Guests: Paul Kengor, Mark Foley, J.D. Hayworth, J.C. Watts, Zach Wamp, Ken Adelman, Christopher Hitchens
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Thousands lined up to pay their respects to an American legend today, waiting hours to spend just a few somber moments in the presence of President Ronald Reagan before he‘s laid to rest.
In a touching scene, our current commander in chief and the first lady spent a moment of reflection and prayer in the Capitol, before heading to the Blair House to be with Mrs. Reagan and her family. And tonight, we‘re going to hear praise and criticism of the former president from two people with very different views of the Reagan legacy.
Then, a look at how the great communicator changed the course of my life and the lives of my fellow congressmen who tried to launch the second Reagan revolution.
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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barbara and I mourn the loss of a great president and for us a great friend.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He always believed that the Cold War would come to an end and that freedom would triumph. He believed everybody wanted to be free. And I think that will be his enduring legacy.
G.W. BUSH: His work is done. And now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.
(End video clip)
SCARBOROUGH: President Reagan has yet to be buried, but his critics have been launching personal and political attacks at the beloved former president.
And one of those is professional contrarian Christopher Hitchens from “Vanity Fair,” who has spent a career tearing down such public icons as Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill. And we have Ken Adelman defending the president. He‘s a former U.N. ambassador. And Mr. Adelman accompanied President Reagan on his superpower summits with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Now, Christopher Hitchens, you have spent a career doing this. You did it with Mother Teresa, famously, of course, Winston Churchill, right after 9/11, when he was really the West‘s example of leadership to get us through that time. And now you‘ve gone after an American legend, Ronald Reagan, and in fact said what?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”: Why don‘t you smile when you say that?
SCARBOROUGH: Because I think it‘s outrageous. And I don‘t think you believe this. I think—hearing everything that you have said over the past several months, I think you did it for shock value. I think you‘re the Michael Jackson of “Vanity Fair.”
HITCHENS: Well, I think I‘m entitled to resent that.
SCARBOROUGH: You certainly are.
HITCHENS: If you‘re against religious fundamentalism, as I am, then Mother Teresa, I‘m sorry to say, who was an extreme fanatic and fundamentalist, is a fair target.
I didn‘t write anything about Ronald Reagan this week that I didn‘t write about him when he was president. And I was here for most or all of that time.
I think that, on the major question that we‘re talking about this week, to get to it, that, on the fall of the Berlin Wall, I spent some of that time in Eastern Europe, too, people like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik and many others, and, above all, Mikhail Gorbachev, deserve at least as much credit. That wall was coming down anyway. That empire was rotten to the core.
It didn‘t even come down on Reagan‘s watch, by the way. People talk as if Reagan blew a trumpet, like Joshua at Jericho, and the wall fell over. Not so.
SCARBOROUGH: He did a trumpet, though.
HITCHENS: In the meantime, he ran or allowed to run out of the White House basement a private government run by a mad Marine lieutenant colonel...
KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY:
Oh, come on.
HITCHENS: ... that was pimping for Iranian hostage traders and Nicaraguan terrorists and, when it was exposed, pretended that he didn‘t know anything about it. This is not as great a record as some would have you believe.
SCARBOROUGH: There‘s so much to talk about in what you just said.
HITCHENS: There is indeed.
SCARBOROUGH: I want to read you a quote, though. This is what you wrote about the president.
You said this—quote—“He was as dumb as a stump.” Now, I know you are a lot smarter than that. You really think that Ronald Reagan was dumb as a stump, this man who really lived his entire life with people underestimating him, and using the underestimation of Pat Brown in California, of course, Jimmy Carter and his staff in 1980, Tip O‘Neill in 1981, beyond, always underestimating him?
HITCHENS: No, I quite see what you mean.
SCARBOROUGH: Ronald Reagan dumb as a stump?
HITCHENS: I quite see. I‘m not so dumb, I need to be reminded of what I wrote at such length.
The piece ends, as you must have noticed, with a defense of the irony of simplemindedness. People underestimated George Bush, too, and have ever since he defeated the governor of Texas, Ann Richards. I say that a lot of these laughs are at the expense of the liberal sneerers.
And, look, I think it‘s pathetic to say—and I don‘t normally—that a quote is out of context, because a quote by definition is an excerpt. But I said dumb as a stump, in contrast to some people say, there are foxes and there are hedgehogs in history, those who know one big thing or who know many things. And Reagan was neither. That‘s actually true.
