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Special Coverage: The Life Of Ronald Reagan

Aired June 6, 2004 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. And you're watching a special broadcast on the life of Ronald Reagan.

Throughout the hour, we're going to be looking at the accomplishments, the contradictions in the legacy of the 40th president of the United States.

As you know by now, he led the country for eight years, and now the country is remembering Ronald Reagan and preparing to say goodbye. The flag is flying at half-staff at the White House and other federal buildings across the nation. Moments of silence are being observed at ballparks and other places where people gather.

Reagan died yesterday in California after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93.

And Reagan is being remembered for his leadership, his role in ending Soviet communism, and his populist brand of conservative politics. Flowers and American flags are piling up outside his presidential library in California.

Ordinary people as well as leaders and dignitaries all over the world are remembering the former president.

WHITFIELD: And just within the last hour, Reagan's family issued a statement. A spokeswoman said, "His loved ones are touched by the outpouring of sympathy they've received from around the country and the world."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you can understand, the family is in deep mourning over the loss of a husband, a father, a grandfather, and their hero.


WHITFIELD: And in a moment, we'll go to Santa Monica, where the president's body is at a funeral home and get more details on the sixth day honoring and the saying goodbye of the former president, Carol.

LIN: That's right. Here's what we do know right now. Reagan's funeral services will take place in the two places he's associated with most, Washington and California. Reagan's body will lie in repose at his presidential library in Simi Valley tomorrow and Tuesday. It will be flown to Washington Wednesday via Air Force One. It will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol until Friday.

And that's when the funeral will take place at the National Cathedral. The body will then be returned to California for a private service at the Reagan Presidential Library. Burial is planned there at sunset.

WHITFIELD: And on this, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, many people remember President Reagan's famous speech in Normandy just 20 years ago. He quoted the British poet Stephen Spender when he told the assembled veterans, "You are men, who in your lives, fought to life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."


RONALD WILSON REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.


LIN: Well, as Fredricka mentioned earlier, the president's body is now laying at the -- at a Santa Monica funeral home.

Our Chris Lawrence is standing by there, where, Chris, a makeshift memorial has already been set up at that site.


And we imagine that this memorial will continue to grow at least in through tomorrow morning, at which point, about 10:00 tomorrow morning, Mrs. Reagan and the Reagan family will leave this funeral home and head up about a hour north to Simi Valley and the Reagan library.

At that point, they will have a private ceremony with the family. And then Mr. Reagan will begin lying in repose. And they are inviting the public to come to the library to pay their respects both tomorrow and through the day on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, it will be a very busy day for the Reagans. There will be several ceremonies that will mark their arrivals and departures throughout the day. But at some point they will, at about 8:00, they will arrive at the library. They will then depart by motorcade, and they will head to the naval base at Point Magoo.

At that point, they will fly to Andrews Air Force Base, where there will be a formal funeral procession from the Air Force base to the Capitol, and then a state funeral ceremony at about 7:00 on Wednesday night.

At that point, Mr. Reagan will begin lying in state as he begins -- in the -- he will begin lying in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. And they are encouraging the public to come out and pay their respects Wednesday night and into Thursday.

On Friday, there will be a departure ceremony as the Reagans make their way back here to California, where he will be buried again near the -- or Mr. Reagan will be buried at -- Mr. Reagan will be buried at his Reagan library at about 7:30 on Friday night. They expect that service to conclude.

Now, earlier, we heard from Joanne Drake, who said and gave us some indication that Mrs. Reagan is holding up fairly well, but she will have a very tough week, not having very much private time to grieve.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you most certainly that, while it is an extremely sad time for Mrs. Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering, and that he has gone to a better place.


LAWRENCE: And Joanne Drake is one of a very tight circle of people who have been with Mr. Reagan for decades. So he had a very close circle. And she spoke also a little bit about what it was like to work with him for so many years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was an honor, one that I wish every American could experience. He was an extraordinary man, and I feel honored that my children had a chance to meet him. I know his legacy will carry this...


