ReaganAired February 23, 1998
On the eve of his election, Ronald Reagan was asked, "What is it, governor, that people see in you?" He responded, "Would you laugh if I told you that they look at me and they see themselves?"
Ronald Reagan was America's most ideological president in his rhetoric, yet pragmatic in his actions. He believed in balanced budgets, but never submitted one; hated nuclear weapons, but built them by the thousands; preached family values, but presided over a dysfunctional family. His vision of America divided the nation, yet no matter what people thought of him politically, Reagan always won them over personally. A seemingly simple man, Ronald Reagan was consistently underestimated by his opponents; one by one, he overcame them all to become a president who always preferred to see America as a "shining city on a hill."
A look at Reagan's life through the testimony of family, friends, historians, biographers, Reagan was produced with unprecedented access to the Reagan family, including Nancy Reagan and three of Reagan's four children, biographer Edmund Morris and members of Reagan's inner political circle -- his "California Cabinet" -- and his counterparts on the world stage, including former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Cast and Crew
David Ogden Stiers
Part I: Lifeguard, Written and Produced by
Part II: An American Crusade, Written and Produced by
Part I: Lifeguard, Edited by
Part II: An American Crusade, Edited by
Director of Archival Research
Part I: Lifeguard, Post-Production Supervisor
Part II: An American Crusade, Post-Production Supervisor
Francis X. Coakley
Louise de Brookley
Dianne "DeeDee" Marcelli
Part I: Lifeguard, Stock Footage Archives
ABC News VideoSource
CBS News Archives
KCRA TV Film Collection, Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center
MacDonald & Associates
NBC News Archives
Gregory Orr Productions
Pearson Television International
Ronald Prescott Reagan
Ronald Reagan Library
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Turner Entertainment Co.
UCLA Film and Television Archive
Part II: An American Crusade, Stock Footage Archives
ABC News VideoSource
ABC Distribution Co., a division of Buena Vista International, Inc.
Afghan Media Resource Center
CBS News Archives
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Department of Defens
Educational and Television Films, Ltd.
Hughes Missile Systems
NBC News Archives
Pearson Television International
Ronald Prescott Reagan
Ronald Reagan Library
Russian State Archive of Film and Photographic Documents
SFB Werberg GmbH
Turner Entertainment Co.
Chicago Historical Society
Department of Defense
Eugene Richards Photography
Hall of Electrical History
Illinois Historical Society
Lee County Historical Society
Los Angeles Times
Loveland Community House
Motion Picture & TV Archive
The New York Times
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Ann Marie Rousseau
Screen Actors Guild
Tampico Historical Society
Turner Entertainment Co.
US World & News Report
Wisconsin Center for Film
Additional Animation Photography
Interpreter for Mikhail Gorbachev
Special Thanks to
Steve Branch, Reagan Library
Alexis Hotel, Seattle
Boston Park Plaza Hotel
Canterbury Inn, Washington DC
Dixon Park Commission
First Christian Church, Dixon, Illinois
Lee County Tourism Council
Office of President Ronald Reagan
Robert McCormick Museum
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Preservation Foundation
Ronald Reagan Library
For AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Marketing and Communications
James E. Dunford
WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved
Exclusive corporate funding for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is provided by Liberty Mutual. Major funding is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Ronald Reagan (archival): You know, I received an invitation that said please come to Ellis Island July 4th for the hundredth birthday celebration of an American institution. Somebody goofed. My birthday is not until February.
Narrator: On July 4th, 1986 as he lit a refurbished Statue of Liberty, Ronald Reagan was at the height of his prestige. Many wondered which American icon was being celebrated.
Ronald Reagan (archival): Tonight we pledge ourselves to each other and to the cause of human freedom, the cause that has given light to this land and hope to the world.
Narrator: Ronald Reagan saw America as a special place, a shining city on a hill set by God between two oceans as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.
Robert Dallek, Historian: Reagan is brilliant at creating a kind of rapport with the country, appealing to its better angels, appealing to the native optimism which is so much a part of our culture and our tradition.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: When he was asked, on the eve of his election, "What is it, Governor, that people see in you?" : And Reagan responds, "Would you laugh if, if I told you that they look at me and they see themselves."
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility: I didn't understand why people had this adulation for him. I thought he could possibly press the button. Yeah. I was terrified.
George F. Will, Columnist: If you seek his monument look around at what you don't see. You don't see the Berlin Wall. You don't see the Iron curtain from Stetin to Trieste.
