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Ronald Reagan Remembered

Aired June 5, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: We've got a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE tonight on the passing of Ronald Reagan.

RONALD REAGAN, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good bye. God bless you. And god bless the United States of America.


KING: The 40th president of the United States died today at the age of 93 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. For the next hour, we'll remember this unique, unforgettable American and the history he made with some very special guests, and in his own words and those of the former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the woman he loved so much.

Joining us is Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes," a close friend to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Bob Dole, former Senator and former presidential candidate, Ambassador Howard Baker, he too served as Reagan's chief of staff, he's now ambassador to Japan. He's with us from Tokyo. Back here in New York, legendary news man, Walter Cronkite. Plus, syndicated columnist George Will and Hugh Sidey of "TIME" magazine. And joining us on the phone, Ronald Reagan's close adviser, former Senator Paul Laxalt.

Remembering Ronald Reagan next on a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Let's begin this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. And by the way, we'll be in New York the next 3 nights discussing this. And then in Los Angeles next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as pick up on it. And of course at 10:00 the special memorial service that will take place at the Ronald Reagan Museum, the burial site of the 40th president at Simi Valley, California.

Mike Wallace, I know you spoke with Nancy today. Tell us about that.

MIKE WALLACE, 60 MINUTES: Well, I was watching CNN this morning and there something about Ronald Reagan deteriorating. But I've been hearing this kind of story for the last couple of three months, anyway. And so I figured is it true? So I called Nancy who -- she's a friend of yours, she's also a friend of mine. She said, well, actually Mike, the kids are here, Patty's here, Ron is here -- so I figured something was going on. She said that Michael had been there the day before in Bel Air.

And -- but I didn't want to push it excessively, obviously. And about -- we had a little conversation, and about a half hour later, I called her back. And I said listen, tell me something, how is it conceivable that this is going to happen this weekend? And she said, yes, I think it is, Mike.

And I had no idea. She hadn't mentioned. I mean, it seemed so abrupt. Apparently he had pneumonia. And as she's told you within the last month or so, I believe, he's really been more out of it than ever.

KING: Yes.

WALLACE: In recent weeks.

KING: I was with you just a couple of weeks ago.

WALLACE: I know.

KING: When she came out in favor of stem cell research.


KING: And all facets of stem cell research when she was honored by the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

WALLACE: Correct.

KING: Do you think, Mike, in a way this is -- he's been so long out of the scene that the public has kind of a yesterday?

WALLACE: Looked at him as a yesterday?

KING: Yes.



WALLACE: Or you could -- I don't know whether you got a chance, because you were flying in today, to watch television. But to all -- when you see Ronald Reagan in action...

KING: Oh, boy.

WALLACE: ...and when you see "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall." When you -- there's so many things that you see. After he was shot, and he's up there at the window of the hospital with Nancy and the two of them talking to the reporters down below. There's a quality about that man. And you know it.

KING: I meant, by being 10 years out of the limelight, not hearing him speak in 10 years, you know, people would refer to him sometimes and say, a was. You know, that he had been out of the picture so long and yet today, vividly, he comes back. WALLACE: Yes, he comes back. And he was a man we all admired. No matter what our politics, we all admired him so much. We all had such a feeling for Ronald Reagan.

KING; What was that, Walter, about him, that it didn't matter your political thought? What part of America did he capture?

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS: You know, absolutely. You know, it started way back, before he got into politics, see, always was the American boy. And he carried that right on through to the days he had to retire out in California with the Alzheimer's creeping up on him.

He was the -- he just seemed to represent the good things in life, sort of thing. You know there was a lot of criticism, of course, about his policies. But you've got to think of one thing about that, that he was one of the 2 presidents in this century at any rate, well of the last century, the last 50, 60 years at least, that actually lived up to his campaign promises.

His promise was to get rid of Rooseveltian, to get rid of the fair deal, the new deal and get back to Republican principles, conservative principles. And he lived up to that. He turned the history books upside down. The years of Roosevelt were forgotten. And the years of Reagan and the new Republicanism took hold.

And all the time, there was a great sense of humor with the guy. He was a wonderful companion.

KING: Bob Dole, to you, what will he be remembered for most?

