Skip to main content

tv   The Presidency Ronald Reagan Conservatives the Cold War  CSPAN  January 13, 2021 2:00pm-3:04pm EST

2:00 pm
brought to you by these television companies who provide american history tv to viewers as a public service. up next on american history tv, a professor from the university of central arkansas on conservative criticism during the 1980s of president reagan's foreign policy toward the soviet union and how most conservatives down-played their criticism in later decades as reagan became a republican hero. the federalist society's montgomery, alabama, chapter hosted this event. >> good morning. good morning and welcome to the montgomery lawyers chapter of the federal society. the federal society is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our constitution and that is emphatically the duty and province of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it
2:01 pm
should be. the society seeks to both promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities. now, you may notice i have an adam smith tie on today, and that's not because we have an economic historian coming to speak to us. but it's because adam smith was principly an educator. he was a professor and a private tutor. and he was beloved by his students. and marcus witcher who is speaking to us today is known as a very exuberant, enthusiastic educator. i first met marcus several years ago at an institute for humane studies conference. i spoke and then he followed me. he later told me and i mean years later that he was so relieved that i went first because i didn't do such a good job and i made it so much easier for him to follow. i was an easy act to follow, so he was very pleased by this.
2:02 pm
but marcus has spent the last five years writing this book on ronald reagan, and ronald reagan has become a symbol. he's become an icon for conservatives. we have presidential primary debates within the republican party held at the reagan library. and it's a de facto prerequisite for these candidates to air their opinions, to pay homage to ronald reagan. buttish as marcus likes to point out, there's a disconnect between the way conservatives thought about ronald reagan in the 1980s, in his own time and space. and the way reagan has been mythologized, the way we think about reagan today, reagan the icon, reagan the symbol. we were at a reception and don divine who's head of the civil service in the reagan administration made some comment about the reagan administration to marcus, and marcus came back
2:03 pm
and said actually reagan did not cut domestic spending and they kind of got into this argument about how much reagan actually cut, and it was a funny moment for those of you who have seen don divine on television, he's a very adamant person. and marcus is as well, so it was a pretty robust argument and a very exciting one to be standing next to. reagan's image was to a great degree self-made. he was very aware of his legacy and sought to frame narratives about his presidency. during his presidency the cold-water united in a sort of fusionist way. some of you may have recalled the fusionist project. well, that united people as libertarians and neo
2:04 pm
conservatives and evangelicals and they all came together because of a common enemy. but after the cold war we sort of lost that fusionism. we have neo conservatives, those who celebrate american greatness, paleo conservatives, localest, evangelicals. and in the current political climate they are not as united as they were under the reagan presidency. and a lot of that has to do with the cold war. so here to talk to us today about the cold war reagan conservatives and the end of the cold war is dr. marcus witcher. dr. witcher is a scholar and resident at the history department at the arkansas center for research and economics. and he's at the university of central arkansas. he teaches in the history department. in addition to being an engaging and enthusiastic speaker he
2:05 pm
specializes in political, economic and intellectual history from 1920 to the present. his focus was on modern american conservative and his manuscript comes out this month, 2019. he earned his bachelors in history at the university of central arkansas and received his ph.d. from the university of alabama. this is when all the auburn fans in the room boo. dr. witcher offers classes in modern american history including classes in the cold war, the conservative movement, the american presidency, the history of economic thought and u.s. economic development. he's published in a wide variety of places including white house study journal and co-editor of an anthology. he's currently researching for his next book titled "fulfilling the reagan revolution." please join me in welcoming dr.
2:06 pm
witcher. >> thanks. you're doing a great job. i don't know i even need to speak. thank you so much for having me. it's a pleasure to be here and talking to the montgomery chapter of the federalist society, a society that has done so much in terms of reshaping the american judiciary and has played such a large role in the conservative movement. and so it's a great pleasure for me to be here today. i'm going to be speaking to you guys today about reagan conservatives and the end of the cold war. and i want to start off by sort of asking you to think about what do you think ronald reagan stood for? what defines ronald reagan for you? and i think for many, many conservatives what defines ronald reagan for them is an adherence to principle, an unpliching adherence to principle, conservative principles specifically that he never sort of deviated from. and this conception of reagan really started to emerge around
2:07 pm
2005, 2006 in the wake of sort of george w. bush's dismal presidency where hay became very, very disillusioned with george w. bush. so what i want to talk to you guys today about is i want to talk about how conservatives viewed reagan during the 1980s. oftentimes they viewed him with frustration, contempt, anger because not more was being done to sort of achieve conservative's policy goals. i was really, really surprised when i was researching for my dissertation because i went through steven hayward's book and i found this nice little paragraph. he told the long sort of story about the reagan years, and i was like that's really fascinating. and i found that aside in several other books i was reading in my seminar class and i took it my dissertation advisers and they said this sounds like an eclnt topic, go and research it. go and look into it.
