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tv   The Presidency First Lady Nancy Reagan  CSPAN  June 25, 2021 9:19pm-10:26pm EDT

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explore whether france's model would work in the us and sunday at 8pm eastern on the presidency a discussion about nancy reagan's legacy with washington post columnist, karen tumulty author of the triumph of nancy reagan and white historical association president stewart mclaurin exploring the american story watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3 next on the presidency, washington post columnist karen tumulty talks with white house historical association president stewart mclaurin about reconsidering nancy reagan's legacy. miss tumulty's the author of the triumph of nancy reagan this conversation is from a day-long symposium co-hosted by american universities first ladies initiative and the white house historical association, which provided the video good afternoon, and welcome to the
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culminating session of our symposium on first ladies. it's been a really terrific day since we began this morning with dr. biden's message then heard from fred ryan and anita mcbride from our board of directors and sylvia burwell are partner at american university and what a wonderful panel of presenters that we've had each and every time throughout the day and now i have the cherry on top of the ice cream sunday of having a conversation with karen. tumulty. karen was with the time magazine for a long time of her career and has been with the washington post as a political writer and is a really highly regarded and respected journalist here in washington dc. she's undertaken a major work with a biography of nancy reagan and i had the privilege of beginning my career working in the reagan administration and worked on the reagan centennial and it was a treasure trove of learning for me. i learned so much from book and i know that those of you who have read and agree and those of you who have not read it order
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it before the you go to bed tonight. you were really enjoy reading it. well, let's dive in karen and talk your wonderful book. why nancy reagan? how did you come to focus on her as a subject of a biography? well, first of all, let me say how delighted i am to be here in this lovely setting and seeing the controversial reagan china for the first time. so i guess there's two ways to look at this question. why a book? on nancy reagan and that's pretty simple simon and schuster. it was a few months after mrs. reagan died came to me and said we want to buy odd work for her. do you want to write it and i never written a book before i wasn't really sure i could write a book and i thought well this sounds intriguing. but why this book? it really took me i worked on this book for four and a half years and i was at least two years into the research before really. all the pieces of this very very
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complex woman began to sort of fit together for me. and i began to realize that if i could pull this book off the way i wanted to. this the story of nancy reagan would also become the story of the rise of one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century really a story about the shaping of the reagan presidency and in fact also of the shaping of the reagan legacy and that is why i have been so gratified by the extraordinary critical review. that this book has received because it really is. much much bigger. i think than what i set out to do which was a story a biography of a woman and a marriage and of course an epic love.
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free nancy reagan had a real impact on her husband his legacy and his presidency and not just as we often hear about first ladies. oh, she was as closest advisor. i mean she had a true impact on some of his biggest successes some of his most important policies. what were some of the challenges that you encountered in writing this book that you did anticipate? again, just how many layers there were to this woman who was one of our most controversial of first ladies certainly of our modern first ladies and also the degree to which she herself. because she kind of molded herself as a very traditional first lady. she was anything but how much of herself she had sort of kept
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hidden and really made sure wasn't understand stood in her lifetime. well, you obviously came to know her very well as of course through the course of writing this book if after writing the book you could sit down with her and interview her, what would you ask her? what would you want to know from her? i the conundrum to me for nancy reagan, is that she? ronald reagan was a very solitary figure. she had a far. superior since then he does. i mean people like james baker who was their white house first white house chief of staff would tell you she had a much better nose for trouble a much better sense of who around him was serving him. well and who was pursuing their own interests? you know who had not lived up to his trust and therefore who needed to go often. she made them disappear. so i would want to know how she
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could possibly be so shrewd about what was in her husband's interest and so clueless so often about her own image. while she was the first lady of the united states and today we've listened to many expert presenters. talk about our wonderful first ladies that have been a compliment and support in many many ways to our country and to their president their husband the president if nancy reagan could convene a table for dinner of other first ladies, who do you think she would find most interesting? who would she want to to know more about? have jackie kennedy there who you know was i hate the word icon is overused so much, but of course, you know, jackie kennedy said such a style in the white house in ways that nancy reagan
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tried to emulate disastrously with refurbishing the white house and buying expensive china, so she would definitely want jackie kennedy there. she would definitely want eleanor roosevelt there because in some ways eleanor roosevelt was her husband's eyes and ears and in his case his legs the way in some ways the role that nancy reagan performed people. will not believe that comparison but also because franklin roosevelt was ronald reagan's most admired president. and i also she actually read biographies of other first ladies, and i know that she was also very interested in theodore roosevelt's wife and how she performed this first lady. well, that would be you know, i've often thought about that
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too and you think about you mentioning jackie kennedy and here's a woman who was 32 years old when her husband was elected president. was first lady for less than three years, but has left such an extraordinary legacy including the creation of the white house historical association in nancy reagan much more senior in her life a two-term president and so quite a different role as first lady, so it'd be interesting to compare those or see those two. i'd love to be a flaw on the wall for that conversation. well, there's one point where in the first year of the reagan presidency were nancy reagan is in one controversy after another redoing the white house buying china. borrowing designer clothes. i mean she can't turn around without creating a new controversy and in the middle of this she gets a letter from jackie kennedy saying you are going to get through this and then she says but in the meantime, you may not want to look at the newspapers. maybe not for your business, but
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that's good. well, i did have the privilege of working on the reagan centennial that year long observance of his. birthday in 2011 and one of the things that we undertook in that process was to consider what made the man was it his midwestern upbringing. was it the roles he held in california with the labor union as governor. was it the influences on his life his mother mrs. reagan? what about nancy reagan? what made her the person that she became and equipped her to be a first lady and you think ronald reagan would have been his politically successful or even been president without her. well, i'll take that last question first people who were closest to the reagan's tell me no stewart spencer his ronald reagan's first. political consultant has advisor throughout his career says he would never have been governor without her. he would never have been. president without her she as i said had this.
