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Larry King Live
Friends and Family Pay Tribute to Ronald Reagan Ahead of His 89th BirthdayAired February 4, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
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LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a birthday tribute to Ronald Reagan. He'll turn 89 on Sunday. We'll talk with his beloved wife, Nancy. His daughter Maureen joins us here if Los Angeles; in Pearsall, Texas, James Baker, former secretary of state and White House chief of staff; in Las Vegas, former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, who served as White House chief of staff during the Reagan Years, too; in Washington, former White House deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver; plus, former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater; and in Los Angeles, the Reagans' good friend, entertainer and businessman Merv Griffin.
They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We're in Los Angeles this Sunday. The former President Ronald Reagan will celebrate his 89th birthday. We have a wonderful panel assembled, and his wife Nancy, the former first lady, will be calling in at the bottom of the hour.
We'll start with Maureen.
When was the last time your father appeared in public and spoke? When was the last time we saw him?
MAUREEN REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: It was in February of 1994 at a Republican fund-raiser at the post office building in Washington D.C.
KING: I remember that night.
M. REAGAN: A huge dinner.
KING: He was the guest of honor, right?
M. REAGAN: Yes, yes.
KING: Nancy was there too?
M. REAGAN: Yes, it was a wonderful speech, just a wonderful speech, yes.
KING: But we knew then trouble ahead, did we not? M. REAGAN: Well, he was beginning to complain to his doctors that when he was in a strange place, like a hotel room, that he would feel slightly disoriented and wasn't sure exactly where everything was and what he was supposed to do, and the doctor said well we're going to Mayo later this year, and we'll check some things out when we're there. When they got there, they found it.
KING: So tonight, this would be just about six years then that we haven't seen him?
M. REAGAN: Yes, yes.
KING: Does it feel, James Baker, like we talk about him because we haven't seen him almost in the past tense.
JAMES BAKER, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, we do, Larry. And I was at that fund-raiser. I remember it very well, and it seems like quite a while ago now. And we all miss him, and we miss him tremendously.
KING: Yes. So it -- when was the last time you saw him?
J. BAKER: I was at that fund-raiser, Larry. That was the last time I saw him. I went to Los Angeles the following year and visited with Nancy. The president was up at the ranch. I did not see him. So the last time I saw him was at that fund-raiser in 1994.
KING: Merv Griffin, we know you were a close friend for so many years.
MERV GRIFFIN, REAGAN FRIEND: I was at that night.
KING: You did the first interview with the president from private quarters in the White House, right?
GRIFFIN: I did.
KING: Which is never done.
GRIFFIN: Never. It's highly unusual. But he granted it to me, and to this day, I don't know why. I asked for it, obviously.
KING: Well, he'd been on your show as an actor.
GRIFFIN: Yes -- no, no, no. No, no, no, as governor.
GRIFFIN: And in between his governorship and the presidency. I asked for that interview, and he granted it to me, and it was awesome. Just to be there, you know, you can be blase about, oh, I am going to the White House, but the minute you walk through the door and the president is sitting in front of you, and you're in control of the questions, that's power.
KING: When was the last time you saw him. GRIFFIN: Do you know, I couldn't answer that. I don't recall.
GRIFFIN: I don't recall, no.
KING: Were you at that dinner in Washington?
GRIFFIN: And I don't know if I've shut it out.
I was at that dinner that night where everybody was. It was the most emotional moment I ever remember. My whole table, we all wept. We knew, we just knew, and nobody had told us -- we knew this was his last public appearance, or his last speech.
KING: Senator Howard Baker -- we have two Bakers here tonight -- so if I say "senator," it's Howard Baker in Las Vegas. When was the last time you saw him?
HOWARD BAKER, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: I was there, too, Larry, as a matter of fact, and I was on the platform close to where he and Nancy were to be seated, and I remember when he came up on the platform, actually he looked a little confused, and I was really apprehensive about how he was going to do, but when he got there and he was before the microphone and started giving his speech, it was the old Reagan again, and he delivered it flawlessly, and the audience acted as they almost always did, but not only with enthusiasm, but warmth. And I thought, well, you know, maybe it was just -- maybe he was preoccupied when he came up here, but as we all know now, that was at least the beginning of his difficulty.
And as I look back on it, I guess I recognize it then, but I didn't want to recognize it then.
KING: Have you seen him since, Howard?
H. BAKER: No, Larry, I haven't. I talk to Nancy a lot on the telephone, and I see her from time to time. But to be absolutely honest with you, I never asked about him, I never asked to see him, and I almost always end my conversation with Nancy by saying, "Tell the president hello."