Narrator: He was America's most ideological President in his rhetoric yet pragmatic in his actions. He believed in balanced budgets but never submitted one. He hated nuclear weapons but built them by the thousands. He would write checks to a poor person as he cut the benefits of many. He united the country with renewed patriotism. But his vision of America alienated millions. He preached family values but presided over a dysfunctional family.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: You're not going to figure him out. That's the first thing you need to know. I don't think he figured himself out. I haven't figured him out. I don't know anybody who has figured him out.
Anthony Lewis, Columnist: There is this mystery about Reagan that pervades everything, which is, how much was he aware of what he was doing?
Narrator: Inattentive to detail and often disengaged, Reagan led a revolution based on a few simple ideals -- to free Americans from big government and the world from communist oppression.
Herbert E. Meyer, Special Assistant to CIA Director: Before Reagan, every western leader had the same strategic objective regarding the Soviet Union which is to not lose. Reagan came in and he said, I don't want to play to not lose. I want to play to win.
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: He's tough. He braces to talk to you. He's confrontational. Not unpleasant but confrontational.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: I often think of him as a nice soft silky pillow, and you could touch it and feel it, it was very nice. But if you decided, well, let's take a hard punch and you hit it hard, you would find in the middle a solid steel tempered bar. Ah, that was the real Ronald Reagan. That was the essence of Reagan.
Narrator: As President, Ronald Reagan evoked a simpler place and a simpler time. Small towns, patriotic values, family, and community. An idealized America that no longer was. That perhaps never was. Even for Ronald Reagan. He was born in 1911 on the main and only street of Tampico, Illinois; in circumstances so poor that years later, while visiting his birthplace, "he visibly recoiled. "His father, Jack, was a shoe salesman with a taste for whiskey who spent his life in search of his big break. From age 4, Dutch -- as his parents called him -- lived the life of a gypsy. Every year a new town. New neighbors. Friends left behind. Dutch had nowhere to go, except within.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: Always in childhood you will see this distance in a group of small-town school children little Ronnie would always be sitting with his face on his left hand. A remote little boy who somehow held himself aloof from everybody else. He carried this distance, this remoteness, this aloofness right through.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: On the one hand he is one of the warmest, most amiable, gentlemanly, kindest people you'd ever want to meet. And yet he has almost no close friends. I mean really, in fact, no close friends.
Narrator: Reagan would rarely speak of the pain of his childhood. He would recall it as "one of those rare Huck Finn -Tom Sawyer idylls. There were woods and mysteries, life and death among the small creatures, hunting and fishing; those were the days when I learned the real riches of rags."
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: I think it's that kind of willful optimism in the face of reality, as experienced and defined by others ah that tells you a lot about Ronald Reagan and perhaps even is one clue to understanding his presidency.
Narrator: Dutch was nine years old when the family finally settled in Dixon, Illinois. A town of 8,000, Dixon was the essence of "Main Street" America. Reagan would remember it as "a small universe where I learned standards and values that would guide me for the rest of my life."
Robert Dallek, Historian: It was the era of Calvin Coolidge's presidency. The values that Coolidge espoused were small-town, church-going, rugged individualism, the old 19th century values of America. It's a time when Americans are particularly drawn to this small town world, because it's beginning to pass. It's beginning to be eclipsed by the rise of American cities.
Narrator: The 1920s were a time of change and opportunity, even for the unpredictable Jack. He opened his own shoe store, The Fashion Boot Shop, which became a popular spot in downtown Dixon.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: His father loved to tell stories. Stand outside his store and schmooze with whoever... whoever walked past. In fact, Reagan said that his father was the best storyteller he ever knew.
Narrator: Jack had a weakness Dutch had long known about but never confronted. "I was eleven years old the first time I came home to find my father flat on his back on the front porch...He was drunk, dead to the world. His hair soaked with melting snow...I bent over him, smelling the sharp odor of whiskey...I managed to drag him inside and get him to bed."
Robert Dallek, Historian: One of the threads I see running through Ronald Reagan's career is a great attraction to autonomy, to independence, to freedom. And I think a lot of this was a reaction against the fact that his father had this dependency on a substance and that he couldn't control himself.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He would never say anything negative about his father, but the moral disdain behind what he would say is, was quite palpable. He thought of his father, in other words, as a man with a weakness, who should have been strong enough to conquer it.