If you go to Germany and say on one occasion, those buried in an S.S. military cemetery are as much victims as anybody else, and you then, having previously made a speech on D-Day about the heroism of the European resistance, you‘re either reading someone‘s lines or you have no opinions of your own or no convictions, or you are stupid.
SCARBOROUGH: Ken Adelman, I still think—I mean, we certainly agree with Christopher on Iraq and many other things. But I still think these charges against Ronald Reagan are preposterous.
But we have been hearing them for some time, that Reagan is stupid.
Of course, we heard Ronald Reagan was stupid for years.
ADELMAN: Well, let me address it. Let me address it.
SCARBOROUGH: And then we see his writings and saw that, actually, he was much deeper than many of those opponents that were going after him.
But go ahead. Address some of these things that Christopher said.
ADELMAN: OK, you have to understand that Christopher has, as you‘ve said, made a career out of taking Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill and anybody who‘s very popular and anybody who‘s very successful...
HITCHENS: Well, I‘ve defended a lot of unpopular causes, too, if I may say so.
ADELMAN: All right, let me finish, though, OK?
HITCHENS: Oh, very well.
ADELMAN: And anybody who‘s very successful, in showing why they‘re really not so good and not so successful. And I guess dumping on people is something that you can do pretty easily. And I find it very unappealing myself, because I think there should be real heroes. And I think Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill are real heroes.
To get to the specifics, when Christopher says, well, he was dumb as a stump, the fact is, on the big issues, he got it right, on the big issues. And that is a sign of intelligence. On the big issues of whether the Soviet Union was going to collapse, on the big issues of whether you should delegitimize the Soviet Union, Christopher is absolutely wrong in saying it would have happened anyway.
The fact is that, unlike every previous Republican president and Democratic president, Ronald Reagan came along and said, no, they‘re not two superpowers who are dividing up the world, who have to control things and we have to work it out. One is legitimate and one illegitimate. One is run by free people and one is run like a mafia.
And that‘s why the evil empire and that‘s why the focus of evil in the modern world was so powerful. Now, Christopher is right in saying it wasn‘t Reagan alone. But the fact is, had Reagan not done it, it would not have happened.
SCARBOROUGH: It certainly was
ADELMAN: The last point is, when you look at Ronald Reagan‘s writings, and this is over the years—and Kiron Skinner has done a wonderful book about this—you realize, here‘s a man who cared about words, who cared about concept, who spent his whole life in the public policy realm not reading other people‘s speeches, but creating his own speeches.
HITCHENS: In that case, why is television full now, and as it has been for sometime, actually, of all the people who take credit correctly for having written the speeches for him? You can‘t have it both ways. Either Peggy Noonan is a great speechwriter or Ronald Reagan is a great speechmaker, or neither.
ADELMAN: Christopher, that‘s just wrong. You can‘t have it both ways.
HITCHENS: Either he had his own fluency or...
ADELMAN: Let me finish.
SCARBOROUGH: He certainly did have—he did have his own fluency, though.
ADELMAN: A, you hire the—A, you hire the speechwriters. And so you decide what kind of speeches you want and what kind of tone you want.
ADELMAN: But, B, you either make the speeches better or you make them worse. And every speech that went into Ronald Reagan ended up better than when he had it before. Now, that is a talent.
HITCHENS: One of those writers, Peter Robinson, is a friend of mine, the one who wrote down the “tear down the wall” speech.
But every president since Truman had been saying, communism days are numbered. Reagan thought the world‘s days were numbered. In the same speech and in other conversations, he would say he believed in Armageddon and in the end of days. This wasn‘t very reassuring at the time.
SCARBOROUGH: Guys, we‘ve got to go to a break right now.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘re going to pick up on your point.
ADELMAN: I don‘t remember any other president saying that the days of
communism were over. We all thought and I thought
SCARBOROUGH: Ken, we‘re going to pick up on your point.
Obviously, Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s broke from even the Republicans that were pushing detente for years.
ADELMAN: Absolutely. And that was a big change.
SCARBOROUGH: And we‘ll talk about that coming up.
Also, Reagan supporters think one of his greatest legacies is defeating the Soviet Union and winning the Cold War. But not everybody agrees. And my guests will continue debating that when we return.
And then, Ronald Reagan left office in 1988, but some consider the Republican landslide in ‘94 the president‘s last victory. That was the year I was elected to Congress. And I spoke with four other members from the class of ‘94 about Reagan‘s influence on them. You‘re not going to want to miss it.