KING: Marlin Fitzwater, you worked with him and for him. Were you at that dinner, too?
MARLIN FITZWATER, FORMER REAGAN PRESS SECRETARY: No, I wasn't at that dinner, but it's been four or five years since I've seen the president. And one of the interesting things is that as time goes by, I tend to think of him almost as being more young almost than he was when he was in the White House. And as we see a campaign going on here now for the presidency, and so many of the Reagan ideas are part of that, and I sit here thinking if he was 68 when he first went into the presidency -- and I am not even 60 yet -- what enormous energy he had back then, and that's the way I tend to think of him.
KING: And Michael Deaver, were you at that dinner? MICHAEL DEAVER, FORMER REAGAN DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: No, I wasn't. But Larry, I've been waiting for this all day long because I want to say to the president, Happy 50th anniversary on your 39th birthday.
KING: That's right, it's finally the 50th anniversary.
When was the last time you saw him, Michael?
DEAVER: I think I saw him a little over a year ago and I talk to Nancy regularly, so I try to stay in touch with him that way.
KING: And when you saw him, was he very far gone?
DEAVER: Well, I don't know what you mean by "far gone." He -- this was a little over a year ago, and he was in his office, and you know, I did most of the talking, but for me, it was wonderful to see him, regardless of what condition he was in. It was a selfish thing that I was doing, because I wanted to see him again.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with more on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
"Newsweek" did a tremendous article two weeks ago about Alzheimer's, and a great part of it was written by one of our guests, Maureen Reagan. We'll talk about that as well. Ronald Reagan will be 89 on Sunday.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW")
GRIFFIN: After the assassination attempt on your life, Mr. President, did your personal priorities change?
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, no, I can't really say. I think I had them pretty well in line. But, Merv, if I -- I had to feel after, and as I learned later how close it was, I had realize that anytime I've got left I owe to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 30, 1982)
QUESTION: Mr. President, since Maureen Reagan today mentioned what she termed the "myopic views of the political establishment, a Bohemian Grove Society that comes from rubbing elbows with the mighty" -- that's what she said, not mine. And she told us to ask you why you changed your mind on ERA. I have a two-part question. The first is why? And the second, did you ever at any time consider the possibility of selecting a female running mate like, say, Barbara Bush?
REAGAN: Well, I came as close to Barbara as I could. My daughter's very eloquent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You were always open. You disagreed with your father (OFF-MIKE).
M. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yay, Dad.
KING: You wrote -- was it tough to write that article? I know you're very involved in the Alzheimer's Association, raising money for funds. You speak out on it, et cetera. That article was so personal.
M. REAGAN: It wasn't because I knew what "Newsweek" was doing with the two big articles that they did. And I think they wanted something that would just kind of call a little extra attention to it. And so I was able to put a few anecdotes about him in but in a more generic sense, so that it was to all Alzheimer's families.
KING: How bad is this disease?
M. REAGAN: It's a horrible disease. It's the worst, Larry. It's the absolute worst. You don't battle Alzheimer's. You finally just -- you let it overtake you.
KING: There's no pain involved, though, is there? Or is there?
M. REAGAN: Well we don't know that. That's what we don't know.
KING: He just doesn't say anything, right?
M. REAGAN: Well...
KING: So he could be hurting, and you wouldn't know if he's hurting?
M. REAGAN: We don't -- there's so much we don't know about what is still remaining. My personal belief is that it's -- there -- the neurons are interrupted, but the memory is still there. And that must be horribly frustrating.
KING: So in other words, you can only guess what he's thinking when he's looking at you?
M. REAGAN: Yes.
KING: What's it like for you, the daughter?
M. REAGAN: Well, it's not about me, it's about him. And I just want him to be comfortable and happy. And I like to -- I like him to have a smile on his face. And he likes my giraffe. So that always gets me a smile.
KING: So we will smile.
M. REAGAN: Oh, yes.
KING: Does he react to things?
M. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
KING: And how is his physical condition?
M. REAGAN: well, you know, he started out in this illness as a very strong man, so the physical decline has been slower than it would be perhaps for some other people. But the brain tells the body everything to do. It tells you to stand up, it tells you to walk, it tells you to swallow, it tells you to breathe. And as that brain breaks down, so does the body.
KING: Jim Baker, do you think the country has -- not having, not heard -- it's six years now that we have not seen this man speak to us -- lost touch with him or not?
J. BAKER: I really don't think so, Larry. I think that -- I think, as someone said earlier, we are in the midst of a political campaign for president today in which we see a lot of the principles and values that Ronald Reagan subscribed to being promulgated by a number of candidates. And I don't think the country really has lost touch with President Reagan at all. And I think that the longer he's been gone from us, really, the greater he grows in stature. And I think the more you see of that in the published writings and in the commentary from day to day around the country, I really believe that.