2:08 pm
and so out of that research came the book, getting right with reagan, the struggle for true conservatism, and that's what i'm going to be talking about today. so we'll go ahead and talk about how conservatives view reagan today, and then we'll sort of go back in time and take a look how conservatives viewed reagan during the 1980s. like i said oftentimes with frustration and even contempt when it came to his cold war foreign policies. and then we'll talk a little bit how reagan wanted to be remembered. and we'll end sort of gesturing how conservatives began to construct the reagan legacy and later the reagan myth. i really, really love this quote. i wish i had written it, but i didn't. i think it really sort of grasps what i'm trying to do in the book. he says, quote, historical memory is like a great compacter, crushing nuances and flattening wrinkles until a person or event is made a
2:09 pm
perfect morsel for popular consumption. and i think this has largely happened with ronald reagan today among conservatives. he's sort of been compacted down into a simplified version of himself, maybe a purest version of himself. and all the nuances and sort of pragmatic policies of the '80s have largely been forgotten. this is really personified by wwrd. this emerged in 2005. anne colter, she said, you know, for christians it's wwjd, what would jesus do. but for conservatives it's wwrd, what would reagan do. and of course after this sort of takes off in 2005, it really takes off in 2007 in the leadp to the 2008 republican primary shawn hannity and the heritage foundation sort of partner on this to say wwrd, right, what would ronald reagan do today? we need a candidate to -- you go
2:10 pm
on amazon and buy yourself a bracelet, a t-shirt you see up here, a bumper sticker to put on your car. you can buy a mouse pad like the one on the far left that says if we can resurrect him we'd re-elect him, the idea of a zombie reagan running in the 2020 primary. but nonetheless conservatives from around 2005 to 2016 or so began to really reconstruct reagan as a conservative purest. and they began to sort of claim, and this start maybe even before that ronald reagan won the cold war by sticking to his conservative principles and that reagan through his sort of conservatism is to credit ultimately for the dissolution of the soviet empire and the end of the cold war. today what we're going to do is go back in time and look at what conservatives are saying about reagan's policies in the 1980s and how that is sort of different from what they claim
2:11 pm
today. so what does my manuscript do? well, my manuscript details the complex and often tense relationship that existed between president reagan and conservatives. and it acknowledges the wide range of different perspectives on the right. and i think that's something unique to my book. i think other historians have done a good job as well. that's one thing i try to grapple with. i don't think historians have done enough in understanding conservatism and all its various iterations. it also questions whether or not the reagan years were actually the triumph of conservatism. i actually don't think is true. i think the 1990s i actually think the clinton administration acheefbled many, many of the things, maybe not on purpose, right, maybe begrudgingly after looking at polls but they get
2:12 pm
the balanced budget, et cetera. many, many conservatives did not see the 1980s as a triumph of conservatism at least in the 1980s. finally the book examines the interconnectedness of politics, memory and myth building among american conservatives and attempts to explain the creation of the reagan legacy and the evolution of that legacy and the creation of the reagan myth. so i've got this slide here that tells you sort of where the sources come from. i was lucky enough to visit a member of archives including reagan's presidential library which is a great place to do research for two weeks, like fly out to california. hard times, right? it was excellent going to the valley and going through the reagan papers specifically the morton blackwell files. if anyone has any questions about the evidentiary basis we can return to this at the end of
2:13 pm
the talk during the q&a. just sort of as a primer so everybody here is not upset with me, there are four schools of thought in the historical profession about the end of the cold war. and the first is probably the most dominant that gorbachev deserves most of the credit for the end of the cold war because he undermined the system, the communist party and in doing so destroyed the fabric that held the soviet union and its satellites, right, together basically through control, the threat of coercion. and that's probably the largest school of thought within the historic profession. within this school of thought reagan is given very little credit for the end of the cold war. there's another school of thought that claims that ronald reagan actually prolonged the cold war, right? not only did he not contribute to it, he prolonged it because his sort of fiery rhetoric simply emboldened the hard liners in the soviet union and
2:14 pm
made it difficult for someone like gorbachev to enact his reforms. the third school is what we call the reagan victory school. this is mainly made up of conservative historians who claimed ronald reagan won the cold war by basically forcing the soviet union into bankruptcy because of there military buildup to put pressure on the soviets, they couldn't keep up. as a result they had to enact reforms. those reforms ultimately undid the soviet union. and there's an emerging school of thought, this is the school i want to belong to, right, that reagan and gorbachev worked together to set the foundation for a peaceful end to the cold war and the dissolution of the soviet empire. i think gorbachev deserves most of the credit although he probably would like to take it. but i think his policies are ultimately are what undid the soviet union, but i think reagan deserves a lot of credit for working with gorbachev in order to basically establish better relations to enable gorbachev to
2:15 pm
