BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lou Cannon, author of "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime", on page 231, you quote Paul Laxalt, former senator from Nevada, as saying this about Ronald Reagan: "He's a loner. He's a loner even in his relationship with his God and the same way, unfortunately, with his kids." Why did you pick that quote?
LOU CANNON, AUTHOR, "PRESIDENT REAGAN: THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME": Well, because I thought it was true. I think that Ronald Reagan keeps his distance. I like the part about even in his relationship with his God because I think Ronald Reagan is quite religious in a very personal way. He's not particularly enamored of organized religion, despite the show of that from the White House. But he's a believer and I think Paul Laxalt, who knows him very, very well, realizes that. As far as the kids are concerned, I quote all of the children in this book, either from things they've written or from interviews I've done, all of who say in their own different ways that they don't really, really quite know their father.
There's a particularly poignant story from Michael Reagan's book about how Reagan arrives at, I think, his prep school graduation in Arizona and introduces himself and says, "I'm Ronald Reagan." And he says, "I'm your son, Michael." Now, he was wearing a mortarboard and stuff, but still.
LAMB: Lou Cannon, you're still a reporter with the Washington Post?
CANNON: Yes, I'm Western correspondent for the Post now, based in California, and enjoying it very much, thank you.
LAMB: How long have you been with the Post?
CANNON: I've been with the Post since 1972.
LAMB: How does the world look from California now that you're back there after you spent all this time in Washington?
CANNON: Well, more interesting, I guess. I loved working in Washington. I maybe sound a little corny about it, but I think that to be able to cover the White House for the Washington Post is a privilege, and I really enjoyed it. But what I didn't enjoy was being a slave to whoever was the president. You know, you don't have a moment when your schedule is dependent on anything other than the president's schedule. There's a hothouse atmosphere that flourishes with reporters within the White House. There's too many of us, and too few of them. It's very nice to be back where you're writing about farmers and droughts and people who are coming in to make a new life for themselves in America. California's an exciting state. Nearly one of eight Americans live there. By the turn of the century, everybody in the state will be a minority. I find it great. I don't think a person should do the same thing in life all the time, and it's wonderful to be back there.
LAMB: One of the things that you write often in this book -- I don't know how often, but I noticed it more than once -- is that Ronald Reagan supposedly didn't care much about Washington and he was looking forward to going back home to his California. Is that true?
CANNON: Well, that's true. I don't know if it's true always as much as he thought it was true. Ronald Reagan liked Washington. I also write in that book that he campaigned against Washington politically, as Carter had done. He adjusted to the social life of the city much better, but what Ronald Reagan likes -- another one of these paradoxes -- is both the spotlight and he likes solitary time. He likes to be alone. He liked the ranch a lot in California because he could get away and although the Secret Service were up there, it wasn't obtrusive. He could have the feeling that he was by himself. He told me after he came back to California -- I interviewed him for his 80th birthday for a piece in the Post -- that what he missed was Camp David.
Ronald Reagan was not power mad. He also said that he knew when there was time to leave the stage and he was able to walk away from the White House and I don't think that drove him crazy or that it even particularly bothered him. But I think that he felt, as he says at one point in there, kind of cooped up, like he was in a cage in the White House and all the more so after the assassination attempt. I mean, obviously, there was a high degree of security. But he loved Camp David and he does miss Camp David and he's said that before. I think that one of the qualities about Ronald Reagan that was, on the whole, a positive quality about him was that he became president and wanted to accomplish certain things. He didn't become president just to be the most powerful man in the world. He knew himself enough that he was able to walk away from it when the time was over and be happy with himself.
LAMB: In our other interview, you said that you probably interviewed him 40 times in your life.
CANNON: That's conservative.
LAMB: Including those 40 times and possibly others, what's your favorite personal moment with this man and why?
CANNON: I don't know if favorite is the word.
LAMB: Let me just jump in to ask you though about one moment that I remember is when he called you after your mother died.
CANNON: Well, that's the moment I was thinking, and I don't think anybody would use the word favorite. That's why I was balking on it. Yes, he did call me. My mother had been sick a long time before she died. When he called me, I thought, as you do, that I had been prepared for her death, and like most of us, I wasn't. I said that to him. I thanked him for calling me and I said, "I thought I was prepared for this." He said, "You're never prepared for the death of your mother."
