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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Ronald Reagan Dies
Aired June 5, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Good evening.
He defined an era. He transformed a party and did so much to change the world. Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, died this afternoon at 4:09 Eastern time. His wife Nancy issued this brief written statement.
"My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away after 10 years of Alzheimer's Disease at 93-years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers over the years."
Ronald Reagan's presidency heralded an economic revolution that the press nicknamed Reaganomics. Joining me now is one of the men who made it happen, former Budget Director David Stockman.
DAVID STOCKMAN, REAGAN BUDGET DIRECTOR: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: What do you think is Ronald Reagan's legacy when it comes to economics?
STOCKMAN: Well, I think there are many, but he's surely going to go down as, in my view, and as the greatest president of the 20th century.
ZAHN: Why is that?
STOCKMAN: I can say that as an amateur historian and a partisan. But most presidents preside. Our system is meant to be stalemated. And so they preside, they politick, they cajole, and they move along incrementally.
Occasionally, a wide turn in the road is needed when things aren't working, when conventional policies are failing. And that's really where we were in 1980. Our economy had grown to a halt, inflation was soaring, pessimism was rampant, the big government policies of several decades had finally reached a point of breakdown. And the -- President Ronald Reagan had the vision, maybe not all the details, but the vision to know that a big swing in the course was necessary. He persevered. He had resolve. And we can look back today and we can see that he was right.
ZAHN: You say he had the vision, not necessarily the details. And that is the rap you heard on him as a president, that this was a man who had a very distinct idea of where he wanted to go, but maybe wasn't necessarily in command of that information. What was the truth?
STOCKMAN: Well, I think maybe that was the genius at the end of the day, that a president has a role and the rest of the system has a role. And it's not necessarily the president's role to command all the details.
But it is the president's role to know when the moment is right to make a decision that only he can make. And I saw that happen many times during the period that I served.
ZAHN: Share an anecdote with us that would reflect that?
STOCKMAN: Well, we had many budget crises and stalemates as we got into the 1982 and '83. And the deficit soared over $200 billion. And people were worried. I was concerned as the budget director and can remember one afternoon, after enormous back and forth and stalemate, 30 people gathered at the White House. Tip O'Neill, the Democratic leader, all of the Democratic senators, the whole White House staff, cabinet officers. It was a nice afternoon. They said let's go outside, sit in a big circle under a tree.
Everyone did. The meeting was going nowhere. Shouting back and forth. It was in the days when airplanes still passed over the White House every 60 seconds.
An airplane came over. You couldn't hear anything. Finally the president sensed this was either going to end in stalemate. He didn't want that. He sat up and he said, fellows, excuse me, I need to talk to Tip. He took him off 50 feet, under a tree, where no one could hear because the planes were going over every 60 seconds, and made a deal, and came back and said, "Fellows, we've come to agreement."
And he knew at that moment he had to make a decision. And he had to do it in his own way. And he did.
ZAHN: We'd like you to stand by, because right now we're going to take a look at a story that Frank Sesno did for us on his life as an actor, and later as a politician. And let's take a peek at that and we'll come right back to you, David Stockman.
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear...
FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He lent his name to a revolution as simple as it was bold.
REAGAN: In this president crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
SESNO: Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, rode to office on a wave of national discontent. America in 1980 had come to doubt itself. High inflation and interest rates, stagnant wages, a hostage crisis in Iran that served as metaphor to many of the hobbled giant. Reagan had campaigned to change all that.
REAGAN: I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts when one crisis to the next eroding our national will and purpose.
SESNO: His objective? To up end the way Washington did business, to cut taxes, and the very government he would lead, and to rebuild American strength and project it on a world he saw as good versus evil.
REAGAN: What I am 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.
SESNO: A common thread connected Reagan's policies at home and abroad.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK, FMR. U.S. UNITED NATIONS AMB.: Ronald Reagan believed, as I see it, that the individual is the creative principle in history, and in society, in economics, you know, and in foreign affairs.
SESNO: But the Reagan revolution was nearly cut short. March 30th, 1981, a disturbed young man named John Hinckley took aim and fired at the president, as he came out of a Washington hotel after giving a speech.
MICHAEL DEAVER, FMR. REAGAN ADVISER: I was there with Nancy when the surgeons came over and said, you know, we got everything. It was that close to his heart.
SESNO: Reagan's recovery, stamina, and humor captivated the country. "Honey, I forgot to duck," he told Nancy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.
SESNO: Seventeen days after his return to the White House, he addressed Congress.
REAGAN: I have no words to express my appreciation for that greeting. Now let's talk about getting spending and inflation under control and cutting your tax rates.
SESNO: Reagan got his tax cuts, a 25 percent across the board reduction. He got some cuts in spending. They were controversial.