carry out reforms at home. i know i'm speaking to a more conservative audience, so i'm not either one of the first two. so don't be too angry with me, right? all right, let's go ahead and jump into the 1980s. so conservatives were frustrated with reagan's foreign policy throughout the 1980s, but they were also really frustrated with other things reagan attempted to do in the foreign policy arena in the first two years of the reagan administration. so some conservatives were upset with the sell of advanced airborne warning and control systems to saudi arabia. they felt this violated sort of israeli national security. and the israeli prime minister even came out and condemned reagan for this cell. this was reagan's sort of first foreign policy accomplishment or ledge s slative accomplishment while he was in office. he basically told the prime
2:16 pm
minister, listen, i'm the president of the united states. other countries don't make our foreign policy. you can imagine how that went over with neoconservatives when reagan made that type of comment. and also he accepted taiwan's nine point plan. and so many conservatives criticize reagan as sort of being soft on china here. thirdly, reagan was criticized specifically by neoconservatives for his lack of a public response to sort of the imposition of marshal law in poland, the crack down on solidarity. neoconservatives claim reagan should have done more. he should have pushed back with embargoes and technology and things like that. we know now because there was just a new book released on sort of reagan and the cia and poland. we now know that reagan behind
2:17 pm
the scenes was very active actually in helping support sort of dissident groups within the eastern bloc and he was doing quite a bit in poland, but conservatives at the time didn't know that because it wasn't public knowledge. they're also criticizing him because they thought they'd elected him to pursue a more aggressive policy to the soviet union, and in the first two years they don't see that materializing. they don't see that materializing. let's get to some specific criticism. so in 1982, right, norman writes a piece in the "the new york times." he's a major neoconservative figure in which he pretty much systematically dismisses the idea the president had any accomplishments in the first year and a half of his presidency. he argued they didn't outline a
2:18 pm
clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish in the cold war. they had to focus on the economy during the first year, right? obviously when reagan comes to office that's their number one concern is getting the economy back on track and they do get the tax cuts in 1981, they do get some spending cuts initially in the first year. but by and large foreign policy conservatives, neoconservatives feel reagan is really focused on economic matters and hasn't defined a foreign conservative policy. the result was a vacuum into which come pouring all the old ideas and policy against which ronald reagan himself has stood for so many years. he continued then in the first two years of the reagan administration reagan had followed a strategy of helping the soviet union stabilize its empire rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within. his criticism was so piercing
2:19 pm
reagan actually picked up the phone and gave him a call. and they had an extended conversation in which reagan tried to convince he was not pursuing a policy of detaunte. you know, listening to the president trying to justify what he had done to this point politely a couple of times of trying to get off the phone finally says, thank you so much, hangs up the phone and writes down later in his memoir after he'd hung up with reagan he was pursuing what he would call detaunte. 1982 publishes an edition of conservative digest in which they systematically criticize the president. they criticize him on social
2:20 pm
issues for not getting the school prayer passed. they criticized for not getting a right to life amendment passed. you also have fiscal conservatives, budget hawks criticizing the president because of the imbalanced budget, the budget deficits that have been runoff in 1982. you also have supply siders mad with reagan because reagan had raised taxes or was on a path to raise taxes. and you have foreign policy conservatives who are the people we're going to focus on in the next slide who are really criticizing reagan for not outlining a clear vision in terms of his cold war foreign policy. the title of the magazine, "has reagan deserted the conservatives." a playoff of one of reagan's films. where's the best of me? has reagan deserted the conservatives? like i said this magazine or this edition of the magazine,
2:21 pm
this volume has criticism across the spectrum. if you were like i don't buy your argument in the book conservatives had problems in the reagan administration i would somehow find this which i haven't been able to do on ebay or amazon and hand it to you. it's that good of a source. here are just a few quotes from that magazine on foreign policy. general daniel graham, chairman of the coalition for peace through strength asserted there's, quote, very little difference between reagan's policy and carter's policy. joseph chundra, former analyst lamented we have no strategy for the soviet threat. general albien knight declared i'm not disappointed, i'm disgusted. and when asked to rate reagan out of 10, he said i'd give him a 2 out of 10. midge decter who i had the great pleasure of e-mailing with just the other week said, quote, reagan was pursuing the same
2:22 pm
policy of detaunt. if reagan were not in office now he'd be leading the own opposition to his policies. there's a cartoon of the piece. it has reagan standing there telling him all about the human right abuses of the soviet union and he's taking it from him seemingly and reagan looks at him and goes will that be cash or credit. and this is the sort of criticism that reagan cared more about revitalizing the economy, right, and the american farmer than he did about standing up to the soviet union and casting sort of the cold war in moral terms. i think it's really important in order to understand where we're going to go in this next few slides, i think it's really important to understand what drove ronald reagan in terms of foreign policy.