Now, Ronald Reagan's mother is the most important person to him. He's influenced by his mother. But I thought that was such a wise, comforting thing to say. He may have called me because somebody told him to call me and his opening words may have been a script, but he didn't know what I was going to say. That wasn't from a script. That was from his heart, and it was also wise. But that's not part of an interview. That's kind of a personal thing. I guess the favorite moment that I ever had in an interview was also personal, but it was personal about him. I had never heard this story. It was an interview for this book. We were talking about his father, and Ronald Reagan, like a lot of us, romanticizes his boyhood. It's ideal. Everything was wonderful. But he was talking about the alcoholism, his dad's drinking.
By this time Reagan was a young man working as a sports announcer in Des Moines, I think, and his father apparently had been drinking kind of heavily. His mother had visited him regularly. Reagan wrote him a letter. This is what Reagan told me. He wrote his father a letter and said that he wanted him to stop drinking because he, Ronald Reagan, had this problem, too. Reagan said this was a lie. By the way, in all the time that I know Reagan who has this marvelous ability to tell something that is factually not true and make himself believe it's the truth, this is the only time that I've had personal experience where Ronald Reagan said, "Yes, I told a lie."
The fact that Ronald Reagan is not comfortable with lying is that he remembered this going on 60 years later, and it still troubled him. It troubled him that he did it. It's a noble lie, it seems to me, if there is such a thing. He was saying it to get his father to stop drinking. His father never replied, and he never knew what impact, if any, that that had on him. The reason that that sticks with me is that Ronald Reagan rarely told you anything about himself. Ronald Reagan was a great frustration to most of the people who interviewed him most of the time because he would tell you a story that you'd heard a hundred times and he would tell you that story as he were telling you for the first time even though he told it to you before.
It was very hard to get inside of him. So the moments that were satisfying in interviewing Reagan or that were interesting in an interview was when he told you something about his personal life or his value system. I was very interested in the stories he had to tell about Armageddon because he believed in Armageddon literally. He took it as a biblical prophecy, but he somehow wanted to avert it which was part of the story of the strategic defense initiative or Star Wars. He saw it as the foretelling of nuclear war which he thought he ought to avert. I don't know anybody who's quite got it that way. Most people who believe in a biblical prophecy literally think it's going to happen, and there isn't anything that they can do about it. A lot of people don't believe in it. A lot of people think it's an allegory. I don't know anybody else who believes in it but thinks that he can do something to stop it.
LAMB: You've written three books on Ronald Reagan. For how many years, would you say, as far as Ronald Reagan's concerned, you were writing about him? In other words, you following his every moment. How many years in the State House in California? How many years in Washington?
CANNON: Well, I covered all of his campaigns. I covered, I guess, most of his first governorship, and then I came to Washington when he was governor in his second term. But I went back to cover the campaign for reelection in '70. I covered his campaign for the presidency in '68 and '76 and '80 and '84. Then I covered him periodically in the '70s. I covered the White House when he ran against President Ford. I spent about half the time with the Ford people and half the time with him. But, then starting in November 1979, when he announced, I covered Ronald Reagan continuously until literally the day he left office. I covered his entire '80 campaign. I covered the entire eight years of the presidency.
LAMB: Is there anybody that wouldn't talk to you for this book?
CANNON: There are a handful of people. I don't, frankly, desire to name them because we're only talking about six or seven people out of several hundred. I will name one that I think had a particularly good reason not to talk to me. That was John Poindexter. Now, I had interviewed Poindexter, however, when he was the national security adviser in the White House, so I knew him and I didn't just know him from television or stories. But, of course, Mr. Poindexter was facing felony charges for which he was convicted and which are now under appeal. I thought he had a pretty good reason not wanting to be interviewed. But, basically, with very, very few exceptions, with a handful of exceptions, the people who worked for Ronald Reagan sat down to be interviewed. I interviewed all five of his national security advisers for this book, for instance, except Poindexter, all of his four chiefs of staff, his secretaries of Defense and State, Ed Meese and William French Smith, his predecessor as attorney general. So I think I interviewed all of the major figures, with very few exceptions, in the Reagan administration and a lot of the minor figures as well.
LAMB: We've often seen people refer to "Wait till Lou Cannon's book comes out. We'll see the definitive Reagan." They also write, "Wait till Edmund Morris's book comes out. We'll see something else." What will be the difference between what you did and what Edmund Morris is doing?