And Reagan got big defense increases. One by-product, huge budget deficits. Under Ronald Reagan, the national debt nearly tripled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think he had faith that if we got enough regulatory reform, if we got tax rates low enough, we would generate overtime enough revenue growth that we would eliminate those deficits. SESNO: At first, things actually got worse. By October 1982, unemployment topped 10 percent. A whole swathe of the country came to be known as the rust belt. Reagan's job approvals sank to 41 percent.
MICHAEL DEAVER, FMR. REAGAN ADVISER: It was a tough time in the early '80s because all of the things that he said were going to happen, the things were going to get better, were not getting better.
SESNO: Reagan was resolute.
REAGAN: We can do it, my fellow Americans, by staying the course.
SESNO: Stay the course became a slogan. Slowly the economy recovered. Then it boomed. The stock market would more than double.
By 1984, when he ran for reelection, he would proclaim morning in America.
Reagan's view of the wider world was similarly uncluttered. He was ardently anti-Communist and did not conceal his contempt for the Soviets. He spoke of the evil empire and defined the Reagan Doctrine, which supported freedom fighters against Moscow's Communist (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
It would not be until 1985 that the menacing deep freeze of the Cold War would begin to thaw. His first meeting with a Soviet leader. Reagan would develop a relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the new reformer from Moscow.
By 1987, having spent billions building up the nuclear arsenal, there was a breakthrough. Reagan and Gorbachev would sign the first treaty eliminating a class of nuclear weapons.
And he would go to Berlin and make this improbable plea.
REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
SESNO: But there were pitfalls. Iran-Contra was the worst of them. To get American hostages out of Beirut, missiles for the so- called moderates in Iran. To support the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua, a secret diversion of cash from the Iranian transactions.
It was the worst scandal of the Reagan presidency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, sir?
SESNO: The diversion of funds was revealed to Reagan and the world by his attorney general Ed Meese.
ED MEESE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I guess what was going through my head at the time was that we had a major problem here for the administration. And quite frankly, a problem of such magnitude, that if it was not handled exactly right, it could be a major stumbling block for the administration, could even bring down the administration.
SESNO: Iran Contra scarred Reagan's presidency.
REAGAN: There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.
SESNO: Staffers lost jobs and stood trial. Though damaged, Reagan, weathered the storm.
ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He made mistakes. And the public didn't care all that much.
SESNO: Ronald Reagan connected with most Americans. His humor, his confidence, even his flaws seemed to reinforce his bonds with a wide array of citizens.
In crises, Reagan's formidable communication skills could reassure a nation. After 241 Marines died in Lebanon in a terrorist attack, after the Challenger tragedy...
REAGAN: 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.
SESNO: Reagan was not an intellect. He delegated. Even many of his closest aides described him as aloof or detached. He never developed a deep rapport with minorities. Although an outdoorsman, he was not an environmentalist.
But he projected vision and vigor, strength and optimism about America. He believed in its innate goodness. He often referred to it as "a shining city upon a hill." And he closed his presidency accordingly.
REAGAN: She still stands strong and true on the granite ridge. And her glow is held steady, no matter what storm. My friends, we did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer. And we left her in good hands.
All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. And so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
ZAHN: And we are back now with former President Reagan's budget director David Stockman. As I watched you, watched that story, I could see you look wistful at some points. What will be Ronald Reagan's legacy when it comes to foreign policy?
STOCKMAN: Well, I think it'll be an enormous legacy, because it was really the turning point in the history of the 20th century. He alone, I think, almost alone understood that the policy had failed of arms control and negotiations and temporizing. And the time had come to draw a line in the sand, engage in a very costly defense build-up. I got caught in questioning the wisdom of that at the time, because I was looking at the details of the day, the issues of the hour. He was capable of looking over the grass and seeing that if we held our ground, and we had resolve, and we used our resources, that the Soviet empire could come to an end, and that the 8,000 nuclear warheads that hung over the world like a sword of Damocles could be lifted.
And he was right. And it happened. And it's the greatest thing that happened in the last 40 years.
ZAHN: I know you met with him almost on a daily basis. How deeply held were these convictions? When you sat and talked with him, was that clear?
STOCKMAN: Yes. They were very deep. But also, I don't think he's been credited with the fact that he really was a listener. And he was a respecter of people. That was the thing that impressed me. It could be foreign dignitaries, kings, prime ministers, leaders of the Senate, freshman congressman, staff, even employees in the White House all were treated with a certain kind of respect, a certain kind of cordiality that made him infectious and really made him the leader he was.
ZAHN: David, if you don't mind standing by, we need to catch up with John King, who is standing by in France right now to tell us a little bit about how President George W. Bush got the news a little bit earlier today and give us an idea of how that might impact the next 24 hours on the president's schedule.