That‘s coming up next.
SCARBOROUGH: Americans continue to pay their respects to Ronald Reagan, America‘s 40th president. It will continue through the night.
And we‘ll continue in just a minute. Stick around.
SCARBOROUGH: America and the world is going to be saying goodbye to Ronald Reagan tomorrow afternoon, but his legacy of freedom will live long after the 40th president is laid to rest.
And the centerpiece of that legacy is likely to be Ronald Reagan standing tough in his faith that communism would be relegated to the ash heap of history.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: From NBC headquarters in New York, the Associated Press is reporting at this hour that former President Ronald Reagan has died.
SCARBOROUGH (voice-over): Saturday afternoon, the airwaves were filled with the news of Ronald Reagan‘s death. Since then, they‘ve been filled with memories of his life. Newsrooms full of journalists who never understood Ronald Reagan are now groping to explain him. Some have recalled his background as an actor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Win just one for the Gipper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Others have mentioned it as his sharp wit.
REAGAN: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent‘s youth and inexperience.
SCARBOROUGH: Those are pieces of Ronald Reagan, small pieces of Reagan the man. But I want to do this the SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY way and tell you about Reagan‘s true legacy, about one man who dared to change the world.
I hate to admit this, but I‘m old enough to remember the days in grade school when we had special drills just in case of a nuclear apocalypse. Yet, even against such a dangerous threat, President Reagan made it no secret that he believed that communism would be defeated.
REAGAN: I believe we shall rise to the challenge. I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.
SCARBOROUGH: Reagan parsed no words. Communism was evil, America good. And unlike many leaders, Reagan viewed the world in black and white.
REAGAN: What I‘m describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term. The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism, Leninism on the ash heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.
SCARBOROUGH: The great communicator backed up the might of his rhetoric with an unyielding philosophy of strength through peace.
REAGAN: Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace. But let it be clear, we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinate in the struggle that is now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas.
SCARBOROUGH: Skeptics of Reagan‘s legacy may claim the USSR was already crumbling when Reagan came into office or that Ronald Reagan‘s military spending simply forced the Soviets into fiscal ruin first.
But it was the force of his leadership and the strength of his will that changed not just the face of America, but the face of the entire world. And though this week is dedicated to honoring and burying a great American, the greatest monument to Ronald Reagan is being built by the leaders of today whom he inspired.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: And the lesson that I learned from him was that, if you believe in your principles and you stand fast, you‘ll eventually prevail. And that is so needed in American politics, isn‘t it, a man of principle? So I can‘t imagine a man making a greater contribution than Ronald Reagan. And I can certainly say that he was a model for me in everything that I did as mayor.
SCARBOROUGH: But America‘s mayor is not alone. Ronald Reagan inspired an entire nation and an entire world.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘re back with our guests now, Christopher Hitchens and Ken Adelman.
Ken, you were there at Reykjavik. I think a lot of people that support Ronald Reagan believe that he did make a difference, that he did facilitate the collapse of the Soviet Union by saying no to Gorbachev on cruise missiles, on SDI, and just telling him, we‘re going to draw a line in the sand.
ADELMAN: I remember Reagan very well.
SCARBOROUGH: You were there, right?
ADELMAN: And I was so impressed with Reagan at Gorbachev.
And what he did was, Gorbachev wanted us to sacrifice the Strategic Defense Initiative in order to get the biggest arms control agreement that we could have. And Reagan at that time said, no, he was not going to sacrifice it. And then, within a few months, Gorbachev came around and said, all right we‘ll give you the cuts to eliminate an entire class of weapons systems, of nuclear weapons systems, which had never been done before in history, and we could develop SDI, and SDI, before the end of this year, is going to be in operation.
ADELMAN: That‘s the greatest legacy to Ronald Reagan. And no other president would have done that. No other president would have stood up the way Ronald Reagan did.
And it‘s just wrong to say that anybody else would have acted the same. It‘s taking history and making it, in a Toynbee sense, a flow of history. And it‘s against everything you ever write, Christopher, because you talk about how people are important in changing history. Ronald Reagan changed history, and why don‘t you give him his due?
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second.
I want to ask you, if Jimmy Carter had been reelected in 1980, would the Soviet Union have fallen in 1991?
HITCHENS: In deference to history—and, by the way, I don‘t wish that Mondale had beaten him either—it must be said that Ronald Reagan recognized the importance of Gorbachev, who had not been produced by Reaganism, because, otherwise, you wouldn‘t have got to Reykjavik in the first place.