Marlin Fitzwater, what do you think?
FITZWATER: Well, I -- I -- I think like Jim does, of course, that as we see all these candidates, every one of them trying to get a piece of Ronald Reagan and plaster it on his lapel, you realize that the presence of President Reagan is still broad in the country.
And also, when you realize that most people under 35 years old in this country never knew President Reagan in a direct sense -- they might have been 15 years old at the most when he was in the presidency. And so here we have a man who is influencing our national political discourse to great degree, and virtually half the population knows him only from what they've read about him.
KING: Isn't it difficult, Merv, as a friend, his personality was so strong. Don't you miss that?
GRIFFIN: I do. And you yearn for his presidency at times, his leadership. He was so strong. And we'll remember things he said. I mean, we're enjoying a great economy right now, and it all goes back to him. Just think if that wall hadn't come down, we'd still be building those enormous bombs, all that stuff going on. You read the paper today, the government's buying back bombs that they've had out there a long time we're so rich in the government. That all stemmed from his presidency.
But the moments with him we will never forget. Oh, the private moments -- I mean, they were really charming moments.
KING: And funny. GRIFFIN: Fun, funny. He knew how to work and he knew how to play.
M. REAGAN: Oh, yes.
GRIFFIN: And his birthdays. I remember a birthday up at the ranch during the presidency, when there had been -- a fog had settled over the top of the ranch. And we were all there in Western clothes, you know? Not looking like Roy Rogers and Dale, but it was OK. And through the mist came these horses up the trail. And then out walked Ronald Reagan from the little cabin. I mean, it wasn't a great big house. It was...
M. REAGAN: No, it was just a little ranch house, yes.
GRIFFIN: ... a little cabin where he and Nancy went. And Lord knows what he was thinking when he was chopping all of that wood, but he must have gotten it all out. He was out there chopping away or...
KING: Did he like...
GRIFFIN: ... carving the kids' initials.
KING: Did he like birthdays?
GRIFFIN: Well, he seemed to enjoy them very much. He loved his friends, and he loved that kind of very casual speaking, when he could get up and tell a story.
M. REAGAN: Well, Larry, I mean, he -- this is man who was just innately humorous. When they were -- after the governorship and before he became president, they were supposed to go to a dinner one night -- and I remember him telling this story. And he hated to get dressed up in black tie. He just hated it -- he looked gorgeous but he hated it.
So Nancy told him it was black tie. And he got all dressed up and they got in the car and they start down the driveway. And she says, you know what, honey? I don't think this is black tie. He said, well, it's too late now. So they go to the party, he grabs a glass of champagne and he stands by the door so that every man who walked in would panic.
KING: That's a great story.
GRIFFIN: I'll give you a moment. In the airplane one time -- Nancy at times, when he got a little hefty would watch his diet. And he had the same hangup I did, chocolate. Loved chocolate or sweets, anything dessert. So we're riding in the plane. We're heading for the Bahamas for a three-week stay. And Nancy was reading her magazine. And suddenly I slipped two chocolates over to him. His hand came out of the thing. We were like two little Boy Scouts, right? He put him them in his mouth watching Nancy. Nancy never looked up, she said "I saw that, Ronnie. You have two chocolates in your mouth." He said, "I do not. I do not." KING: We'll be back with more. We'll get Senator Baker's thoughts and Michael Deaver's as well on a living legacy -- Ronald Reagan's birthday.
We're going to talk about the license plate, and Nancy's going to be calling in. And we'll take your calls, too.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, INAUGURATION DAY, JANUARY 20, 1981)
REAGAN: I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.
We have every right to dream heroic dreams.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: No, I've been a long admirer of the cool, calm, collected way that Howard approaches things. Just Monday we had a leadership meeting there in the Cabinet room. And Howard took over almost immediately in his calm way. And he said, here it is Monday, and tomorrow Tuesday, and the next thing is Wednesday. Half the week's gone and we haven't done a damn thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Howard, I'm sure you remember that roast.
H. BAKER: I do. I remember that roast. I remember that it was right. We hadn't done a thing, but, hey, let me say a word about the Reagan era, you know, that we were talking about a minute ago. I agree, of course, with Marlin and with Jim Baker, but Ronald Reagan in my view did something that is still very much with us. He, in his campaign in 1980 and during the entire time of his presidency, he made a fundamental change in the public policy of this country. And it's affected not only Republicans, but Democrats and independents and set the stage for political campaigns and for governance in this country. And he'll be remembered for that. I think history will treat him very kindly. And I'm proud to call him my friend and to wish him a happy birthday.