Good evening, John.
KING: Good evening to you, Paula, from Paris. Mr. Bush had heard earlier in the day in Italy that Ronald Reagan's health had significantly deteriorated and perhaps his passing was imminent. It was here in Paris a little after 10:00 local time, Mr. Bush had gone to bed. His chief of staff Andy Card came in and interrupted his sleep to tell him he had received word from Washington that in fact that the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, had passed away.
Mr. Bush then spoke to reporters here. But first, he placed a five minute phone call, we are told, to Nancy Reagan, along with the First Lady Laura Bush, voicing his condolences and the condolences of the nation.
Mr. Bush then stepped before the cameras here in Paris. He called the passing of Ronald Reagan "a sad hour in the life of America."
We are hoping there, Paula, to hear more of the president's statement. Apparently some technical problem back there. Mr. Bush in placing condolences, spoke with much of the optimism Ronald Reagan frequently spoke of as president. He said that he had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character. He said that Mr. Bush had not only rallied America, but saved the world, that a reference to the president's fight against Communism.
Mr. Bush will keep to his schedule, we are told. He will attend the 60th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landing at Normandy tomorrow, pay tribute to President Reagan again there, then head back to the United States.
As the funeral arrangements are still being made, Mr. Bush ordered flags at all federal buildings flown at half staff for the next 30 days -- Paula?
ZAHN: John King, thanks so much for that update. Back to David Stockman for a moment.
Tell us a little bit more about how he inspired those around him with his sense of optimism? That is something that we've heard over and over again today.
STOCKMAN: Yes, he did. And it was genuine. And part of it was humor. He was a great storyteller. Part of it was sensing when a meeting was reaching a point of antagonism or stalemate to step in and say just the right thing. Sometimes it was even a gesture. It wasn't a statement. It was often a one liner.
He just had that knack for understanding group dynamics. And remember, the White House, that's the center of the governance process. And there is a lot of conflict and difference and argument. And he had an ability to know -- to let things run their course. And then when the time was really called on, for the leader to tip the scales or to make a choice he did.
He did it only when it was necessary, not every day, not on every detail. But in the moments when it was required.
ZAHN: Thank you for your reflections. We'll hear more of them on the other side of this break.
Just a reminder, at the time of Ronald Reagan's death today, he was surrounded by his wife, Nancy, Patty Davis, his daughter, and Ron Reagan. And Michael Reagan, we are told, got to the house shortly after his death.
We're going to take a short break and bring you up to date on the other side on the kinds of memorials that are planned for the president later on this week. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: The news of Ronald Reagan's death was confirmed at 4:09 Eastern Standard Time this afternoon. It didn't take too long for a number of former presidents to react to his passing.
We're going to share with you now some of what former President Bush had to say about Ronald Reagan and his legacy.
You have to understand on a night like tonight, there can be some technical confusion, but I will share a short part of that statement with you now. He was speaking from his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
He said it was wonderful the way Reagan could take a stand and do it without bitterness or without creating enmity with other people. It was unbelievable, so emotional. I asked him how he got through to the people who scaled the cliffs, and he said I wrote it down, just kept repeating it over and over. There were many speeches where Ronald Reagan could just muster the best.
There was reaction, too, from John Kerry this afternoon. The reaction transcending all political boundaries. And he said, "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious. Even when he was breaking Democrats' heart, he did so with a smile and a spirit of honest and open debate. Despite the disagreements, he lived by that noble ideal that at 5:00 p.m., we weren't Democrats or Republicans. We were Americans and friends."
Let's turn now to Judy Woodruff and Frank Sesno in Washington, D.C., both of whom covered the president and talk to them about their experiences in Washington at that time.
Good evening, Frank. Good evening, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Paula.
ZAHN: Judy, what do you remember about covering Ronald Reagan?
WOODRUFF: You know, Paula, I -- so many memories come flooding back to me all the way from the little time I spent covering him during the transition before he was even inaugurated as president. Certainly the most vivid memory for me, Paula, was I was there the day, March the 30th, 1981, when Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley. I was part of the press pool. I was working for NBC. It was a time of a great confusion. The press, running in different directions. James Brady, who was then Ronald Reagan's press secretary, lay what many would thought was mortally wounded, it turned out he was grievously wounded with a terrible head injury. Ronald Reagan shot, taken off to the hospital.
And we were only to learn much later how close he had come to death if the surgeons had not acted as quickly as they had. We would have lost Ronald Reagan so early in his presidency.
So that's the most vivid memory. But then there are those whimsical moments I remember. The -- you know, the walks to the helicopter. He'd being heading off to Camp David or on some trip overseas. We'd be yelling questions. And he'd be doing this if he didn't want to answer.
