Guests: Edwin Meese, James Kuhn, Brian Mulroney, Michael Deaver
CHRIS MATTHEWS, ANCHOR: We‘re looking at the live picture, of course, in the Capitol Rotunda. That‘s, of course, the casket of Ronald Reagan. And we‘re watching the president‘s motorcade coming up what looks to be Constitution Avenue. Of course, these are the motorcycle escort who are well ahead of the president, but here comes the motorcade itself, moving, as I said, up toward the U.S. Capitol Building, where the president of the United States, George W. Bush, will pay tribute to the former president, the late president Ronald Reagan, who‘s lying in state in the Rotunda.
This is going to be quite a moment when the current president comes to pay respects to the late president, and it‘s happening as we speak.
We‘re joined right now to my left by Hugh Sidey, one of the greatest, if not the greatest presidential historians in this country, for years writing the column on the presidency. And you‘re laughing but it‘s true. You are the best, Hugh.
Hugh, what does this moment tell you in the long course of covering presidents?
HUGH SIDEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, indeed, it‘s the focus on the presidency, Chris. You saw that yourself when you were working up on the Hill, that it‘s become immense, because it‘s not only the chief executive officer, but it‘s a symbol, an inspiration, it‘s become almost everything in our life on some days and this is one of those incredible days.
MATTHEWS: Being a senator doesn‘t seem that big a deal today does it.
SIDEY: No, it was when I started. You had Lyndon Johnson and the House too. You had Sam Rayburn. They were immense. Some days they overshadowed Eisenhower, but that‘s not the case today. And this episode is just remarkable. You‘ve got George W. Bush getting ready to jump out of the airplane at age 80, Gerald Ford is coming here, again over 90 -- 91 years old I think it is, and a great homage to these people that have given so much of their lives and I‘m delighted.
MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that the harmony, Hugh—I mean you‘ve studied all the controversies of the presidency, including that of Ronald Reagan. It was a hot time in this town.
SIDEY: Well, it was. His rise to power was pretty rough, Chris, as you remember. It wasn‘t easy at all. And I have a hunch that‘s going to reemerge. It already has a little bit. We‘ve had had one or two people. But let me tell you, in this week, Ronald Reagan is a great president in the vast majority of minds and in the hearts. And my personal feeling is it may stay that way. He‘s going to be at the top of the heap and for this reason that he can reach out in this fashion and touch hearts. That‘s terribly important. In your world, my world, where communication is so big now, you can‘t dismiss that.
MATTHEWS: You know I remember back 10 years ago with the Democrats on Capitol Hill tried to run against Ronald Reagan, the legacy of Ronald Reagan, and they lost the U.S. Congress for the first time in a half century. Would that teach them don‘t go there again?
SIDEY: I don‘t think I—I always remember the story—Frank Mankiewicz, who was Bobby Kennedy‘s press man and when they came up to—he‘d debate Reagan who was back in California at the—what was that, on the Oxford League?
MATTHEWS: Oxford Union, that‘s right.
SIDEY: And he said I‘ll forget that this guy is a dumb trough. You can take him. And of course, Reagan beat him by an actual vote. They said it was Reagan that was the top man there.
MATTHEWS: Well, could it be, Hugh, that Ronald Reagan who spent his life beating expectations and estimations of the sophisticates, the liberal press, in some cases, has once again beaten the spread because look at this week? I mean, I‘m reading and talking to people who think he belongs in the top 10 presidents. Would you put him in that category?
SIDEY: Well, yes. I‘d say up there as of now, certainly. We‘ll see what happens down the way, but what—James McGregor Burns even—he said my—“I disagree with my liberal fellows.” I think this fellow changed enough of America that he should be in that group there. And so I think we‘re absolutely right.
We didn‘t measure it right over these last 50 years, Chris. We got too enamored with Ivy League educations and SATs and all that stuff. This guy, Ronald Reagan—this man, this president, his encyclopedia was the United States of America, every part of it, from the little town to the little or bigger city to Hollywood, all through that, and he retained it all. It‘s just astonishing.
MATTHEWS: You know I think there‘s a lot of talk in this country about opinion leaders, people who are influential in leading public opinion and yet when someone passes away like Elvis Presley or Ronald Reagan, it‘s the people in the country that sort of come up and say this is important to us, this passing, in a way, that the sophisticates writing in maybe “The New York Times” don‘t get.
SIDEY: Well, I think that‘s right. It goes clear back to Lincoln. We forget that. In the end, you can fool some of the people all the time but not all the people all the time. So I think that‘s absolutely right. Reagan came out of the loins of this land and there‘s a feel for it.
MATTHEWS: I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington where President Bush has arrived at the U.S. Capitol to pay his respects to President Ronald Reagan, who is lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda. We‘re looking now at the casket of the president, which has all day been viewed by many, many regular people from around the country, who have waited for hours for the opportunity to pass and review.
And in just a few moments, the president of the United States will be one of those citizens of the United States who comes to pay respect for Ronald Wilson Reagan in a way just like everyone else. He was a citizen of the United States when Ronald Reagan was president. He grew up under Ronald Reagan. In many ways, he‘s tried to match his presidency in some very important ways, I should say, with that of Ronald Reagan, a strong defense, cutting taxes, very pro-Israeli, very tough on the Middle East, very tough now, clearly on foreign policy, on national defense and on terrorism.
So I think the coming of the president, our president today, to pay tribute to this former president, who left office in 1989, 15 years ago, is a very important moment in his presidency as well as in the life of the country. We‘re seeing, of course, that Marine guard standing there very much at attention, very much like the one who stands at the—like the officers who stand at the tomb of the unknown soldier, lots of spit and polish here for this affair.
The president, of course, is late incoming here because he‘s been down attending the G-8 meeting down in Savannah, Georgia, which has been so important to what‘s happening right now.
Hugh Sidey, you‘ve covered the presidency for “Time” magazine. You‘ve written that column, “The Presidency.” Place this moment in our history.
SIDEY: Well, indeed it‘s very special when you get—not only you will tonight where you have the president, currently, right now, the president, but you will have later, if not very quickly, the former president, his father, Bush, and it‘s amazing. You know, I was so involved in the Kennedy assassination, and in many ways that was—what happened in Washington was different because it was so intense and perhaps it was a little larger, but this is amazing in this age, in this city, to have this outpouring for this man and on both ends of the nation, the Simi Valley episode and now this. And yes, I think—here it is, again, the beliefs, his intensity, Ronald Reagan, he stuck with it and you‘re absolutely right about it and it‘s kind of amusing in a way. Here‘s George Bush and he‘s here and I think he‘s looking a little for the stardust.
MATTHEWS: Here, we see the president of the United States and the first lady entering the Rotunda of the Capitol, which has, of course, been the moment and the stage. Some people call this the greatest stage in America, ironically. It‘s the place where we bring our fallen leaders to pay respect to them and here we have the president and first lady approaching the casket. Let‘s take a moment to listen.