LAWRENCE: Obviously a very emotional time for Joanne Drake, as well as the friends and family of Ronald Reagan. We expect to hear a lot more statements like that over the coming week, as many people come out to pay their respects to Ronald Reagan. And as many people here told us here in Santa Monica, even those who did not agree with his politics are now looking back and appreciating many of his accomplishments, Carol, Fredricka.

LIN: Yes, all right, thank you very much. Chris Lawrence reporting live in Santa Monica. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Even today, from the French coast of Normandy, world leaders offered heartfelt words of praise for Ronald Reagan as they gathered to honor the heroes of World War II. President Bush also got the chance to reminisce about the former president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Twenty summers ago, and another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.


WHITFIELD: And the former president was perhaps best known for his great optimism and confident leadership. He had an unshakeable faith that he was making a difference and making history while he was at it.

Our Candy Crowley looks back at Ronald Reagan's political life.



REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The guy could deliver a line, an actor by trade, a communicator by nature.


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."


CROWLEY: Born in Illinois February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan started out in radio in Iowa, made it to Hollywood, married two leading ladies, became a father of four, and then took on a new role -- politician. He was elected governor of California, ran for president, and stole a line from the movies.


REAGAN: I am paying for this microphone, Mr. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


CROWLEY: He won, at age 69, the oldest man ever elected to the White House.


REAGAN: ... that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.


CROWLEY: Reagan nearly died in an assassination attempt, but a quick recovery cemented his image as a tough guy on a mission. There were critics of huge deficits and painful spending cuts, and there were controversies, Iran-Contra, an arms sale deal with Iran to fund so-called freedom fighters in Nicaragua.


REAGAN: As angry as I may about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities.


CROWLEY: He had a deceptively simple agenda.


REAGAN: Our government is too big, and it spends too much.


CROWLEY: Lower taxes, smaller government, a stronger military.


REAGAN: The American uniform is once again worn with pride.


CROWLEY: Above all, an end to communism.


REAGAN: For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.


CROWLEY: Never one for inside the Beltway, he loved his place in the mountains above Santa Barbara, Rancho del Cielo, and entertained royalty there. And they returned the favor on their turf.

His eyesight was too poor to serve in combat, but his was the greatest generation, and he remembered them often, most memorably in at Normandy on the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.


REAGAN: Well, what impelled 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.


CROWLEY: He served for eight years of history, and then returned home to California. Bidding his party farewell four years later, the great communicator wrote his own epitaph.


REAGAN: And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.


CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


LIN: Well, former president Bill Clinton says they broke the mold when Ronald Reagan was born. Clinton called Reagan a true American original and reflects on the times they shared.


WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was sad, and thought of the long struggle he had against Alzheimer's. I called Mrs. Reagan, and we reminisced a little bit about some of the times we shared in the 1980s when I was a young governor working with the Reagan White House on welfare reform. When President Reagan left office, he had lunch with some of the governors in the summertime, because he was proud of having served, and we enjoyed that very much. I always liked being with him.


LIN: And we've got a lot more information for you. For more about the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan, all you have to go is go to our Web site at, because there you're going to find an extensive obituary, as well as special features and interactive activities.

WHITFIELD: Well, still ahead on this special edition of Remembering Ronald Reagan, he made his name in Hollywood and left a legacy in Washington. We'll look back at the 40th president's remarkable political career. Reagan's former political director Frank Donatelli will join us live.


R. REAGAN: Some may try and tell us that this is the end of an era. But what they overlook is that in America, every day is a new beginning, and every sunset is merely the latest milestone for a voyage that never ends.

For this is the land that has never become, but is always in the act of becoming.

Emerson was right. America is the land of tomorrow.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LIN: You can't see it in that picture, but the flag is flying at half-staff at the White House, has been ever since late yesterday afternoon when we got the news.

We've been looking at the headlines around the country and want to share some of them with you about the big news.