He was produced by real forces within the Eastern Bloc and really meant business. I don‘t think many Democrats would have recognized what Reagan recognized. And I‘ve said so repeatedly. But also in deference to history, you may say SDI will work by the end of this year. I have heard that prediction before. I hope you‘re right this time. It hasn‘t been so far.
ADELMAN: It‘s never been deployed before, Christopher.
HITCHENS: No, but the tests have been
ADELMAN: But go back to Reagan.
HITCHENS: I‘m staying with Reagan. I‘m staying with Reagan.
HITCHENS: He tried the M.X. missile, which was, A, a turkey and, B, a first strike missile weapon. He said that missiles, once launched, could be recalled, which alarmed a lot of people, not just in Russia.
He said that anti-communism meant that we had to stick by the South African government because it had always been on our side in this respect.
He said that Nicaragua was about to invade Texas. He talked a lot of
complete paranoid nonsense. The fact that he was as right as you or I
could have been about the long-term impossibility, as George Orwell was
right, in saying that communism is doomed to fail doesn‘t distinguish him
to that extent from
SCARBOROUGH: But you said it would have collapsed anyway.
SCARBOROUGH: The question is, if Jimmy Carter had been reelected in 1980, instead of Ronald Reagan, would we have seen the wall come down in ‘89 and the Soviet Union collapse on Christmas Day in ‘91?
HITCHENS: That is incredibly—that‘s a fantastically interesting question, because the American policy of deciding to support a holy war in Afghanistan, I think a good case could be made for doing, which was initiated by Mr. Brzezinski under Carter to try and bleed the Warsaw Pact, and which did, in the long run, work, is a policy with a lot of other considerations to it, but is not a policy peculiar to Ronald Reagan.
So the answer the your question is no again. What you‘re saying is, A, historical, is based on hagiography, which is the absolute enemy of history, not just the Toynbee version.
SCARBOROUGH: No again what? No, again, no, the Soviet Union would not have collapsed?
HITCHENS: The Soviet Union had made a historic mistake by trying to occupy Eastern Europe against its will.
SCARBOROUGH: And it would have collapsed?
HITCHENS: And to try to extend that to Afghanistan. It was doomed.
SCARBOROUGH: Under President Jimmy Carter?
HITCHENS: Well, George Orwell wrote that in 1938, saying, if it tries to reform, that will collapse it. This was a thought available to any commonplace reader.
HITCHENS: Reagan used to borrow statements from the John Birch Society‘s publications about communism as antichrist. He made ludicrous predictions.
ADELMAN: It was a big surprise to all of us.
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, if it was that easy, then why did the foreign policy establishment of both the Republican and the Democratic Party, starting in the early 1970s...
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. Hold on a second. Hold on a second.
ADELMAN: He‘s just so wrong.
SCARBOROUGH: Embrace detente and were so offended, so offended that Ronald Reagan would draw this bright line between communism and between American democracy?
HITCHENS: Well, they always do that. The CIA said the Soviet economy was booming. These people are always wrong.
SCARBOROUGH: OK, Ken.
HITCHENS: But some of us always said, communism was finished.
ADELMAN: There was absolutely no expert opinion or no opinion that I know of that said that communism was doomed, like Ronald Reagan felt.
And I was in a lot of those meetings, Christopher. And I‘m telling
you, if you would have written something like that, it would have been a
shock, because everybody assumed that the Cold War was here to stay. But
the fact is
HITCHENS: I don‘t think you guys were reading my stuff at the time, actually.
ADELMAN: The fact was that Ronald Reagan was a great man. He was a great man because he understood the role of history, and he understood that leaders really change history. He had one sign on his desk. And it said, “Yes, we can.” And he was an activist. And here‘s a man who became president at almost 70 years old.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘ve got a picture of Gorbachev right now.
SCARBOROUGH: That was Gorbachev earlier in the day, paying his respects.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. Leave the religious stuff at the door for a second.
We‘ve got Gorbachev right now earlier today obviously paying his respects to Ronald Reagan. You know what bugs me?
HITCHENS: Now, there‘s a great man.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, great man. Whatever.
HITCHENS: And a great liberator, yes.
ADELMAN: He was not.
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s a great man who had a gun put to his head in the mid-‘80s. He had an economy that was going to collapse because Ronald Reagan called his bluff.
SCARBOROUGH: A great man? There was nothing great about Mikhail Gorbachev.