KING: Isn't it so sad, Michael Deaver, to have a living former president that we don't see?
DEAVER: Well, of course it's sad. But, you know, everybody's talked tonight about the Reagan legacy. And he really has become sort of the gold standard for the presidency. And I think it's because, at least in my opinion, I don't think we've had anybody in the White House since Harry Truman that knew who he was, that was as comfortable with what he was. You know, McCullough, David McCullough said about Truman there was nobody in the world he'd rather be. Well that's also the most apt description of Ronald Reagan. He knew who he was. He said to me one time when I was asking him about actors in Hollywood, was this guy as great a guy as I think he was, Governor? This is when he was governor. And he looked at me and he said, "Mike, you keep asking me about these actors." I got to tell you, the camera doesn't lie. You know who these people are.
Well, to have a president who understood that the camera doesn't lie was a real gold standard for this country.
KING: Yes. Well within himself, right, Maureen?
M. REAGAN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
KING: Does that still show at times, or is it -- has this disease taken that, too?
M. REAGAN: Well, he makes it very easy. He makes it very easy for the people to take...
KING: The care giver?
M. REAGAN: The care giver.
KING: In other words, he's not a difficult patient?
M. REAGAN: No, he's not a difficult patient at all. And he's very, very grateful and very accepting and enjoys things, like a little giraffe pin...
KING: And your fingernails.
M. REAGAN: ... or bright red fingernails.
KING: You're going to go see him this weekend?
M. REAGAN: Yes, I was there today, and I'll be there on Sunday.
KING: And he'll react to that?
M. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Yes, he will. He thinks they're funny.
KING: When we come back, Nancy will join us by phone.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TRIBUTE TO NANCY, AUGUST 15, 1988)
REAGAN: I've been thinking for several days about what exactly I wanted to say today, how to put Nancy's role in my life in perspective for you. But what do you say about someone who gives your life meaning? What do you say about someone who's always there with support and understanding? Someone who makes sacrifices so that your life will be easier and more successful? Well, what you say is that you love that person and treasure her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TRIBUTE TO NANCY, AUGUST 15, 1988)
REAGAN: I think it's all too common in marriages that no matter how much partners love each other, they don't thank each other enough. And I suppose I don't thank Nancy enough for all that she does for me. So, Nancy, in front of all of your friends here today, let me say thank you for all you do. Thank you for your love, and thank you for just being you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Nancy Reagan joins us by phone from her home in -- here in Los Angeles.
Nancy, is it hard to look at the president as you see him then and then as he is now?
NANCY REAGAN, WIFE OF RONALD REAGAN: Well, when I -- when I looked at that piece of film that you ran, I got so teary. My word, Larry. I -- I wanted to start by thanking you for having this show on and for Ronnie's birthday. I can't believe that he's 89 years old. I cannot believe it. I can't believe that a month from today we'll be married 48 years, which doesn't seem possible either.
KING: We haven't had a chance to see him. Does he look 89?
N. REAGAN: No, he doesn't. No, he doesn't. I said to somebody the other day, you have to really look for a gray hair. And the person said, you mean all those stories were not true? You know, they kept saying he dyed his hair. And I said, no, they were not true. And he doesn't. He doesn't look 89. I cannot believe he's going to be 89.
KING: There were all of those reports about a year ago when a doctor spoke out that he was deteriorating. Was that just in the area of memory or did it involve any physical health, too?
N. REAGAN: I don't know what -- I don't know what doctor you're talking about. Hey, I think we should talk about more cheery things, about the wonderful times and years in the White House and what we did. And they were great years, and I remember them -- oh, look at those tapes that you're showing now -- I mean, gosh.
KING: Well, frankly, though, how is he doing? There was an interview you gave recently in which you talked how tough it was. And Maureen wrote -- what did you think of Maureen's writing in "Newsweek."
N. REAGAN: I thought it was wonderful. I thought that whole piece that "Newsweek" did was good, very good. You know, when he -- when Ronnie wrote the letter that he did, as Maureen has said, too, he made it all right for people to talk about Alzheimer's. Up until that time, they were self-conscious or they were embarrassed, and they never -- they never talked about it. He made it all right. They didn't recognize that it's a disease, like any other disease, and there's nothing to be embarrassed about or self-conscious about.
KING: And also, in the tragedy, it may lead to a faster cure, don't you think?
N. REAGAN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And he will be a large part of that. And that's nice.
KING: How is he doing?