A man of just enormous charm. And you know, we had not seen the likes of that.
I had covered before him four years of Jimmy Carter's presidency, a very different kind of politician. He had been the governor of Georgia. He was somebody who tried to cooperate and make his administration open to the press. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, he was very charming with reporters, but there was a real strategy, Paula, around the people who surrounded Ronald Reagan. They wanted to make sure that the press saw what they wanted them to see of Ronald Reagan.
So we became accustomed very quickly to an orchestrated -- well orchestrated White House. And that became the theme of the eight years of the Reagan presidency.
ZAHN: And what was the press corps like at that time? Was it cynical knowing the degree of manipulation that was going on?
WOODRUFF: You know, Paula, we're always cynical, I suppose, to some extent. But at the same time, Ronald Reagan was somebody, and I think I can say this and speak for a number of reporters, he won us over in the way that, you know, you can cover some people in politics and you never quite make a connection.
It was not that Ronald Reagan was our friend, but there was just something bigger than life, bigger than the personal charm. Here was somebody you knew who was making a difference in history. And he had those -- you know, he had that sense of humor. He had that grand theme. You know, as Frank Sesno said a little while ago, you knew what he stood for, conservative. He wanted tax cuts, smaller government. And he wanted to get rid of Communism, but he combined it in a package that was irresistible in many ways.
ZAHN: Let's bring Frank in the discussion now, because I know you covered a number of those news conferences. And even though you knew you had a guide being put out by the White House, most of the reporters I talked to during that era felt that you were always going to come home with some sort of magic, some great quip from a news conference.
SESNO: Oh, he always had a quip. Ronald Reagan always had a quip, whether it's "there you go again," which he threw at Jimmy Carter, or I remember when his Supreme Court nominee Bob Bork when down to the -- I was in the press pool. And I said, "What are you going to do next?" He looked at me and got this sort of glint in his eye, and he said, "I'm going to send him someone they'll object to just as much," referring the liberals in the Senate.
Look, he had this charming sense about him. He had this connection with the public. He wasn't very well liked for quite some bit of time and rather distrusted in much of Europe. And the late French President Francois Mitterrand, who actually had a certain amount of disdain of Ronald Reagan, nonetheless commented at one point that this president, whom he didn't understand very well, had achieved what he called a sense of communion with the American people. He connected with the American people.
That was something that the press corps also felt that no matter how much they felt they were being manipulated, no matter how agonizing it was, because whether the press corps was liberal or Eastern elite establishment or however you want to explain it, there was a certain amount of mystery is the best word I could come up with, surrounding how this whole thing was working.
Nonetheless, this guy reached over the heads of the press, over the heads of the Congress, over the heads of other leaders around the world. And he somehow connected with a broad array of people. It was a remarkable thing.
ZAHN: We're going to pause for a moment, Frank, and keep our eye on this picture of the hearse carrying Ronald Reagan's body, on its way to a funeral home in Santa Monica. And a little bit later on this evening, Judy Woodruff is going to bring us up to date on what we will see unfold over the next three or four days in Washington.
But Frank, back to the question of the president's relationships with reporters, do you think he liked you guys?
SESNO: Yes. I do. I think it was fun for him in his own way. You know, he said well no questions at a photo op. And he'd hold up his hand. And then he'd look up and he'd give you one of those one liners.
He didn't want to hang out with journalists the way other presidents who want to sit up into the wee hours of the night and talk policy did.
But you know, Michael Deaver once said my job is to light the president. And the point was that he knew, and Reagan knew, that the camera was his friend and he could speak through it, and communicate to people. And in that regard, I think reporters were part of that process.
WOODRUFF: Paula, you know, if I may jump in, I think a really interesting thing to think about in terms of Reagan's background and dealing with the press, he did come out of Hollywood. He was used to dealing with a very complex, unpredictable, Hollywood entertainment news media. I mean, those reporters wrote about these movie stars all the time. And they wrote some things that were true. And they wrote some things that weren't true.
He learned to -- somewhere along the way, he developed a thick skin. He did not let what reporters wrote or said about him get to him. It happened somewhere along the way during his movie career. And he carried that right with him to Washington.
He was just not bothered by it.
You know, we talk a lot about how Nancy Reagan, in many ways, carried the spear for him. She was the one who would get concerned when there was a column or a comment made about her husband. And she would, you know, she would fire back in her own way. She was protective.
But you know, he really let it roll off his back. And I think that's why he had that just eternally sunshine like disposition.
SESNO: With one exception, Judy, if I may.
WOODRUFF: All right, Frank...
SESNO: Oh, sorry.