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incredibly keen radar and protective-ness that i do think a figure such as ronald reagan who was a perpetual optimist a delegator or somebody who didn't sweat the details. i mean he needed a worrier and he was close to exactly one human being in the world and he married her. but when you look at nancy reagan her she comes from a very traumatic childhood that she never really liked to talk about all that much. her mother was an ambitious actress her biological father was an unsuccessful car salesman. the marriage is essentially over. when this inconveniently timed baby arrives and as soon as the little girl at that point named anne francis robbins is out of diapers her mother essentially abandons her for six years with
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relatives. so this child's earliest memories are yearning for her absent mother as her mother an actress goes and pursues her career and her social life. and that leaves her with as their son ron explained to me a sort of weariness a fear of abandonment that never really lives and certainly seems to be confirmed two once into her husband's presidency where she almost loses him. to you know, the seemingly random event. that would be assassin gets close enough to shoot him. so her mother though ultimately. comes back and in 1929 arrives in bethesda, maryland where she has left nancy. and informs her that she's getting married that they are moving to chicago. she is marrying a neurosurgeon.
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imagine a neurosurgeon in the 1920s. how what a pioneer he has to have been. but it is really then edith her mother who engineers their rise in chicago society. she's you know loyal davis her husband dr. loyal davis nancy adors him, but he's kind of a stern distant. figure it is really edith davis. who does the networking her her friends from acting people like spencer tracy or just coming through the house all the time. and as nancy stepbrother told me. in his parents' marriage loyal and edith davis where he is the you know, he is a man of substance, but she is the one who builds the scaffolding for the rise. you really see the pattern that. would arise in the reagan's
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marriage. and so while her mother is the source of great trauma. when she is young her mother ultimately gives her. a pattern for the love partnership that could not only provide the kind of security that nancy spends her life craving but also for the pattern for again, how you can make one plus one add up to so much more than two. so you don't think jane wyman would have been first lady. then walked out of reagan's first marriage because she essentially got bored with him and one of the things she was most bored with as she would testify in court. in their divorce proceedings was that her husband the president of the screen actors guild just couldn't shut up about politics. but yet it was a screen actors guild that brought ronald reagan and nancy reagan together. tell us that story. well, there is the sort of
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official version they like to talk about how in the fall of 1949. she's a actress recently arrived on the mgm lot sees her name in the hollywood reporter among a list of suspected communist sympathizers. this is the red scare she panics. um, so she goes to mervin leroy who's directing a movie. she has a small part in and she says, you know, what do i do about this? i'm not a communist. so she says maybe the screen actors guild could. figure this out. so leroy goes to ronald reagan the president of the guild. disappointed when he calls because he thinks leroy's calling to offer him apart. he quickly discovers. it's another nancy davis. they're talking about well, and he says don't worry about it screen actors guild's got your back. nancy says no. i'm really going to have to meet him in person to really calm like theirs. well the fact is she had her eye
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on this. yes. i could see a legit about it. she kind of had her eye on this newly single handsome guy for a while. but when ronald reagan shows up her doorstep for this supposedly blind, but carefully engineered on her part first date. he is at the lowest point of his life. his wife has walked out his career is coming to an end. he himself has childhood trauma having been the son of an alcoholic. he is also standing there. literally a broken man. he shows up for their first date on two crutches because he's been two months in traction because his leg was broken in six places. and as he would later say if nancy davis hadn't come along when she did i would have lost my soul. now it is no one could have imagined the future that would open up for the two of them and
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certainly their love story from there wasn't entirely smooth. i mean this guy was not quite ready to be pinned down for quite a while. but you know, that is the opening of this kind of epic love story. well reflecting back on president reagan's life and leadership and legacy the reagan library used to the phrase ronald reagan inspired freedom changed the world as president. those are big themes. how much did mrs. reagan influence intentionally or unintentionally those big theme outcomes of the reagan presidency? so i open the book on a story that george schultz who was secretary of state for most of the reagan presidency told me he was 97 years old when he tells me this story. he's just fairly new in the job in 1983. he he's been there seven months. he really doesn't know the reagan's all that well.