N. REAGAN: He's doing as well as can be expected. It's a progressive disease, so you don't get better, you know.
KING: How is Nancy doing?
N. REAGAN: Nancy is hanging in there, I guess.
KING: Al, right. It's not easy for the care giver, right, Maureen?
M. REAGAN: It's hardest for the care giver. In fact, in the Alzheimer's community, we sometimes lose care givers before we lose patients. So we are very cognizant of the fact that they need rest and respite care.
KING: We're going to spend some more moments with Nancy on the phone then continue with the rest of our panel.
Stay with us, Nancy. We want to talk about your license plate and your coming congressional medal. You're getting -- you're going to be given the Congressional Gold Medal to you and your husband. What do you think of that, by the way?
N. REAGAN: Isn't that great? Isn't that great. What a wonderful birthday present for Ronnie.
KING: What a great idea. The license plate is, too.
N. REAGAN: Yes.
KING: We'll be back. And as we go to break, a message from President Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary, Chelsea and I are very happy to join all Americans in wishing Ronald Reagan a happy 89th birthday. Mr. President, your optimism, patriotism and determination has served as an inspiration to all Americans, including me. Today, we honor more than another year in your rich and wonderful life, we honor an idea that was at the heart of your leadership, that America's best days are always ahead of us. With your quiet courage, you continue to remind us of that fundamental truth.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, much has been given us and much will rightfully be expected from us. President Reagan in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, you have given much to us. And for a that, all Americans owe you our deepest gratitude.
Mr. President, Hillary and I wish you and Nancy all the best on this very special day. Happy birthday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ronald Reagan will be 89 this Sunday, and our guests are his daughter Maureen Reagan, James Baker, the former secretary of state in the Bush administration, former Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff in the Reagan administration. He is, by the way, honorary chairman of the Institute for Public Policy in his name, the James A. Baker Institute at Rice, former Senator Howard Baker, the former White House chief of staff and the former Senate majority leader. He's in Las Vegas. And in Washington, Michael Deaver, former White House deputy chief of staff, and Marlin Fitzwater, former White House press secretary, and all friends of Nancy.
All right, Nancy, we're showing this on the screen now. I know you're at home now.
N. REAGAN: Yes.
KING: But this is the Ronald Reagan license plate. Apparently, in a few months, California is going to institute this, and you can -- the public can ride around with it as an official plate. Maureen has ordered hers.
N. REAGAN: Absolutely. We have ordered ours. Isn't it great?
KING: What do you make of this? Were you surprised at this?
N. REAGAN: Yes, I was, I was. But it's wonderful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll never get a ticket.
KING: When you're driving around, you can't get angry at a guy in a car, right?
N. REAGAN: That's right.
KING: You can't beep the horn at this and get mad.
M. REAGAN: Well, this took quite a bit of work with the state legislature, because we have these kinds of plates that are for particular causes, and so there was quite a brouhaha in Sacramento about that.
KING: People against it?
M. REAGAN: Well, not necessarily against it, but thought we were getting too many of them. But the recipient of the largess from this is the Reagan Library, so we think it's very important.
KING: You know, while we have her on the phone, James Baker, is there anything you want to say or ask of Nancy? You know, we talk a lot about Ronald Reagan. You can't talk about Ronald Reagan without mentioning Nancy Reagan, and she is the care giver.
J. BAKER: Nancy, all I would want to say to you is what I told you on our last telephone call. I am extremely proud of the opportunity that I had to work for President Reagan. I miss him a lot. I miss you a lot. And I wish you all the best.
N. REAGAN: Thank you, Jim. That's very nice. That's very nice.
KING: I know Michael Deaver, you're a long-time friend of Nancy's.
DEAVER: Well, you know, I always say about Nancy, if Ronald Reagan had owned a shoe store, Nancy would be pushing shoes.
N. REAGAN: True.
KING: By the way, Nancy, did you know they were doing chocolates and that Maureen was also doing cookies, feeding him cookies? Did you know that?
N. REAGAN: Yes, of course I did.
N. REAGAN: And you know, now, of course, he doesn't want sweets, doesn't like sweets at all. But there was a period there where he -- his weight really shot up, and we had to watch it, but that's not true now. He doesn't want...
DEAVER: Remember that drawer in the California Room, that little glass room where he'd have lunch?
N. REAGAN: Yes.
DEAVER: He had a drawer, and everybody thought there were jelly beans in there. Do you remember what was in there? Peanut brittle, white peanut brittle. He loved it.
KING: He lost his taste for sweets, Nancy.
N. REAGAN: Yes, he has. He just doesn't want it.
KING: Are there other radical changes in appetite or diet? N. REAGAN: No.