BOB DOLE, FRM. SENATOR: The fact that he was a good, decent man who understood the rich and poor alike. He always had that twinkle in his eye, he always had a story to tell. He never looked down on anyone. I never heard him say an unkind word in even private meetings about anybody on the other side of the aisle. He didn't win them all in Congress, but he tried to win them all.

KING: George Will, was optimism one of the main things we think of when we think of Ronald Reagan?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Absolutely, you know, he's one of the 2 presidents in my lifetime who left office more powerful and popular when he went in, the other was Dwight Eisenhower. And of Eisenhower, it used be said dismissively and disdainfully by the intellectuals of our country, his smile was his political philosophy.

Well, there's a sense in which that was Reagan's political philosophy, because he believed that when the American people are cheerful, happy and optimistic they stay in school, they save, they work, they invest, they get married, they have children and good things happen.

And he thought, coming at the end of the 17 year period that began, Larry, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, went through a losing war in Vietnam, Watergate, the resignation of a president, the oil shocks and ultimately the Iranian hostage crisis that really ushered in the Reagan presidency. At the end of that 17 year period, he said the American people need cheered up. The American people need to feel good, because when they feel good -- you know, someone once said, a British diplomat said of our country, there's -- it's like a boiler, there's no telling the energy it can unleash when you light a fire under it. He lit the fire.

KING: And you, Sidey, it was a real fire, was it not? This was not platitudes and PR, he had that sense throughout him, right?

HUGH SIDEY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well that's right. A matter of fact, Larry, you can always debate whether a president is yielded up by the country, their emotion, or whether he shapes the time he's in. I think there was a little of both. I traveled the country a good deal, as I think all these other gentleman did, and the fact was, the country was just sick of intrusion, of government, the cost of it, the regulation, everything. Reagan sensed that, he articulated it, and he came on and he was the real thing.

And I tell you, it's kind of over looked sometimes, but when he walked out and fired the air controllers, everybody knew it was here to stay.

KING: Senator Baker, what was he like to work for?

AMB. HOWARD BAKER, FRM. REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: What would I like work for?

KING: What was he like to work for?

BAKER: I don't -- I never though about that, Mike -- and Larry, the principle impression I have of Ronald Reagan was that he was real, he was a real person. He was an actor, that's true, but he was genuine. When you talked to Ronald Reagan, or when you're around Ronald Reagan you had the distinct impression that there was real substance there and that he wasn't, he wasn't playing a part, he was Ronald Reagan. And I think that was a great strength, and I think people understood that.

KING: As we go to break, the body lies at a funeral home in Santa Monica, California. It will be eventually transported to Washington and then returned to California, where he will be buried at the site of his -- Ronald Reagan Museum in Simi Valley. And we'll be right back.


R. REAGAN: 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. Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look.




R. REAGAN: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice President to, be this convention, my fellow citizens of this great nation. With a deep awareness of the responsibilities incurred by your trust, I accept your nomination for the President of the United States.


KING: Mike Wallace, you knew Nancy before Nancy knew Ronald.


KING: You go back that far with them.

WALLACE: Well, I knew Nancy's mother, you see. She and I worked in Chicago back in the forties, as a matter of fact. Right after the war. She came to town as an actress and met a new neurological surgeon by the name of Loyal Davis and that was it, they just stayed there and Nancy and I became friends back then.

KING: Do you remember when Nancy met Ron?

WALLACE: I don't really. She didn't tell me about it. The-- any(ph) Davis was utterly, utterly unlike Nancy. Her mother, I mean, Nancy would do (UNINTELLIGIBLE) collar and the pearls and the white gloves and all of that stuff. Her mother was, how do you say, earthy?

KING: Earthy?

WALLACE: Oh yes. Yes. And a funny, funny lady, and they adored each other. But Nancy and she were utterly unlike as individuals.

KING: Do you have a personal remembrance, Walter, about Ronald Reagan when he first got into politics.

CRONKITE: Well, we've got to mention that maybe that's where the son-in-law got his feeling for jokes that were slightly off-color.

WALLACE: He did have that.