CANNON: I haven't a clue, Brian. I think everybody's got to write their own book. I hope that people will find that this is a definitive work about Ronald Reagan. Mr. Morris, a distinguished biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, I'm sure he'll have his own look at it. There's no last word on a president. Even the presidents who are most written about -- Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt -- a new book will come out almost every year. So, if anybody is so full of self-delusion that they think that they're going to do the last word on any subject, they should do something other than be a biographer or historian. That doesn't bother me or even really interest me.
What interested me is that I had a look at Reagan over an extended period of time. I had written a lot of stories about him. I'd written hundreds and hundreds of stories about him. I'd seen him in different settings. Ronald Reagan is 80 years old. A lot of the people who work for him are the 70s. The Reagan archives are going to be open 20 years from now. Most of these people will be gone. I know Ronald Reagan and his administration well enough to know that a lot of these stories aren't in the archives anyway, because a lot of what happened with Reagan didn't happen with what was written down. The written record, Reagan sometimes didn't read it. He didn't know about it. Reagan was a between person.
What happened was between him and people, and so it seemed to me very valuable to get this history down while the people were alive and close to it. I'm sure that 50 years from now there's going to be a whole different look at Reagan and everybody else, but I hope that this book, because it has the living recollections of people when they were close to this process, will be of help to those historians who are writing long after I am dead, let alone these people who are far older than me who worked for Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: There's a May 5, 1989, quote from Nancy Reagan. I assume that's from an interview that you did with her?
CANNON: You'd have to see my wife's good notes because if it's noted ...
LAMB: I'll read it. He assigns to everyone else his own makeup.
CANNON: Yes, that's from an interview with Nancy Reagan.
LAMB: What did she mean by that?
CANNON: She meant, I think, that Reagan could not conceive of being duplicitous, that Reagan tells you what he thinks. That's the way Nancy sees it. The idea that somebody would sit there and tell you something that he didn't believe in order to advance himself with Ronald Reagan, in order to get a job or promotion within the White House, in order to get somebody else demoted or fired or hurt, since Ronald Reagan wouldn't do these things, he doesn't see to it that other people would do these things. Ronald Reagan was gullible frequently in dealing with people. Nancy Reagan observed this about him. She's not unique in observing it about him, but she's the closest to him of anybody on earth so she saw it the most and I think she felt it the most keenly. She felt that he needed protection from people who pretended to share his agenda or his objectives and, in fact, did him harm. That's what she means by it.
LAMB: People that were around him. As a way of getting you to explain, let me tell you a story that happened to us so you can put the pieces together. You and I have never talked about this. I can't remember the year. I think it was 1983. We got a call from Joe Holmes. Do you remember Joe Holmes?
CANNON: Oh, I remember him well.
LAMB: Who was he? How did he fit in?
CANNON: Joe was sort of a character who believed very much that there ought to be a video record of Reagan. He wanted to make sure that Reagan's meetings were all preserved -- not just with still pictures, but that there be an actual camera record of Reagan. He was kind of an old P.R. guy.
LAMB: Not alive anymore?
CANNON: No, Joe passed away several years ago. I liked him. I thought he was a good guy.
LAMB: The reason I bring it up is because he called and said, "We want to do some programs with high school kids. The president does." Now, then he said, "The president wants to do this, but a couple of his aides right around him don't. And what we want to do is just put the president in a room, turn the camera on, and let these kids at random ask him questions." I tell this story as a way to get into the troika. The three people were Jim Baker, Mike Deaver and Ed Meese. Joe Holmes said, "Jim Baker and Mike Deaver don't want him to do these programs, even though he wants to do them, but Ed Meese does." Eventually we ended up doing five programs with him in the White House with 45 high school students asking him questions at random. Now, what is that all about? Why would the two not want him to do it and Joe Holmes working through the Ed Meese side of that troika?
CANNON: Well, I don't know since I don't know this story. I don't know why, in this particular case, if that was in fact the lineup.
LAMB: That's the way it was portrayed to us.
CANNON: Yes. We can talk about it generally. I wouldn't say why somebody wanted to do something unless I had done the reporting on the story.
LAMB: Let me tell you just a little more as a way of getting you to fill in the blanks. The explanation: "This is too random and too chancy and we don't know what those kids are going to ask but the president wants to meet with kids."
CANNON: Well, that sort of sounds right to me. It sounds to me as if Joe was probably giving you the correct lineup. Basically, Deaver and Baker were often worried that Reagan would say something. They'd seen a lot of examples of it where he talked off his script or he just would say what came into his head and get into trouble for it. There are a lot of examples. The one that comes to mind during the campaign of '80 was that he went to some religious conference and a religious broadcaster asked him about creationism. Reagan said, "Well, maybe they could teach both. They could teach evolution and creation."
