were meeting in Constitutional Hall. The president bought his political appointees. Several hundreds or thousands, I don‘t remember how big that hall was. It was packed out with Reagan appointees. Several of the cabinet officers were asked to tell about the accomplishments of the administration. What were we doing and why were we doing it?
And I was privileged to be one of those chosen to speak. And ended my brief remarks with the comment that stirred my soul. And after telling these things, I said I felt down within my soul, the words, let Reagan be Reagan. Let Reagan be Reagan. And the crowd erupted, because we celebrated the power of one individual to impact the nation and the world. And it would be hard to extend the list beyond Ronald Reagan. A unique and wonderful man who had the power to motivate people for greatness and to do right for the country. It was a marvelous privilege to serve with that man and for him.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Secretary, I‘m struck by that, the resonance that you describe there of that phrase. Because as I recall, there was after Ronald Reagan‘s election, there was some—I don‘t want to call it a struggle. I don‘t want to call it factions or cliques within the administration. But there did seem to be two different minds about whether or not Ronald Reagan was a spokesman, team captain, any kind of—not necessarily offensive term, or if he was the decision maker and the philosophical leader of not merely the government of the United States, not merely the entirety of its population, but of all the great minds that have been assembled for that administration. I was wondering if your statement had a particular relevance to that kind of debate. In other words, this is the man in charge let‘s follow him as opposed to lets try to influence him. Did it mean that too?
WATT: It thinks so in parts. There‘s always a struggle to capture the leader‘s mind. The city of Washington is stacked with lobbyists trying to impact the direction and the course of any presidency. And of course, we had the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives at that time. And they were trying to frustrate his plans. And he was trying to bring about massive change. A Reagan revolution.
And so there was the pulling and the hee-hawing one-way or the other. Those men and women that had gathered in that room, we were devoted to the philosophies and the principles that Reagan had laid out in his campaign. It was a call to arms that we were to march on and follow our leader and not be diverted by the carping press or the whining politicians, or the well-heeled lobbyist. We were going to do what was right for America.
Reagan had portrayed that in his campaign, and he laid it out. We didn‘t need to ask what we were to do. He had told us in a philosophical context. And our job was to march forward in a revolution that we‘re still benefiting from. Because of this man‘s character and his ability to enunciate it and put it in picture form, that we could then take and implement through the bureaucracy. It was a marvelous time.
OLBERMANN: You talked about impacting him. How in fact did anyone in the administration, yourself included, attempt to impact him? What succeeded? What was the best course? Logic? Hyperbole? Story telling? What was the method to get Ronald Reagan to listen to your point of view and perhaps come around to it?
WATT: Well, I don‘t know the answer to that question. Because I reflected, I reflected his point of view. I never tried to change him on anything. I tried to implement what he wanted to do. I would like to think that I was extremely loyal to that without deviation. I never tried to change him one-way or the other. I tried to implement what he had laid out and promised. And with hindsight, we were very successful. And were privileged that the decisions we made in those revolutionary years have proven to be the right ones.
They‘ve been successful, even though tremendous warfare went on during the early years of the revolution. He would set out the picture, told us what to do. And we were to march with loyalty and faithfulness, so I never tried to change his mind. I tried to implement what he had set forth to do.
OLBERMANN: As we continue to watch the sad scene in the streets of southern California of the hearse bearing the body of Ronald Wilson Reagan to the mortuary in Santa Monica from the home in Bel Air where he died at about four and a half hours ago, if you‘re just joining us at home on MSNBC, Secretary Watt, every member of the administration who we‘ve spoken to in the last 90 minutes has said basically, has had a story that seems to belong to a complete set.
I‘m wondering which one yours is. The story of something not going well when you had spoke with Ronald Reagan and thinking that it had gone poorly and some event occurred where he bucked you up and told a story or showed that that personality that was so visible, and public, was not an act but was the real man. Did that all happen to you, too?
WATT: Yes, on repeated occasions. A couple quick stories, Keith. I would like to tell the story of an incident that came up where I was under tremendous pressure to carry out certain conduct in my home state of Wyoming. And I decided that I would have to oppose this proposed action because my congressional delegation, a Republican delegation opposed it, as well as the Democrats and the press and the special interest groups. And Senator Simpson was the second most powerful Republican in the United States Senate. Malcolm Wallup the United States Senator from Wyoming was the chairman of my most important committee.