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washington gets sucked in by a blizzard he's barely beaten the snow coming back from a trip to china. and as the city's digging out on saturday he gets this call from the first lady saying why don't you and your wife come over for dinner. it'll just be the four of us. so george schultz goes over there. and again, it's a small dinner. all of a sudden both of the reagans start pounding him with questions about the chinese. and what do they like? do they have a bottom line? and from there ronald reagan starts talking about the soviet union and his own ideas. for engaging them and it suddenly occurs to schultz as he told me. this man has never had a conversation with a big-time communist leader, and he is dying to have one. and this is a revelation to schultz because ronald reagan has had decades of anti-communist rhetoric. his administration is full of
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hardliners who believe there could never be any such thing as a working relationship with moscow. he's presiding over the biggest peacetime military buildup in history. so it is a revelation to schultz that this man. wants to reach out to moscow. but then schultz realizes in that same moment that that was the whole reason nancy reagan set up that dinner that she wanted schultz to really understand something important about her husband and something that really had the potential to change history. would that dinner with the schultz's was that before or after the evil empire reference the evil empire? okay, one of the other things that nancy does is she tries to sort of dial back or some of her husband's rhetoric so later that spring he gives a speech where he refers to the soviet union as an evil empire. she hates that. and the reagan's were a real married couple which means they
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had real arguments. so stuart spencer who i mentioned earlier their close political advisor is also invited over to a private dinner in the in the residence shortly after that. and nancy reagan is still just pounding on ronald reagan about this evil empire thing and he's trying to defend himself and finally he turns to stu spencer and he says, you know stu. what do you think and still goes well, mr. president, they are an evil empire. but yeah, that was kind of harsh at which point reagan just doesn't want his wife to have any more ammunition and just says what do we have for dessert? there's a great light that shines on the president and first lady and they're highly visible to our country and it's obviously the office to the president and his staff the white house, but it's also the home to the president and his family. how did nancy reagan or how did the reagan's make the residents of the white house their home?
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not just aesthetically but how did they live there in a way that nurtured their marriage nurtured their relationship? well her her decision to renovate the white house and quickly the private quarters of the white house in the middle of a recession was politically a disaster. but she does want it to be a home. and you know, yes, they threw glittering social events dozens and dozens of beautiful state dinners. they were out and about in washington but most evenings. ronald reagan, he would take a lot of work home with him. it would be just the two of them. they would watch the news on tv trays and then he would you know, go and finish his work but he wanted nothing more than to just be home with nancy and if you read his diaries.
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it's like almost every entry is sort of suffused with references to her like well nancy's been been gone for 35 hours. it feels like a barn in here. in your book you speak of influences on mrs. reagan some conventional some unconventional people. she would talk with you mentioned james baker earlier who were some of the more unconventional influences on her thinking that were in their own way became very controversial. well most controversial of course is when it is revealed in the final year of his presidency that she has been relying on an astrologer. to to weigh in on when the president should make a trip or give a speech or schedule, you know all sorts of events. and this grows? in part first of all hollywood is kind of a superstitious place anyway, so a lot of people in
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hollywood had interests in astrology going back to the 40s. but in the chapter on the assassination attempt, i really try to take the reader minute by minute by minute what that day was like for ronald reagan, but for nancy reagan seeing her husband a lot closer to death. than the white house let on at that time. when ronald reagan survives that he has a religious faith. he believes that god preserved him for a reason. god has a purpose for him that really gives him sort of a peace nancy reagan doesn't really have that kind of religious faith. in fact her father her adoptive father that she so worshiped was an atheist. so she is looking for essentially anything that can give her a sense of control because she is just racked by
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anxiety. she is wrapped by the fear that anytime her husband sets foot outside the white house. there's somebody out there waiting to finish off the job that john hinckley. so one day her good friend merv griffin big. talk show host entertainment executive someone with whom she shared a july 6th birthday and an interest in astrology says, you know, there was this woman in san francisco. she knew march 30th was going to be a bad day. and she really in her desperation. it's completely irrational. it's it's understandable on some levels but completely irrational. turns to an astrologer jung quickly and really gives her. a lot of power over you know whether the president is in the white house one day or not. not over policy though quickly would later claim. she did have
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that influence. and in the first term all of this is handled by michael dever deputy white house chief of staff nancy's closest confidant and really kept a secret. but when dee relieves in the second term other people have to be led in on the secret one of whom is donald reagan the autocratic white house chief of staff. he and nancy reagan have an epic battle during iran-contra. she gets him fired. he gets his revenge by writing a towel, but that begins with this revelation that the president of the united states is scheduled has been in the hands of an astrologer. it sounded almost too wacky to believe well the influence of that type of the astrologer on the scheduling aspects of the presidency and then her influence over. was actually serving in various roles mentioned the don reagan and nazi astrologers influence nancy reagan reagan's influence.