2:23 pm
ronald reagan was an adamant anti-communist. he's probably got the best in the conservative movement. he can quote, and he does so. so he's deeply influenced by that, and going all the way back to his time in hollywood he's an adamant anti-communist. he believes the system is socially and bankrupt and eventually socialism will clams collapse upon itself. most americans knew he was an anti-communist. something most people missed, though, is reagan was also a nuclear abolitionist. he and margaret thatcher deeply disagreed about this. reagan thought that it was a
2:24 pm
policy that basically held the american people and the soviet people as hostages in this conflict. he thought it was fundamentally immoral and he wanted to move toward a policy that would not just freeze weapons. he always opposed a nuclear freeze, but eliminate nuclear weapons. these two things his anti-communism and nuclear abolitionist are going to kml come into conflict. there are times how do you get to abolishing nuclear weapons. you probably have to work with the soviets in one capacity or another if you're going to get there. he's going to run into some problems because this sort of seemingly paradox of ideas. now, conservatives do in 1983 really begin to praise the president. 1983 is the year that conservatives feel like ronald reagan reggy sort of comes into his own in terms of embracing a
2:25 pm
conservative foreign policy. and that's of course the year that ronald reagan announced the strategic defense initiative, right? dubbed star wars by the very critical press. so reagan's vision was of course to create a missile shield so the united states wouldn't be under the threat of nuclear war. he saw it as a means to abolish those weapons because in reagan's mind he always tells gorbachev later on i'll share the technology with you, and gorbachev looks at him like who is this guy? you going to give the soviets the technology? that's not going to happen. so reagan viewed sdi by a means of which to abolish nuclear weapons, but the soviets didn't see it that way. the soviets already had this conception of reagan rightfully so that he was adamantly anti-communist and that he and his administration would be willing to launch a preemptive, and this is where they kind of go off the rails, a preemptive
2:26 pm
nuclear strike in order to destroy the soviet union. in that context the kbg and the people in moskow view this very much by a means in which reagan can enact the policy they fear he wants to the act which is preemptive strike against the soviet union. and so sdi turns out to be extraordinarily destabilizing for the cold war. it's somewhat ironic the time the year conservatives are most satisfied with reagan's policy is also the year we dub in history the year of fear because of how close the world came to nuclear conflict. reagan also in 1983 deployed 108 person missiles, cruise missiles to western europe in keeping with the promise to counter the ss 20s the soviets had deployed and of course reagan escalated his rhetoric in 1983. the best example is the 41st annual convention of the national association of
2:27 pm
evangelicals where reagan gets up before the crowd and says, listen, you cannot be ambivalent about the cold war. you cannot join the nuclear freeze movement. you have to stand with us. this is moral war, right, and he casts the soviet union as the evil empire, right? and he frames the cold war as a conflict between good and evil, right? good and evil, stark, stark sort of rhetoric. and so 1983 is the year that conservatives feel like reagan's really embracing their vision for what his foreign policy should be, very combative, take it to the soviets. but it also has a major sort of destabilizing effect upon super power relations. the year of fear that's what i called it. and i call it the year of fear for several reasons one which the sdi which presented a very real danger at least in the minds of the soviet union but
2:28 pm
also because the shooting down of flight k-l 007. a korean airliner strayed into soviet airspace where it strayed for two hours. the soviets sent fighters to go in and inspect this because they thought it was an american spy plane initially thinking -- i'm not sure what they were thinking. it's interesting because it had windows, there were lights, it looks like a commercial airliner but nonetheless the soviets ultimately shoot down the plane and onboard there were 269 passengers including 63 americans, including congressmen, conservative congressmen all die in the shooting down. in response to that, conservatives immediately -- conservative activists immediately hold a press conference denouncing the soviet union and calling on ronald reagan to enact an embargo on technologies, to demand the release of prisoners in the soviet union who were imprisoned for -- basically human rights
2:29 pm
activists imprisoned. reagan is on vacation when this happens. he has to cut his vacation short. but he and secretary schultz talk about it on the phone and he goes we've got to beal careful. this could escalate very, very quickly. and so once again, right, reagan guns forward and gives this great speech. he denounces the soviet union. he calls them barbaric. he uses -- it's probably the best sort of framed argument to denounce the soviets -- it's extraordinarily harsh, but it's not enough for conservatives. they say we didn't elect a dictionary. we elected a commander in chooeff. and there's the frustration in 1983 reagan does really good, he does really well at talking the game but doesn't seem to be willing to really, really embrace what they think are his actual values and principles when it comes to foreign policy.
2:30 pm
sort of in conjunction with the soviet response to able archer. reagan couldn't understand how the soviets could be basically flying next to a korean airliner for two hours and never contact the united states. what if this had been something bigger? would they not have given us a call, would they not have gone through a back channel? this was problematic, right? this could lead to major consequences if it was on a larger scale. on november 2, 1983, the nato and its allies simulated the use of nuclear weapons to test command and control procedure and designed specifically to entail the highest rankings of west german sort of government. margaret thatcher and reagan were all supposed to be a part of it. they decided correctly at inlast minute that might trigger the soviets. they might get a little concerned if they were involved. but nums they went ahead and went through with it with still
2:31 pm
high ranking but lower officials to run sort of able archer. and even though it wasn't reagan and thatcher being involved, this really, really, the kbg immediately says this is it, this is the preemptive strike, this has got to be it. and they basically activate cold red. they're ready. they're on high alert. nuclear war is coming. we've got to be ready to launch. and so for the duration of able archer i think nine days there's this tension. word about that gets back to reagan because the united states is a double agent and the kgb is in london, and he reports to london, right, this is happening. and so by the end of negative, early december reagan is getting this information that the soviet union is comprised of people who actually believe the united states is capable of a preemptive strike and their commanding control procedures in the soviet union are so poor for the kl 007 incident it might
2:32 pm