You see now the president and first lady walking away from the casket, walking outside the Rotunda. It was a very brief but powerful moment with they came to pay respects. They‘re going to spend this evening going over to the Blair House, which, of course, for many years has the primary residence of any major guest in the White House. In this case, former first lady Nancy Reagan is staying at the Blair House. She‘s going to receive them later tonight.
The latest tonight on NBC Nightly News, continuing coverage on MSNBC on cable and the Internet. I‘m Chris Matthews, NBC News.
ANNOUNCER: The world says farewell to our 40th president. Continuing live coverage from California and our nation‘s capital on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back here—we‘re still back at the Teamsters building overlooking the U.S. Capitol, a wonderful perspective on the events of this—end of this week. And of course, I have Hugh Sidey of “Time” magazine with me, who has written “The Presidency” column for “Time” magazine for decades at least. And we just saw an amazing site. We saw the president of the United States, a relatively young man, walk into the United States capital, into the very center of this city, the center of the Rotunda, which is actually the very center of Washington, and lean—and kneel before the president, show some respect, in a very short period of time and head right back out of the capitol. And of course, later tonight, as I said, he will be meeting with the former first lady Nancy Reagan at the Blair House, which is the nation‘s No. 1 guest house right across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
Hugh Sidey, that was a brief stop.
SIDEY: Well, I don‘t think you want anything more basically. This is Ronald Reagan‘s event and I think he pays his tribute and I think the brevity means a lot to it. As you know, he‘s not going west and his father is not going west to the burial. And I think it has to do with this matter of not trying to intrude in the last rites, so I‘d say that‘s about right. You say a quick prayer, you know.
MATTHEWS: I know how it‘s done.
MATTHEWS: It‘s called in the Catholic religion a visit. It‘s very brief. I agree.
SIDEY: They both believe in prayer.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow—I thought that the vice president gave a very nice set of remarks last night, didn‘t you?
SIDEY: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: He said here he is receiving the highest honors of the United States.
SIDEY: Sure. Yes—no, I thought that was a superb speech and he did it very well, Cheney. In fact, all those three guys, you know, they did it the right way.
MATTHEWS: What about tomorrow, the president of the United States will be the chief eulogist, along with—Margaret Thatcher, I believe, might be giving a video address. She‘s not able to stand and deliver anymore. Brian Mulroney, a man in full possession of his powers—I talked to him this morning.
SIDEY: Well, he sings well too.
MATTHEWS: I asked him if he was going to sing. He said, “No not this time.”
SIDEY: Not this time.
MATTHEWS: But he‘s going to give a great speech. They were great pals.
SIDEY: Well—and Mulroney is something. You know, there‘s a great similarity. I don‘t know whether it‘s the Irish genes. You can ask—you can tell me if that is.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it might be, but I think Mulroney could have gotten elected president of the United States. He‘s a very impressive guy.
SIDEY: But they have poetry in their souls, both of them, and they
feel so strongly. And that‘s such a part of Reagan and it was such a part
· it still is of Mulroney.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the tricky questions tomorrow. Former President Bush, President Bush, George Walker—George Wilson Bush, and the former president, are both giving addresses. How do they avoid seeming political in this event, this very religious event?
SIDEY: Oh, I think that‘s entirely possible. There has to be some kind of organization and some kind of tilt on it about the moment and what the people did. But I think probably there—also the audience is forgiving, you just can‘t—you can‘t fight all the time and they‘ll be pretty good. They‘ve got good writers. Plus they‘re both—they know how to do this. George H.W. Bush is a master at it, in reaching out and kind of soothing things over and not being partisan. The son is a little more pointed, as you know...
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s odd that no Democratic president, no Bill Clinton, no Jimmy Carter was addressed to—asked to participate in any real way in this occasion?
SIDEY: Well, a little bit, I would say, but of course, they‘re free to come. Aren‘t they all going to be in the audience?
MATTHEWS: Sure, but not to speak.
SIDEY: Do you want them to speak in there?
MATTHEWS: I mean in a religious ceremony, why would it be limited to one political party?
SIDEY: Well, I—of course, that‘s what he was. He was Mr. Republican, I suppose. But let‘s face it, Reagan was—he was a partisan in his own life and probably as we look back on it, probably somebody will say it should have been, but you know, this is for him. This is...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about her for a moment because I think Nancy Reagan has been with the exception of the man who just passed away, at the heart of this national drama. How do you see her as evolving as a public figure in the last 20, 30 years?
SIDEY: Oh, it will be remarkable. She had a rough road too also, Chris, to the top. I mean, she was criticized all the way until this came up. And my hunch is some of that will be revived. But you know my suspicion is she will not let any grass grow. She‘s been devoted even in this terrible time as a captive of that awful disease. She was devoted to his remembrance and the memorials for him and I think that‘ll—she‘ll redouble the efforts...
MATTHEWS: Do you think she‘ll still tend the flame after today?
SIDEY: Oh, yes, and I think it will be to the extent that she has the energy for it. She‘s a fragile woman and I just think that there isn‘t any question that‘s what she‘s going to go on and do.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the other presidents. John Stewart, of course, that—I don‘t know if you ever watch it, but he‘s amazingly funny on Comedy Central. He commented the other day—I know you know it‘s going to be irreverent coming up right now, but what the heck. He said the other night on his show that people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton must be dying right now because they‘re saying I‘ll never get anything like this.
SIDEY: That‘s right. Yes, well, I got a letter from a former president who said what would happen if you gave a funeral and nobody came.
MATTHEWS: They must worry.
SIDEY: So there must be a little worry in that sort of thing.
MATTHEWS: I look on the face of Nancy Reagan, this great woman, and I think how happy she is, like when you have a wedding or you have a funeral, how happy you are when people come and what it means to you. And I look on her face—did you see the people applaud her the other day on Constitution Avenue?
SIDEY: Sure, yes.
MATTHEWS: She turned around and acknowledged it. She turned around at the airplane the other day and acknowledged the crowd. I think she‘s absolutely thrilled, as odd as it is to say that, at the emotional turnout of the American people.
SIDEY: No, no, I—look, that‘s their background and that‘s their business, as you well know. When a president goes into the White House, they begin instantly to plan his services.
MATTHEWS: They do?
SIDEY: Oh, yes. The military says all right, what happens when he leaves or when he‘s killed or whatever happens, what do you want done? And this is a part of it, it doesn‘t happen quite the day after but...
MATTHEWS: Well, you know the problem here with history. If you die and you‘re Sid Caesar during your great years, you get top of the fold of “The New York Times.” If you die 10 years later, you‘re at the bottom of the page. If it‘s 20 years later, you‘re in the obit section. Here‘s a president who passed away 15 years after leaving the White House and he‘s being—it‘s being treated almost as if he was still in the public life, that he was still—he was still at the heart of the American political son.