KING: Just sweets?
N. REAGAN: He just doesn't like sweets anymore. He doesn't have a huge appetite, but then neither do I, so.
KING: No, no -- Nancy -- stiff when Nancy's in Kansas.
KING: I have dined with Nancy many times. The bird comes in and eats more.
M. REAGAN: I am so glad you said that.
KING: She eats like a bird. Her pill box is more than a meal.
KING: Howard Baker, anything you want to say to the first lady?
H. BAKER: Nancy, I am proud of you. I have always been proud of you, but never more than now. You've got a big job, but you're handling it with style and grace, and we're all happy you're there, and we wish we could be more helpful. But congratulations.
N. REAGAN: Thank you, Howard. Thank you.
KING: Is there anything people can do, Nancy?
N. REAGAN: Not really. But I tell you, you were talking about Ronnie's influence and so on. The mail that comes to us from all over, even Europe -- and all ages -- you were talking earlier about when Ronnie was president a lot of these people would only be 15 or younger, but we get mail from people, who yes, were 15 when he was president, and that means a lot. The mail really means a lot. And we get an awful lot of it.
KING: Nancy, when you see a campaign going on now, like now, do you miss the political end of things?
N. REAGAN: Not as it is now.
KING: No? You do not miss campaigning? You don't miss New Hampshire?
N. REAGAN: No, not as it is now. It was so different when we campaigned, as Mike and Howard and everybody will tell you. It was completely different.
KING: Is it worse now, in your opinion?
N. REAGAN: Oh, I think so. KING: Marlin, anything you want to say to Nancy?
FITZWATER: Well, I always wanted to tell her that, in my memoir, I wrote a brief section about the intimacy between her and the president as we waited for Gorbachev to arrive at the White House in his first visit to the United States, and I get more mail about that description than any other section of the book.
KING: No one ever denied they were not -- they were certainly an intimate couple.
N. REAGAN: For 48 years.
KING: And are an intimate couple. And finally, before Nancy leaves us, Merv Griffin...
KING: ... old friend of Nancy's. Anything you want to say to her publicly?
GRIFFIN: Well, Nancy knows how I feel. I feel for her every day. I know what she's going through. She's a very active woman, too, and as caretaker, she is, in a sense, confined. And it has to be the most difficult position to be in in life, but she never complains, never have I heard her complain. But...
KING: Yes, right.
GRIFFIN: But we will have lunch because we're both July 6 babies. We know what each other is thinking.
KING: I know. Finish each other's sentences.
GRIFFIN: We finish each other's sentences, right. But there will ever never be another couple like them. I still look at these pictures that you're playing while we're talking, and it's just -- it's marvelous to see. He'll never be out of our lives, ever, and neither will Nancy.
KING: Nancy, do you talk to other care givers?
N. REAGAN: Do I?
KING: Yes, do people write to you who are in the same position as you?
N. REAGAN: Oh yes. Oh yes, many, many people who are care givers. You know, the care giver group is quite large.
KING: Yes. What have we learned? Have we learned a lot? Or is it just day to day?
N. REAGAN: What do you mean?
KING: I mean, have we learned enough about this disease to know certain things we didn't know five years ago?
N. REAGAN: Oh, I think so, yes. You certainly learn -- you learn every day. And as we said before, I'm sure that in time, not in time for us, but in time, they're going to find a cure. I wish -- you know, I wish they'd found it sooner, but they'll find a cure. And they learn every day, every day.
KING: Nancy, thanks so much for joining us.
N. REAGAN: Thank you, and thank you, Larry, again. And thank you everybody for being on the show and love to you all.
M. REAGAN: Bye.
N. REAGAN: Bye.
N. REAGAN: Goodbye.
KING: She's some mother, huh? She's not your natural mother.
M. REAGAN: No.
KING: She's not your birth mother. You were very close to your birth mother, right?
M. REAGAN: Yes, absolutely.
KING: Pretty good stepmother, huh?
M. REAGAN: Pretty good, yes.
KING: You always were close, weren't you?
M. REAGAN: Well, we had our ups and downs.
KING: Now never closer, right?
M. REAGAN: Absolutely. I have a great deal of pride and respect for what Nancy is doing, and she is a role model for a lot of care givers, and they talk to me, people come up to me in supermarkets, on airplanes, walking down the street, Larry, you know, want me to know that they have a family member or a close friend that has been through this or is going through this, and they just want us all to know that we're all family.