I know that's an explosive subject for your viewers. I raise it only because Reagan just was offhandedly saying what occurred to him, and it created a huge furor that Reagan didn't believe in evolution . I think more was made of the reply, probably, than was warranted. But you never knew what was going to pop out of Reagan. You never knew what would come out of him. If you were trying to run a campaign for something in the early Reagan years -- '83, I'm not sure . . .
LAMB: It was '83, '84 and '85.
CANNON: But what they were trying to do in the White House -- what Baker and Deaver particularly were trying to do -- was to keep the focus on the economic program. I tell there in some length the story about how they all came down very hard on Al Haig originally when he wanted to put out some white paper -- I don't remember whether it was Nicaragua or El Salvador -- but they didn't want to get the story focused off the economic program. The people who were managing in the White House tried very much to get a particular theme and stay with it. They knew that if they just turned Reagan loose that he would talk about anything that came up and pretty soon the White House would be enmeshed in some extraneous or ancillary controversy that had nothing to do with what they were trying to emphasize and often with what Reagan was trying to emphasize.
It's odd because in some ways -- I think I say this in there -- the conservatives tended to overrate him, overrate his abilities, and the people who were the more pragmatic faction tended to underrate his ability. But they all really, at some level, agreed that you just couldn't turn Ronald Reagan loose. You'd have to know, in any given controversy, what had gone on between them to know why Meese was on the side of letting Reagan speak. I think that in fairness to Ed, that Meese -- more than any of the other people because he had seen him in California where he had been his chief of staff although they had another title for it -- knew that Reagan is particularly good with young people. I don't know how your programs turned out, but I always found those absolutely more interesting than just about anything else Reagan did because Reagan really tried to answer the questions.
You'd have to put that to Meese, but my guess is that Meese thought that the advantage of seeing Reagan in that setting, naturally talking to kids, outweighed the disadvantage of him saying some comment that the White House had to explain for the next three days. On the other hand, it wasn't usually Meese who had to do the explaining. There were a lot of controversies between those three people and other people in the White House that didn't really withstand close analysis often. By '83, they were in such conflict that oftentimes something that Meese wanted to do, the Baker faction opposed because it was Meese advocating it and vice versa. I mean, oftentimes the conflict was not based upon a different perception of Ronald Reagan as it was on a power struggle in the White House that went on. Reagan was oblivious to it. Reagan just never paid any attention to these conflicts in his staff and that allowed them to rage.
You couldn't imagine that going on in the Bush White House. I mean, Bush is so, it seems to me, obsessive about having a single line come out of the White House that he calls people up. He has them not talk to reporters. Maybe he's reacting to what he saw go on in the Reagan White House, but Reagan never took any action against this. Reagan would complain about leaks and stuff, but the leakers were all around him. He never banged heads. So I'm not sure, without knowing more about this story, that it represented a perceptional difference of Reagan or whether it was just the difference between these two guys on a particular day.
LAMB: Well, Joe Holmes kept telling us as we led up to doing the first program, "I can't get a decision. I've talked to the president out at the ranch when I'm there with him on the weekends, but the others are preventing this from happening." Well, eventually they happened. Then what happened, I'd like to ask you about, is then after the program was over we brought the kids back to the studio, right where you're sitting, did a call-in show, and, all of a sudden out of nowhere, Ronald Reagan calls the call-in show. He said, "I'm here in my family quarters watching this program with the kids, and I couldn't help hearing what they were saying. I wanted to call up and correct this," and gave us the distinct impression that the aides weren't there to tell him he couldn't call. He just picked up the phone, dialed away and here he was.
CANNON: Oh, yes. That part of the story really rings true. Reagan would call up columnists. He'd call up reporters. He called me up a couple of times to complain. He'd call up people and say, "I liked your column" or "I didn't like your story." He called up David Broder, who'd made the point that many of us made, that I made in an earlier program of yours, about how Reagan lowering taxes and raising the military budget made it impossible for him to balance the budget or that he hadn't, himself, submitted balanced budgets and said, "Oh, no, no. I did submit balanced budgets," which, of course, he had not.