CRONKITE: He loved them. He loved them. And the best thing you could do with him if you wanted to really get close to Ron was to tell him a few jokes that he hadn't heard and he would trade you joke for joke. There's a wonderful picture I've got on my wall at home of the two of us doubling over with laughter. It was an occasion when just after he had become President, actually, and I was stepping down from the evening news that very same year that he became the President and he gave me the first interview he gave to anybody as a kind of a farewell present. It was a useless interview, he had only been in office two or three months and as a consequence he didn't have anything to talk about. I don't think we even got on the air with the actual interview, but afterwards he asked me to come back into his private office, the little office off the Oval Office that was made famous by a later president, of course, and he had his whole cabinet there and they had a cake and champagne and we stood there telling jokes for literally--actually two hours. One joke after another and I've got a wonderful picture of the two of us doubled over with laughter and as long as we saw each other after that, we still argued about who told the joke that brought us to our knees, almost.

KING: Bob Dole, do you think his greatness surprised people, because they used to make fun of the actor thing and the lack of substance. Do you think the fact that he emerged so great was a surprise?

DOLE: I think you could say that Reagan always knew what time it was. He couldn't tell you how the watch was made but he had this star quality. When he walked in the room it just lighted up and he never lost that. I can remember him pleading with Senator Steve Simms in my office when they were trying to overturn a veto and he wasn't able to persuade Steve Simpson, but the guy was almost on his knees. He was up in my office in the Capitol pleading with Senator Simms, "you know you've got to veto this bill, it costs too much money." He didn't succeed but that was Ronald Reagan at his best. We told him it wouldn't do any good, but he said, "Let me try anyway." And he just had that nice quality. George Will said it best. There were two outstanding presidents in my view, in the last--well a lot of us (UNINTELLIGIBLE) outstanding president. Two had that smile and that quality that could talk to anybody, on the street corner, in a penthouse, in a bank, in a homeless shelter and the people would feel good about it.

KING: George Will, was he a great president?

WILL: He absolutely was a great president. And you asked Bob Dole if he was surprised. I was surprised, certainly, at how great Ronald Reagan turned out to be. I have, Larry, in my office a letter that I received from Ronald Reagan when I was a 26 year old graduate student in 1967 at Princeton University. I had written to him saying, "Please run for President. He had been governor of California for one year and he deflected it, saying, "It's nice of you to say, but I have plenty on my plate here in California." It's a good thing he didn't win when he did indeed run in 1968. It's a good thing, actually, Larry, probably that he lost that squeaker of a race for the nomination in 1976 against incumbent President Gerry Ford. Reagan was really ready in 1980 and the country, having gone through the difficult years of the 80s wad ready for him. Was he a great president? Certainly, because he ended the most dangerous conflict this country has ever been in, the Cold War with the nuclear-armed adversary. And, again, he did not say, as others had said during the 70s and 80s, during the era of detente, they said, in the 70s, they said, "Let's manage the Cold War." Ronald Reagan said, "Let's win it." And he did.

WALLACE: You know something, Larry? The talk about the 1976 convention in which Gerald Ford was nominated.

KING: I remember it well.

WALLACE: I was covering Reagan at the time. I was up in the stands with him and Nancy and so forth. And all of a sudden, the crowd asked him to come down and address the convention in Kansas City. And I was listening to Cronkite at the time. I was working for him. And -- and all of a sudden, the man shows up. No notes, nothing. And he -- it was the most interesting, most inspiring political speech I had ever heard until that time. He had everybody at that convention hall. That was the shining city on the hill speech that you may remember. He simply had this glorious capacity.

DOLE: That was a great moment, Mike. I happened to be there...

KING: Bob Dole is saying something -- yeah.

DOLE: Yeah, I said that was a great moment. I was Ford's running mate, and it was a little tense at the time, because it had a very spirited contest, but he did -- he got a great ovation from the people. I mean, they were all standing up, and many were sobbing, and tears in their eyes. And it was just one of his greater moments.

KING: How he changed the world in a minute, when we'll talk with Hugh Sidey and Ambassador Howard Baker. And our panel will continue right after this.


R. REAGAN: Today I say as long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!


Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!




R. REAGAN: I didn't know I was shot. I heard a noise, and we came out of the hotel and sped into the limousine. And I heard some noise and I thought it was firecrackers. And the next thing I knew, one of the Secret Service agents behind me just seized me here by the waist, and plunged me head first into the limo. I landed on the seat. And the seat divider was down. And then he dived into on top of me, which is part of their procedure, to make sure that I'm covered.