KING: We'll take a break. And when we come back, I am going to ask the Bakers and, Mr. Deaver and Mr. Fitzwater whether they think, as Nancy does, that politics is worse now than when Reagan ran, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ron, with great respect, Betty and I join your countless friends around the world, wishing you the very, very best on your 89th birthday. This is another milestone in a tremendous career in public service, and we wish you the very, very best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 20, 1985)
REAGAN: He may change the physical location of the desks, he may not be as close at hand as he's been, but there's one thing that won't change at all, and that is a friendship that's been built on almost 20 years, a very close association. And if it's true that the guy that holds this job is the most powerful man in the world, then I got news for you, Mike: I ain't letting go. Friends we'll remain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Ronald Reagan talking about Michael Deaver.
Politics worse now? You agree with Nancy, Michael?
DEAVER: I think so. And I think part of it is because it -- I think it was not like it was when we were there, and a lot of that had to do with Reagan the person. I mean, here was a guy, as I said before, who was so firm in his beliefs. And I know a lot of partisans wouldn't believe this, but the last thing you wanted to do with Reagan was to go into the Oval Office and try to argue for him to change a position because it was the politically correct thing to do. He simply wouldn't listen to you. And so that makes a difference, when you've got the person at the top who is setting the standard, then politics are going to be different.
KING: And he also, James Baker, as we know personally from Tip O'Neill and others, didn't hate his opponents, did he?
J. BAKER: No, Ronald Reagan didn't hate anybody, as best I could tell, Larry. And I think, you know, we said this at a birthday celebration a year or so ago, he had an uncanny ability for making people feel good, and he could referee the most divisive battles between his cabinet secretaries or his cabinet officers and his White House staff, and everybody would come out of a debate and the discussion after he had ruled feeling good. He could rule in a way nobody felt they'd really been put down.
Let me say a word about that clip you just showed of the president talking about Mike Deaver. I always thought as the outsider when I came in because I had, after all, run campaigns for President Ford in 1976 against Governor Reagan and for president, for George Bush in 1980, but I got to be reasonably close to President Reagan, so close that I used to tell people that I could go into the bedroom. But when something really tough had to be decided, I'd say, no, the only person I know who can go into the bathroom with the president is Mike Deaver. So if you really want to get an answer on a tough issue, he's the guy to go to.
J. BAKER: that was the way that relationship worked.
DEAVER: I guess that's a complement.
J. BAKER: It is. It is.
KING: And, Marlin, is politics worse now, do you think, the whole political sphere?
FITZWATER: I think a lot of aspects of it are -- the politics of personal destruction. Some of the techniques and the tactics we've seen in recent years have been truly unpleasant. Although I must say that it looks this presidential campaign I think has been pretty civil. So maybe people are trying to make an effort to change.
KING: Howard Baker, what do you think?
H. BAKER: Well, I think President Reagan had a distinctly civilizing effect on politics, and I think that carries over. There are some things that are really much worse in my view -- the negative ads, and 30- and 60-second commercials sometimes are a little short of disgraceful. But politics has always been tough, and you know, it's combative. And American politics has never been an easy job. I ran against Ronald Reagan in the primaries in 1980, and I can tell you firsthand, he was very civil, but he was also very tough.
KING: When we go to break, now a man whose career was made by the president. He has become one of the more popular Americans ever: a word from General Colin Powell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL COLIN POWELL: Happy birthday, Mr. President. And to you, Nancy, Alma and I send you all of our love, and our affection and our very, very best wishes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 9, 1993)
REAGAN: You know, I know I shouldn't say this, but I have a confession to make. I just might have had an ulterior motive for inviting Colin Powell up here today to my presidential library.
REAGAN: You see, I am hoping that perhaps one day, he'll return the favor and invite me to his.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 5, 1998) REAGAN: Well, as Jim Baker would say, it's finally a done deal I say so long but not goodbye to a friend today. I have accepted with regret the resignation of James A. Baker III, the secretary of the Treasury, and I am announcing that I intend to nominate in his place Nicholas F. Brady.
The changes we've brought about in America have required the dedication and hard work of a massive team of people. But Jim Baker has helped lead the charge since he strode into my campaign in his cowboy boots in the summer of 1980. He's taken his licks and earned his stripes. And, Jim, if there ever was a Reaganite, you're it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Was that a sad day, Jim?
J. BAKER: Well, it was a sad day, but not as sad, really, Larry, because -- not as sad as the day that President and Mrs. Reagan got on the helicopter and flew off -- flew from Washington to California the day that George Bush was inaugurated president.
Of course, I was leaving to go run the Bush campaign for president. George Bush was my friend of 35 or 40 years and, of course, still is my close friend, so it wasn't sad from that standpoint. But I never will forget standing on those Capitol steps having just been named secretary of state of the United States and crying my eyes out watching Nancy and President Reagan get on that helicopter to leave Washington, because we had spent eight years together, and those were eight wonderful years for me.