Narrator: Reagan's mother, Nelle, a devout Christian, became his moral compass. With her guidance he began to take charge of his life.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He happened to read a novel which his mother had picked up somewhere called That Printer of Udell's. It's the story of a young man born in a rather ugly industrial midwestern town, who discovers through, um, a series of bitter experiences with an alcoholic father, who discovers that he has got the gift of oratory. And through his good looks and his voice and his convictions he manages to create a whole social movement in this town. The young man, Dick Falkner goes off to Washington to take his message to the world. He went to his mother when he finished that book, and he said, "I want to be like that man, and I want to be baptized."
Narrator: Reagan embraced his mother's faith; based on good works, the bible, and the belief that the hand of God guides daily life.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: I think it's easy to underestimate the place that fundamentalist Christianity plays in Reagan's life. It's a cynical age and when we heard that the President didn't go to church on Sunday, we wrote him off as a, as a phony evangelical. In fact, from his mother, he imbibed deeply a fundamentalist faith.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: She gave him this sort of sense of destiny which was a huge, ah, part of it. You know, if you know you're going to be a great man, you don't have to fret and worry about it because, the opportunity will come and seize you.
Narrator: Nelle's Church, the Disciples of Christ, became the center of Reagan's life. He led prayer meetings, taught Sunday school -- even dated the minister's daughter, Margaret Cleaver. Reagan was determined to live a story book life of an American youth. He played football, excelled in swimming, and often had the lead in school dramas. He would later remember those days as the happiest in his life. But life was sweetest two miles upstream from Dixon -- on the Rock River, where Dutch Reagan was the lifeguard.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: "The Rock River flows for you tonight, Mr. President." It was something a radio announcer said to him after he was elected. It came over the airwaves and I've never forgotten that. "The Rock River flows for you tonight, Mr. President." I think the Rock River was the central symbol of his youth.
Narrator: Ronald Reagan is remembered as actor, governor, president. But it was on the Rock River that he first discovered the role he came to love best.
Helen Lawton, Dixon Resident: I can remember him yet, very bronzed with his life guard sign on his swimsuit, and a whistle around his neck, where he watched all of the younger kids so they wouldn't get into trouble. We just all remember him as lifeguard. That's the way so many of us do.
Narrator: Every day, Dutch arrived at Lowell Park at dawn, fetched 100 pound blocks of ice, stocked the snack bar and, for the next 10 hours, watched swimmers negotiate the currents of the Rock River. During his six summers as lifeguard, he pulled 77 people from the water.
Dr. Lamar Wells, Dixon Resident: He always went up and cut a notch in the log after he pulled them out and they weren't probably all gonna die, y'know, and they all weren't gonna drown but they were in serious shape out there. They needed help to get out of the water because of the river current. And 77 is his count, and there were 77 notches in the log out there.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The poignant thing about the Rock River is that in his dotage, after he left the White House, when he began to lose his mind, the one thing he would still want to talk about was his days as a lifeguard on the Rock River. He had a picture in his office of the spot where he used to stand as a boy. And he would say, "you see, that's where I used to be a lifeguard. I saved 77 lives there." His subsequent career, his subsequent political career at any rate, was devoted to the general theme of rescue.
Narrator: In 1928, at a time when few Americans went to college, Reagan attended Eureka College, run by the Disciples of Christ. He majored in sociology and economics. "I got poor marks," Reagan later admitted. "(But) I copped off the lead in most plays. And in football I won three varsity sweaters."
Reagan graduated from Eureka in 1932. It was the depths of the Great Depression. But it took Reagan only six weeks to find a job. At WOC Radio. Later he moved to Des Moines, to work as a sportscaster. Life was easy for Ronald Reagan. He had money, independence and the time to learn to ride. For the next four summers, using only statistics coming through telegraph, Reagan transported his listeners to the bleachers of Wrigley Field with his vivid recreations of baseball games he never saw.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: If you look at where Reagan is really a master communicator it really is on radio. If you think about Reagan's career as an actor and as a President and as a speaker, just generally, he was a powerful recreator. He recreated our experiences.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: I remember Hugh Sidey telling me that when he was a child in Iowa in the '30s, in the Dust Bowl years, he used to hear Ronald Reagan's voice coming over the airwaves, and he said -- just doing baseball commentary, but he said there was something about that voice that gave me as a child the feeling that life was going to get better.