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and you mentioned the don reagan episode was mrs. reagan essentially a de facto chief of staff to the president. in some ways. i think that's a good way to describe it, you know in the first term they had what was called the troika it was an ungainly situation where you had a chief of staff james baker who he himself didn't know the reagan's. well, he told me he got the job because nancy wanted him to have the job. deaver michael deaver the deputy chief of staff who i mentioned and edwin mease counselor or the president the most ideological of the three. but william clark who was one of the president's national security advisors would later say in an oral history that i read the real troika was baker deaver and nancy. and she would if she thought somebody wasn't serving the president very well. she would do what she could. make sure that person
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disappeared she is one of the reasons that ronald reagan went through a half dozen national security advisors. so when they would go upstairs in the evening, and that door was closed. it was just the two of them if we were flies on the wall up there. what type of interaction do you think we would have witnessed during those presidential years. she telling him what to do was she advising him what to do was there pushback on his part? i think in some ways. she was constantly on his case constantly on his the case of those around him. you know not to over schedule him to sort of put him in situations where he she knew how he could perform at his best. she knew he needed time to himself. she knew he needed solitude so she would say that her first concern. was his well-being but yes, other than that she would she wanted to see every speech she would pour over the polls and as
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james baker told me. if you could convince the first lady that something was in the president's best interest. you had a pretty good shot of getting the president on board, too. and as nancy would later say does he ever tell me? no sure he tells me no and i wait a while and then i come back and from another direction and sometimes she would recruit other people to make the argument for her. well, it seems to be that ronald reagan love being president of the united states really enjoyed that role of a lifetime if you will. think mrs. reagan enjoyed being first lady it was she certainly had one of the rockier 10 years in the job. she ronald reagan first runs for president in 1976 barely loses the republican nomination to the sitting president gerald fort
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she really encourages him as he's deliberating whether to try this again in 1980. she is one of the main reasons he decides to go for it. she convinces him. this is your time. by 1984 she doesn't want him to run again. she's terrified for his physical safety. she's believe it or not given that he would ultimately won 49 states. she's worried about whether he can get reelected. but i do think starting around 1982 83 she does begin to find. her own way in the job. she has smarter public relations advice she embraces the cause of fighting drugs among the young and and she just finally she just becomes much much. more comfortable in the role talking about being comfortable in a role. it takes a lot of
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self-confidence to do what she did with the second hand clothes story. tell us how that came about and it's very self-deprecating moment, but also extremely clever so as she's rounding the bend from 1981 this really terrible year into 1982. her popularity is such that. she realizes that if ronald reagan is going to she's becoming a liability to her husband if he's going to succeed she's going to have to succeed. and so there was a fresh new controversy over the fact that she is discovered to have been. borrowing designer clothes really expensive outfits thousands and thousands of dollars worth of clothes and not returning them. um, so there's a big dinner in washington every year called the gridiron dinner. it's a press dinner white tight dinner. it's an evening of skits, you
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know lampooning people and so it's very clear. they're going to not going to be able to resist going after this fresh controversy. so at the white house her relatively new press secretary sheila tate discovers. they're going to do a parody of the song secondhand rose the fanny bryce song and they're gonna call it secondhand clothes and they're going to have an actress singing all about nancy reagan and her second hand clothes. and they go to the gridiron club, and they said she'd like to give a response. which surprises and delights the club and so she she keeps it a secret but the song finishes nancy reagan disappears from the head table at the dinner. this is a dinner, you know, most of the supreme court. is there ambassadors and everybody said, oh she must have been mad at that song. and the next thing people see is that this?