SIDEY: Well, but Nancy had had a lot to do with it, to keep it in focus and the people around him, who made sure there were memorials. There were highways. There were airports. And also, let‘s give Reagan credit for that Irish lilt of his, that touch of poetry. The letters kept coming out and they were wonderful. And suddenly, we discover another man within the man. He‘s a lot smarter than anybody thought. He‘s far more sensitive and it‘s built up—and then there‘s a good deal of sympathy, Chris, because he was ill, because this is so horrible and it affects so many people and it‘s in the communities and its headlines and that. And Nancy is pretty good. She kind of tweaked them down there on stem cell research. And that‘s a little controversy there. So I—it‘s kind of a natural formula. But let‘s go back to the basic remarkable man, Ronald Reagan. We‘re not going to forget that.
MATTHEWS: I remember when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Mrs. Kennedy got to Teddy White with “Life” magazine and got him to offer up a ritualistic eulogy so powerful that it created the notion of Camelot.
MATTHEWS: That was a first lady who knew her business of keeping the candle lit.
SIDEY: Sure. Well, I‘ll say that it was a different time though, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it would be tougher to do that today with the reporters today?
SIDEY: Yes, it would be harder today. The tragedy of that timing and the intensity of that, I lived through all of that.
MATTHEWS: So people gave her a break?
SIDEY: Oh, yes, and—but she also understood the majesty. She understood the moment, and so that came out. And I—later on they said she wished she hadn‘t have done it, but I‘m glad she did it. There was a little Camelot, Chris. You were there.
MATTHEWS: I think it was definitely a better time. In fact, now that you ask me, I think the great thing about the arguments between the president of the United States, who is being buried this week, and the speaker of House, who I worked for, I must say the one thing great about that competition of ideas and philosophy, both men look better for the fight.
MATTHEWS: You can‘t say that today about some of these petty fights today, Tom DeLay and people like that, Newt Gingrich. No one looks better for the fight. And back in those days, they found a way to fight over big ideas and big questions in a way that I think made them grander people in a grander country. I think argument can be good.
SIDEY: Oh, it‘s always been good. You know this whole business about having too much harmony and that, there‘s some truth to that that‘s why I like to see a little dissent. But in the White House, such as Bob Woodward‘s book shows...
MATTHEWS: That‘s how we know we‘re alive in this democracy. We have disagreement. Thank you. Hugh Sidey, who‘s written so many wonderful columns about the presidency over the years and will be writing about this event. You can be sure.
We‘ll be back with Ed Meese, the president‘s political—I should say his ideological counselor, who served as Ronald Reagan‘s political aide for so many years and helped him develop a lot of his policies during his presidency and when—before that as governor. And an interesting guy coming along here, Jim Kuhn, who was Ronald Reagan‘s executive assistant, the man who—we call him the body man, the guy who keeps very close to the actual human being and knows whether he likes a midnight snack or not. We‘ll be back with those interesting mixes of personalities and duties right after this on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the view from the outside of the U.S. Capitol, the West Front where Ronald Reagan was the first American president to take the oath of office back in 1981, the historic spot for that reason and many others. That‘s where John Kerry, of course, threw his medals over the fence in that very spot. We‘re watching a very patient group of people waiting to enter the Capitol. And that‘s going to go on for hours now.
Well, we have joining us—well, in fact, it‘s going to go on until tomorrow. We have the funeral of the president, the National Cathedral tomorrow morning at 11:00. President Bush, former President Bush, former Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will also be delivering an address, I believe, by video because of her aging situation. She cannot deliver that address in person.
Let‘s go right now to a couple of really interesting people. You want to get a real perspective on Ronald Reagan, the man, here‘s Ronald Reagan, the intellect, Ed Meese, who worked with him for so many years on policy, shared the president‘s conservative philosophy, helped him develop it—develop it into programs. And the other fellow here, we haven‘t seen much of until now, Jim Kuhn. You were the man behind the scenes, a man who worked with Ronald Reagan as president, man who made sure he was kept care of, right, Jim?
JAMES KUHN, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT FOR PRESIDENT REAGAN: Pretty much so, yes.
MATHEWS: I remember working for Ed Musky, the former senator from Maine, and every politician has own particular needs. Musky always needed cookies and milk before he went to bed or he couldn‘t get to sleep. Tell me a little bit about Ronald Reagan the human being, the guy.
KUHN: Ronald Reagan always preferred a fruit basket wherever he was.
And so, we always ensured that was the case.
MATTHEWS: So he‘s one of those people that actually eats the fruit basket. They don‘t just look at it...
KUHN: No, he...
MATTHEWS: ...and start passing it around.
KUHN: He was a big fruit eater, yes. He was very healthy.
MATTHEWS: Was he a good sleeper?
KUHN: He was very disciplined about that. He got to bed at the right time and got up early.
MATTHEWS: Did he wear PJs?
KUHN: Yes, he did.
MATTHEWS: Did he wear a bathrobe?
KUHN: He did.
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s a regular guy from the ‘50s. And did he wear slippers?
KUHN: Slippers, the whole nine yards.
MATTHEWS: God, he‘s like Robert Young in “Father Knows Best.”
MATTHEWS: OK, and he was a—yes, he slept right through the night. Did you ever to wake him up in the morning and say, “Mr. President, it‘s time to go. We got this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) up in a half hour”?
KUHN: I never had to do. He was always ready to go.
MATTHEWS: He was up, shaved, and showered and ready to move?
KUHN: Prepared always.
MATTHEWS: Well, good for you. You didn‘t have to do anything.
KUHN: It made my job very easy.
MATTHEWS: God, I think if you were working for Bill Clinton, you would have had a different story to tell. I‘m sure of that. Every executive assistant does.
Ed Meese, it‘s great to have you back today.
EDWIN MEESE III, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you. It‘s good to be with you.
MATTHEWS: Are you impressed by this turnout and by this...
MEESE: I really am. I certainly am. I was impressed in California with what happened there, over 100,000 people turning out there. And then what‘s happening here. And both the people, patiently going along the line, but also, there have been a lot of interviews, to hear what people are saying, why it brought them here. And their admiration and their devotion to Ronald Reagan is very, very gratifying.
MATTHEWS: You know I was saying the other day you couldn‘t measure the height of a tall building when you were standing right next to it. So I‘ll keep that journalist‘s distance, but the American people are not keeping their distance. It seems to me that he‘s larger now than when he left office 15 years ago.
MEESE: I think that‘s true. There are several reasons, I think. One is we have had 15 years of perspective, so people can view him in comparison with other presidents in the terms of what has happened to—what—to the results of his policies. But another thing I think that‘s happened just in the last five years maybe, a lot of research. Martin Anderson‘s books, the other things that have gotten into his letters and his radio scripts and that sort of thing. They see what Ronald Reagan did and his thinking long before he became president. And I think that‘s had a lot...
MATTHEWS: Well, you saw it first had. You were working for him all the time.
MEESE: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: You knew when people were calling him a light weight. You knew he wasn‘t.