But Reagan was used to -- he told me once about fan mail. He paid a lot of attention to fan mail when he was in Hollywood. I think that this was sort of his fan mail. He watched television. He read the newspapers. You know the expression on a ballfield of a player who you razz and you get on him and he hears you and they say he has rabbit ears. Reagan had rabbit ears sometimes, too. He'd see something that he thought was unfair -- a documentary on television, Bill Moyers's famous documentary, but others that held him to blame for the hardship of people and he'd call up. My guess is that if his aides hadn't been more interfering with him or more protective of him that he would have done that a lot more than he did, and he did it fairly frequently.
LAMB: How did you write this book, physically. Did you write it in California?
CANNON: With great difficulty. No, I wrote it in the basement in my bunker of a home in Oakton, Va., with my wife doing the bulk of the research. I finished it, again with Mary's help, in California in Summerland, which is right near Santa Barbara. I wrote the last chapter and some of the things like the acknowledgements out there, but most of the work was done in the same place I lived when I was covering the White House. Everybody said they were going to California on the first plane, now that the Reagan administration was out. Well, Ronald Reagan did, George Shultz did, but more of them didn't. A lot of people who were always going to leave -- they can't wait to get back to California -- and I suppose that's true in other administrations, too. We all know people who couldn't wait to get back to Georgia or Texas or Massachusetts who stayed in Washington the rest of the lives. That was true for a lot of the Reagan people.
LAMB: In the acknowledgments, you mention several people. I just want to bring them up to ask you what involvement they had with the book. You start off by saying, "Six friends of considerable professional accomplishment read the book in manuscript." You name David Broder, Peter Silberman, William Lee Miller, Bill Plante, Don Oberdorfer, "and my eldest son, Carl Cannon," who our audience knows from appearing on many of our call-in shows. Why did you pick those folks to be your readers?
LAMB: Well, because they all care enough about me to wade through these pages to start with. But they all have a different perspective. Bill Plante had covered the White House and he has a television perspective. David Broder is, in my view and in the view of many other people, the best political correspondent that ever there was. He's a good friend and had been kind enough to read my other books.
Pete Silberman, in addition to being my dear friend for all these years, was my editor at the Washington Post, and he has a good eye for things that are off. Don Oberdorfer has a particular expertise in foreign policy, another good friend. Carl was the youngest of my readers. He's not only a heck of a political writer and my oldest son, but he's a good friend. The stuff on AIDS and on inner cities and stuff, he had a little different touch. William Lee Miller, who is a very distinguished professor at University of Virginia and wrote a most wonderful book on Carter called Yankee from Georgia, has been reading my books for a long time, struggling with my grammar and syntax.
I think you need a reader who has an academic background as well as readers who have backgrounds in journalism. But the central thing was all of these people were willing to struggle through this book. The other reader was my wife Mary, who made many valuable editing suggestions and to whom this book is dedicated.
LAMB: The best thing that someone can say about it?
CANNON: That it tells them about how Reagan was in the presidency. It tells them honestly, that the book is true, that it tells you what happened and what Reagan was like. That's what I want to people to say about it if that's what they think about it.
LAMB: I want to ask you about people. All those folks that worked around him. We talked a little bit in part one about the Weinberger-Shultz relationship. What about the Weinberger-McFarlane relationship? That, according to you, was this nasty thing.
CANNON: It was poisonous and harmful to both men. Weinberger thought that McFarlane was an upstart, completely over his head. Frankly, Cap, who I respect in many ways -- I should say that I give him a lot of credit in this book for opposing the involvement in Lebanon which Shultz and McFarlane favored. I think Weinberger was right on that. But I think Weinberger was wrong on a lot of other things, including the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Weinberger had been very close to Bill Clark who was McFarlane's predecessor and who I've know a long time and who, I think, was very influential on Reagan. He was the national security adviser.
When Bill left to become the secretary of Interior, replacing Jim Watt, Weinberger had not wanted McFarlane, whom he had clashed with in the past, and he made McFarlane the scapegoat for everything that happened wrong in the White House. In Weinberger's own book, he blames McFarlane for the Iran-Contra affair, even though it's quite clear that the decision to trade arms for hostages was Reagan's, a decision taken against Shultz and Weinberger's advocacy -- one of the few times they agreed. McFarlane, on the other hand, felt that Weinberger had all this military of power that they had assembled and he was unwilling to use it. There was this odd thing where the diplomats wanted to be warriors and the warriors didn't really think that they ought to use military power.