actually lead to nuclear revolution. so reagan questioned how hard he should push the soviets. reagan was also influenced by abc's the day after, which was a made for tv movie which basically demonstrated what would happen in the case of a nuclear conflict. after he gets an advance copy from abc and he watches it at camp david, and the president was amazingly influenced by film. it resonated with him in a way, right, all the briefing books wouldn't. that's not a knock on reagan, it's just if you gave him a briefing in film he'd understand it, hold onto it and sort of repeat it later on. and so the film seems to have had a major effect on how reagan viewed sort of how he understood things. so the day after was actually really, really significant at least according to reagan as sort of giving him an idea how things would look in the midst
2:33 pm
of the kl 007 flight, in the midst of the archer. he said after he watched the movie it left him, quote, greatly depressed and he was aware of the need to step back from the nuclear precipice. later on he was also briefed for the first time on the united states nuclear war plan. by the way, reagan wanted nothing to do with the football. in his last days in office he was like can you take that away, and they said president bush has to be sworn in before we can get rid of that. he's briefed though on the nation's nuclear war plan and he recorded, quote, that it was a sobering experience. and in his memoirs explained in several ways the sequence paired with those in the abc movie. and so i think all of these things came together to really resonate with reagan by the end of 1983 his administration needed to take a different tone with the soviets. not because they were wrong about calling the soviet union an illegal empire necessarily but because it wasn't bringing
2:34 pm
about the results they wanted to achieve. the day that able archer ended, november 11th, reagan made his first public appeal for the total elimination of nuclear armaments. made this directly. he says i believe there knl k only be one policy for improving our precious civilization in this modern age and nuclear war can never be won and never be fought. i know i speak for people everywhere to say our dream is to see when nuclear weapons can be banished from the face of the earth. howonder how radical conservatives would respond if jimmy carter had said those things, right? i'm not sure. in january 1983 schultz and reagan over christmas break basically they talked with one another and reagan said put together a policy. we want to have a new policy to announce in the new year. in january 1983 the reagan administration shifts its public tone regarding the soviet union. during a press conference reagan asserted the two super powers
2:35 pm
must establish a better working relationship. i think this is really, really important because if i take you guys back to that slide, right, at the top where i talked about the different groups of historiography there's one group that says reagan didn't play any role at all. so this policy shift took place 18 months before gorbachev becomes secretary. reagan was willing to play ball. it's not his fault -- dies shortly after this. it's not his fault -- thinks the best hope to make sure -- it's very effect to me from the research reagan in conjunction with secretary schultz but really reagan initiated this public policy shift in 1984. and so once mikhail gorbachev
2:36 pm
thatcher famously tells ronald reagan this is someone we can do business with. sort of the social reformer. mikhail gorbachev, the man who comes into power when the soviet union has dismal economic numbers, mass cultural and social decline, a war in afghanistan raging, right, which the americans are making extraordinarily difficult on the soviets. he has to do something about the condition of the soviet union. and so his goal is to write, implement these policies to try and emphasize more consumer goods over military spending. but in order to do that he's got to have an easing of tensions with the united states. he's got to have an easing of tensions with the united states. another thing pushing gorbachev in this direction, of course, is the decline of oil prices. the soviet union had sort of rode the oil high but oil prices
2:37 pm
had declined dramatically forcing the soviet union because of their loss of revenues to come to the table. and so reagan and gorbachev decide to meet at geneva in 1985. and like i tell my students not a great deal was accomplished at geneva in terms of policy outcomes, there were no reductions or anything like that. but what happened at geneva is that gorbachev and reagan got into the same room together and begin to talk to one another. and they develop a relationship with one another. and they began to sort of develop this relationship and this trust that would matter so much, so much until the end of the cold war. as reagan said, right, we don't have these weapons because we hate one another necessarily. we have these weapons because we mistrust one another. we don't trust one another. if we can have the trust then we can start to really work towards some type of agreement. but reagan leaves geneva and the administration is hopeful, schultz is hopeful this went better than expected.
2:38 pm
reagan got along with gorbachev and i'm sure he probably told some soviet jokes gorbachev didn't appreciate. but by and large they got along. gorbachev is always complaining about reagan making these soviet jokes that were extraordinarily offensive to him. he's like this guy is an artifact, i don't know what to do with him, but he seems to be genuine when he talks about nuclear disarmament so we should continue to work with him. so there's this hope in the administration they're going to be able to sort of be able to come back in 1986 and maybe make a deal. conservatives are also hearing this, and they're extraordinarily scared this might actually be the case, that reagan might sort of give away sdi, that he might bargain away the strategic defense initiative in exchange for nuclear reductions. conservatives they're riding the administration, writing op-eds and criticizing the
2:39 pm
administration. reagan actually has to have the grass roots leader to the white house and he stands up in front of the group and gives this nice eloquent speech about how mikhail gorbachev is new type of leader and they can trust him, right, he's mr. conservative. and he finishes and there's silence. and he's not used to that. and when he leaves the room there's a real disconnect between conservative activists and president reagan himself. he promises them, though, that he will not -- will not bargain away sdi. and so when he shows up and he and gorbachev, it goes swimmingly well. the two are talking about with quips we can meet back here in ten years and we'll destroy the last nuclear weapon together and
2:40 pm
it'll be wonderful because all nuclear weapons will be gone. that's how optimistic reagan is they're going to get something big, and they pretty much outline a deal that would have been a major reduction or a complete reduction in intermediate weapons. but they break up and they go -- sort of each group goes a separate way to regroup, talk it out, figure it out before they come back to the table to make a deal. and when they come back to the table gorbachev says i have one condition. sdi must be limited to the laboratory for ten years. if you will agree, mr. president, to limit sdi to the laboratory for ten years we can sign this agreement today, go out and announce it to the press. reagan is furious. reagan is absolutely furious. he feels betrayed. there weren't supposed to be any conditions. and so reagan puts on his sort of iconic white coat, right, and he leaves. he walks out, and conservatives hound reagan for this