MEESE: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: It‘s hard to go out and give a speech and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of American, I‘m not a light weight, believe me!”
MEESE: Well, the last guy that did that in Congress showed that he was.
MATTHEWS: Who was that?
MEESE: Well, there was—a congressman and he gave a press conference one day and he said, “I am here to tell you that I am not the worst member of Congress,” as somebody had alleged in the newspaper.
MATTHEWS: Well, about 10 guys are eligible for that. Well, tell me about this Ronald Reagan. Did he go to bed reading at night? Did—how did you see his mind connect with the job of president?
KUHN: He was a voracious reader, working constantly. And Chris, I have to tell you, every time that I ever walked into the Oval Office in the second term, always writing, reading, writing, preparing, strategizing, but that was the case at Camp David. That was the case on Air Force One and the State Room, hotel suites, the United States...
KUHN: Constantly engaged.
MATTHEWS: This is so interesting. This is like the guy on “Saturday Night Live,” when they went behind the scenes to see who really was calling the shots.
We‘re going to come right back and talk to Jim Kuhn, who was the president‘s executive assistant, and to Ed Meese, who was, for many years, his top policy assistant. Our coverage continues on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barbara and I mourned the loss of a great president and for us, a great friend.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He always believed that the Cold War would come to an end and freedom would triumph. He believed everybody wanted to be free. And I think that will be his enduring legacy.
GEORGE W. BUSH: His work is done. And now a shining city awaits him.
May God bless Ronald Reagan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I‘m here talking to Jim Kuhn, who for so many years had a job that a lot of Americans would envy. That‘s working every day with Ronald Reagan. And Ed Meese, the man who was the president‘s intellectual partner through his whole career, right?
EDWIN MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Was there any change in the man who we‘re laying to rest this week, intellectually, from the man you met?
MEESE: Not really. Of course, he learned from experience and...
MATTHEWS: Did he move right or move left?
MEESE: But I would say philosophically...
MATTHEWS: Did he move?
MEESE: ... he was the same guy when he left the presidency in 1989 that he was when he became governor in 1967.
MATTHEWS: When he watched beforehand the difficulties, that conservativism was having in this country, a very charismatic champion, Barry Goldwater, who went down to horrendous defeat, did he learn something from that about how he would have would have to come on to the national stage?
MEESE: I think he learned, but I also think his personality was different, his approach to things. He had an optimistic view of politics, an optimistic view of policy. And he always said he was—the cup is half full, is what he‘d tell you, rather than the cup is half empty. And I think he put a smiling face on conservativism, if you would.
MATTHEWS: You were his policy director, domestic policy director in the White House. You were attorney general for the president. What were you during his gubernatorial years?
MEESE: I was originally his legal affairs secretary. And those were the days when he had to worry about capital punishment, clemency. I was his liaison with law enforcement during the campus unrests and the urban riots during that time.
So then after two years, I became the head of his staff and was his executive assistant for the rest of the term.
MATTHEWS: If you had to compare the difficulties in his career, certainly I wasn‘t there, but we were watching from a distance. His difficulties with the students of Berkeley during the Vietnam era. A lot of thrashing of him and at his good name in public. Lots of rioting, lots of rallying against him.
And then the Iran-Contra period, which is definitely the down point in the eight years of his presidency.
What was the toughest time to be his friend and to be his ally?
MEESE: Well, I think the Iran-Contra situation was tougher, because in the Berkeley unrest and in the other campuses that were involved, basically, this was a matter of policy, a matter of carrying out his responsibilities.
In the Iran-Contra, there were those who were trying to impugn his credibility, and although they never were able to, I think that burden was more difficult for him than anything else.
MATTHEWS: You know, the amazing thing many people would find was that Ronald Reagan, who died in his 90‘s and suffered for almost a decade, in fact a decade with Alzheimer‘s Disease, was president pretty late in life, in his 70‘s.
What was that like? Was it tough for him to keep up the pace? To keep moving around?
JAMES KUHN, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT REAGAN: Not at all. I‘ll tell you, Chris, it‘s amazing. The man turned 70 years old less than a month after he was elected in 1981.
And to give you an example, people would come into the Oval Office in the second term. And they might be 10, 15 years younger than he and he looked like their son.
And it never ceased to amaze me, the difference. And it was great genes. It was great discipline. He worked out every day. He lifted weights, took good care of himself.
MATTHEWS: And when he got Alzheimer‘s, was that a quick thing? Did that just come over him in a couple of months? My mom got it rather quickly. She comes like, you know, you can‘t tell the time of the regular watch. Things like that give it away. You can‘t cook meals with any organizational ability.
How did it come upon Ronald Reagan?
KUHN: I can tell you this. There was certainly no sign of that at all.
MATTHEWS: In his official time?
MATTHEWS: He was strong when he came into the White House, and he was of strong mind and body when he left. And was for a period of years back in California. He was busy traveling, speaking, writing.
And then at some point later on, several years after he left the White House, there was a slow-down, and then he was diagnosed.
MATTHEWS: Yes. The reason I ask that, I was watching him on a PBS program the other night, which was pretty damn tough on Ronald Reagan, I must say. I don‘t know if you‘ve seen it.
I kept thinking about a guy facing the fire of criticism in your mid-70s, your late 70s with all—half the country growling at you. And I said, how does he get up in the morning and how does he move around? How does he face the tremor? And you were with him.
MEESE: Well, Jim was right. It wasn‘t until—the first I noticed it was, I would say, sometime probably in 1992 or 1993. I was visiting with him in Los Angeles. And this was, I think, ‘93.
I said, “Mr. President, you‘re sure looking good,” because he was.
And he said, “Yes.” But he said, “My mind is starting to play tricks on me.”
And I think it did come very quickly during that time.
When he was in office, I was with him, you know, repeatedly for long periods of time, and he never showed the effects of his age. You go back to the 1985 Geneva meeting with Gorbachev. Gorbachev, as you know, was much younger, and you look and say, who is the older man and who is the younger man?
MEESE: And you would definitely reverse positions.
MATTHEWS: He seemed very comfortable at the highest level. When you were with him, there‘s funny stories about Ronald Reagan.
You were supposed to get ready for one of these big summits with Gorbachev. And there was something on TV the night before. Was it “Sound of Music”? And he just couldn‘t resist staying up all night and watching it. Do you remember that?
KUHN: He loved to watch movies. I don‘t remember him watching a movie that night, but he definitely enjoyed watching the golden oldies, as he referred to them. But not that particular night.
MATTHEWS: Did he ever watch his old movies himself? His old movie?
KUHN: Yes. But you had ask him, though. I mean, you had to make a special request to watch a Reagan movie. He would never do it, and you had to beg him almost to get him to do it.
MATTHEWS: Who did he like in his business? Who did he look up to?
William Holden, I guess?
MATTHEWS: Jimmy Stewart?
KUHN: Errol Flynn.
KUHN: Ray Milan (ph).