Both "Newsweek" and "TIME" magazine came out with commemorative editions, putting Ronald Reagan on their covers. "The New York Times" pays tribute to Mr. Reagan for helping to end the cold war and curbing big government. The "Washington Post" headline calls Ronald Reagan "The President Who Reshaped American Politics. And "The L.A. Times" says pretty much the same, changing the landscape, the political landscape.

Well, the beauty of watching President Reagan campaign so long ago was how his opponents would often underestimate him and what the future president often would say next.

Frank Donatelli served as Ronald Reagan's political director, and he joins me from Washington today.

Frank, political director, in a nutshell, what specifically was your job in the campaign?

FRANK DONATELLI, FORMER REAGAN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, basically, the political director, Carol, looks out for the political interests of the president, unlike the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who's charged with looking out for the fortunes of the party as a whole.

I had the happy circumstance of just advising the president as to his own political fortunes. Now, in fairness, he had an injunction, and that is, Let's do the right thing, and the politics will take care of themselves. So that doesn't give a political director much to do.

LIN: Yes.

DONATELLI: But hey, it was a great job for a couple of years.

LIN: Big picture, all right, big picture, when Ronald Reagan is running for president, his critics often made the point, his opponents often made the point in public arena to use the words "former actor" when they were talking about him, to imply that he was an intellectual lightweight. How did you take advantage of this, how did Ronald Reagan take advantage of this?

DONATELLI: Well, I think the interesting thing about every time Reagan ran for president, as you point out that he was underestimated. And so it was a lower bar in order to achieve credibility. In every race that Reagan ran, there was thought to be a better-known and more substantive opponent.

And in each case, Reagan was able to demonstrate sufficient command of the issues and a winning personality and was able to be very successful. I would liken him, Carol, to a great running back that you never quite get a good shot at. You know, you want to say, This guy's going down the field, I'm going to really lay one on him. And you go to get him, and he gives you a juke, and he's gone down the sidelines.

LIN: Yes.

DONATELLI: I think that was a frustrating thing about his opponents, they weren't able to get a good grasp of him.

LIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Nineteen eighty-four, he's in a race with Walter Mondale. This is a perfect example of what you're talking about. He really was -- he looked shaky in the first debate with Walter Mondale. The second debate comes around, and age becomes an issue. People are beginning to worry, is he too old to be president? Is he maybe too senile to be president? He shoots back in that debate with this sound bite we want to show right now.


REAGAN: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.


LIN: What a great moment. Not only was he funny, but hit it on the nose. And many people say that that was the moment that he turned it around and was going to be reelected in 1984.

DONATELLI: Yes, you know, I was in the room for the debate that night. And I remember -- I forget who it was, maybe Ed Rollins, the campaign manager, whoever was next to me turned to me after that remark and said, I think we've just won the election.

And indeed, after that, everything else was prologue. It really didn't matter. Reagan coasted to 58 percent victory in 49 states.

LIN: Explain, though, the political contradictions of this man. I mean, here he was, he sided with Bob Jones University, you might have remembered that disagreement that the IRS had, because it was a segregated Christian school. He opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And yet he appointed Colin Powell, the first African-American national security adviser. He signed into law the Martin Luther King Day. And he also signed some of the most important anti-apartheid legislation in history.

How do you do you reconcile those two sides?

DONATELLI: Right. Well, it's like everybody evolves over time. Actually, Reagan did come to support the Voting Rights Act and did support two extensions during his administration. But, you know, if he -- for example, in the Bob Jones situation, it was for constitutional reasons only. In terms of his personal views and outlook, he was the least bigoted man. He believed -- he really liked everyone and treated everyone equally. I think the other point I would make, Carol, is that the great thing about Reagan was, and probably is true about Franklin Roosevelt two generations ago, is that it is true that support for Reagan far exceeded support for his individual policies. And people attributed that, his opponents attributed that to gamesmanship and intellectual laziness. But of course it wasn't.

It -- that's what's called leadership. It's leadership to be able to get people to buy into your program even though they might not share all your details, because they come to trust you.