2:41 pm
achievement for saying no, for sticking up for sdi and the conservative vision and the missile shield and whatnot. the reality, though, i think most people in the pentagon would have told reagan and secretary schultz sdi was probably ten years away from being out of the laboratory anyways. so i'm not convinced that walking away from the deal really had any significant value, but it did for reagan. he had promised conservatives he wasn't going to sell them out. he didn't sell them out. and conservatives cheer. they think this is great, right, we didn't get an arms control agreement. we didn't get rid of sdi, this is fine. and so reagan walks out of rakevic. but the teams continue to talk, they continue to negotiate and eventually they agree to have another summit in washington, right? and in response to reports that the reagan administration is
2:42 pm
going to -- is going to sign an intercontinental ballistic missile treaty with the soviets, national review ahead of william wright runs an edition titled reagan's suicide pack in which they criticize reagan and the inf treaty. it features criticism and their criticism really took three forms. one, the treaty was not verifiable. two, it left the soviets with a significant advantage in conventional weapons, and they questioned whether or not the treaty was actually motivated by domestic political concerns. does anybody know what i'm talking about? iran contra, right? that president reagan was actually making this deal not because he believed in it but rather because he was so unpopular in that moment that his poll numbers were so far down, that he was making this deal for political reasons. nixon and kissinger for their part -- by the way, i believe to
2:43 pm
my knowledge this is the first time nixon and kissinger had released a joint statement since watergate. they thought it was that important they come out together and criticize president reagan for his naive foreign policy. nixon and kissinger insisted that any western leader who indulges the soviets of a nuclear free world courts unimaginable perils. and in their piece they concluded that while the president probably wanted to be remembered as a peacemaker reagan needed to remember however he may be held in today's headlines the judgment of history would severely, severely condemn a false piece. national review wasn't the only organization that was criticizing the inf treaty. the new right took out under the how aphilips the president of the conservative caucus, they took out a full page ad in conservative newspapers across the country. and this has got to be my
2:44 pm
favorite source. this is my favorite source in the entire book because it's got a picture if you take a look at it of nevill chamber00, ronald reagan, adolph hitler and a picture of mikhail gorbachev. and it says appeasement is as unwise in 1988 and it was in 1938. help us defeat the reagan, gorbachev inf treaty. if a conservative calls you neville chamberlain, that's the biggest insult, that you're going to sellout the world to hiltler. and so this comparison of reagan to chamberlain i think is quite profound. senate conservatives propose hold back amendments and modifications to torpedo the inf treaty. they're ultimately unsuccessful, and i think part of that was strategy. i think they were trying to show the president we might not be able to defeat you this time,
2:45 pm
but you better not go for any reductions because we'll adamantly oppose them. with the exception of bush every gop hopeful opposed the treaty, many of them running to the right actually of reagan. and jack kemp our good friend over on the left with the football because he's a quarterback blasts the proposal during a speech labeling reagan's treaty a nuclear munich, pretty harsh rhetoric. here's some wonderful, wonderful quotes from our good friends who are sort of in the new right, our social conservative friends. howard philips exclaimed ronald reagan is a very weak man with a strong wife and a strong staff and added reagan was a useful idiot for soviet propaganda. richard vigry another new activist, a direct mail guy asserted that's he's in line with his adversaries, the liberals and soviets. we feel alienated, abandoned and
2:46 pm
rejected and exclaimed it'll be a splitting of the blanket, conservatives will file for divorce and never reconcile again. didn't turn out to be the case. and so conservative outrage, conservative criticism of the inf treaty was pretty much uniform. it's across the ideological spectrum of reagan's inf treaty. ultimately the treaty gets passed overwhelmingly in the senate and ultimately reduces the soviet and american stockpiles by about 5%, okay. which doesn't sound like that much, but this is the first time in the cold war that we've reduced nuclear weapons. a major, major achievement setting the united states and the soviet union on a path towards other treaties such as
2:47 pm
stark. the inf treaty was one of reagan's principle foreign policy achievements. i would say it's the principle foreign policy achievement. but in order to get that with soviet union, he had to ignore his harshest critics who were conservatives. he had to ignore them. he had to ignore their complaints and go his own way. gorbachev, schultz and reagan all in their memoirs credit inf and that treaty and the relationship reagan built with gorbachev for enabling a peaceful end to the cold war. they said this was key for setting the stage for the end of the cold war. this is probably the best quote in the entire powerpoint courtesy of george will. writing in news week near the end of president reagan's second term george will lamented how wildly wrong reagan is about what is happening in moskow. reagan has accelerated the moral
2:48 pm
disarmament of the west, actual disarmament will follow and exclaimed december 8th the day the inf treaty was signed will be remembered as the day the cold war was lost. that one didn't hold up very well, george. but nonetheless by the time reagan leaves office many conservatives are looking at one another and they're writing and saying what did we achieve? what did we achieve? we got tax cuts, got tax reform but did we fundamentally change the trajectory of the united states? and many of them conclude, no, we didn't succeed in this endeavor. and not only that, george h. w. bush is about to be elected president and that's only going to further, right, sort of frustrate them because many of them are going to be shown the door in the bush white house. and so there's this sort of belief that, you know, they
2:49 pm
haven't really achieved what they setout to achieve. they hadn't transformed the country in the same way fdr had in the 1930s. i want to pivot now to tell you a little bit how reagan wanted to frame his own legacy, okay? because it is also very different from sort of what conservatives claim the reagan legacy should be today. so let's a take look how did ronald reagan think about his own cold war foreign policy and what does that mean. in order to sort of -- this part of the book what i did was actually went to the reagan library museum and i looked at the kpiblts. i studied the exhibits. reagan actually worked in order to create those, the museum exhibits. he actually wrote the text. a lot of it's taken from his diary and memoirs, but he played an active role in putting together the museum. i also adraw from his ought biraphy as well as his public speeches at the time, especially his public speeches at the time.