KING: Did you ever think you might die?

R. REAGAN: No, although I didn't just leave it to chance. I talked to my friend upstairs about that.


KING: Hugh Sidey, was he a difficult person to cover journalistically, or easy? SIDEY: Well, not for me, Larry. I had a good time. I could call him, and had, and did frequently, and got the scene. You see, going back to your other question about did you see it coming, I'm one of those who I think I did see it coming, because I was a kid in the Depression in Iowa, 60 miles from Des Moines, and I listened to Ronald Reagan, the sportscaster, with some regularity. And everything went wrong out there, as you know. There was drought and dust storms, Depression, grasshoppers. And I'd come home from the old sweaty print shop and turn on the radio, and Ronald Reagan was happy. He was just having a great time. He loved baseball and Big 10 football. He even covered swimming, for heaven's sakes. And wrestling. And he used to referee the junior league games, or the American Legion games. And he liked it all. And I must say, I had some questions back there, who is this guy? Who's happy.

I want to tell you, 50 years later, I walked into the Oval Office, there he is. He's the only happy man in Washington. Still got it.

KING: Senator Baker, how did he get -- why did he get along so well with political opponents?

BAKER: Well, I think because Ronald Reagan was Ronald Reagan. And he did, as Hugh Sidey points out, as I guess Walter Cronkite did, he had a great -- he had a great talent for humor. And I recall that when I was his chief of staff, I had a 9:00 o'clock meeting every day with him in the Oval Office, just the two of us, and almost every morning he'd start the meeting with a little funny story, and it took me a day or two to realize that when he looked at me with that quizzical look, he expected me to have a funny little story. And my great fear was I was going to run out of funny little stories before he did, but it came out about even. And that warmth, that humor, not only stood him in good stead, but everyone around him understood him better by reason of the fact that he didn't take himself too seriously. He was a serious person, but he also had the personal perspective that made him an attractive person.

KING: Senator Dole has to leave us, but Bob, I know you're a man who appreciates sense of humor. He had it in spades, didn't he?

DOLE: Oh, he had it. I mean, he'd even make fun of himself, which really ingratiates him into the, you know, to the people. I mean, they -- it's easy to poke fun at somebody else, but when you do it to yourself, as he did, and so skillfully -- he had the best delivery. He and President Kennedy probably had the best delivery, the best timing. They didn't need writers; particularly Reagan didn't need writers. And just -- just -- people would just stand up and applaud and had a lot of fun. And the jelly beans, you know, everything that he did. But he was a very serious man too. As Howard Baker probably knows as well as anyone, and Mike Wallace, people who have worked him, Paul Laxalt, who will be on tomorrow night. But even though sometimes we didn't agree, we respected President Reagan. I mean, I was the Republican leader, and Howard Baker was a Republican leader for a while, but just a great guy and did a lot for this country. KING: Thank you, Bob, thanks for sharing time with us. Senator Laxalt will be with us right after the break. He's with us on the phone. We'll come back with our complete panel. Don't go away.


KING: Do you, with all the changes that have occurred in this decade, especially the last year, this incredible year, do you feel a personal sense of accomplishment?

R. REAGAN: Well, I think that, perhaps, I had something to do with, because I believe, number one, that in seeking peace with the Soviet Union, it could only be done through strength, not just through words or pleading. And I also believed in the necessity of being frank about how I looked at them and their expansionism and so forth and the things that they were doing and had done here in our own country. And that's why I used some terms like, called them the evil empire, and things of that kind.

KING: You think that all paid off?

R. REAGAN: I think it did, yes.




R. REAGAN: These past 40 years have not been an easy time for the West or for the world. You know the facts, there is no need to recite the historical record. Suffice it to say that the United States cannot afford illusions about the nature of the nature of the USSR. We cannot assume that their ideology and purpose will change. This implies enduring competition. Our task is to assure that this competition remains peaceful.

We met as we had to meet. I called for a fresh start and we made that start. I can't claim that we had a meeting of the minds on such fundamentals as ideology or national purpose, but we understand each other better and that's a key to peace. I gained a better perspective. I feel he did too.