And Dick Cheney, now Vice President Cheney, was our congressman and the third most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives. And the president asked me to come over to talk to him about the problem. So I laid it out to him sitting in the oval office. And he said, Jim, what are you going to do? And I said, well, I‘m going to have to deny the request. And he said, why? And I said, well, three good reasons, Simpson, Wallup and Cheney. And he looked at me and he said, Jim, if we don‘t do it now when will it be done?
And if you don‘t do it, who will do it? And with that, I had a momentary flash of being a small boy in front of my mother and father and they would point their finger and tell me, James, you do what is right because it is right. And that‘s what Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States, was telling his cabinet officer. I don‘t care what the “Washington Post” and the television stations say. The special interest groups, I don‘t care what the Democrat party is trying to foist off on you. I don‘t care what the Republicans of your state, as powerful and wonderful men as those three men are, I don‘t care what they‘re saying, and you do what is right. I went out there was with my backbone straightened with some stainless steel in it. I determined to proceed as Reagan would have it done much a as a consequence Keith if I may go out of the short second story—
OLBERMANN: Let me interrupt you briefly, Secretary Watt. I just want to explain what we are showing our audience here.
OLBERMANN: Those were the sun-bleached streets of southern California, Santa Monica, California. We are now the viewpoint from the funeral home in Santa Monica, California, where from the advance group of police officers, I think it is just a matter of moments until that hearse bearing the body of Ronald Wilson Reagan appears in the image. There it is from a helicopter shot. Obviously the precession has been slow and has been with streets swept clean of other traffic. You‘ve seen police car after police car. He has been brought from the home in Bel Air where he died at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, 1:00 p.m. Pacific time. Age 93 after the 10-year long tragic and sad battle with Alzheimer‘s disease. Now bringing the first half-hour or so of his last journey to a completion. The arrival at that funeral home just, I would guess a few blocks away, knowing something of the geography of the Santa Monica area.
Continuing with Mr. Reagan‘s former Secretary of the Interior James Watt. I wanted to ask you, when was the last time that you spoke with Ronald Reagan?
WATT: I was there for the dedication of the Reagan Library. I had the opportunity to visit with him briefly and Mrs. Reagan. It was a highlight to be there. It was the first time that five living presidents had gathered together. It was just an honor to be there and to be associated with him.
But Keith, you had asked about his character and did he buck you up and support you? After giving me those orders to march forward, I just got brutalized by the press. And frequently, I mean frequently, I would get a phone call. And it would be from one of his chief staff people. Jim Baker, Ed Meese or Bill Clark. And they would say, Jim, I‘m under orders I‘ve just come out of the oval office. And the president, sometime they would say, the old man wants me to tell you he‘s read the papers this morning. Hang in there. Don‘t you back up for a moment.
With that kind of encouragement, we proceeded to do what Ronald Reagan thought was right and I happened to concur 100 percent for America, regardless of how we were beating beat up by the press or some screaming Congressman. We did what we thought was right for America. With the 20 years of history, it‘s a proud record. In some ways, this is a sad day. But in other ways, it is a celebration of a wonderful life.
We know where he‘s going and we know that he has finished his work and it is a proud moment for Ronald Reagan. He did what he was called to do. Frankly, if you review his contributions, and his persona, I have to conclude that he indeed was a gift from God to the United States and the world.
OLBERMANN: Lawrence Eagleburger who was the undersecretary of state and then the secretary of state for the first president Bush was with us a little bit earlier Secretary Watt and had said that as you just pointed out, that amid the sadness and the, this moment. This horrible moment in the life of anyone, in anyone‘s family who has passed on. We know it all too well. The sad mechanics and the logistics of moving the body after the passing, as you just saw. The trivial nature of first trying to back the hearse in and then not being able to fit it that way, they have to back it and to drag it in.
Secretary Eagleburger said it is not a time for gloom, a time for celebration. How much of the American political landscape do you think was remodeled by Ronald Reagan?
WATT: A significant portion of it. A powerful, significant impact today as you see, he is molded the Republican Party. I think you can redefine the Democrat Party because of Ronald Reagan‘s influences of the 1980‘s. We all have a different perspective on accountability, as persons, our role in the world. And I think President Bush is in many ways, going down the path that Ronald Reagan cleared for him.
And set the tone. I think that he‘s going to have—as we look back on it. A greater and greater impact. Because he was honed in on a few principles. He didn‘t really worry about some of the details and the backing in of the hearse and things like that. He had his eye on where he was going. That is a celebration for America and for the family and the people. He was an unusual man. The more we glean from him, through history and through experience, the better off the country will be.