We have a little different look at it now after Operation Desert Storm, but this was what happened during the Reagan years. The military establishment had been through Vietnam and had learned a lot of negative lessons from that and Weinberger was reluctant to use a military power. So in any case, these two guys became the villains. Anything that went wrong from the White House from Weinberger's point of view was McFarlane's fault. And Weinberger, from McFarlane's perspective, was an obstacle to everything, including arms control and a successful U.S. Soviet relationship which McFarlane very, very much wanted. The conservative-liberal or conservative-moderate dichotomy that everybody has doesn't fit too neatly. McFarlane was in the camp of the moderates and the pragmatists on U.S.-Soviet relationships. He was a conservative on the Contras and on the question of Lebanon, I don't know how you categorize him, but he and Shultz both were the foremost advocates of the use of military power in Lebanon.
LAMB: I'm going to jump all over the place just names that come to mind ... Landon Parvin.
CANNON: Landon's one of my favorite people in the Reagan White House and a kind of underrated guy, although I see he's now getting his due for these speeches that he writes at the Gridiron. He had been Nancy Reagan's speechwriter, and he did a lot of the humor speeches. He did a lot of the Gridiron speeches, and he contributed to speeches by both Reagans. He wrote the AIDS speech, got really torn apart on that speech. I think he would have gone further, Nancy Reagan would have gone further, than Reagan was willing to go.
But Landon Parvin made a singular contribution during this long and difficult period of trying to bring Reagan out of the Iran-Contra morass. He was the principal speech writer on this speech where Reagan finally owned up to his responsibility, where he says, "My heart and mind tell me one thing and the facts tell me another," which was as close as Reagan ever got publicly to admitting that he had, in fact, traded arms for hostages. Now, if you had Ronald Reagan on this program today, he'd revert it and he'd tell you that he hadn't. Landon once said -- I think I quote him in the book -- that what Ronald Reagan was really saying was, "I didn't do it and I'll never do it again." I think that Landon had insights into Reagan that were, on the whole, very accurate, and he had a close working relationship with Nancy Reagan, which didn't hurt.
LAMB: Before we go onto somebody less known, Nancy Reagan.
CANNON: Well, Nancy Reagan was the constant protector of her husband. She had a lot to do with who was chosen and who wasn't chosen for the White House staff. She was a large pain in the knee to a lot of the people on the staff. But Nancy Reagan often did not get her way on policy. You wouldn't have had Star Wars. You probably wouldn't have had the commitment to the Contras. You certainly wouldn't have had the trip to Bitburg if Nancy Reagan had had her way. Nancy Reagan thought that Ronald Reagan ought to get rid of Caspar Weinberger. Caspar Weinberger, I think, served longer as secretary of defense than all but one secretary of defense in the history of the country. She was very influential on schedule. She was very influential in the immediate confines of the White House staff. But Ronald Reagan had a stubborn streak in him, and on policy, he usually followed what he thought was right, which often was not what Nancy Reagan would have had him do.
LAMB: How open was she to you for this book?
CANNON: She was very helpful to me for this book because she understood that I was trying to find out what made Ronald Reagan tick, and she was helpful to me. I have written a lot of negative things about Nancy Reagan over the years. I guess we sort of reached an armed truce. I was never her favorite cup of tea nor her mine, but I have to tell you that she gave me insights into Reagan that only she possesses. Item: She sees the importance of the alcoholism, of course, of his alcoholic father, but she also sees that Ronald Reagan spent his youth moving from town to town.
His family moved almost every year there for like the first nine or 10 years of Ronald Reagan's life, and this nomadicness made it very difficult for Ronald Reagan to form boyhood friendships. If you think about it, that would have to be true, because you'd just be in town for a few months and then you'd move on. So he sort of developed a kind of a life of his own. I always felt that, but I think that insight of hers is particularly helpful, and there were several others.
LAMB: I mentioned this in the first show. The Lyn Nofziger Washington Times review talks about the alcoholism thing and also says something about you. It says, "The son of an alcoholic father, Mr. Cannon, who clearly believes much of the psychiatric drivel that has been written about the children of alcoholics, sympathetically blames many Reagan weaknesses, such as his passivity and his dislike of confrontation on the fact that the former president, too, had an alcoholic father." Tackle that one, if you will.
CANNON: Well, Lyn was relatively generous. The truth is that neither Lyn nor I have one moment's practice, experience, as a doctor. I'm not ga-ga about anything a psychiatrist writes but most of the people who have written about the influence of alcoholism on families are not, in fact, psychiatrists. Most of them are psychologists. There are psychiatrists who have written. There's a whole variety of doctors who have written. There is a lot of pop psychology that are sort of self-help books for people who have not come to terms with their childhood experiences, but there also are some very serious studies. There's one in particular I quote in there about the successful children of alcoholics. They do have certain patterns. They have a liking, most of them, for harmony, which Reagan did. They have an ability to create worlds of their own which Reagan had.