KING: Former President Clinton joining the plaudits (ph) with words of praise issued from him by former President Gerald Ford. Reverend Billy Graham saying Ronald Reagan was one of my closest personal friends, had a religious faith deeper than most people knew. Colin Powell deeply saddened to learn of his death. He was privilege to serve, says Powell, as his national security adviser and proud to be a soldier during his presidency.

Joining our panel on the phone is Senator Paul Laxalt, former United States Senator and easily Reagan's closest friend in the Senate. How did that friendship develop between you and the president, Paul.

PAUL LAXALT, FRM. U.S. SENATOR (via telephone): Well, first of all, Larry, this has been a sad day, but I must say that considering the accolades that have been coming in from all over the world, it must be a source of great comfort to Nancy and the family.

Watching all the television today would make it appear that Ron Reagan's ascent from governorship of California to the presidency was a slam dunk. It wasn't anything of the king.

We were fellow governors out there, both campaigned for Goldwater and there were conversations during the time that he spoke for Goldwater that perhaps he ought to look at the presidency. I was dubious, until I came back to Washington. I thought before that all the big leaguers were here in Washington. But the longer was I in Washington, the better Ron Reagan looked.

The long and short of it was, that after an arduous nomination fight for 2 terms, he finally was nominated. The big question then whether or not the country was ready to receive his conservatism. Thanks to his communication efforts and strongly assisted by Nancy and a very, confident staff, he accomplished what I think is a remarkable record.

I'm proud to be a friend of his, Larry. And I just think that had it not been for his antecedence way back there in California, maybe this wouldn't have happened.

KING: What prepared him, Mike, for the presidency?

WALLACE: That's the question I keep asking myself. I had no -- I shouldn't say I had no idea -- but when you think about it, he was an actor, he was a...

KING: Union activist.

WALLACE: Union activist. He was a Democrat.

KING: Big -- gave the last big speech for Harry Truman in 1948.

WALLACE: Exactly. Walter, what did prepare him?

CRONKITE: What, what?

KING: What did prepare him?

WALLACE: What prepared Ronald Reagan?

CRONKITE: You know, I think that it was very important -- this mentioned a little while ago, but his sense of humor. I think that it takes that for an individual to be around an individual that can swallow the problems and come back and perhaps joke about them. However, he learned very early on, very quickly that that sense of humor had to be controlled in a political environment. I was there when he was doing his first original entry into politics, he was an advance man for Barry Goldwater, Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. And we were all out following Goldwaters' campaign in Southern California at that rather famous resort area called Knots Berry Farm. You know it very well, of course.

KING: Yes.

CRONKITE: Knots Berry Farm. And Goldwater was to make an appearance there and Reagan was warming up the audience, as it were, doing more than that, as when presidents -- for principled campaigners are at the campaign, they are notorably, notably, very, very late. And he was terribly late getting to Knots Berry Farm, Goldwater was. And here was Reagan filling in, making little jokes. I don't recall that he did a dance step, but if it was a moment that called for one, he would have tried.

At any rate, the press was -- we were right down in front, Hugh Sidey was probably there, and we were right down in the front row. And here was this young man we really hadn't seen talk about politics before making his jokes. And with that, Goldwater arrives, and the crowd goes crazy. That's kind of an old age place, apparently, an awful lot of elder citizens, at any rate, around.

And they had their banners, and they were waving them. And there were balloons and all this sort of thing. And I said -- now Reagan had just come down and joined us in the front row there, sat right next to me, and I said to the newsman to my right, Reagan was to my left, I said, you know, this isn't Knots Berry Farm, this is Berry's Nut Farm. And Reagan laughed very -- overheard me -- big laugh, big laugh. And then he cut that laugh short. And said, wait a minute that's not so damned funny.

WALLACE: You know, the strange thing, Larry, is these fellows sitting beside me and Sevareid and some of the other people at CBS News back in the early days, when he was being -- when Ronald Reagan was being talked about as president, there was great skepticism in our newsroom at CBS News. What in the dickens prepares -- why? Why Reagan for president? And a few of you looked at me like I was a hair in your soup, because I suggested that perhaps there was more there than...

KING: Meets the eye.

WALLACE: ... than you guys understood.

KING: George, how...

CRONKITE: We understood that you'd gone Republican all the way.