OLBERMANN: What we‘re seeing, by the way, we‘ll continue with Secretary Watt in just a second. What we‘re seeing is the crowd that has formed outside that funeral home in Santa Monica, California in the gates in Kingsley Funeral Home there, to which the body of Ronald Reagan has now successfully completed its journey from Bel Air in a period of time in less than half an hour. And fairly slow speeds. There is nothing planned there was no announcement. This is the first time we‘ve mentioned the name of the place and yet there were people waiting to say goodbye, waiting, just standing. No demonstrations, American flags left and right. You saw the streets along the route. That‘s a very unusual thing to see people standing on the sidewalks of southern California at 5:40 on a Saturday afternoon.
They have to be brought out by something very important to them. And you saw them throughout that drive. That they were sparse, perhaps, to those who might be used to a parade on Broadway. But for southern California, that is a huge crowd, especially there at the funeral home. Whereas you see, obviously, a flag already at half-mast, half staff in memory of President Reagan.
Continuing now with his first Secretary of Interior James Watt as one of the originals, I just again, to refer back to what Lawrence Eagleburger said, he was convinced, when President Reagan was elected, that in Secretary Eagleburger‘s words that we just elected a cowboy. And that he was taught and disabused of that notion fairly quickly and was dually impressed with Mr. Reagan‘s grasp and learning of the international situation. As being one of the originals in the cabinet, did you know whom you were getting or did you have to learn it, too?
WATT: Well, I‘m from Wyoming and from the west. When you label someone a cowboy, we look with respect at that. So maybe that‘s a difference between Lawrence‘s eastern background and my western. He was a cowboy and he knew how to ride. He knew how to hang in the saddle and he didn‘t have to touch leather. He knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. I didn‘t have to learn anything. I followed the leader. He was a leader and a patriot. He loved the country. I had the privilege of one time; Lelani, my wife and I were invited to have a private dinner with a small group in the private quarters of the president and Mrs. Reagan‘s home there on the White House.
And after dinner, he was showing us around and he took me over to a wall and there on the wall, framed, was the, he said the original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner.
WATT: And as I stood there, I turned and I said, Mr. President, in the speeches I‘ve given in the last several years, I‘ve pointed out to the people that our National Anthem ends the first stands a with a question. O say does that flag yet wave over the home of the free and the land of the brave? I may have gotten that turned around.
WATT: And he looked at me, he cocked his head, as we all know Reagan would do, and nodded in understanding. And as I looked into that man‘s eyes, and you could almost feel it. You knew that he knew that that National Anthem had a question mark in it. And he was determined to lead America in a way that would always allow to us say yes, America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
He knew that the question was always fresh and always needed to be answered in the present tense. Yes! That‘s why it‘s a celebration, to celebrate Ronald Reagan and what he has meant to America and the free world and he brought freedom to hundreds of millions of people because he always believed in liberty and freedom, and he understood that with those concepts of liberty go responsibilities and we must be held accountable. He was willing to do that.
OLBERMANN: James Watt, the former secretary of the interior. Original member of the Reagan cabinet in 1981. And I‘ve been saying to all of our guests, thank you so much, under these sad occasions for joining us. But obviously, as you suggest, there is a sadness of the loss. There‘s also the freedom from the human trap that illness had forced him into. And then there is reason to recall such an extraordinary life. We thank you for participating in all three, sir. Thank you.
WATT: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: You saw those pictures now again, can we go back to the gates of Kingsley Funeral Home in Santa Monica, California. Though that hearse has already made its way through, and President Reagan‘s body is indeed inside the funeral home. That crowd continues to be not nearly present outside the funeral home but lined up. Obviously there won‘t a showing in the immediate future. That‘s not what they are there for. They are there for, if we may speculate, out of respect. It is a line around the block. It is a line of people who are conducting themselves. They‘re obviously a great number of reporters present. You see camera crews, you see television vans, and you see half a dozen of my former employers out there.
But the crowd, the people there who are just standing and you saw a small, on the side of that blue van, there was a man holding a very small American flag. As the shot gets wider, you get some context of where we are in Santa Monica, California, and the outpouring for a man who has been noticeably ill, publicly ill. Health in question, health in tragic circumstances for 10 years. Yet this is not merely the outpouring but the quiet and solemn and perfectly behaved group of people. There are no, no one jumping up and down and no one out of line. Remembering Ronald Reagan, the 40th president in the hours after his death today.
And so many of the members of his cabinet, official and otherwise, have been willing to talk on this sad or as so many of the other ones have said, perhaps time for celebration, this occasion this evening. One of Ronald Reagan‘s most trusted aides most notably serving as White House chief of staff for seven months at the end of Mr. Reagan‘s second term. He remained a trusted advisor in the years since and he has been good enough to join us tonight from Washington and we thank you for doing so sir.