LAMB: Do you feel that way?
CANNON: Yes, to some degree. I don't know about the latter. I hate disharmony. I don't like to have people fighting in a room around me. I didn't write a psycho-history of Reagan. I write about that. I wrote about other influences. But it seems to me that we live in the modern age. People are affected by what happens to them. They are affected by child abuse. They are affected by alcoholism. They are affected by inadequate nutrition. If you are a biographer of anyone and you find out that a person didn't eat properly, didn't get to school or had a particular condition, that affects you, and you have a duty to write about it. I don't think that there's a single touchstone -- and the book doesn't at any point say there -- that you can just say, "Aha -- Ronald Reagan is the child of an alcoholic and therefore that explains his whole life." Or, "They moved 27 times when he was a kid." I'm deliberately exaggerating. "That explains his whole life." But all these things contribute and we ought, those of us who write about people, be aware of them.
LAMB: If Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan are sitting together talking about Lou Cannon and all the stories you've written and what they thought of you, so you have any inkling as what they would say?
CANNON: God, I haven't a clue. Ronald Reagan once told me when we'd had a little battle about some story I'd written that he knew I tried to be fair, and he said this to somebody else in another context. I haven't a clue. I imagine it would depend on the story or the subject. I think they'd probably praise me for some things and run me down on others. The only thing that I would say to you, Brian, is that when I'm writing that thought never popped into my head. I want to be fair because that should be a value of a reporter. It should be a value of a historian. But as far as your subject, you'd always like to have them like it. I don't feel good if somebody says, "That guy wrote a rotten story about me," but that isn't why you're writing.
LAMB: But you don't think they thought you were trying to do them in because you work for the Post?
CANNON: Oh, no. I don't think that at all. I think that, on the contrary, they thought that I probably would try to be fair-minded. Ronald Reagan probably thinks I'm too liberal for his taste, although most people don't feel that way about me. I guess the honest answer is that I don't really know what they think except that I do think they don't think that I was out to get them. And I never was.
LAMB: Let me go back to some names ... David Stockman.
CANNON: I think it was Bill Niskanen's phrase about Stockman, who said he was more brilliant than wise about Stockman. I think that's right. Stockman had a tremendous IQ -- probably more than anybody in the Reagan cabinet. A brilliant man, but he saw himself as the center of the Reagan universe and of what he called the Reagan revolution. If you read David Stockman's book, you are left with the distinct impression that all this would have worked if they'd only done what I, David Stockman, had thought they should have done.
Now, as a matter of fact, I think Stockman's book is a valuable book because Stockman does tell you an awful lot about the unrealistic and sometimes even goofy economic assumptions of the Reagan administration. But a lot of those assumptions were Stockman's as well as Reagan's, and there's one thing where I particularly take him to task there. Stockman's argument, you know, is that Ronald Reagan wasn't willing to really come to grips with the budget -- that if you gave him these options, he always took the middle-ground option. Well, most people would.
Stockman himself, according to Reagan and according to other people who worked for Reagan, would often say that some of these more draconian things, cuts in the budgets, you couldn't do because they weren't politically acceptable. Well, in his book Stockman doesn't say that. In his book, Stockman says, in effect, that if they had carried out his program, they'd have had the Reagan revolution. I think that's not quite fair.
LAMB: While we're on David Stockman -- because it's something that you write a lot about -- he played a role in the Louisville debate back in 1984?
CANNON: Stockman first came to Reagan's attention in '80. I think he probably got the job of budget director because he had so skillfully impersonated first John Anderson and then Jimmy Carter in the rehearsals for the debate. In '84, he was doing what he'd done in '80. He played Mondale and, according to the people who wanted to blame somebody other than Reagan for his terrible performance in the Louisville debate, Stockman was supposed to have brutalized -- I think was Paul Laxalt's phrase -- Reagan by just destroying him in this rehearsal for the debate that Stockman played Mondale and just tore Reagan to pieces and shook Reagan's confidence.
But the real reason, as Stu Spencer is quoted as saying in this book, that Reagan didn't do well in that debate was that he was over-confident and lazy. He didn't prepare for it. I don't think it's fair. I take Stockman to task for a lot of things. I don't think you can blame Stockman or Dick Darman or any of these other people for Reagan's performance in that debate. You have to blame Ronald Reagan, whose performance it was.