MEESE: Right. There‘s a funny story about that. I don‘t know if you‘ve heard it.
MATTHEWS: I heard it. Somebody comes up and thinks he‘s Ray Milan (ph). And he signs his autograph “Ray Milan.” (ph)
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t want to ruin the guy‘s day.
MEESE: That‘s one of his favorite stories.
MATTHEWS: That‘s humility. I don‘t know many people like that.
Anyway, Jim Kuhn and Ed Meese, sticking with us. We‘re coming back with more of the coverage of what looks to be an interesting evening, because President—President Bush is going to pay a visit on Nancy Reagan later tonight at Blair House, the official guest residence to the White House. That‘s a very poignant moment to come tonight.
We‘ll be back with more of MSNBC‘s coverage of this big week, this final week of Ronald Reagan‘s trip to Washington the last time.
MATTHEWS: Just moments ago, the president, Andy Card, the chief of staff of the White House, Laura Bush, they‘re arriving at that wonderful little townhouse across the street from the White House. It‘s on Pennsylvania Avenue. It‘s where Harry Truman lived when they were refurbishing the White House back in the late 1940s.
There the president is going up the brownstone steps with the first lady. They‘re going to be greeted inside by the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, who has been having one tough week.
We all know, and you can see everybody rooting for her out there in the streets of the city.
You know, that‘s what grabbed me the other night, Ed, is the—and Jim. I watched Nancy Reagan turn around on the airplane the other night, when she headed east. And she just loved the fact that everybody was turning out.
MATTHEWS: Because she had obviously worked on planning this and wanted it to be a wonderful goodbye to her husband.
And then I saw her walking down the street the other day, and even though it was like a church when people applauded at an odd time.
MATTHEWS: They were applauding at church.
MATTHEWS: As the caisson went by.
MEESE: I noticed that.
MATTHEWS: And she was acknowledging it. And I know that wasn‘t in the plan. The plan was probably to be solemn and play the widow in a sense, and she said, “Mo, these people are here to applaud my husband.”
MEESE: They were indeed, and to applaud her. When she got out of the car, you know, there was a spontaneous applause for her.
I think there‘s great respect for Nancy Reagan, both for the way in which she cared for her husband, particularly recently, but also for her personally as a model of a first lady.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—both about the personal lives of these two people: Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
I always say to people, Ronald Reagan may have been good looking and may have had a great voice. Because Tip O‘Neill, my old boss, you know, he had the good looks and you passed the screen test and he just got a break.
I always thought, here‘s a guy who had a very bad ending first marriage. A difficult marriage. He ended up on the bottom. He had a movie career that sort of went sour in the early ‘50s. He never really reclaimed what he had before the war, in terms of prominence in that. And he had a lot of friends who were ahead of him, which must have been very difficult. He had a TV career which was coming to an end for a lot of reasons in the early ‘60s.
Every time he seemed to be losing the current deal, he went back and found a new way to make himself into something bigger.
MEESE: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: Because his TV career was bigger than his movie career. It was big time.
MEESE: His TV career was big. Actually, his movie career was still pretty good right up to the end. What happened was a lot of his time was taken, though, with the Screen Actors Guild. He really got into that, particularly the fight against the communists to keep them from taking over the motion picture industry.
But you‘re right. He got into television. He did a great job there. And it was while he was in television, he still had the “Death Valley Days,” which was a pretty popular show.
But that‘s when they came to him and suggested he should run for governor. He wasn‘t at all enthusiastic about that. That wasn‘t the...
MATTHEWS: OK. What was the mix? Sweat and luck? Ronald Reagan‘s success story, because it‘s the end of his life now. What percentage of—the kids watching right now, are you going to tell them, 50 percent luck and good looks and all those things and 50 percent sweat or what?
MEESE: Well, I think most of luck is being prepared to take advantage of opportunities. And that‘s where he was.
He was reading all the time. He was preparing, without knowing it, for being a governor and being a president just because of his interests, his reading and that sort of thing.
MEESE: So it was not...
MATTHEWS: Jim, jump in.
MEESE: Go ahead.
KUHN: Ronald Reagan was the ultimate optimist. Never doubted himself. In fact, it was one thing he was incapable of, and that was self-doubt.
MATTHEWS: What, did he get up singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning” every time he got up?
KUHN: No. But he believed it though.
MATTHEWS: Did he?
MEESE: And also, he didn‘t have a lot of introspection. He also had a great religious faith, as you probably know.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I‘ve learned that.
MEESE: And he really believed that God had a plan for his life. He didn‘t know what it was, but he was very confident that the next steps would unfold.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s a big question. Harry Truman, every Republican‘s favorite Democratic president, would say he would sleep soundly even after ordering the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did Ronald Reagan ever toss and turn like Nixon or any of the other presidents?
KUHN: No. Because he always had control of his emotions. When we worked there, we were off the Richter scale, good times and bad. When things were great, we had to come back down to the real level, and things were bad, we had to pick ourselves back up. Ronald Reagan stayed on an even keel throughout his presidency.
MATTHEWS: He could always sleep at night?
KUHN: It was amazing how he kept...
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got to write a book, too. I mean, it‘s a great story, about a man who‘s inside this powerful vortex and stays regular and stays himself. It‘s almost like an astronaut with the heat shield going down.
Anyway, Jim Kuhn, it‘s great to meet you. It‘s great to see you again.
We‘re going to come back and have a really special guest. Probably Ronald Reagan‘s closest friend, in addition to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada. Two Irish buddies. They sang together. They hung out together. An actual friendship of two men in high places.
We‘re going to come right back and talk about that on this really interesting week. It‘s an interesting week as well as a sad week and a great week. Back on MSNBC in just a moment.
MATTHEWS: When Ronald Reagan was president, two of his closest allies in the world were British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Both will be speaking at tomorrow‘s funeral.
And earlier, I asked Prime Minister Mulroney when he first heard it from Nancy Reagan, that he would be delivering a eulogy tomorrow.
BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, I had heard from a senior member of her entourage some time ago that—to expect this. That his health was declining very rapidly and that Nancy would like me to speak.
And as it happened, Chris, she and I speak quite regularly. And on Sunday, I called her, as do I, as a matter of course from time to time. And she told me—of course, I knew that the president was not in good shape. And she—and in fact, he died about a half-hour after our call.
But in the course of that, Nancy said, “I‘ll be looking for you, Brian, to speak at the funeral.”
So I‘ve known about it for some time, and both the senior staff and Nancy spoke to me about it.
MATTHEWS: You know, as an American, as someone from the U.S., I‘ve always liked the fact that you were a good friend of the United States, that Canadian-U.S. relations, when you were prime minister and President Reagan was in office, were really warm and positive and personal.
How do you account for that?
MULRONEY: Well, I think there has to be, from the Canadian perspective, there certainly has to be an appreciation of the fact that the United States is our largest trading partner and friend and ally.