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tiny woman appears on stage in the tackiest outfit you've ever seen a big feathered hat and a feather boa and flowered skirt and rain boots. and then they suddenly realized this is nancy reagan and she sings a parodied version of a secondhand clothes and i think the final line of it is something like i sure hope ed me so and she she's cut this a secret even from her husband that she was going to do this. so and the end of it is she picks up a plate that looks like her china and throws it on the ground. so this is a gigantic standing ovation calls her non-core. she doesn't have an encore so she just sings the whole thing over again and this time when she throws down the plate it's smashes which then of course everybody loves and it really does change begin to change her
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image and her husband. kits up to give his speech at the same dinner and he said well. i arrived here a happy husband and i'm going to be leaving a stage door johnny that reminds me of president. kennedy's reference to being the man who accompanied jackie kennedy to paris the jackie kennedy kind of stole the limelight in paris and mrs. reagan, certainly did that night and the the idea that this woman had a sense of humor at all much left less an ability to for self-deprecation was really quite a wonderful picture of president reagan himself. just go falling at the dias that table that night the third doing that but fashion was a mainstay with her. she wanted to look her best and she dressed her best and fast forward to the time of the first lady's portrait, which was done by aaron schickler the same portrait artist, ironically that did jaqueline kennedy you say ironically i would say probably
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deliberately. okay. good point you win that one. she's wearing that very that galanos gown of the red her signature red. anything about the imagery of that and the similarity between those two portraits that strike you it's the serenity. both of them and i think the serenity and nancy reagan's case. that was really sort of an odds with with the reality of her life that it's just both of them such such beautiful beautiful portraits. the two most meaningful books that i have read this year are peter baker and susan glasser's book on james baker and your book on nancy reagan yet these both focus on a presidency 30 years ago. what is it about the reagan's president reagan nancy reagan that still intrigues and captivates interests today? well, you know was the whole. unlikelihood of his story that
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you know this man could come out of hollywood and really sees you know that he'd be elected governor, but also that he would he would dominate. politics in not only his era but you know for a generation to come the idea imagine. any political candidate today who could win 49 states? and certainly his policies. there are a lot of people who will draw a straight line from regular policies to a lot of the you know, less less attractive themes in our politics today. but where i think the analogies? fall apart is that ronald reagan's gift i believe? was his ability to make the
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country believe in itself. just the kind of sheer optimism that he was able to convey and again it just to me at least feels so at odds with everything about our politics today. that's true. very interesting. modern first ladies take on a cause or purpose or a mission is as reagan's as you mentioned was the crusade against drugs and the three words just say no still bring her to mind today all of these years later. how did she come to focus on that as an issue how meaningful and real was it at the time did it play well with the administration and the press at the time people sort of love to roll their eyes at just say no today because it sounds very simplestic and certainly, you know people even in the time what's see that it's just sort family-friendly basically her message which was aimed at young
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children elementary school children, just saying no was essentially designed to kind of change their perceptions of drugs and the acceptability of drugs, so it sounds very simplistic and critics would point out that the reagan administration was cutting funds for treatment and prevention programs at the time that they were they were treating drug abuse not as a health issue, but as a law enforcement issue and incarcerating a lot of people including a lot men of color, but i've actually taken a look at some of the research that was going on and there was and there's something called the monitoring the future project, which is the single best longitudinal survey of attitudes towards drugs and you really do see a shift from the 1970s into
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the 1980s where children with go from saying that in a big deal of my friends smoke marijuana. yeah, that's really unacceptable and then back in the 1990s the attitudes one once she's off the scene once just say no is off the scene the attitudes shift back. and another person i talked to was joe. calafano. no democrat. this was this was lbj's top domestic policy advisor health secretary under jimmy carter. he now runs a center for substance abuse at columbia university. he is a huge fan of just say no, in fact at one point. he had nancy reagan on his board. he said it was a simple message, but it was exactly what you wanted parents to be saying to their children. it's exactly what you wanted children to be saying to each other. aids came on the world stage during the reagan presidency. i had a great privilege of working for admiral james
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watkins who chaired the reagan aids commission later when he was secretary of energy, but that commission was fraught with controversy and mrs. reagan injected herself into that process. why and what were the results well before we even discuss aids we have to stipulate that the reagan administration's in action on aids. it's unwillingness to deal with it at all really until the second term. is a deep scar on its legacy and one that will never be erased. but i did find in my research for the book that as belated as it was nancy reagan became attuned to what was going on much sooner than her husband did in part. because her son was in new york in the arts world dancing with the joffrey ballet. she was the daughter of a physician.