LIN: Well, indeed, he certainly had an impact personally and professionally on the country and made history. Thanks very much, Frank Donatelli...

DONATELLI: Thank you.

LIN: ... you were a part of all of that.

DONATELLI: Thank you.

LIN: Still ahead, a love story. We're going to take a look at the extraordinary and enduring relationship of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.


WHITFIELD: The man who was once in that White House wasn't just a romantic actor in the movies. Ronald Reagan was a leading man in real life as well, often showering his wife, Nancy, with love and open affection. Throughout the years together, they stood side by side and proclaimed their unwavering love.

CNN's Judy Woodruff has their unique love story.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were a Hollywood fairytale turned political power couple. Leading man Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors 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.

NANCY 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 stepchildren could not squeeze in.

MICHAEL DEAVER: It's a love like I've never seen. And nobody gets in the way of that love. That's theirs.

WOODRUFF: When Reagan entered politics, their partnership solidified even more.

DEAVER: Nancy was a very fast learner. I don't think she had any idea when Reagan decided to explore -- which is 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: But I've always felt that the relationship between the two of them was quite genuine, and that this is not a -- you know, they didn't have to act at being in love, because they were.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A late development, shots rang out as President Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel this afternoon, shortly after...


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 other's staunchest ally.

Critics suspected that Nancy whispered more into the president's ear than words of help.


NANCY REAGAN: Doing everything we can.

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.

MERV GRIFFIN: 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. DEAVER: No, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been governor, wouldn't have been president without her, no way.

WOODRUFF: And as his presidency ended, he let everyone know what she meant to him.


REAGAN: That second-floor living quarters in the White House would have seemed a big and lonely spot without her waiting for me every day 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.


NANCY REAGAN: I found that even though the person I love and have loved for 44 users is slipping away, my love for him grows. As he changes, if I stop asking why and simply love, I too grow.


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.


WHITFIELD: Both Michael Deaver and Merv Griffin, who you saw in that piece, will both be among the five pallbearers during the funeral services for the late president.

Well, still ahead, remembering the life and political career of one of the most popular presidents of 20th Century. We'll go live to Times Square in New York for a look at how some Americans are paying tribute to Ronald Reagan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came in a time when there was a lot of economic despair, there was a lot of disillusionment with the greatness of America. And he came and he took it on the chin. He just -- he flat-out told Gorbachev, tear down the wall. Nobody else was brass enough to do that.

And suddenly it was, like, yes, I'm an American. You know, that's my president, that's my man.



LIN: I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Welcome back to our special coverage this afternoon. America and the world are remembering Ronald Reagan, the nation's 40th president who died yesterday at age 93.

In his honor, the American flag is flying half-staff at the White House and other federal buildings across the nation. Ronald Reagan's death from pneumonia followed a long battle with always Alzheimer's disease, but his legacy lives on, his eternal optimism, his role in helping to end Soviet communication. And his popular brand of conservative politics. Many people are showing their affection by leaving mementos and flowers outside the Reagan Presidential Library.

WHITFIELD: As you can see President Reagan is being honored across the nation, but events this week tie to his death will focus on California and Washington places he spent a lot of time. Reagan's body will lie in repose at his Presidential Library in Simi Valley tomorrow and Tuesday. It will be flown to Washington Wednesday via Air Force

One, it will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol until Friday, and then via motorcade it will make its way to Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues for the funeral at the National Cathedral. The body then will be returned to California for private service at the Reagan Presidential Library. Burial is planned there at sunset at a spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean -- Carol.