HITCHENS: We were very lucky to have Gorbachev. We were. I‘ve already said it to you. I‘ve already said it to you.
ADELMAN: He collapsed the whole place.
HITCHENS: We had a very great opportunity in the person of a very great man in Mikhail Gorbachev.
I‘ve already said to you, I said at the time, I don‘t think Reagan‘s political opponents would have seen the point of Gorbachev.
ADELMAN: So why can‘t you say he‘s great? Why do you have to dump on him, Christopher?
ADELMAN: What is it about you that makes you feel good to dump on heroes?
HITCHENS: All this week, I‘ve heard nothing about Havel, Walesa,
ADELMAN: These are real heroes.
HITCHENS: As if Reagan pushed over the wall
ADELMAN: If your point is that the Eastern Europeans deserve some credit, you‘re right. But that doesn‘t take dumping on Reagan, Chris.
HITCHENS: I‘m not dumping on Reagan. I‘m saying he‘s not the man you think he is.
ADELMAN: You said he‘s dumb.
SCARBOROUGH: I think he is the man I think he is.
SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, you know who you‘ve left out? You know who you‘ve left out?
HITCHENS: Who‘s that?
SCARBOROUGH: You know who it is. Of course not.
HITCHENS: Not Oliver North?
SCARBOROUGH: Pope John Paul II. And I know that pains you.
HITCHENS: You had to bring that up. How much time have we got? How much time have we got?
SCARBOROUGH: You know what?
SCARBOROUGH: You know what?
ADELMAN: He wants to dump on him now, right?
SCARBOROUGH: We‘ve got more time, because it‘s John Paul II, it‘s Margaret Thatcher, and it‘s Ronald Reagan together that did a heck of a lot more.
ADELMAN: And the Eastern Europeans.
SCARBOROUGH: And the Eastern Europeans and Lech Walesa did a heck of a lot more than Mikhail Gorbachev.
SCARBOROUGH: Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of a corrupt, evil empire that got beaten.
HITCHENS: Are you dumping on Gorbachev?
SCARBOROUGH: You‘re darned right I
HITCHENS: I hope you won‘t do it when he dies or you‘ll give people completely the wrong idea.
HITCHENS: Don‘t you know a great man when you see one?
SCARBOROUGH: Are you saying there‘s a moral equivalency between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev?
HITCHENS: No, moral equivalency at all.
SCARBOROUGH: There was none whatsoever.
HITCHENS: No, Mikhail Gorbachev did not pay terrorists in Nicaragua
from the funds
SCARBOROUGH: Whatever. You know what?
SCARBOROUGH: I‘ll tell you what. We‘re going to be right back talking about Ronald Reagan‘s legacy.
SCARBOROUGH: And Christopher Hitchens‘ favorite, Ronald Reagan‘s faith.
HITCHENS: You should smile when you say that.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: America and the world says goodbye to a great president, a man who helped bring down the Soviet Union. We‘re going to be talking about that and more when we come back.
But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
G.W. BUSH: He always told us that, for America, the best was yet to come.
G.H.W. BUSH: Barbara and I mourn the loss of a great president and for us a great friend.
CLINTON: He always believed that the Cold War would come to an end and that freedom would triumph. He believed everybody wanted to be free. And I think that will be his enduring legacy.
G.W. BUSH: His work is done. And now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: What a man.
We‘re talking about the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
With some final thoughts, Christopher Hitchens.
HITCHENS: Sorry we had to stay on foreign policy all the time, because I can‘t mention in this time that he never used the word AIDS at the time when there was a national health emergency, that he ran up a gigantic deficit.
But staying on foreign policy, I can mention that he allowed Alexander Haig to empower Menachem Begin to do a disastrous invasion of Lebanon. When the Marines were killed, Ronald Reagan ran away. He then said that Tip O‘Neill, the speaker of the House, was the man responsible for the scuttle. He ran a secret foreign policy where Iranian mullahs and Nicaraguan gangsters knew more about what was going on than the Congress did, illegal money. None of this helped to bring down the Berlin Wall.
SCARBOROUGH: Ken Adelman.
ADELMAN: Christopher is used to dumping on Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill. And I am very proud that Ronald Reagan is in that class, because I believe Ronald Reagan is a historical man who gave America an infectious optimism, who proved that free people are better than those enslaved, and who really pushed freedom in a way that I saw up close and personal for seven years.