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um, she was making efforts to sort of get ronald reagan more in a sort of. abstract frame of line where he could look at this. it's ultimately the death of rock hudson famous movie actor that puts a face to it for ronald reagan. but when reagan is finally ready belatedly to give his first big speech on aids in 1987. nancy reagan is not willing to entrust this to the right wingers in the white house communications shop or the administration. she goes out recruits her own speechwriter landon parvin. she arranges for ronald reagan to actually meet for the first time with his own surgeon general everett koop on the subject. um, the speech is not perfect, but i have seen the drafts and i have seen what people in the administration were trying to get the president to say.
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which is some pretty horrifying stuff looking back from 2021. and then finally, you're right. the commission is appointed to deal with it insisted upon, it was quite controversial at the time.
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is that one openly gay expert should be on that commission. then you go back and look at stories, and look at gary power who was a domestic policy adviser. and i conservative senator, this should not be an administration that gives people appointments based on their bedroom habits. that is the level of ignorance and bigotry. that really still existed even as late as going into the late 19 eighties. >> the reagan years, were somewhat glamorous years in washington d.c. it's hollywood on the potomac in many ways. president reagan, cherished and relished his hollywood friends i think mrs. reagan did to. the influence that she brought into the white house social
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dynamic, that was particularly hollywood based. >> she certainly brought in, a big glamour factor. frank sinatra was a fixture, on all sorts of events. and it was such a contrast from the carter years. you know, jimmy carter at one point played he band playing hail to the chief because he thought it was too pretentious she not only brings back the glamour factor she courts the liberal georgetown scene, were essentially they had killed richard nixon with 1000 snubs and slights she manages to meld all of these worlds, and that was nancy reagan hurdling. i think ronald reagan, probably
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could've cared less who is sitting at his table, at which date dinner, or with the guest list was. or with the flowers were she stressed over every one of those details, and she stressed out the kitchen staff, and the people at the state department as well. >> i think she got the importance of social diplomacy, and one heads of states of other countries they want to see the glitz and glamour, and certainly the hollywood it was something that mrs. reagan introduced into that mix. >> one of my favorite stories, is that you read her memoir the only member of the reagan administration because that escapes any criticism is george schultz because if george told me it was raining outside i didn't have to look at the window. but she knew that george schultz was quite a flirt so she would always make sure,
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that he was seated at the dinner next to the most attractive and glamorous actress there. and george schultz, at the age of 97, did to me i even got to dance with ginger rodgers and he does dance with ginger rogers and nancy reagan sends in a portion of photographers. and since schultz photos of him dancing with ginger rogers. >> when you think about the power of those photos there's the diana and john travolta pitchers. >> and that's another thing, travolta said it would have never occurred to him to ask the princess of whales to dance. it is nancy who sort of nudges him, and all of a sudden i realized that i'm supposed to be prince charming >> you mentioned iran contra, very
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significant moment in that presidency. mrs. reagan, did she get involved with the international affairs matters? what did world leaders think of her, did they suspect that she had her thumb on the scale with president reagan? >> certainly certain leaders did, at one point tasked the soviet news agency, signed a reporter to cover all the first ladies and you mentioned iran contra, that chapter to me was the hard-line one. this is a scandal that begins at the end of 1986 and it went to swallow the reagan presidency. the united states was found to have been selling arms to this governments and me, iran for exchange for the release of
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american hostages being held in the middle east. and one of the sales, was in violation of u.s. law. going to the contra rebels, who were fighting the sand in east us in the nicaraguan government. and ronald reagan began being optimistic, he said it's all going to work out, i didn't do anything wrong, and it was nancy reagan who believes that this calls for a complete shake up of the white house staff. starting with the chief of staff. her husband does not want to do it, they go around and round about this for weeks. he is like i am not going to sacrifice other people just to save my own hide. and at one point he is heard to scream at her, get off my back. ultimately she wins the all the other things she does, which is just as important, and even
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more important, is bringing ronald reagan around to the point, where he could meet to the country and admit to himself that he had in fact in violation of all these promises and all of his claims to the contrary, he had traded arms for hostages and in a televised speech once again, nancy does not trust the left-wing to write this, she brings in her own speech writer, but it's just it comparable to kennedy's bay of pigs speech. next day his overall rating goes up nine points because a country that had begun to believe, that ronald reagan was not being straight with them but they basically get their confidence back in his integrity. >> that's an incredible behind the scenes story of here of her influence with him.