KEN DUBERSTEIN, REAGAN WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It is great to be with you.
OLBERMANN: No one works more closely, more directly with an American president, than his chief of staff. What can you tell us tonight about this man that you knew who happened to be in the oval office would you? What about the man?
DUBERSTEIN: Well he was an eternal optimist. He was always seeing the glass half full, not half empty. He was in fact a hard worker. No, he didn‘t take naps in the oval office. In spite of all the cartoons. He was on top of things. He was an outbox president. He knew what he wanted to do from the moment he was elected president. And that was to build up, to build down. I.E., fundamentally, end the Cold War to preside over an American economy that in fact created 19 million new jobs during his presidency. But fundamentally, what he did was restore respect for America throughout the world and also, here at home.
And he focused on that from the oval office. He had a marvelous sense of humor. He was self-deprecating. He enjoyed being underestimated. He was, in fact, the best speechwriter in the White House even though we had a very talented group of speechwriters. He was the person who knew how to communicate.
OLBERMANN: You used a word that had struck me earlier in the evening, sir. Underestimated, from the earliest days of his youth into his first chosen career, a sports broadcasting on radio when they said that wasn‘t going to work out for him and he said, maybe I‘ll try something else and he succeeded at that. He went to Hollywood on essentially almost a dare. And people said that wouldn‘t work out for you. And he became one of the most prominent actors of his time. The original, as a piece of trivia, the original choice to be the male lead in “Casablanca” if people have forgotten that small fact.
And then into corporate spokesmanship which is a very tricky business, and requires a lot of gravitas. People said perhaps he doesn‘t have that. He succeeded in that working for General Electric, into not merely politics but into conservative politics at a time Mr. Duberstein when conservative politics were pretty much disreputable in this country after the Barry Goldwater fiasco of 1964. That wasn‘t the road that some aspiring politician would choose if he wanted to get elected quickly, was it?
DUBERSTEIN: No, not at all. But he had strong beliefs. And what was amazing, also about President Reagan, whether you agreed with him or not, everybody was fond of him. He was able to bring people together. You know, in Washington, of the Reagan era, yes, there were strong Republicans but the Democrats in the house outnumbered the Republicans by 56. And yet Reagan was able to win time in and time out because what he said was, I want to work together. And he in fact worked together. We talk about Ronald Reagan with his strong ideology. But he was also the ultimate pragmatist. His big foil, Tip O‘Neill, the former speaker of the house, the Democratic speaker of the house, he used to say, I don‘t like compromising with Ronald Reagan because every time I compromise with President Reagan, he gets 80 percent of what he wants.
And Ronald Reagan would say, gee, I only got 70 percent but I‘ll go back next time and get the additional 30. He always kept his eye on the ball. Yes, he had a strong ideology. Yes, he knew what he wanted to do when he was elected president. He also knew that this country is not about Hail Mary passes but about three yards and a cloud of dust. Sometime he could get five yards or 10 yards. But it wasn‘t always the big play. It was churning and moving the ball down the field. That was the beauty of Reagan. The pragmatist moving everybody toward his ideology.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the transcendence of his popularity and how people were fond of him, whether they were Democratic or Republican or in between or neither. Let me read you some of the reactions that have been issued by prominent politicians tonight. I have a question that pertains to this subject. Ronald Reagan‘s love of country was infectious, even when he was breaking Democrats hearts. He did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate. That is from the predominant (ph) Democratic nominee for president John Kerry. Betty and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our long time friend, President Reagan. Ronald Reagan was an excellent leader of our nation during challenging time at home and abroad. We extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Nancy and his family. That from Former President Gerald Ford with whom Mr. Reagan had something of a struggle for the leadership and the direction of the Republican Party in 1980.
Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom of people everywhere. That from Bill Clinton and his wife Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Duberstein that transcendence of political affiliation. We have not seen that certainly since the second Clinton administration. It was there briefly around 9/11 with the Bush administration but really hasn‘t been there since. That‘s not a knock at either president or either political party. It‘s a statement of sadness, more than anything else. How did Ronald Reagan transcend it? How did he bring people together in what has since become a polarized political spectrum?
DUBERSTEIN: Well you know his sunny optimism was contagious. He never took no for an answer. He would work with people. And he would get Congressmen and Senators and governors to come down to the oval office and he would talk to them and listen to them. It was a two-way street and what Reagan preached was that Pennsylvania Avenue in fact was a thoroughfare that went both ways. What he also did with the American people is the radio addresses every Saturday morning.