KING: We're going to take one more quick break and then get a personal story from Maureen and one from Merv and then quick goodbyes from the rest of our panel.
Ronald Reagan will be 89 Sunday.
We'll be right back.
KING: Maureen just told me every animal the Reagans ever had is buried up at that ranch, and Ronald Reagan did the burial, right?
M. REAGAN: Yes, and he carved all the tombstones, yes.
KING: You have a story about looking through pictures.
M. REAGAN: We were looking at pictures, talking about pictures, we were looking at pictures in the office one day -- this was a few years back, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's -- and he knew what the pictures were, but in some places he had a little trouble saying it. And we got to this one, and he looked at it and he looked at it. And I said, you're right, Dad. That was your last State of the Union address. And you threw those thousand pieces of papers down there, and you told that Congress, don't you do that again. And he burst out laughing and started clapping and said, yes, that's it. KING: You have a national anthem story?
GRIFFIN: Early on, I went back to visit them on a Saturday afternoon, which was quiet in the White House. He kept wonderful hours, and he ran it like the great corporation America is. And so they decided to take me on a tour of the private quarters. Suddenly, we were in the workout room. And Nancy was flying up and down on some machine, he was on the treadmill, and they were all going. And I thought, what a nothing person I am -- to be able to do what they do.
And then we went outside, and we were walking by a picture on the wall, and it was the sheet music of the national anthem. And I looked at it. I said, wow. And the president stopped, what is that, Merv? I said, well that's the -- oh, he said. Oh, the national anthem, sure. And I said, but we've been singing it wrong. He said, what? I said, look, the orchestra goes -- and we go, O say, can you see. He said, we don't sing, O say -- I said, no, that's -- the orchestra plays that. He said, well, for heaven's sake, don't tell that to anybody.
You see all the ball games in America getting loused up.
KING: Howard, what are you going to -- what do you miss the most?
H. BAKER: I miss the feeling and the atmosphere of Ronald Reagan's time. And this is still his time in so many ways. Somebody said a minute ago he was great -- I guess it was Mike Deaver -- he was great because he knew who he was. And I think that's as close to defining the dimension of his presidency and the greatness of it as anything. And I absolutely agree with that.
KING: Marlin, what do you miss the most?
FITZWATER: I think the camaraderie, just the intimacy of being able to talk to him and just feel that confidence and the goodness that he always gave you.
DEAVER: Oh, I miss everything, not the least of which was his humor. And I'm thinking tonight about when he was running for president and people said he was too old. And he always said, well, you know, I know more about being young than I do about being old. And I thought it was a great line.
KING: Great line.
Howard, what do you miss the most?
I'm sorry Jim -- we asked Howard that.
J. BAKER: I'm like Mike Deaver, Larry. I miss everything. And I really just frankly miss the opportunity to see him and talk to him and be around him and be around that eternal optimism and confidence. It's -- it's just sad to me not to have the opportunity to see the man the way I knew him.
KING: And, Merv, you miss a friend?
GRIFFIN: I miss a friend, and I miss the strength of his leadership, that he was so positive. He knew where to go with the country and the people -- not by polls, not doing it for the Washington press. He did it for the people.
KING: Now we talked about missing -- you saw him today?
M. REAGAN: Yes, I saw him today.
KING: What do you miss? Something's not there. What do you miss?
M. REAGAN: I miss the humor. I miss just being able to talk to him and to share jokes and stories.
KING: There's no joke-telling anymore?
M. REAGAN: No, no. I do. I miss him terribly, yes. But he's still there, and he's just as neat as ever. You know, in his farewell address -- you and I talked that night. His farewell address, he said, we came here to change the country, and we changed the world -- not bad.
KING: You think he knows what he has?
M. REAGAN: Well, he -- I think he knew what he had...
KING: When he wrote that letter, certainly.
M. REAGAN: ... when he wrote the letter, yes. That's what we don't know, is we don't know how much is being retained by an Alzheimer's patient. And so we have to be very careful when we deal with them that we interact, because we don't know what they're retaining.
KING: Thank you all.
GRIFFIN: One more thing, Larry, can I say? I've never said this before, but at the same time he wrote the letter to America, he also wrote a number us. And he told us what we individually had meant to he and Nancy in their lives.
KING: I didn't know that.
GRIFFIN: I've never shown it to anybody.
KING: Thank you all very much.
Ronald Reagan will be 89 on Sunday.
"CNN NEWSSTAND" is next. Good night.
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