And I‘m telling you, when I was there watching it, it was astonishing,. And he will always be a tremendous hero to me and I think to the American people.
SCARBOROUGH: And to most of us.
HITCHENS: I thought freedom was better than slavery already, before Reagan gave me permission.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, gentlemen, thanks a lot. I‘ll tell you what, I look forward to having you all back and we‘ll talk about Iraq and probably all agree with each other.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it, Mr. Hitchens.
HITCHENS: It was a pleasure.
Now in, 1993, I was a small-town lawyer running for Congress as an ideological heir to Ronald Reagan. Little did I know at that time that candidates all across America were setting out on underdog campaigns that were aimed at changing Washington and completing the Reagan revolution. Today, 11 years later, I sat down with four other members of the class of 1994 to get their thoughts on the passing of the man who inspired us all to public service.
SCARBOROUGH: I ran for Congress in 1994, and one of the reasons was because of what happened in 1980. Ronald Reagan was my major influence. What about you guys? Everybody here—did everybody here first get interested in politics because of Ronald Reagan?
REP. ZACH WAMP ®, TENNESSEE: I was a Democrat before Ronald Reagan.
I grew up in the South, and my parents were Democrats. They were even at Carter‘s inaugural in ‘76. But, in college, in the late ‘70s, there were all kind of excuses made for the malaise and the low point. And then, all of a sudden, Ronald Reagan came on the scene and my fraternity got fired up about it. We came up here that night, several carloads of us. We were here. And I‘ve been a Republican ever since.
SCARBOROUGH: What is it? I got all these phone calls last night. We had this call-in show. And all these young people were calling in, saying, I wasn‘t alive when he was first elected. Or I had somebody else saying I was 9 years old when I first saw Ronald Reagan.
Most of our callers, even on the West Coast, when it was earlier in the evening, were young.
J.C., what is it about Ronald Reagan, the oldest guy ever to be elected to the White House, that inspired the youth of America?
J.C. WATTS, FORMER OKLAHOMA CONGRESSMAN: You know, Joe, like Zach, I was a Democrat in 1980 and, quite frankly, thought it was my birthright to be a Democrat.
And Ronald Reagan kind of planted some seeds in my life as a senior at the University of Oklahoma. And I think the reason he captured or I think touched and resonated with so many people, he did appeal to our hopes, not our fears. He kind of rallied us around the highest common denominator, not the lowest common denominator. And I think anybody that knew Reagan or lived under his presidency, his leadership, saw that.
And I think even young people today that‘s ever seen anything or read anything about Ronald Reagan. It was his optimism, his hope, his never—that never-say-die attitude. And, in 1980, he appealed more to my competitive juices than my political juices, because he kind of reminded me of that coach, you know, that Barry Switzer kind of coach, that Woody Hayes kind of coach, that would come in the locker room at halftime when you‘re down a couple of touchdowns and say, man, we‘re going to win. We‘re going to get it done. And that was Ronald Reagan.
REP. MARK FOLEY ®, FLORIDA: This is like a 12-step meeting. I was a Democrat, too.
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH ®, ARIZONA: Here‘s the topper. And I hope everybody at home is sitting down.
HAYWORTH: Now, here‘s the topper.
SCARBOROUGH: Actually, you know what? I was a Democrat twice, but I wasn‘t going to admit it.
HAYWORTH: Here‘s the topper. I was a Republican, but John Anderson contacted me to work on his campaign.
SCARBOROUGH: John Anderson, who in 1980 ran as an independent
HAYWORTH: And who was the chairman of the House Republican Conference.
SCARBOROUGH: So all of you guys were Democrats?
HAYWORTH: No, no, no, not all of us. I was a Republican.
SCARBOROUGH: You notice now I said all of you guys, leaving myself out. But, OK, us four, we were Democrats.
I know Ronald Reagan made a big difference in my switch. And you all have said the same thing. But what was it again for you, Mark Foley, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won that made you think, you know what, I want to follow this guy?
FOLEY: Well, in ‘80, I was campaigning for Carter. I had to speak against then Senator George Murphy.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on. If we had only known this before, Foley would have been so primaried.
HAYWORTH: Where‘s the videotape?
SCARBOROUGH: Where‘s the videotape?
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on. Hold on.
WATTS: You probably just got a primary.
SCARBOROUGH: Can we call the counselor?
SCARBOROUGH: Because this is going to take more than 12 steps.
You‘re telling me, 1980, you actually campaigned for Jimmy Carter?