LIN: You know he had the uncanny ability to connect across a broad spectrum of American life. His symbol straightforward politics resonated with both the powerful and with many ordinary people. Our Alina Cho joins us now from Times Square in Manhattan with a sampling of some of the remembrances. Alina we've been listening to some of them, and it's remarkable what people are coming up with.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, certainly no shortage of opinions here, Carol. As you know, Times Square is called the cross-section of the world, the crossroads of the world, rather. We certainly talk to a cross-section of people today. Some voted for Reagan, some didn't. Some remembered his humor. All agreed, even though from half a world away that this is a nation in mourning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lived a long, good life. He hasn't been a person for ten years, but everybody dies. It's like when you lose a parent. You never want to lose your parent, but it happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad for Nancy. It's been such a long haul. Ten years, right? For her, so she's been very devoted during all his illness, and I'm sure it's just the end of a long era.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call him the great communicator. I'm not sure I agreed with what he communicated, but he was very good at doing it. CHO: You know, of course they did call Reagan the great communicator. And time and time again, we heard from people that although they didn't always agree with the message, but he was certainly very good perhaps the best at delivering it -- Carol.

LIN: I agree with that. Thanks very much. Alina Cho in New York -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Well the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at Simi Valley, California houses photos and papers from the former president's eight years in the White House. CNN's David Mattingly is there getting reaction to Reagan's death where tomorrow at noon Pacific Time David it is going to be a completely different scene as the ceremony opens up to the public.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right Fredricka. As we learned earlier today, this will be the site of the first public event as the nation mourns the loss of Former President Ronald Reagan. Already outside the entranceway to the library, we have seen a great outpouring of emotion, as people come by erecting over the hours a shrine with signs, flowers, even jars of jellybeans, which was once President Reagan's favorite oval office snack. They've been doing this since last night. And at times people have become over whelmed with emotion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I loved Ronald Reagan. I voted for him the first time I could vote, and he just brought hope back to America, for me. And he also got me involved in politics, and I just felt like he brought respect back to our nation, and we could hold our head up high again. The things that he said, the way he lived his life brought honor to us.

MATTINGLY: So many people expressing a personal connection to Former President Ronald Reagan today, the library is closed to the public, but there is a great deal of activity up here today. Tomorrow morning, the staff here will host a private ceremony for Mrs. Reagan and her family. Following that will be the official lying in repose for public viewing. That will go through to Tuesday evening. After that the presidential casket will be taken to Washington for more public events before it returns here to the library on Friday evening for a private ceremony for friends and family, as President Ronald Reagan is buried here at the Ronald Reagan Library, a site that he and Mrs. Reagan chose as the facility was being built well over ten years ago -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: David, we heard from the family spokesperson who said the family, Ronald and Nancy, had been planning for years this very ceremony, but no one can plan for the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people that are likely to line up beginning tomorrow for the two days of the body lying in repose. How do they handle that kind of crowd?

MATTINGLY: We're expecting to get more details as the day goes on, but they're making plans to bring people up in shuttle buses a bus at a time and bring people through in an orderly fashion. There are large areas outside here where people can park their cars, so they're already making plans to manage what they are anticipating a lot of people coming up to pay their respects to Former President Reagan.

WHITFIELD: David Mattingly outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library in Simi Valley, California. Thank you very much -- Carol.

LIN: Still ahead, a political legend, what made Ronald Reagan such a success in politics. Representative David Dreier of California was elected to the House of Representatives the same year that Reagan was elected president. He stayed close with the Reagan's long after they left the White House. David Dreier is going to be talking with Fredricka live from Washington when we come back.


WHITFIELD: Ronald Reagan presented a new image for conservatives, his followers still proudly call themselves Reagan Republicans, among them Representative David Dreier of California. Congressman Dreier joins us from Washington with a personal perspective on the late president. Good to see you, Congressman.

REP. DAVID DREIER, (R) CALIFORNIA: How are you Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: I'm doing good. Before we talk about the politics, let's talk about the personal. Just recently a family spokesperson said that for Nancy Reagan, the last ten years have been so difficult, so there is a sense of relief that the president has gone on to a higher, better place. You've contacted Nancy Reagan over the past few weeks. What was your last conversation with her like? Did you get a sense from her that she felt like the late president was nearing an end?