ZAHN: OK, you'll have to save that story for the other side of the break. Frank and Judy, please stick with us. David Stockman, just a final thought on how well prepared Mr. Reagan was when he went out before reporters and what he knew he was up against?
STOCKMAN: Very well prepared. Before each press conference, two days we would have rehearsals most of the afternoon. And he would be ready for the question that was going to come from Judy Woodruff. And he would work on how he was going to respond and perfect his one liner.
He wanted to be prepared. He wanted to communicate. He wanted to get his message across. He worked very hard on it. And ultimately, as we can see from history, he was successful.
ZAHN: So you're saying it wasn't just memorization?
STOCKMAN: No, it was hard work.
ZAHN: David Stockman, please stick by as well. We're going to take a short break here. Our coverage of the death of Ronald Reagan will continue right after this.
ZAHN: Hi and welcome back to our special coverage of the death of Ronald Reagan, the oldest man ever elected President of the nation. The longest-living President ever as we watch his hearse carrying his body head to the Santa Monica funeral home, where the body will be prepared and ultimately flown to Washington.
We spent a lot of tonight reflecting on Ronald Reagan's political legacy in Washington and even his years as the governor of California, but right now we want to look back at that part of his life that led up to his Hollywood success. Keep in mind he made some 53 films, 31 before World War II, 22 after. Daryn Kagan now takes us on Ronald Reagan's journey to Hollywood.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ronald Reagan's journey to Hollywood began in Iowa behind a radio microphone. In his early 20s he became a sports announcer for WOC in Davenport and later a play-by- play man for WHO in Des Moines. But his ambitions weren't limited to the press box. In 1937, while he was in Los Angeles for the Chicago Cubs spring training camp, he met with an agent to pursue his secret dream of becoming an actor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He got a screen test with Warner Bros., and shockingly to him, they hired him for a seven-year contract.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His timing was perfect. I mean he came along when the studios were all building up their stable of regulars and he found himself one of the Warner Bros. regulars.
KAGAN: Reagan's first role wasn't much of a stretch. In 1937's "Love is on the Air," he played a young radio announcer.
Within a couple of years, Reagan had already appeared in ten films, one of those, "Brother Rat," introduced him to actress Jane Wyman.
In 1940, Reagan and Wyman were married and that same year, in "Knute Rockne, All American," Reagan played football legend George Gip, a role that helped define his image.
R. REAGAN: Ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are those moments that are just incandescent on the screen and I think that was one of those very fortunate parts. That was back in 1940, for heaven's sake. People still talk about--who haven't seen "Knute Rockne, All American," if ever, but they still remember "win one for the Gipper."
KAGAN: During World War II, Reagan served in the Army Air Corps, and used his talents to produce and appear in hundred of military training films.
After the war, the actor became deeply involved in union politics. He was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1946 and he served an unprecedented six consecutive terms.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was really a very, very important changing point in his life. He was probably one of the most dynamic leaders that the guild ever had.
KAGAN: While Reagan prospered as a union leader, his marriage to Jane Wyman failed. And his choice of movie roles began to diminish. One part he took would later provide fodder for political opponents, "Bedtime for Bonzo."
R. REAGAN: Well, Bonzo, I never did thank you for saving my life this morning, did I?
KAGAN: In the 1950s, Reagan's growing conservatism became apparent in his outspoken response to the Red Scare.
R. REAGAN: We can prove to the world that here in Hollywood about 30,000 of us have been fighting against this particular infiltration for a long time.
KAGAN: It was the Red Scare that brought Nancy Davis to his door. The starlet thought his help could clear her name when she was mistakenly linked to a communist front group. In 1952 they married. In 1957 they co-starred onscreen in "Hellcats of the Navy."
With Reagan's big screen fortune faltering, he started to work on the small screen, hosting "Death Valley Days" and "GE Theater." Reagan became the pitchman for General Electric, sometimes along with Nancy.
N. REAGAN: It's our idea of the real way to live better electrically.
KAGAN: Reagan's work with GE, which involved extensive speechmaking helped sharpen his political skills and those skills eventually took him to Sacramento, California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I now declare you to be duly installed as governor of the State of California.
KAGAN: And then to the White House. As a politician, he made great use of lessons learned in Hollywood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His great, great talent was always his ability to communicate and ability to look absolutely comfortable in a situation no matter how difficult the situation was.