And if that‘s true, and I think it is, then that has to be respected and enhanced, and that requires a personal commitment by the prime minister and an understanding of America and how its leadership works, both the administration level and the Congress.
And I tried to do that as a loyal ally and as a friend. President Reagan reciprocated. When met, he said, “Well, there‘s nothing wrong with two Irishmen running North America.”
And so we got along just great. He went the extra mile to help me at all times, whether bilateral problems, he—as I say, he went out of his way often to make certain that either Canada‘s case was heard, positively understood, or resolved.
So I think it had a lot to do with the personal chemistry between us. We enjoyed each other‘s company. I admired him greatly. And we had a wonderful time together.
MATTHEWS: Did you like being a better singer than him?
MULRONEY: Well, he was a much better actor, and I had a slight advantage on the singing side.
MATTHEWS: Oh, no. Oh, no. You‘re too humble, sir. Far too humble.
MULRONEY: One—Chris, one day, he said, you know—he said, “You know, Brian, when we retire, when we‘re both out of it, you and I are going to go into business together.”
And I said, “What‘s that?”
He said, “Well, we‘re going to syndicate a radio and television show.”
I said, “Oh? What are we going to do?”
He said, “You‘ll be the morning man, and I‘m going to do sports and the editorials.”
We never got around to doing that. But it would have been—It would have been OK.
MATTHEWS: You know, I want to ask you about being from another country in North America. Although our neighbor, it‘s a different country and in a lot of ways. Culturally and of course, your language difference: you have two languages up there.
What is it about Ronald Reagan, and you know America as well as anybody who‘s not born here. Why Americans particularly love Ronald Reagan, even if he doesn‘t travel well, as we say about wine or—through the rest of the world as a great leader? Why do you think Americans like Reagan so much?
MULRONEY: Well, I think there was, Chris, a charm and a simplicity and a genuineness about him that traveled very well.
I think people understood that here was a man who—whose mind was made up on some of the big questions, and you might disagree with that.
But on the other hand, he conveyed his position with sympathy, with generosity and with good humor. He made it easy for those who disagreed with him to accept him, in spite of their disagreements.
This thing about the Great Communicator is, I think, probably overdone, simply because I think it understates and somewhat misstates the case. He was so much more than a Great Communicator. He was a person whose message, he was able to convey as I say, with great, great simplicity and understanding, and so people accepted it. And people admired him and loved him for it.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s accepted around the world that he played a—an instrumental role in the decline of the Soviet Union, in the end of the Cold War, I should say?
MULRONEY: He played more than that. Anybody with a brain in his head who was there at the time and was in a leadership role, as I was privileged to be at the time—and I sat there with him for years—understands full well that his was the determining role.
It was his resolve and his determination and his vision, to which we all subscribed. But he set out the muscle, the military muscle, and the political strategy with George Shultz and his colleagues at NATO and then in our bilateral relationships.
So any—I noticed some people debating, you know, how many angels dance on the head of a pin? Like, to what extent did Ronald Reagan have an influence at the end of the Soviet Union?
He had an absolutely preponderant and determining influence on the
collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I say, it was his leadership and
skill, supported as he was by George Bush, his vice president. They made -
· they made a formidable team with their understanding of foreign policy and Reagan‘s resolve to lead us to victory.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the luck of the Irish. To what extend do you think Ronald Reagan‘s success throughout his career, his very successful marriage to Nancy, was just good luck? And to what extent was it sweat?
MULRONEY: Well, I‘ll tell you. In meeting Nancy, he really got lucky. Because she had—I once sat at the library, in a speech at the library, and I believe that without Nancy and her determination and her protective attitude of him, that I‘m not sure that he would have made it to the White House, and certainly not in the way he did, with such style and panache and success.
And so that was clearly luck that he had in meeting her.
The rest, he was—Chris, as you know, he was a very gifted man. He was a remarkably unusual leader. He had a sense of communion with the American people, an ability to communicate his values and his vision.
You know the old remark from the prophet Joel, that young men have visions and old men dream dreams. Well, great nations like the United States require both. And he was able to articulate that and to bring it together into an understanding of the future that people in the United States could subscribe to and support.
And so a lot of that was very hard work. You know, getting out, as he did. I mean, he only made it in his third attempt. He was kicked around a fair amount politically before he made it to the top. And, you know, he was almost 70, I think, by the time he was inaugurated.
So there was a lot of hard work involved, but he did have clearly the luck and the charm of the Irish.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Thanks for coming on. And good luck tomorrow in your remarks at the National Cathedral.
MULRONEY: Thank you, Chris. Happy to be with you.
MATTHEWS: And when we come back, my interview with one of Ronald Reagan‘s closest aides and friends, Michael Deaver.
Our special coverage continues on MSNBC after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage.
Michael Deaver has been one of the closest aides and friends to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. He served as deputy White House chief of staff in the Reagan administration.
And earlier today, I asked him about his memories of the former president.
MATTHEWS: Mike, there‘s a great picture that I have in my head of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan getting off an airplane. And he has had his head shaved on one side. It‘s sort of a weird Mohawk kind of thing. And there‘s a lot of photographers there, obviously, because we see the picture. And there‘s Nancy with the hand over the bald side of the head. And she‘s embarrassed. And there‘s Reagan laughing.
MICHAEL DEAVER, FORMER REAGAN DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Right.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about that picture. What does it tell us?
DEAVER: Well, it was after he had fallen off the horse and been knocked unconscious after he left the White House.
And he had to go to the Mayo and have some fluid drained off of his skull. And so they had to shave it. And I think he thought it was kind of racy.
DEAVER: But Nancy, ever protector...
MATTHEWS: What does that tell you about them, her role in his life?
DEAVER: Oh, I think he would have never been—made it without her. I think it‘s as simple as that. She completed him and she picked up on all those, you know, things that weren‘t important to him, but were important, really, for his success. And she—her antenna was never off.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think that people like Nancy decide that they‘re going to devote themselves to another public figure and not themselves, the total giving to the other person, say, this is the star of the universe;
I‘m going to make sure it shines?
DEAVER: Well, I don‘t know whether it had anything to do with him being a public figure. Obviously, they were both in movies.
But I always said, if Nancy—if Ronald Reagan had owned a shoe store like his dad, Nancy would be pushing shoes. That‘s what it was all about. It wasn‘t about the presidency or the governor‘s race. Those were decisions he made. And she said, OK, if that‘s what you want to do, I‘m with you. But I don‘t—I think it was more about Reagan than it was for her, about Ronald Reagan.
MATTHEWS: Well, did he have the clean, clear eye of a seeker of wisdom and truth, for her? I mean, in other words, he was—Ronald Reagan was Nancy Reagan‘s star in life.
DEAVER: No question. No question. No question. And has been for 52 years. And that‘s been her priority as long as I‘ve known them.