2:50 pm
let's take a look at how reagan wanted to form his own cold war foreign policy legacy. so in november 1990 reagan gives his brother hood of man speech which of course happens after the fall of the berlin wall. ben wall. and discussing that, reagan credited, quote, the brave men and women on both sides of the iron curtain who devoted their lives, and sometimes sacrificed them, so that we might inhabit a world without barriers. and so, he gives credit to the people on the ground in eastern europe for rising up, right, and resisting. resisting communism and oppression. he also, though, gives credit to margaret thatcher for their role in sort of enabling human freedom to emerge. reagan told his audience he wasn't sure whether or not he had listened to him when he said, you know, mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. he wasn't sure if he had listened to him.
2:51 pm
but, neither he, nor the rulers of eastern europe, could ignore. they couldn't ignore the much louder chants of demonstrators in the streets, and the churches and the schools and on the factories and the farms. a once-silent people found their voice, and with it, a battering ram to knock down walls, real and imagined. because of them, the political math of europe has been rewritten. what about the museum? well, if you go to the reagan museum, which i highly recommend, i think it's -- it's wonderful. i have been to many of them and i think the reagan museum is exceptional. when you go there, if you -- you come upon, if you get to these large foreign-policy section. and once you get through it, there is these doors, as you can see here from my amateur photography. and as you look through it, this big, sort of, video playing of reagan and gorbachev and what they did to basically bring about an end to the cold war through peaceful negotiations.
2:52 pm
and all of those exhibits emphasize reagan working with gorbachev. you know, negotiating, doing what they could to try and develop the trust that would ultimately lead to disarmament, right? and they a new detente that would actually bring lasting peace. by the way, the iran contra exhibit is right here. just conveniently, located to where, like, you might miss it. i'm not saying it's like put there strategically. but you might just miss it as you are on your way to see like the pretty statue and film. it's actually a well-done exhibit. i'm not criticizing the exhibit, itself. it just happens to be where you just might walk past it. all righty. reagan on the end of the cold war, right? president reagan never, ever claimed to have won the cold war. gave credit to others, especially the people of eastern europe and the people of soviet union who ultimately demanded an
2:53 pm
end to the cold-war status quo. and who ultimately, rejected communism. i don't want you to leave here and think he didn't play a positive role. i think he contributed significantly to the end of the cold war but the way he contributed is not the way in which conservatives today think he contributed to the end of the cold war. he does deserve credit for believing in the bankruptcy of the soviet system, right, and for inspiring nationalist movements, such as solidarity. and for negotiating. and i think ultimately, reagan, like lincoln, should be praised not because of his rigid adherence to principles but praised because he was willing to take new information, digest that information, and alter and strategically change, right, how he wanted to address the situation based upon that new information. in short, i think he should be praised because he was a statesman. he wasn't rigidly ideological.
2:54 pm
he was a pragmatic conservative, who took what he could get. right? if he can get 80%, take it. get the other 20% later. over the course of the 1990s, however, many conservatives began to claim reagan had single-handedly confronted the empire, demanded that the berlin wall be torn down, stuck to his principles, and in so doing, won the cold war. and if you want to know how conservatives sort of constructed the reagan legacy and myth, you should buy the book. with that, i will go ahead and take questions. yeah. yep. yeah. >> given what you have spoken about, and correctly, ronald reagan's actual policies in the 1980s. how do conservative republicans get back to that, from the trump
2:55 pm
era of now? >> yeah. so, the question was, if you didn't hear it, is the reagan years are very different in terms of policy and what we see now in sort of the trump administration. especially, on issues, i assume, you are talking about immigration and trade? >> immigration, trade, nato. >> yeah, support of international organizations. yeah. how do -- how do -- how does the conservative movement sort of get back there? i mean, it has to happen electorally, right? someone has to stand up and say, no, right? we don't represent sort of anti-immigration. we don't represent sort of protectionism. and i think that's happening, right? i recently attended a meeting at the philadelphia society. and there was great debate over whether or not trump's tariffs are effective. whether or not trump's tariffs are a good policy to bring about sort of the economic goals that he has. and i think that there are many, many conservatives who are still ideologically and principally opposed, right, to those things. i just think they need a standard bearer.