KING: George Will, how do you explain that relationship with Gorbachev?

WILL: Well, let me go back and start at that question with the one you've just been talking about. What made him ready to be president? It's fine to talk about his sense of humor, fine to talk about his acting skills. Larry, it was ideas. In 27 months, the current pope, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan came to office. Ronald Reagan took ideas seriously. It was in the 1970s that Pat Moynihan, a man who knew something about ideas in politics, said, "something momentous has happened in America. The Republican Party had become the party of ideas."

Barry Goldwater, and I'm probably the only one sitting here right now who voted for Barry, Barry Goldwater is not an intellectual, but he took ideas seriously, as did Ronald Reagan. So when he went nose to nose with Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan knew that not only do ideas have consequences, but only ideas have large and lasting consequences, that it was time to call the Soviet Union what it was, the evil empire. The noun was right, the adjective was right. It was time to speak the truth and say that our ideas are better and they are infectious. We can spread them. And that's what made Ronald Reagan a success.

If I could say one thing, we talked a moment earlier about Ronald Reagan as a reader. After he'd left office, I was reading one day in the bound gullies, the book was not yet -- David McCullough's fine biography of Harry Truman. And I was talking with Nancy Reagan one day and saying I was reading this in the bound gullies, and she said, "Ronnie had already read it."

Ronald Reagan was a constant reader. Constantly aware, however of the advantage that accrued to him by being underestimated, not least by the American intelligentsia. He was a reader, he took ideas seriously and he drove them to success.

SIDEY: Larry, he was a terribly intelligent man. You know, this is one of the great myths that because he didn't have SATs or he didn't go to the Ivy League or didn't get Rhodes scholar that somehow he -- and he went to Eureka College, that he didn't measure up. He didn't, in the traditional ways that we in the media measure it. But his sensitivity to what was around him -- this country was a street scene to him. He lived it. He absorbed it. He could remember it. No matter what you talked to him about, he had some sense of how it applied to the world that he grew up in. And if you read his college essays, they were far and away better than most that are produced today, and also a touch of poetry in his letters at that time. This young man...

KING: Great letter writer. Great letter -- I've got to get a break. We'll come right back, and I understand former Secretary of State James Baker will join us. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You already are the oldest president in history, and some of your staff say you were tired with your most recent encounter with Mr. -- Mr. Mondale. I recall yet that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?

R. REAGAN: Not at all, Mr. Prewitt (ph), and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine, eight, seven, six, we have main engine start. Four, three, two, one, and liftoff. Liftoff of the 25th space shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower.


R. REAGAN: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us for the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye. And slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.


KING: That was some moment. Senator Baker, how further do you explain that he and Gorbachev got along so well? In addition to ideas, as George Will said, Nancy told me many times they really got along.

BAKER: I saw that, up close, and they did in fact get along. But I am convinced the reason he and Gorbachev got along was because Gorbachev knew that he was a serious man, and that he meant what he said, and that he should be taken seriously. I think without that quality the Cold War never would have ended. Reagan is sometimes criticized for using the term "the axis of evil" and the like, but the truth of the matter is, he spoke the truth, and Russians understood that. And it brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union and its replacement by the Russian Federation.

You know, Ronald Reagan will be remembered for many things, but he will be remember in history, in my view, as the man who more than anyone else, brought about the end of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Russian empire.

KING: Well said. Wouldn't you have bet, Mike, that a strong conservative would have been least likely to end the Cold War?

WALLACE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I cannot prove what I'm about to say, but I believe that Nancy Reagan had -- she believed in history. She wanted very much to see this happen. And she kept after and kept after that, all the way.

KING: That's a very true -- I've gotten very close to Nancy over the last few years. Saw quite a bit of her. She's a great lady. It's an honor to be in her presence, and on behalf of everyone here at CNN, we extend our best to you, Nancy. Look forward to seeing you soon, seeing you in better times. I'll be out there in California at the service right before burial and I would be honored to hold your hand. What would you like to say to her, Mike? WALLACE: I love you.

KING: George, you're a good friend of Nancy's. What would you like to say to Nancy?