KAGAN: Daryn Kagan, CNN.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ZAHN: And humor was a gift that Ronald Reagan had and it certainly was something that helped him politically. Let's turn to Jeff Greenfield, who joins us from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina to talk to us about how that humor impacted us all. Good evening, Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANALYST : Good evening. You just heard mention of the fact that Ronald Reagan, when he worked for GE, would go out and give speeches. This is one of the most important parts of his political upbringing because he spoke more with ordinary people than a ton of politicians. In the cafeterias at GE, on the assembly lines. One of the things Ronald Reagan learned in that experience was how potent a weapon of communications humor is and it was a weapon he took with him, as you are about to see, throughout his political career. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
R. REAGAN: I had a phone call the other night.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): 1980. The Al Smith dinner in New York. Ronald Reagan's age is an issue that overhangs the presidential campaign. President Carter, Reagan says, called him with a question.
REAGAN: "Rona," Carter said, "how come you look younger every day when I see a new picture of you riding horseback?" And I said, "Well, Jimma, that's easy. I just keep riding older horses."
GREENFIELD: So much for the age issue. But in 1984 Reagan stumbles badly in his first debate with Walter Mondale.
REAGAN: But I also believe something else about that. I believe that--and when I became governor of California...
GREENFIELD: And whispers of his age are getting louder. Then, in the second debate, Reagan says:
REAGAN: I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.
GREENFIELD: So much for the age issue. Two years later, President Reagan confronts another issue: Is he lazy?
REAGAN: I don't know about you, but I've been working long hours. I've really been burning the mid-day oil.
GREENFIELD: All through his public life, Reagan demonstrated as skillful a use of humor as any political figure. Reporter Lou Cannon, who chronicled Reagan throughout his political career says it was far more than simply a pleasant personality trait.
LOU CANNON, REAGAN BIOGRAPHER: I think Reagan's humor was the key to his political success.
R. REAGAN: I'm so desperate for attention I almost considered holding a news conference.
CANNON: Reagan knew if you made fun of yourself that you established a bond with people. He did it all the time.
GREENFIELD: He knew, by instinct or by experience that if you joke about a presumed weak spot people will ask about it. If it doesn't bother me, the joke says, it shouldn't bother you.
R. REAGAN: ...preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. It's not true. I was around when the wheel was invented and it was easier.
GREENFIELD: Thus, Reagan's acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican Convention began by noting his first career.
R. REAGAN: Well, the first thrill tonight was to find myself for the first time in a long time in a movie on prime time.
GREENFIELD: But Reagan's humor was also a tool he used to defang opponents, some of whom saw Reagan as a dangerous extremist. Longtime Reagan aide Mike Deaver.
MIKE DEAVER, FORMER REAGAN AIDE: In some instances, probably, that's what people had thought before they came into the room if they had believed everything they had read about him. So he did use humor to soften his own image.
GREENFIELD: And longtime political adversaries, like former congresswoman Pat Schroeder, agree.
REP. PAT SCHROEDER, RETIRED CONGRESSWOMAN: He had kind of this little look, this little twinkle, that worked when he was dealing with people. So folks becoming very angry about something, they would kind of melt down. I wish he had more substance; he couldn't have had more grace. And humor is a wonderful way to have grace and take the edge of life, which a lot of people need to do today.
GREENFIELD: His humor was a gift on display at the most serious of moments. When he was shot in 1981, he was quoted as saying to the doctors, quote, "I hope you are all Republicans."
DEAVER: That was the beginning of the real change in people's perceptions about Reagan.
GREENFIELD: That, says Michael Deaver, was grace under fire.
R. REAGAN: I heard those speakers at the other convention saying we won the Cold War, and I couldn't help wondering just who exactly do they mean by, "we."
GREENFIELD: And his humor was there in one of his last public appearances, at the 1992 Republican convention, when he mocked both Bill Clinton and himself.
R. REAGAN: This fellow they've nominated claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell you something. I knew Thomas Jefferson.
GREENFIELD: In politics, humor is like nitroglycerin. Powerful but dangerous. In the wrong hands, attempts at humor have ended political careers. In the hands of a master like Ronald Reagan, there is no better tune.
Jeff Greenfield, CNN.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ZAHN: So we've just seen how effectively President Reagan used humor. Jeff Greenfield, what else made the President's speeches work?
GREENFIELD: Ronald Reagan was a creature of radio. All of us used to talk about him as this great communicator and we look at television. Reagan was raised in the age of radio, and he understood writing, he wrote his own radio scripts back in the 70s, and communicating for the ear. I was sitting in Detroit in 1980 watching him give the acceptance speech and he was editing it on the fly. He would come to a paragraph where he had the prepared text and he would just change a word or two to make the rhythm better. And I think that was a great gift that later politicians probably have a hard time struggling with because they weren't raised in the age of radio.
And who was Reagan's hero? For a Republican, this is odd. It was FDR and his fireside chats. Simple, ordinary language that people could understand. As I mentioned earlier, language honed in those years in the GE cafeterias and on assembly lines, talking to people who didn't read pieces of legislation and didn't necessarily read inside Washington columns. That gift of his was inherent, it was there from the moment he entered the political stage in 1964 with that speech on behalf of Goldwater. And he really never lost it, Paula.