Narrator: Reagan had long dreamed of becoming an actor and in 1937 he went to Hollywood. He recalled the moment he stepped onto the set of his first film "Love is on the Air." "I was surrounded by a wall of light which gave me a feeling of privacy that completely dispelled any nervousness I might have expected."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: Reagan has always liked to be looked after. He likes to have a Jack Warner in charge of the finances. He likes to have a wardrobe mistress and a supporting cast. He likes to be surrounded by the busyness of a great commercial enterprise. And that's where I think Ronald Reagan became a corporate person.
Narrator: Ronald Reagan would make more than 50 films. And only in one did he play the villain.
Robert Dallek, Historian: Reagan loved the hero's role because he fantasized himself as a heroic figure. The first time his mother sees him in the first film he plays in, she looks at the screen and she says, "that's my Dutch," and what she's speaking to is the idea that he's himself on the screen, that he's in a sense playing out the fantasy that he has, that he's very comfortable with.
Narrator: Reagan was becoming a box office draw. Guaranteed work and steady pay, he brought Nelle and Jack to California and bought them the only home they ever owned. In 1940 he married a promising young actress, Jane Wyman. Ron and Jane became the darlings of the Warner Bros. publicity machine. A valuable asset for an industry preoccupied with its image.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: They were always worried, the people around the studios, that some whiff of scandal involving their bright stars would cause people to stop turning up en masse at the box office, or the Legion of Decency would turn on them or something like that. Reagan and Wyman were real, you know. They were in love, they were wholesome, people liked to look at them. If they wanted to celebrate the marriage, Reagan was willing, so they did.
Narrator: With their daughter Maureen, and their adopted son Michael, the Reagans were promoted as the perfect Hollywood family.
Edwin Meese, Chief of Staff to Governor Reagan: Ronald Reagan came up from middle America. He came up in the movies in a time when most of the movies were designed to make people feel good when they left rather than feel sad. He reflected these kinds of qualities.
Narrator: Reagan was cast as football legend George Gipp in Knute Rockne All American. It was his first major film -- the one that earned him the nickname "The Gipper." In 1940 he played opposite screen giant Errol Flynn in Santa Fe Trail. But the height of his acting career was as Drake McHugh in King's Row. By the time King's Row opened, America was at war. And so was Ronald Reagan. But only on the screen. Reagan spent the war making training films at Culver City, less than 10 miles from home.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He certainly loved -- learned and loved -- to wear a uniform. To act like a soldier. To salute properly. There was nothing he enjoyed more as President than saluting. As commander in chief, he would do that little extra flip to the salute, which you hardly ever see in the Armed Services anyway, it was a real Hollywood salute. But it meant a great deal to him.
Narrator: Hollywood emerged from World War II with a new understanding of the power of movies in shaping American views. Many who had mobilized in support of the war now turned their attention to other causes.
"I blindly joined every organization," Reagan wrote, "that would guarantee to save the world." As a Liberal Democrat, he spoke on issues ranging from the dangers of atomic weapons to racial equality. If he knew some of his associates were Communists, he did not seem to care.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: He's involved in these, you know, leftist organizations where the Communists clearly were struggling for control. The Communists valued Hollywood. Reagan is one of these people who would dismiss this, who would dismiss the Communist conspiracy, the Communist threat. And then when he, when he became convinced that it was real, he over-dramatized it and overreacted to it.
Narrator: There had long been Communists in Hollywood --writers and directors quietly exercising their influence in relative freedom. But as the United States and the Soviet Union slid into the Cold War, they were eyed with growing suspicion. Reagan confronted Communist activism in 1946, when as a member of the Screen Actor's Guild board he was asked to mediate a dispute between rival unions. One was led by a rumored Communist, Herb Sorrel. Sorrel's union went on strike. "The leadership does not want a settlement." Reagan concluded. "It stands to gain by continued disorder and disruption."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: Reagan liked order, stability and security. And the fact that they were involved in physical violence at the studio gate, which he personally experienced: buses being overturned, windows smashed, stones thrown, bottles brandished, some bloodshed. The fact that he personally witnessed this, personally experienced it, associated it with red, as he would have said, red domination of the union. That's what turned him.
Narrator: Sorrel and Reagan went head to head. When Reagan crossed the picket line outside Warner Bros., Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies. Reagan was called a Fascist. An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again. He began carrying a gun. "Now I knew from first hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit and violence to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism," Reagan later recalled.