DREIER: Well, it's very obvious that the whole circumstances have been difficult on Mrs. Reagan. We had dinner about five weeks ago at the home of Mrs. Walter Amberg (ph) with several other people, and it was clear just from the look in her face and she did say it that the president was not doing at all well. So it has been tough. I will tell you that Nancy Reagan as a human being has, I believe, grown incredibly through this tremendous adversity. She was a wonderful woman before but I will tell you the intensity of her love for Ronald Reagan, coupled with just that degree of commitment was something that is inspiring for everyone. I mean, we're talking about Ronald Reagan now, but Nancy Reagan in many ways has been a real inspiration, especially over these last ten years. So it's been tough, Fredricka, very, very tough. You know, my thoughts and prayers clearly go out to her, and it will be a challenging time over these next six days between here and Washington and back home in California.

WHITFIELD: And now Congressman, let's talk about your relationship with Ronald Reagan. He is somebody who encouraged you to get into the race, to run for office, even after you were defeated in '78; you ended up gaining office in '80, the very same year that he became president. How did you maintain both a friendly platonic relationship as well as a political one with him?

DREIER: Yes. Well you know today is the first day I've actually said, I was on a program with Bill Hemmer earlier this morning, it was the first time I said it, I'm glad that I lost in 1978 when I first ran. I was running with actually George W. Bush. We both lost for Congress at that time in 1978, and the reason is, and I thought about it today for the first time, that I was able to come to Congress with Ronald Reagan. I had so many wonderful experiences. I first met him when I was a college student at Claremont Mecena (ph) College, and then I had an opportunity to follow him for years up to that, and actually after I lost in 1978, they asked me to go to work, Mrs. Reagan and President Reagan asked me to go to work as they were getting ready for the campaign, and I said, no, I want to come to Congress with you all as part of what is clearly going to be a revelation.

It was a wonderful time. You keep mentioning Republican, Fredricka, but really his effort transcended party. I was thinking about the fact that we didn't have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the early 1980s, not until 1994 did we have a Republican majority. And yet he had victory after victory. In May of 1981 reducing the size and scope of government, by passing his budget package, in August of 1981, the tax cut which generated an increase in the flow of revenues to the Federal Treasury. These things happened in Democratic controlled Congresses, so he was able to reach out and get strong support from Democrats along with his very, very committed Republican base.

WHITFIELD: And that really does underscore how much of a survivor he was. What was it about his presidency his leadership that allowed him to survive the low lights and also endure and celebrate some of the highlights we're talking about? The invasion of Grenada, the Iran-contra, all of that, and somehow his presidency is still upheld as being one of the most popular ones.

DREIER: It's wonderful to be able to have heroes in life. And clearly Ronald Reagan was one of my heroes. And to have him have that tremendous sense of optimism, I like to say he was a glass half full sort of guy. He constantly believed that the best days of America were before us as we looked as his facing physical adversity, political adversity, challenges he that had, he was always upbeat. And that is something that inspired me and I know it inspired hundreds of thousands of Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents and people from all over the world. And I put it very simply in four words, Fredricka, he changed the world, and it was obviously for the better.

WHITFIELD: And personally he was a fighter, wasn't he? This is somebody who survived and managed to pull himself by his own bootstraps up after an assassination attempt, which we learned was actually much closer to death than anyone recognized. He survived colon cancer and then he very openly and bravely talked about his Alzheimer's fight with the world.

DREIER: Well and he survived cancer, as did Mrs. Reagan. When we think about challenges we face in life, the Reagan's faced some of the greatest challenges. And then, I mean so difficult these last ten years and to see Nancy Reagan, again, as I said when I opened, doing as well as she is under such different circumstances is something that continues to inspire all of us. So these are people who brought the country together. That's why I think this service that we're going to see over the next few days with the services we're going to see are very appropriate. It will allow so many Americans to come together and show their respects for the life of an incredible human being.

WHITFIELD: And quickly I heard earlier from former speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who said in the White House you could always tell when the president was walking down the halls. Because you could hear a stream of laughter. What are some of the fond memories that you have of him as we wrap things up?