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but how did the white house staff react to that when she would do that >> the shooter people on the staff, the figures like george schultz, understood that she could be an absolutely crucial ally she was somebody you wanted to have on your side they were in the minority in the west wing. she didn't set foot there very often but if she was unhappy about something they all knew it. and if somebody wasn't in her favor, they tended not to last for very long in their jobs. so you do see, a lot of the people around the president thought she was just an annoyance >> mikael gorbachev, ronald reagan on the world stage, the evil empire we talked about, officially the
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fall of the soviet union. two players just back from them were mrs. gorbachev and nancy reagan. you talk about that strange books of tells a story. >> one thing i think these two women might have had a few things in common. the soviet first ladies, were real lightning was. often the people in the country didn't know how many kids they had, sometimes they don't even know their first names. and mrs. gorbachev is a beautiful academic, her husband's closest adviser, outspoken in her own views. and she's also was criticized for being too interested in fashion, and she's sitting at the pierre card a fashion show, in paris. not the place you would want to you think you'd find a soviet but the two of them, her and nancy reagan just had the most
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delicious subplot of three summits between reagan and gorbachev, and for if you count reykjavik which was not supposed to be a summit. and these women sort of snuck it inciter back and forth. nancy gets tired of mrs. gorbachev's stories on leninism. and mrs. gorbachev says the house looks like a museum and i prefer a house that looks like a home. so each of them is trying to figure out what the other is like. >> well let's keep with that theme there's nancy reagan and another important woman, and that's the secret lady of the of the second lady of the united states barbara bush.
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so describe that for us. >> they could not stand each other. nancy reagan, was not that fond of the bushes in general. so the two of them the general public to know about it at the time but in washington is not a well kept secret and barbara bush is also good at digging that at dishing it out sorry. and the fact that, nancy reagan refuses to invite them to the princess diana and prince charles dinner. which was the glittering event of the reagan presidency. and her advisers keep going back, and say mrs. reagan we should invite the vice president. and nancy reagan would say no. i think there was a number of things and i asked this question over and over again,
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and i think that for both of them they never really got past the bitterness of the 1980 republican campaign i think it was easier for the husband cycle of this in the wives. and barbara bush thought she should be in the oval office rather than her. but there was a lot about barbara bush, that basically affected nancy reagan's in securities. and barbara bush had many designer clothes, everyone loved her, the reagan family you know was quite dysfunctional. and the bush family is so close. and the kids around, and the grandkids around, and barbara bush can trace her ancestry back to the mayflower. nancy has always been viewed as the you know she's carved rode
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out of hollywood. and and it continues even after the presidency. and one of the snubs is, when nancy reagan was first lady, her social secretary goes back to her alma mater, smith college smith college, and she asked to give nancy reagan an honorary degree. and they say they won't do it. and i say her husband is too controversial we might have demonstrations. so barbara bush is a few years behind nancy, she drops at a smith their freshman year, to marry george h. w. bush. but guess who gets an honorary degree? but then when smith comes back and nancy reagan says hey we want to honor you to honor you, nancy reagan says i don't think so. >> so the president like to
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have a place he like to go, for president reagan it was his ranch and santa barbara. the mrs. reagan love the ranch as much as the president did? or did she put up with it? >> i think it was that, this is not a place she would have chosen to spend her time. but when they were there, she would usually spend most of our time by the pond, with her friends on the phone, and the other thing she knew rivalry when she met him, and the reagan's used camp david more than any other president before or since. because they would usually go, for just a few days. they could just have the place pretty much to themselves. the secret service would make a point of giving them 50 feet. and she did understand it that her husband really needed this time to himself.
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and at one point, richard allen the national security adviser, the first one, he says you need to quit gloating the president down with these hundreds of pages of paperwork when he goes to camp david on the weekend. and they said what do you mean he reads it all? and he says, yes that's why. and sure enough nancy reagan, issued this order. cut down the paperwork by 75%. >> the chairman of our board of directors, is fred ryan, also the publisher of the washington post, and fred open the session this morning. he opened a session on first ladies. but he was also the post presidency chief of staff to present reagan, and it was during that time that president reagan came to grips with alzheimer's and he wrote that
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letter to the country. >> tell us that story mrs. reagan's role in extra. first of all, it is forever going to be debated as precisely when the symptoms of alzheimer's said in. and i lay out this clearly and dispassionately as i can in the book what i found to be the evidence. it really becomes clear in the early 1990s. he begins to not recognize people. once he is known for decades to become disoriented as to where he is. and again, by the fall of 1994, the diagnosis is clear. yes, he is going to... it's reagan's idea he should announce this to the country.