One of the little known facts is that President Reagan wanted to speak directly to the American people every Saturday morning for five minutes. Yes, the speechwriters may have done some of the drafts but he worked on it every week earnestly because it was his way of communicating directly to the American people. And as a result, the American people trusted him. And he brought them into his confidence or them into his confidence. And people started rooting for the gipper. People started rooting for the underdog. Reagan could not possibly be Tip O‘Neill in the Democrats in the house.
Oh, my god. He just did by getting 63 Democrats. Oh, my god, by getting 48 Democrats. He couldn‘t go up against the Soviet Union. And I remember Reagan used to say, about Gorbachev, well I finally found one that could I work with. The others were dying on me all the time. And he became even with Gorbachev, in the summit meetings, that I was honored to be part of. That he became with Gorbachev somebody who they could reason together. And yes, they had two strong ideologies, but they also found a way to play ball and to work things out. Building up to building down. Reagan became the big brother in that relationship. The older brother, the person that Gorbachev turned to because Reagan had been so successful here at home and throughout the rest of the world.
OLBERMANN: Do you suppose that in history, as judged not by the obituary that‘s will be appearing in the newspapers tomorrow, nor the words that will be said in the next week, or however long official mourning will be, or at the state funeral, the lying in state at the Rotunda, not in that sense. But 10 years from now, 20, 100 years from now, do you suppose that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev will be linked most closely together in history that the person listed next to if you will, chronologically in terms of importance to the evolution of the world itself, the one next to Ronald Reagan will be Mikhail Gorbachev and that there could not have been a more unlikely candidate for that position next to Ronald Reagan when Mr. Reagan assumed office?
DUBERSTEIN: I think Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev will always be linked in history. But Ronald Reagan‘s name will come first because it was Reagan and his policies that fundamentally ended the Cold War. I stood with him at the Berlin Wall where he said, Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall! And there was opposition inside the United States government to using that line. Because they thought it was too provocative. And it would undercut some of Gorbachev‘s efforts of perestroika and glasnost. And yet Ronald Reagan said no, that‘s what I feel, that‘s what I want to challenge the Soviet Union to do. Let‘s go tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev. And Ronald Reagan did that by leadership and by example. And yes, they may well be linked because they were the two leaders at the end of the Cold War. But Ronald Reagan‘s name will always come first.
OLBERMANN: As we approach the top of the hour, let me reset quickly if you are just joining us. I‘m Keith Olbermann at MSNBC. We are, of course, reporting and continuing coverage of the death of President Ronald Reagan who died this afternoon at about 4:00 p.m. Pacific time. Correction, 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 1:00 p.m. Pacific time.
We‘re speaking now with Ken Duberstein one of President Reagan‘s most trusted advisors and aides. Formerly, his chief of staff at the last seven months the end of his second term. The picture you‘re seeing is outside the gates and Kingsley Funeral Home in Santa Monica, California to which Mr. Reagan‘s body has been transferred from his home in Bel Air where he died at his home four hours ago.
One other programming note just after the top of the hour, we will have an interview with Former President Bill Clinton and his thoughts on the passing of Ronald Reagan. But to continue between now and then with Mr. Duberstein, you spoke earlier about the directness, about the radio addresses and the—not necessarily bypassing of the media. Because he was certainly one of the most gregarious presidents when it came to the media. But the idea of going directly to the people in the campaigns, in the radio addresses. That was also something of a change in American politics. It‘s very difficult to reconstruct the time before. The candidate had to be perpetually out there and could try to do it directly. Am I correct on that?
DUBERSTEIN: Well, President Reagan enjoyed the crowds. He enjoyed the American people through TV. Which was a medium he was obviously very comfortable with. But he always wanted to talk to the American people, not to the so-called media leads. I‘m sorry, but—it was talking directly to the American people. And he felt that if he could talk with them directly, if co-get his views across directly, then the American people would put pressure on their elected representatives to support his policies for his votes in Congress. That people throughout the world would understand that the American people were rallying to him. And so he always wanted to engage directly. That was part of the keys of the great communicator.
OLBERMANN: Ken Duberstein the last of Ronald Reagan‘s White House chiefs of staff. We thank you kindly for being with us here on MSNBC this evening.
DUBERSTEIN: Keith it‘s been my pleasure on a very, very sad day.
OLBERMANN: Indeed sir. As we move toward the top of the hour in the moments afterwards, as we told you an interview on tape with President Bill Clinton, former president on his reaction to the death of Ronald Reagan. Also the currant Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz will join us. As MSNBC coverage of the death of President Reagan continues in a moment.
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.