James Baker was the White House Chief of Staff from 1981-1985 and the Secretary of the Treasury from 1985-1988.
On the 100-Day Plan
We had a 100 day plan that revolved around some significant tax reductions and spending cuts. We wanted to concentrate on our economic program for the first 100 days of the Administration. In an early National Security Council meeting the question of Nicaragua. El Salvador came up, I can't remember which it was and there was a suggestion by Secretary of State, Haig at the time that to really deal with that issue, we had to go to the source and going to the source meant, taking care of Cuba and the President's White House advisors all discouraged that because if you're going to have a 100 day plan, it calls for a focus. On an economic program, you ought to keep the focus of the economic program. We did so, in the first 100 days and with very good effect but it was only because we did not let ourselves be diverted into these other areas, such as taking care of Cuba.
On the Assassination Attempt on President Reagan
I was always impressed with President Reagan's courage but particularly so during the course of the assassination attempt, when we arrived at the hospital and he was on a gurney there, they were wheeling him into surgery and he looked up at us and he said, who's minding the store and when he made his famous comment about the doctors--I hope somebody's a Republican in this crowd. What people I don't think appreciated at the time, was how very close he came to dying, as a consequence of that assassination attempt. And there were some complications that developed several days after his surgery that could have been much more dangerous than they ended up being but I was impressed with his courage, you bet.
On the Reagan's Closing Statement at the 1984 Presidential Debates
The only time I ever remember an incident when the President didn't do his homework was in the debate in Louisville, with Walter Mondale, when he didn't memorize his close. It's really important in a presidential debate that you open strong and close strong and generally speaking, the candidates are encouraged to memorize their closing statements. And President Reagan didn't do that in the Louisville debate and consequently he had trouble with it. If you go back and view the tape of that debate and he lost his track. But, that's the only time I remember an incident really where he didn't "do his homework." He was very good about it and as a matter of fact, we made special efforts not to over-brief the President because Nancy Reagan, will be very quick to tell you, if she's interviewed for this program, one of the biggest mistakes you could make with President Reagan was to give him too much because he was so diligent about reading it and working on it and trying to learn it that sometimes he could, if it was too much, it would throw him off track. So, he was quite diligent about doing his homework, generally.
My American Experience
Who was your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Kennedy? Reagan? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?