LAMB: When you're talking about people early in the book, you suggest that Richard Nixon had a tremendous impact on the first cabinet choices of Ronald Reagan.
CANNON: Well, I reprint a memo from Nixon that has not appeared anywhere before, which I felt fortunate to have. I think it shows that Ronald Reagan did, in fact, follow Nixon's advice on a number of things. It wasn't just that memo. Nixon would call Reagan from time to time. He called him in times of crisis. He called him after the Iran-Contra. Reagan consulted with him before he went to Moscow. Most of the Republicans who were part of the Republican establishment in Washington and who were part of Reagan's team had been members of the Nixon administration. Jim Baker had been, George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger.
These were all people, and lots of others, that had worked for Richard Nixon. I think I quote Mike Deaver in there saying at some point that Reagan thought of Nixon as the president. Although Reagan marched to a different drummer, he certainly did pay a lot of attention and have a lot of respect for Richard Nixon's advice. We didn't really know that that much during the Reagan years because at the outset of the Reagan administration, you had a situation where you were quite close to Watergate. You were only six years away from the resignation, and the White House press office and others in the administration did their best to conceal Nixon's influence with Reagan. They didn't want it known. They never advertised it. But it was always there.
LAMB: On another issue, on personnel, did Ronald Reagan personally choose Judge [Robert] Bork and [Antonin] Scalia and [Douglas] Ginsburg and [Anthony] Kennedy and all those names? Did he have anything to say about that?
CANNON: He doesn't even mention Ginsburg or Kennedy in his memoirs. For Bork he has reference that things were going bad. It was when Nancy had her operation and other things, and he mentions Bork in passing in a sentence. No, he didn't have anything to do with the selection of any of those people. Most of them were chosen at Justice. But what he did have something to do with, curiously enough, was the selection of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman in the Supreme Court. Ronald Reagan had made a promise during the '80 campaign that one of his first nominees to the Court would be a woman. He chose to interpret that promise not as if he had said one of the first, but as if he had said the first.
Of course, Smith and Meese and the people came up with the list of names, as they would for any president. You don't expect the president to be carting those names around in his head. But he never interviewed anybody else for the O'Connor seat in the Court other than O'Connor. He liked her and he wanted to name a woman and once he'd interviewed her, that was it.
LAMB: We haven't got much time and in the last chapter, "Visions and Legacies," there are a couple of sentences I underlined. I just want to ask you about them. You write, "Similarly the greatness of Reagan was that he carried a shining vision of America inside him."
CANNON: I think that's right. I hope this isn't one of the other sentences you underlined because it will ruin your close, but I paraphrase Walter Lippmann there who said that the greatness of deGaulle wasn't that he was in France, but that France was in him. I think America was in Reagan. He had a view of this country's goodness and of this country's mission and an idea that America stood for something very special, particularly in its commitment to freedom. He believed that. He always believed that. He believes it still, and he expressed it very well.
LAMB: That's not the other line. The other line was, "His career as an actor had prepared him for the presidency." Elaborate on that and I also want to ask whether or not you think you think we'll ever have another actor as president.
CANNON: It had prepared him for the presidency, but I think I do conclude that it hadn't prepared him fully and sufficiently. It had prepared him to be a performer. It had prepared him to be able to take center stage, dominate it, communicate to the American people, to know what his role was. But what it had not done is it had not equipped him analytically to be president. No, we're never going to have another actor because the world that Ronald Reagan comes from doesn't exist. Hollywood has changed. There are no re-creations of baseball games anymore. There's no Dixon [Ill.] as it was. Television has homogenized America. The world that Ronald Reagan came through and came from doesn't really exist anymore. All of Ronald Reagan's adversaries, as well as Ronald Reagan's friends, surely must know that he was one of a kind.
LAMB: Last question. What's next for Lou Cannon besides returning to the West Coast to be the Washington Post correspondent.?
CANNON: Well, I don't know. I guess the thing that interests me most is I want to write about the way the West works, the way American works. I think California is the wave of the future. I think that white, middle-aged males are going to be a minority. I think we're going to have more Hispanics, we're going to have more Asians, we're going to have more immigrants of every kind. Some people are afraid of that. I think that's a very exciting prospect, and I'd like to write about it.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. The title "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" by Lou Cannon. Thank you very much for being here.
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