MATTHEWS: I think that she‘s really—I hate to say this, because I don‘t think I think like this. But I think she‘s made her name as a loyalist in the 10 years previous to now and sticking with him, and not just sticking with him as sort of a burden, but sticking with him.
DEAVER: I don‘t think there‘s any question. In this day and age, the sort of story of commitment, for better or for worse, in sickness and in his health is...
MATTHEWS: ‘Til death do us part.
DEAVER: That‘s right.
And, you know, there‘s an irony in this to me, because Reagan always said there was a reason for everything. And I think he would be so happy to know that the rest of the world got to see Nancy the way he knew her.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the last couple of days. Do you think Reagan would have been surprised at the total acceptance and acknowledgment of his importance to history these last couple of days?
DEAVER: Oh, I think he would have been overwhelmed by it.
DEAVER: I think so. I think so.
You know, I don‘t think he ever thought, if you ask him all of those years about how do you want to be remembered, he would fumble. He would say, I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: If you had asked him the question we‘re asking each other among journalists, do you think he is in the top 10, is he one of the great presidents, would he have thought he made it by the time he lost awareness?
DEAVER: I don‘t know. I don‘t know. I don‘t—he just simply didn‘t think in those terms. He really didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: What did he think of liberals?
DEAVER: Well, you know, Chris, as you know, better than anybody...
MATTHEWS: As well as...
DEAVER: Yes, right.
He liked to disagree on philosophy and issues. But he never hated people.
DEAVER: He said, you know, let‘s disagree but, you know
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t he get—didn‘t he get confounded by people who spent too much government money, raised taxes too much?
DEAVER: Of course he did.
MATTHEWS: And were that narrow-minded liberal, the worst kind of liberal?
DEAVER: Absolutely. But he would argue and make his point.
And the one thing about Reagan, people keep talking about, he was a wonderful optimist, kind man. He was all those things. But I think one of the reasons that we are—there is such an outpouring of respect is because it was about ideas. It was about his consistency of belief and not one of these guys—he was authentic.
DEAVER: One of these guys who say, on the one hand, they say, I‘ll do it this way. On the other hand...
DEAVER: It was...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about optimism, because I want to talk about personal optimism and big-picture optimism.
People like Tip O‘Neill, who I worked for, I think, although he never said it, I think he felt that Reagan was lucky. I think he felt good looks, great voice, things came together.
MATTHEWS: He did the screen test. He was a lifeguard. All the girls wanted him. Life was pretty much there for him. And he just simply followed the karma.
How do you square that with what you saw?
MATTHEWS: But I look at a guy who got dumped by his first wife. His movie career was going down. Television was even fading for him. And every time that something faded, it didn‘t work out, he would find something more and he would do it. He even went to Vegas and did the review for a while.
DEAVER: Sure. It wasn‘t easy.
MATTHEWS: But, you see, the thing that Tip and every Democrat politician didn‘t understand about Reagan is that he had been a student of this philosophy and of his economic beliefs and the foreign policy.
He worked at this for 30 years. It wasn‘t a speech card that somebody
gave him. It came out of—he was constantly reading, constantly writing,
constantly talking to people about these issues. You know, some people
said it was boring because he talked about these things so much. This was
· this was—this was not...
MATTHEWS: From the first time you met him.
DEAVER: Right. This was not an accidental thing with Reagan. It was a philosophy that he had settled on long ago and never gave up on.
MATTHEWS: He was optimistic generally in big-picture terms about the failure of communism. Was that luck again in saying, you know, I think that crowd is not going to make it because I don‘t like them? Or is it, I know something about the Soviet structure that is going to fail?
DEAVER: Well, I don‘t think he ever counted on luck.
And it was interesting to me that, when he got to the White House—and I‘ve always said, the reason he ran was that he wanted to get the Soviets to the table and he wanted to throw out the first baseball. Those were the two things he—but he—all of those Kremlinologists from the State Department, he would sort of glaze over.
But when somebody would come in and talk to him about the Russian people, he knew they didn‘t want their system. That‘s what he was banking on.
MATTHEWS: How did he know that?
DEAVER: Because he talked to people. He talked to religious leaders.
He talked to Jewish dissidents and other people who had, people who had escaped. And he knew that there was a huge wellspring in that enormous country of people who were tired of that.
MATTHEWS: Just a minute.
We‘re going to come back and talk more in a moment with Mike Deaver. We‘ve talked about the big-picture stuff, the failure of the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan‘s turn from liberalism to conservatism and his commitment to his philosophy. I want to talk about the last couple days again and about Nancy Reagan and her relationship to the president.
We‘ll be right back with more with Mike Deaver.
MATTHEWS: I think the two big pictures people will remember—and this is pure human interest, nothing to do with Washington or politics—
Nancy Reagan, widow, head down on the coffin. Second picture, Nancy Reagan sort of smoothing off the flag. What was your reaction when you saw that?
DEAVER: I don‘t think she wants to leave.
MATTHEWS: Yes. She is still connected with him, even though after all these years of Alzheimer‘s.
MATTHEWS: How do you think—do you think it‘s trying to reach back to when he didn‘t have it—or did all those years?
Tom Shales of “The Washington Post” said this week—and it‘s so knowing about Alzheimer‘s—it isn‘t a blank-out. It‘s not pulling the curtains down. It is a very slow retreat until you can‘t connect anymore. But you‘re still there. And sometimes, you‘re difficult to deal with. We all know this. My mom had it. It‘s—for Nancy, though, I was amazed by that today—the other day.
MATTHEWS: Not just trying to—it was almost like—well, you know her much better. When she put her head down, it was almost like she was trying to listen for one last word from him or something or—and that smoothing out was like the hair thing. I want to make this look nice. I want this looking good.
It‘s just—you know, it‘s almost impossible for me to describe that relationship. It was beyond anything I‘ve ever seen. And people scoffed at it and laughed about them holding hands and the stare or the glaze or whatever. You know, it was real. And in the last...
MATTHEWS: And it was damned exclusive, too.
DEAVER: It was very exclusive. In the last couple of days...
MATTHEWS: And you were sort of around it. You‘re not in it. You‘re around it.
DEAVER: Right. I‘m not in it. Of course not.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not—there‘s not a holy trinity here. This is two people with a friend. And it was iron—I remember like when she would make decisions about personnel if somebody wasn‘t loyal, she didn‘t like someone, or they weren‘t playing team ball.
DEAVER: Right. She was—she always defended him.
But, you know, one of the first times I ever saw him, working for him, and I stole into the office, in the governor‘s office, one day. And he was on the phone. And he motioned me to sit down. And it was obviously a private call. And I sat there for a couple of seconds. And I realized he was talking to Nancy Reagan.
And, finally, he said goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. And it went all the way down to, he put the phone on the hook. And I‘m thinking to myself, what is this? I had never seen this. And I said, what was that all about? And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, the goodbye, goodbye, goodbye stuff. He said, oh, you know, neither one of us wants to be the last one to say goodbye.
MATTHEWS: God, this is old-world stuff, isn‘t it?