ZAHN: Jeff Greenfield. Thank you for sharing that with us tonight. We want to call your attention, all of your attentions, to live picture now unfolding in Santa Monica, California where a hearse carrying the former President's body has just, we are told, arrived. This gives you a sense of how people are reacting to the news there. We saw smaller crowds at the home in Bel Air. Those were mostly confined to reporters, but this, once again, gives you an idea of the outpouring of support for this president and respect for him as well. News of Mr. Reagan's death is resounding around the Beltway as well.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is a veteran of the Reagan administration. He served as Director of Policy Planning for the Department of State and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs for Mr. Reagan. Paul Wolfowitz now joins us from Washington. Thank you, sir, for being with us. What do you remember about working with Ronald Reagan?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I worked for him mostly on East Asian affairs, as you mentioned. I was the Assistant Secretary and then later was the Ambassador to Indonesia. And the thing that came through to me was his commitment to the idea of freedom. Not just freedom as an issue with the Soviet Union and the former communist regimes, but even with people with whom he had somewhat friendly relations, like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, but Reagan understood that dictatorship was an evil and that freedom was something that all people aspire to and that for this country to be committed to freedom we had to be committed across the board. It was under his leadership that the United States supported a peaceful revolution in the Philippines that made the Philippines the second democracy in East Asia. And we saw this change take place elsewhere in Taiwan and Korea and all over Latin America. This is a man with an enormous, strong sense of the power of the idea of freedom.
ZAHN: This is a president who had enormous impact on you personally. You actually switched parties, did you not, during the Reagan administration?
WOLFOWITZ: I did when I came into his administration. I had been a Scoop Jackson Democrat for a long time and I decided to become a Scoop Jackson Republican. The two of them have a lot in common.
ZAHN: So what was it about this man and his vision that changed you?
WOLFOWITZ: Well, his belief that the struggle between communism, between totalitarianism and democracy truly was the important struggle. And not something on which, ultimately, compromise was the right outcome. I remember in 1984 when he gave that famous speech describing the Soviet Union as an Evil Empire and many people said, "Oh this is horrible, this will lead to war." Of course, it didn't lead to war, and I was struck after the fall of the Soviet Union how many former citizens of that empire said that Reagan was right and it was inspirational to know that the leader of the Free World really believed in change like that.
ZAHN: What do you think Ronald Reagan's contribution is to foreign policy? WOLFOWITZ: Oh, I think without any question he helped to bring an end to the cold War, a peaceful end to the Cold War. That's a very important part of it. Also, this was a man who was quite prepared to sit down and negotiate with the Soviets when the Soviets were ready to do that. A man who helped to bring about the freedom of Central Europe, of all those countries who are now new members of NATO, Poland, the Czech Republic, it's a long list, but also introduced dramatic change not only in Russia but in Latin America, in East Asia, and I think propelled this tide of freedom forward in a way that was remarkable. A remarkable half-century for this country.
ZAHN: And finally, tonight, Mr. Reagan's former budget director, David Stockman, told us a little bit earlier this evening about how deeply held Ronald Reagan's convictions were. Share with us an anecdote about that and what you witnessed on a specific issue.
WOLFOWITZ: Well, I must say what was impressive to me was the way in which he supported Secretary Shultz and the rest of us in a policy to push for Marcos to reform in the Philippines and when that-- after it ultimately was resisted by Marcos and Marcos was confronted with this people power revolution, you could sense we had a dramatic meeting on Sunday morning in the White House and you could sense how reluctant Reagan was to tell a man with whom he had had a friendly personal relationship that it was time to leave office. That he basically authorized his personal emissary, the former senator from Nevada, Paul Laxalt, who had been dealing with Marcos on Reagan's behalf to tell Marcos in Laxalt's words, "It's time to cut and cut cleanly." And in fact, Marco left the Philippines. It's a remarkably successful, peaceful transition from a dictatorship to a democracy.
ZAHN: Mr. Wolfowitz, we very much appreciate your reflections on Ronald Reagan tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.
WOLFOWITZ: Thank you. Good to be here.