WILL: Well, she has been through--as a great many Americans are going through in their own ways--an experience with this thing: Alzheimer's. And Alzheimer's is a protracted saying goodbye. It's like a photograph left, Larry, in the sun, that just fades away. And it complicates, immeasurable, the process of grief. And my feeling is that a strong and realistic woman, Nancy Reagan, said goodbye some while ago to Ronald Reagan, knowing that he had left her and that she is through the worst of this and will in the coming days, which will be stressful, will be strong, and in her way, serene.

KING: Hugh Sidey, I know you dealt with this. Dealing with her, with Alzheimer's, how steadfast she's been.

SIDEY: Remarkable woman. And you know something, I guess I remember her true love. We are so skeptical about it and at first we thought this was Hollywood and yet it dawned on us as time went on in the White House and beyond that they really felt this way about each other and that's such a rarity in this time. And it never wavered. And it--I'm sure it's as strong in this moment of tragedy with her as it was at the beginning and so all you can say is "Bless you, Nancy Reagan."

KING: Senator Baker, we can only imagine what it must be like to live with that long goodbye, can't we.

BAKER: What a wonderful way to put it. Indeed, it must be excruciating for Nancy Reagan because of their close, personal relationship, because their love for each other. But I know first hand also that it was hard for Ronald Reagan, who expressed his regrets, his grief that she had to endure that. He understood what was going to happen, so I would pay tribute to her for her strength and for her courage, but also to him, for the continuation of one of the all-time great love stories.

KING: In a sense, Walter, do you think he rests better now, maybe it's OK?

CRONKITE: What's that?

KING: Maybe it's OK to say goodbye now.


KING: Apparently you're having trouble hearing me. Mike, you think maybe some peace will come to Nancy and the family now? This has to be difficult. Non-communicative...

WALLACE: Look, this man was very strong. He shouldn't have lived this long. And she had to--as people have pointed out, she was out of California very, very seldom. It's a blessing that he finally--Because he was so strong, until he busted his hip was it? KING: Yes, hip.

WALLACE: What she went through, what she went through. And now to have people talking about her husband that way. She did a hell of a job. He did too. And you think, when did America love a president, a former president, this way? When?

KING: I guess Kennedy in death and being so young. Eisenhower, but a different kind of love for Eisenhower. They said "Uncle Ike."

WALLACE: I don't think--well, we'll see.

KING: What was the love, George, do you think? Was it a brother, a friend, an uncle? What did he represent?

WILL: To the American people? In a way it was a mirror image, that they looked at the President and they saw themselves and they rather liked what they saw. If I may let my Midwest chauvinism slip its leash for just a moment, I am from Central Illinois. He is from Central Illinois and I do think there is a distinctive cheerfulness about the world that you get out there where the land is flat and the horizon distant and beckoning and a sense that it's made for travelers who are going to travel far. He certainly did and he had a ball all the way. So he was a man, as is well known, his father was an alcoholic. There are those that say that the children of alcoholics acquire a kind of aggressive defensive cheerfulness. I don't want to go into that psychological deep water. Let's just say that the American people saw their entire country in that one man.

KING: Well put.

SIDEY: You know, Larry, when you're out there in a little town like that, without mountains, without oceans, without great wealth, you take what you have and you make the most of it. And, in a way, that was core to Ronald Reagan. I don't know that he was ever discouraged by anything. He made something out of everything. He once told me this story about being a young boy and he was going to lead the YMCA band, I think he was seven or eight years old. And they took a broomstick and then they stole the brass knob of the bed and they put it on the broomstick and he became the drum major of that band. And that's all he had, but he loved the whole thing. He was a public man from the beginning of his life.

KING: We are out of time. We thank you all very much. Mike Wallace, I hope you're back with us again tomorrow night. Walter, always great seeing you. Stay in good health. Thank you to our complete panel. Sorry about Jim Baker, but he will be hopefully with us tomorrow evening, and as we go to break, and I'll be back in a couple of minutes and tell you about tomorrow, here is Ronald Reagan in one of his finest moments, on a D-Day of the past.


R. REAGAN: Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs. Some of you were hardly more than boys with the deepest joys of life before you. But you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impels you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.



KING: We'll be back in tomorrow night with a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, the salute to Ronald Reagan. "NEWSNIGHT" is next, on the same theme, with Aaron Brown.


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