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he remembers when he had colon cancer, when nazi had breast cancer, they had really done a great service to the country and bringing these diseases out of the shadows. he says i want to write a statement. he goes to the window, sits down at a table, right sustained meant, he has it to fred, says go get this typed up. nancy reads it, her eyes fill with tears. fred ryan says, we aren't typing this up. we are putting this out in your handwriting. so that people can see these are your thoughts. for nancy reagan, all of this, she had thought ronald reagan leaves office, very hailed. he is nearly 80. but he's by all appearances visibly fit. all of a sudden he's not going to have the decades that other presidents get to begin to
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write the first draft of their own legacies. in addition to becoming the caretaker and guardian of his physical well-being, of his dignity for the last decade of his life, it does fall on her to shape and define the legacy. part of that is building the library. a part of it is defending him from people on the right who would appropriate ronald reagan's name and image for causes he might not have supported. there's also still this theory particularly among liberal intellectuals, that ronald reagan was in part clifford's words, a donkey. was an actor, reading somebody's lines they've right. and one of the most important things that she does in the last years of his life, and beyond. is to assure the publication of
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the diaries he kept as president in his own hand. one of the few presidents really did that. to the publication of his handwritten letters of half century, the publication of the handwritten speeches he had given in the years before the election so people could see that these where ronald reagan's ideas. this was ronald reagan's governing philosophy, that really to assure that he would have a legacy, that would not only establish him as what she wanted. she wanted history to recognize him as a great man but also to ensure that this legacy is really true to who he was and what he believed. ultimately she also does something very controversial on her own. in the final months of her life as george w. bush is deliberating on what to do
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about one of the most promising areas of medical research, stencil research which involves little struck shun of human embryos, and nancy stands up publicly in 2004 at a very crucial moment in the debate over stem cell research. she announces she supports it. this causes an absolute explosion on the right. somebody on capitol hill calls up michael deeper, her close adviser, and says ronald reagan would never have supported this, to which michael beaver replies, ronald reagan hasn't had to take care of ronald reagan for the last ten years. >> that's powerful. president reagan passes, and there is the extraordinary funeral outpouring for him here in washington and back in southern california. mrs. reagan lives a number of years and participates and
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library events, carries on that story a bit. but her time to pass comes, her funeral is different. it's all at the library. i had the privilege of escorting mrs. carter on that occasion and being there. much different than the presidential funeral. tell us about that sunset of mrs. reagan's life, that last public moment and what that funeral said about her as a first lady. >> her final years as her husband is gone, her friends disappeared one by one, she is suffering from a variety of health ailments. very lonely ones. joanne, one of the people who are in the library, people would call her and say what can i do for mrs. reagan? joanne would answer the exact same way, just call her. but you do see in this funeral
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where there are representatives of every presidential family going as far back as the kennedys where the tributes to nancy reagan are poignant and funny and incredibly honest about not just her strength, but her flaws. i think in that funeral, you really do begin to understand. it really isn't until the very end of her life, and especially after we see the stoicism with which, and the devotion with which she dealt with her husband's final illness that people began to understand that for all of her complexity, for all of her flaws, for all of her demons. the real strength of her character, and i really think she paid the highest price
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imaginable for the acclaim that finally came her way. >> you've got to know nancy reagan pretty well writing this book. what do you think should think about it? >> i would hope that she would think it's honest. i really try to put everything in as much context as i could get. this book is no valentine, this book does not gloss over the pain of her life, it does not gloss over her misjudgements. the many problems that she brought upon herself. but ultimately i do think that when it came to picking a partner, ronald reagan did pretty well. and i think that she was just
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way overdue for her reassessment. >> american history tv on c-span 3. every weekend documenting america's story funding comes from these television companies and more, including charter communications. >> american history tv on c-span 3 exploring the people and events that tell the american story. every weekend. saturday at 7 pm eastern author
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enzler on his book jim bridge or trail blazer of the american west saturday at 8 pm eastern on lectures in history. brown university professor megan kate nelson talks about guerrilla warfare on both the confederate and union sides during the civil war whose tactics included and bushes and surprise raids on unsuspecting troops and towns. sunday at 7 pm eastern. journalist and law professors compare the definitions of free speech in france and the united states. and explore whether france is model would work in the u.s.. and sunday at 8 pm eastern on the presidency, a discussion about nancy reagan's legacy with washington post columnist karen tumulty. author of the triumph of nancy reagan, and white house historical socialization president stewart mick lauren. exploring the american story, watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3. >> from the days of martha
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washington americas first ladies have been public figures. next on the presidency, betty boyd caroli talks about how mrs. washington and her successors have defined their unique position. she makes an interesting observational that many presidents actually married up, perhaps explaining why so many of their well educated and socially connected wives embrace their duties with confidence. the author of first ladies, the ever-changing rule from what the washington to millennia trump. the white house historical association provided this video. >> it's my pleasure to welcome betty caroli to history happy hour, she holds a masters degree in mass communication from the bergh school at the university of pennsylvania and a ph. d. in american civilization from nyu. scholar in italy, she's received scholarships and grants from the national endowment of the humanities,


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