MATTHEWS: This relationship. I just think—I guess people—are unusual to see such interconnectedness today. Most people are—they love each other, but they‘re sort of self-reliant.
This is—how is she going to do now, do you think? Can she bounce back? She has got a lot of friends.
DEAVER: Oh—she has got a lot of friends. But you got to remember, her legs may be frail, but there‘s a pretty strong heart in there. And she‘ll be fine.
MATTHEWS: She has got to carry this flag, too.
DEAVER: That‘s right. She‘ll...
MATTHEWS: And it‘s a big one.
DEAVER: She‘ll continue until her last breath to defend and protect that legacy.
MATTHEWS: What about the—a couple things? First of all, the family. We have Ron as part of our MSNBC team now.
MATTHEWS: And he is so funny. I didn‘t know him. I knew he was a dancer. I knew he was a liberal. I knew he didn‘t get along with his dad about politics, whatever that means. Who does? But this humor of his.
MATTHEWS: It is so dry and funny.
DEAVER: Right. Right. Yes, I‘ve watched him.
MATTHEWS: Does Nancy get him?
DEAVER: She adores him.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But does she get that humor, that wry—he must be a towel snapper around the house, you know?
DEAVER: I‘m sure...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the legacy as it becomes—it could either go Baroque or get really good. The Baroque part, the attempt to try to name the Pentagon after him. The Pentagon is the Pentagon. I assume people are always going to call it the Pentagon, whatever name you attach to it. The $10 bill, bouncing Alexander Hamilton for Ronald Reagan. Ken Duberstein was on the other night. Now, he was just speculating, but he thought nobody would really want to have that happen.
What‘s your sense of what Reagan—here‘s a real projection on your part—would he have gone for the $10 bill and bouncing Hamilton?
DEAVER: I think he would be embarrassed. He just would—I just
think it would have been too much for him. But I think
MATTHEWS: Is it something we should think about in five or 10 years?
DEAVER: Yes, I don‘t think it‘s something we ought to talk about now.
MATTHEWS: Not now?
MATTHEWS: Mike Deaver, your last thought about Ronald Reagan as a colleague, as a guy you worked with. He‘s the boss. What was he like as a boss?
DEAVER: Oh, he was gentle, kind, the easiest person in the world to work with. And—and he was just a friend.
MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. Mike Deaver, what a great pal you are.
Thanks for coming on today.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, our special coverage continues in a moment with a look at one thing that made President Reagan such a giant of politics, his mastery of stagecraft.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to our special coverage.
President Reagan was a master of stagecraft. It was something he learned in his movie and his television days and held on to throughout his career in politics.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): When he went on television, as he did for four decades, Ronald Reagan played in a higher league than other politicians. In 1956, the Democratic presidential candidate hated television. The high-minded Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois and future U.N. ambassador, thought it below him. To him, television smelled of Madison Avenue. Worse yet, that little box with the fuzzy picture was a mystery to him, even when he was coerced into hiring a bright young University of Chicago grad Bill Wilson as his consultant on the new medium.
The problem was that Stevenson, skilled at giving speeches in person, had only a faint idea what Wilson‘s job was.
“I‘m having a lot of trouble getting a picture on my television set,” the upset candidate phoned Wilson one night during the ‘56 Democratic Convention. Would he be kind enough to hustle over to the Blackstone Hotel and fix it? That same year, Ronald Reagan was racking up some of the best numbers on television.
When the Democrats‘ guy couldn‘t tell the difference between his media consultant and a TV repairman, “General Electric Theater” was the third most popular show on the television. As I said, he was up playing in the majors while the other side was still in peewee. Nor did he surrender his advantage, not until that beautiful letter he wrote the country in 1994 telling us of his Alzheimer‘s.
When it came to using television, let‘s agree, it was rarely much of a contest. When Ronald Reagan ran for California governor in 1966, the opposition ran an ad reminding voters that it was an actor who shot Abraham Lincoln. Let‘s count the people that turned off. No. 1, every one who made a nickel in the film and television industry. And that‘s a lot of Californians.
No. 2, everyone who liked movie stars. Three, everyone who knew Reagan not as an actor playing somebody else, but as the guy who came into our home every week as himself, you know, your host, Ronald Reagan. When the politicians were out with the boys riding what Reagan would call the mashed-potato circuit, he was home with their families.
As Pat Brown, the once popular incumbent Reagan bounced from the governor‘s chair, said in ‘66, the challenger had succeeded with the public in making himself one of us. He reduced the Democratic governor to being one of them. Reagan liked being one of us. He used television to keep it happening. On “GE Theater,” he was not a star, simply our host. He was going to watch the show along with us. He didn‘t make the company products. He simply enjoyed them at his totally electric home.
In politics, that is called positioning. And for 40 years, Reagan used television to place himself on our side of events. “There you go again,” he chided Jimmy Carter in their 1980 debate, as if he were sitting next to us on the couch. It was an instinct for the camera that he never lost.
I recall the January night in 1983 when he came to the U.S. Capitol to deliver the State of the Union. Armed with copies of the speech, Democrats on the House floor were planning to bushwhack the president. They found a line in the text of Reagan‘s speech that had gone to the press where he appeared to admit it was the administration‘s duty, his, to do something about the high jobless rate. The Democrats had hatched a plan, which they proceeded to execute.
As the president read the line, “We who are in government must take the lead in restoring the economy,” they rose in a standing ovation, thereby intending to embarrass Reagan. For a moment, Reagan seemed to be caught off guard. He paused, waiting for the applause to debate, acknowledging the little tease from the Democratic back-benchers with a long, good-natured smile.
Then, with perfect Jack Benny timing came the haymaker: “And there all along, I thought you were reading the papers.” The Democrats, thinking the president was referring harmlessly to the speech text many of them had in their laps, erupted in laughter. They had failed to see the mischief. To the people back home in their living rooms, the barb was unmistakable. Those legislators were just a pack of “feet up on the desk, newspaper reading, cigar chomping” pols.
Reagan, the master, had gotten his studio audience to provide a laugh track for the joke at which they themselves were the butt. A week later, he pulled a similar number, this time employing the White House press corps as his studio audience. In the midst of an afternoon press conference, his wife Nancy wheeled in a birthday cake.
As Reagan cheerily began slicing pieces for those assembled, ABC‘s Sam Donaldson barked out, “But you understand we won‘t sell out for a piece of cake? No deals.” “Oh,” the president said, looking directly at Sam, “you have sold out for less than that.”
Ronald Reagan dominated television not just because of his ability with a script, but his ceaseless attention to the camera. More than anyone else in the room, he knew what we would see. That made him one of us. And that, right to the end, meant all the difference.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow morning, join Lester Holt and me for live coverage of President Reagan‘s funeral at the National Cathedral beginning at 9:00 Eastern.
Right now, Keith Olbermann picks up our coverage.
But we leave you tonight with a special farewell to President Reagan.
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