2:56 pm
and so, i think you may not like this answer but i think maybe the best thing that could happen to the conservative movement is if donald trump lost in -- in 2020. if you believe in sort of those principles, right? four more years of a trump presidency, the republican party will probably move more in the direction of sort of trump's vision, right? key people will be appointed to the state parties and whatnot. so, i think if you are sort of a reagan-style republican, you are going to have to think long, hard, strategically, about what you care about. power? or principles? yeah. >> i was interested [ inaudible ] who have either contributed to the narrative or people [ inaudible ] that narrative. >> so the question is how do i respond to people who lived it, who were in the reagan
2:57 pm
administration, or people who have been part of constructing the narrative? well, i've never spoken, right, haven't had the pleasure, so i don't know what he would say. he is one of the key people in sort of creating the narrative with his biography of reagan in the late '90s. but, what i usually say to folks within the administration, because i have spoke with some people in the administration. and what i -- what they usually tell me is, yeah, these people were out there but they're just a bunch of bomb-throwers, right? they didn't represent sort of the grassroots. they didn't represent the people in the administration who were in the trenches doing the hard work. and i think they are right about that, right? there is this disconnect between the people in power who recognize in order to get things done, you have to work with the democratic house. right? and that means you are not going to get everything you want. so i think they're right about that. right? and that some of this was just disillusionment on the part of sort of conservative activists and whatnot. i definitely don't want you to
2:58 pm
leaf here today, and think that every single conservative, right, in the united states during the 1980s was always angry with the reagan administration. the purpose of the book is to push back sort of the absence of that criticism, right? and to inform people about the absence of that criticism. and to try and reframe reagan and his legacy along the lines of what he actually did. rather, than sort of what we've misremembered that he did. yeah? >> [ inaudible ].
2:59 pm
>> yeah. so -- so, the question is, to what extent did conservatives create a myth of reagan because liberals and progressives basically created their own myths of reagan? i think, that that's part of it. i mean, the first generation of scholarship from historians was actually quite poor. and the first generation of sort of scholarship from activists was also really, really, poor as you could probably imagine. reagan was the know-nothing president and that's all been debunked by the work of martin and anne elise. and they published his own sort of speeches. up until he became president, he wrote all of his own speeches. he was a thinking conservative. when i get into the sources, when you go to, say, the reagan ranch, right, a lot of his books are there.
3:00 pm
and you can pull those books down, or at least you can with permission. pull those books down and look inside of some of them. and you will notice like lee edwards is telling me, i haven't found it yet but i have always wanted to. and he had underlined it and dog yeared it. he actually engaged with the text. they tried to push back against these things and you are -- you are very correct. the left has imagined and sort of created a sort of myth of reagan that is far worse, right, than the reality. right? sort of, this view that reagan was elected because of sort of dog-whistling dixie, racial backlash, other stuff like that. so, i think that's part of it. but i think it was actually a conscious decision, in 1996, if you read the book. it's a conscious decision in 1996, after dole was defeated, to try and sort of establish, right, a common language. and a common sort of history and a common set of policy prescriptions in the wake of the cold war. so, as alan mentioned at the beginning, right, the cold war and anti-communism held the conservative movement together,
3:01 pm
up until 1991. but after 1991, i mean, what's holding a libertarian and a social-conservative together? i mean, there's not much, right? and so, i think that like conservatives sort of used the reagan legacy and they did it really well to bring these disparate conservatives or people on the right, broadly, to bring them to keep them sort of in the party, if you will, right? and i think it was largely successful until -- until around 2016. so, do you have a question in the back, still? >> i don't think we have time. >> okay. sounds great. thank you, guys, so much. [ applause ] weeknights this month, we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, we look at the life and legacy of john f. kennedy. university of mary washington history professor emeritus william crawley discusses
3:02 pm
kennedy's presidency and the myths that surrounded him. the talk is from the university's great lives lecture series. that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern. and enjoy american history tv, every weekend, on c-span3. every saturday, at 8:00 p.m. eastern, on american history tv, on c-span3, go inside a different college classroom and hear about topics ranging from the american revolution, civil rights, and u.s. presidents, to 9/11. >> thanks for your patience and for logging into class. >> with most college campuses closed due to the impact of the coronavirus, watch professors transfer teaching to a virtual setting to engage with their students. >> gorbachev did most of the work to change the soviet union but reagan met him halfway. reagan encouraged him. reagan supported him. >> i should just mention, madison called it freedom of the use of press and it is not a
3:03 pm
freedom for what we now refer to, institutionally, as the press. >> lectures in history on american history tv on c-span3. every saturday, at 8:00 p.m. eastern. lectures in history is also available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. ronald reagan gave his first press conference as president on january 29th, 1981. nine days into his presidency. this was half an hour. how do you do? i have a brief, opening statement here, before i take your questions. yesterday, secretary of the treasury, donald reagan, sent to the congress a request to raise the debt ceiling to $985

27 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on