ZAHN: Thank you. When we come back, we will share with you the over 50 year long love affair between Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Welcome back to our special coverage of the death of Ronald Reagan from earlier today. We travel now to Simi Valley and the Reagan Library, the ultimate resting place for the former president. Let's turn to Thelma Gutierrez to bring us up to date on what's happening out there. Good evening, Thelma.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula. The library is closed to the public today but I can tell you that on the way up it was a very touching sight. We could see bouquets, flowers left by members of the public on the way up here. They were left down on the wall and one card I read said, "You make me proud to be an American." You can see here at the library right behind me that the flag is flying at half staff. Now this library is the largest of all presidential libraries. It opened back in 1991. The 29-acre site overlooks the Santa Susanna range up on a knoll overlooking the valley. It is where President Reagan will be buried. Now, the library, which was closed to the public today typically receives an average of 400 visitors every day and tomorrow we are told that they will let the public know exactly how they can pay their respects to the President and there is also a Web site where they can send condolences to the family and that Web site is www.ReaganLibrary.com. Paula?
ZAHN: Thelma Gutierrez, thanks so much.
I think one thing that has struck so many of us as we have watched the Reagan family over the last ten years since the President made public an announcement that he had Alzheimer's disease has been the grace and dignity of Nancy Reagan as she watched her husband so slowly slip away. Physically, there, for a while he was very strong, but as is the case with many Alzheimer's patients, there was a very slow deterioration of his mind.
Right now we're going to look back at some of the happier days in Ronald Reagan's life, and Nancy Reagan's over a 50 year long love affair.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WOODRUFF (voice-over): They were a Hollywood fairy tale turned political power couple. Leading man Ronald Reagan was President of the Screen Actor's Guild when he met Nancy Davis. He was divorced, his film career on the decline. And Davis was a waning Hollywood starlet. Reagan often said Nancy saved his soul and that he couldn't imagine life without her. She responded saying her life didn't start until she met Ronnie.
N. REAGAN: But everything just fell into place with Ronnie and me. We completed each other.
WOODRUFF: A love affair so close, even their children and step- children could not squeeze in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a love like I've never seen. And nobody gets in the way of that; that's theirs.
WOODRUFF: When Reagan entered politics, their partnership solidified even more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nancy was a very fast learner. I don't think she had any idea when Reagan decided to explore--which was the way he looked at it--the governorship in '66. But she was immediately not only part of the partnership, the campaign, but she had to go out on her own and do various activities.
WOODRUFF: Early in Reagan's political career, Nancy was criticized for gazing at her husband during his speeches. She was lambasted for playing the role of the adoring wife. But insiders say it was no act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always felt that the relationship between the two of them was quite genuine and this is not a--they didn't have to act at being in love because they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...developing, shots rang out as President Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel this afternoon...
WOODRUFF: Nancy nearly lost the love of her life when John Hinckley shot the President, but Reagan recovered. He used humor to ease her fears, telling Nancy, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Still, Nancy worried and began consulting an astrologer, something which raised eyebrows in Washington.
Her profile improved with time and as she traveled with the President. In Beijing, Berlin and Geneva, the Reagans presented a united front of diplomacy and charm. They were each others staunchest ally. Critics suspected Nancy whispered more into the President' ear than words of help.
N. REAGAN: We're doing everything we can.
R. REAGAN: We're doing everything we can.
WOODRUFF: Nancy understood Reagan's strengths and weaknesses and she filled in the gaps, even if that meant playing the heavy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she had that third eye that she would see people who were trying to use him and use him in the wrong way. And she would stop that.
WOODRUFF: Many say Reagan would never have succeeded in politics had it not been for his wife.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been governor, he wouldn't have been president without her. No way.
WOODRUFF: And as his presidency ended, he let everyone know what she meant to him.
R. REAGAN: That second floor living quarters in the White House would have seemed a big and lonely spot without her waiting for me everyday at the end of the day.
WOODRUFF: And then, in 1994, Reagan wrote a letter, a poignant farewell to the nation, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It would be the last campaign he and Nancy would handle together.
N. REAGAN: I have found that even though the person I love and have loved for 44 years is slipping away, my love for him grows. As he changes, if I stop asking "Why?" and simply love, I do love(ph).
WOODRUFF: Reagan epitomized the American dream. He was a small town boy from humble beginnings who exemplified that the system worked, that any kid can grow up to be President. And Nancy, well, she was right where she wanted to be, by his side. Judy Woodruff, CNN, reporting.
(END VIDEO TAPE) ZAHN: And if you wonder why we're showing you a bunch of jellybeans here, it's because President Reagan used to keep a crystal jar full of his favorite jellybeans for Cabinet meetings and encouraged his department chiefs to eat them when they needed energy. The President started eating jellybeans when he gave up smoking when he was trying to quit, back in the 1960s, and on his first day of governor, someone brought to him some jellybeans and it was that day he decided that it was a good idea to pass those out at Cabinet meetings and the President once said, "You can tell an awful lot about a fellow's character by weather he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful."
And that ends our special coverage at this hour tonight on the death of Ronald Reagan. We turn now to LARRY KING LIVE.
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