DREIER: Well some of them I can't share with you, but I will tell you that he did have this wonderful sense of humor. The most public statements that we have seen are of course are from his debates, some of the great stories that he shared, but he always made us laugh. He told me some of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my entire life. And neither you nor the CIA will hear any of them right now.

WHITFIELD: That will stay private. Some nice intimate memories you'll always have. Congressman David Dreier.

DREIER: Well, I share them with a few people, just not with you.

WHITFIELD: Oh, thanks a lot. Well, maybe we'll talk after we get off the air. Congressman Dreier thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it -- Carol.

LIN: That is pretty funny. I'll bet you can get it out of him on the phone.

WHITFIELD: I may have to try.

LIN: You may. All right, well Democrat John Kerry will not campaign this week out of respect for Ronald Reagan. John Kerry is suspending his public appearances. He had this to say about his president's death.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ronald Reagan and many of us disagreed on one issue or another, but he always disagreed with a smile, without partisanship. He always put America first, and I think he had a sense of idealism and a sense of optimism and the possibilities about our country that defines leadership. We will miss him, no matter what party, no matter what our beliefs, he was a leader, and we'll miss him.


LIN: President Bush's campaign said it will continue its activities as usual. Still ahead, the humor of Ronald Reagan.


REAGAN: I'm so desperate for attention, I almost considered holding a news conference.


LIN: We'll take a look at some of Reagan's funniest moments over his political career. So stay right there.


WHITFIELD: Well looking back at old news clips, one of the things that are so striking is Ronald Reagan's extraordinary self- deprecating sense of humor, and he was disarming and so funny that sometimes you find yourself laughing out loud. And laughter in the political world can be a great weapon. Here's CNN's Jeff Greenfield.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a phone call the other night.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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: Ron, my caller said, how come you look younger every day when I see a new picture of you riding on horseback this I said, Jimmy, that's easy. I just keep riding older horses.

GREENFIELD: So much that the age issue. But in 1984 Reagan stumbled 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, I started --

GREENFIELD: And whispers about 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 midday 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.

REAGAN: I'm so desperate for attention, I almost considered holding a news conference. CANNON: Reagan knew if you make fun of yourself, that you establish a bond with people. He did it all the time.

GREENFIELD: He knew by instinct or by experience if you joke about a presumed weak spot, people relax about it. If it doesn't bother me, the joke says, it shouldn't bother you.

REAGAN: Preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. That'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.

REAGAN: For the first thrill tonight, it was to find myself for the first time in a long time in a movie on primetime.

GREENFIELD: But Reagan's humor was also a tool he used to defend opponents, some who saw Reagan as a dangerous extremist. Long-time Reagan aid Mike Deaver.

MIKE DEAVER, REAGAN AIDE: In some instances probably that is what people would have thought before they came into the room if they believed everything they read about him, so he did use humor to soften his own image.

GREENFIELD: And long-time political adversaries like former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder agree.

PATRICIA SCHROEDER, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: He had this little lilt, this little twinkle that worked when he was dealing with people, so folks who came in angry about something, they would kind of melt down. He couldn't have had more grace and humor is a wonderful way to have grace and take the edge off 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, "I hope you're 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.

REAGAN: I heard those speakers at that other convention saying, we won the Cold War. And I couldn't help wondering, just whom 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 we mocked both Bill Clinton and himself.

REAGAN: This fellow they have 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 Ronald Reagan, there is no better tool. Jeff Greenfield, CNN.


WHITFIELD: So perhaps not everybody loved his politics, but everyone loved to laugh with Ronald Reagan.

LIN: I forgot how funny he was.

WHITFIELD: Yes, very funny. Well, that wraps up our special edition of "Remembering Ronald Reagan." From the CNN Center, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

LIN: And I'm Carol Lin. Thanks for joining us. We're going to continue our coverage of Ronald Reagan throughout the evening.



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