FOLEY: I campaigned for him. I campaigned for him. And I worked for him. And I was reading the talking points, yet I didn‘t believe any of them, because we were living through a period of despair. And he was beating the drum.
He was the one that used the term malaise. So, in ‘81, I realized I had campaigned and voted for the wrong person. As a Democrat, I voted for Reagan in ‘84; ‘85, I changed parties, because he had reawakened me.
SCARBOROUGH: Zach, tell me what you think about that knock on Ronald Reagan, that he‘d spin these fairy tales about America and had his head in the clouds?
WAMP: Listen, Howard Baker and Tom Griscom, tell a story about the Gorbachev speech and taking out the comments about tear down this wall.
He did that because he had confidence that he was right. And he had the strength to go and do it. In all fairness, Jimmy Carter is a good and decent man. He‘s proven it in the last 24 years. But being a leader and actually standing your ground when you believe in your gut you‘re right, and not being influenced by all of the things around you is what Ronald Reagan did.
And that decisive leadership and strength, I think, is also why he didn‘t have much of ego. He knew deep in his gut who he was and what he was called to do. And even when those—I can‘t imagine them rewriting the speech. Griscom is in Chattanooga. I know him well. They said, take it out, put it back in, take it out. He put it back in.
SCARBOROUGH: When he went to the Berlin Wall, said, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall, and it drove his speechwriters crazy.
WAMP: His speechwriters took it out. They said, you can‘t do that.
It will upset the world. It did.
SCARBOROUGH: It did upset the world, yes.
WAMP: It changed the world. But he knew it needed to be done. We all need to be reenergized to stand our ground when we know we‘re right. Ultimately, we will be successful.
SCARBOROUGH: But Reagan knew who he was. And that‘s what—criticism just rolled off his back. Isn‘t that so unusual in Washington, D.C., I mean, let alone with congressmen or senators, but for a president of the United States to be oblivious to his critics because, in the core of his existence, he knew who he was.
FOLEY: Well, our first six years here were with a president that read the polls every night to decide what to do in the morning. So we were constantly watching a White House change posture based on prevailing breezes.
Reagan was firm in what he believed. He didn‘t look at others‘ spun numbers to say, OK, I better lean this way because it sounds like America is going that direction. He was the general. He led us. That‘s something that I wish would happen to more people in public life. And also, speaking of health care and what he‘s done for Alzheimer‘s research, just simply the fact that he was willing to acknowledge a very private personal disease, you know—here‘s a guy you would assume wanted to ride out on the top of his game into the sunset on his horse and let the public not see that side of him.
No, he was the first to write the pen to paper: I have Alzheimer‘s. And his wife, to her credit—people in this town tried to destroy Nancy Reagan, calling her a socialite and a dilettante and only interested in luncheons with pretty ladies. She stood by his side. She didn‘t leave that house in Bel Air. She wasn‘t out dining and enjoying the social life she could have had. She was a true partner. They were who they were in person.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. And she has just been absolutely incredible.
J.D., give me your favorite Reagan story or your favorite Reagan moment.
HAYWORTH: What I observed on stage in Phoenix in one of his final campaign appearances in 1992.
Senator McCain is introducing Ronald Reagan, offering that great observation of Margaret Thatcher, that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. And there is Reagan, backstage, preparing to go on. And there he is standing there with that characteristic shrug and nod of the head, and almost a look of either a cross between bemusement and embarrassment. In an ego-driven business, as Zach spoke about it, in a business where, for purposes of full disclosure, none of us suffer from a shortage of self-esteem, here was a...
HAYWORTH: This is really tell-it-all television here.
SCARBOROUGH: Tell it all. And if you don‘t believe us, ask our wives.
HAYWORTH: That‘s right.
WATTS: Only in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Let your hair down.
HAYWORTH: But here was a guy, here was a great man, whose greatness and goodness was intertwined to the point where ego was irrelevant. He was humble always.
SCARBOROUGH: Coming up next, we‘re going to take a closer look at Ronald Reagan‘s religious faith, said to be the source of his boundless optimism.
That‘s coming up, so don‘t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: America was founded by people who believe that God was their rock of safety. He is ours. I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it‘s all right to keep asking if we‘re on his side.
Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness. Pray they will discover the joy of knowing God.
This morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.
America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening and a moral renewal. And with your biblical keynote, I say today, yes, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.
We can meet our destiny, and that destiny can build a land here that will be here for all mankind a shining city on a hill. I think we ought to get at it.
My fellow Americans, on behalf of both of us, goodbye and good bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: I love that guy.
Paul Kengor is here. And he wrote “God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life.”
Paul, welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
PAUL KENGOR, AUTHOR, “GOD AND RONALD REAGAN”: Hi, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: And listening to that, it‘s just so moving and so touching. Ronald Reagan talked about this spiritual reawakening. But he had a lot to do with it, didn‘t he? He was driven by his faith in God. And without that faith, do you think he would have gone after the Soviet Union and communism the way he did?
KENGOR: Well, I‘ll tell you, probably not.
The faith affected that, in particular, in so many ways. One, he thought the Soviet Union was an evil empire, not just because it killed people and starved people and repressed basic civil liberties, but because it was an atheistic empire. And Reagan‘s faith was a source of confidence. His boldness, his daring, his willingness to go after the Soviet Union, that confidence was grounded in his faith, as was his optimism.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Paul, you know, earlier, we had Christopher Hitchens on, very offended by Ronald Reagan talking about Armageddon.
SCARBOROUGH: But, in fact, Ronald Reagan‘s fear was that there could be a nuclear Armageddon.
SCARBOROUGH: Unless he did something about it. Isn‘t that right?
KENGOR: Yes, that‘s right.
And, look, Reagan thought that Armageddon—Reagan thought that the end times and prophecy and all that sort of thing was possible in his lifetime. However, he certainly didn‘t want to facilitate Armageddon. And he planned as if it wasn‘t going to happen.
You know, he said, well, I don‘t know for sure if Armageddon is around the corner or not, but I‘m certainly going to plan as if it‘s not coming, and I certainly don‘t want to—Ronald Reagan detested the idea of nuclear war. When he got to office, he got a classified DOD briefing where he was told that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union could lead to about 200 million American casualties, I mean, 200 million American -- 200 million casualties.
And so, for Reagan, that was absolutely the last thing that he wanted to see, was a nuclear confrontation.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, Reagan‘s faith in God, didn‘t it deepen greatly after the assassination attempt? Wasn‘t that the pivotal moment in his life?
SCARBOROUGH: Where he really decided to devote his life to God?
KENGOR: Yes, absolutely.
And, you know, Joe, a lot of this faith for Reagan, it was more quiet. It was more subtle. I‘ll tell you a good example, I think, serves almost as a sort of metaphor for how Reagan operated. There was a Cabinet meeting in the mid-‘80s. And one of Reagan‘s Cabinet members, Margaret Heckler, spoke up and said, Mr. President, why don‘t we say—why don‘t we open each Cabinet meeting with a prayer, which is something that—that‘s rarely been done in presidential history.
I think Eisenhower was the last to consistently open Cabinet meetings with a prayer. And I believe Bush does sometimes, but not always. And Reagan‘s response to her request was very interesting. He said, I do, I already do open Cabinet meetings with a prayer.
SCARBOROUGH: Wow. Yes.
KENGOR: In other words, you folks don‘t see it, but I say a prayer before every Cabinet meeting, and it‘s done. I do it.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, a lot of people are talking about—and, certainly, we‘ve been talking all week about the fact that Ronald Reagan helped end the Soviet empire, helped revive our economy. But, also, a very important part of Ronald Reagan‘s legacy has to be his impact on the culture. And it was a bit of a culture counterrevolution, answering the 1960s. Of course, we hear in the 1960s from philosophers and even I think it was on the cover of “Newsweek” that God was dead.
SCARBOROUGH: Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan answers back, no, he‘s not.
SCARBOROUGH: How important was that?
KENGOR: Very important.
I‘ll tell you what. Right now, they‘re talking in Los Angeles, of all places, about the whole seal debate, with the cross on a seal. And that kind of thing really bothered Reagan, because one of Reagan‘s better quotes, Joe, that I like, he said, history is littered with the wreckage of nations that turned their back on God.
KENGOR: And what Reagan believed was that America had been so incredibly richly blessed by God, and we had all these wonderful things in this country because of what God provided. And if we didn‘t thank God and remember God, and if we became more secular and banished God from the public square, he was afraid that—Reagan said this—he was afraid...
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, he did. And it was so important.
Paul, thanks so much for being with us tonight.
SCARBOROUGH: We greatly appreciate it.
KENGOR: Thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: And we‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: America has lost another legendary icon, Ray Charles.
(RAY CHARLES SINGS “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL”)
SCARBOROUGH: Good night. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
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