Robert Dallek, Historian: He's the heroic figure battling against Communism. It's not simply that he's fighting against communism, but he's rescuing the Screen Actor's Guild. He's rescuing Hollywood, he's helping to rescue the country from the communist menace.
Jack Dales, Executive Director, SAG: His effort was to deny them any real foothold in our guild. For example I recall at one membership meeting as he addressed the audience, he said, "you know, of course, that we have some communists here." And he pointed. "They're going to try to make 11 or 12 people sound like hundreds." And he fought all the way. Very hard and very diligently and I think successfully.
Narrator: Reagan became an informant for the FBI. And in 1947, as President of the Screen Actor's Guild, he testified as a friendly witness before the House of Un-American Activities Committee.
Reagan (archival): "I will be frank with you that as a citizen I would hesitate, or I would not like to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology. Because we've spent 170 years in this country on the basis that democracy is strong enough to stand up and fight for itself against the inroads of any ideology, no matter how much we may disagree with it. However, if it is proven that this organization is the agent of a foreign power, or is in any way not a legitimate political party, and I think the Government is capable of doing that, if the proof is there, then that is another matter. "
Narrator: Ten writers and directors were sentenced to prison, not for being Communists, but for refusing to cooperate with the Committee. They and many others were included in a "black list" and denied work.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Reagan went along with the blacklist. Now, I don't think this is, I don't think he descended the moral depths or anything. He did what most people did and he did it somewhat more reluctantly and somewhat more slowly than most of them. But the fact is, is that the blacklist is a blemish.
Narrator: Reagan had discovered his first political passion -- anti-Communism. He paid a high price for his obsession.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Reagan came home and was told, this is over. The marriage is over. And that he was totally stunned by it, that he was, it was like he was hit by a ton of bricks and it was a very very hard thing for him to accept or get over.
Narrator: "Perhaps I should have let someone else save the world," he later wrote, "and saved my own home."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: Reagan was in deep depression. He'd lost his wife, he breaks his leg in an amateur baseball game and is hospitalized for most of 1949. And by the time he hobbled out of the hospital on crutches he was a changed man. And I remember him saying once over dinner, telling the story of that awful year. "And then along came Nancy Davis and saved my soul."
Narrator: When Ronald Reagan met Nancy Davis she was a young actress under contract at MGM. Wealthy and socially well-connected, she shared with Ronald the experience of an insecure childhood. Abandoned by her father, Nancy was left in the care of an aunt while her mother, actress Edith Lucket, toured the country. Nancy was eight when Edith married a prominent Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis. Almost overnight, she entered a world of privilege. In 1949 when she was mistakenly included on a list of Hollywood Communists, Nancy sought Ronald Reagan's help to clear her name. They were married in a private ceremony in 1952. Seven months later, Patti was born.
Patti Davis, Daughter: My parents have about as close a relationship as I've ever seen anyone have. They really, sort of, complete the complete each other. They're kind of two halves of a circle.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: He's a guy who is almost impossible to dislike. Who always thinks the best of people. Can't believe that anybody who's, you know, ever met him, would ever want to do anything bad to him, ah, would ever want to go behind his back, would ever want to stab him in the back. Um, that's just not within his realm of... of thinking. He just can't conceive of it. Nancy on the other hand is... is far more cunning about that sort of stuff. Ah, she has no trouble understanding stabbing in the back.
Stuart Spencer, Senior Political Adviser: The best way to describe their relationship politically was that you know he was the CEO, he was the boss, and she was the Personnel Director. As they went through life it was always Nancy who had to take a look at you. She'd research you. She'd find out about you so she spent all of her time looking for people that would serve her man well.
Narrator: With Nancy as his partner, Reagan resumed his life. As President of the Screen Actor's Guild he earned a reputation as a tough and skillful negotiator battling studios and producers. But as an actor, he was failing. In the early 50s he was cast in unmemorable roles; in unmemorable films like "Cattle Queen of Montana." Opposite a chimpanzee in "Bedtime for Bonzo." "Hellcats of the Navy "-- with Nancy -- was a flop.
Maureen Reagan, Daughter: It was a very bad time, he was about as low as he could get at that point. He just couldn't. He couldn't understand why a career that he loved so much and felt that he had been good to and at was slipping through his fingers.
Narrator: Reagan took a job at the "Last Frontier Hotel" in Las Vegas, singing and dancing in a third rate vaudeville show.
Nancy Reagan: He rolled with it. But it hurt, of course, when the career dried up, of course it hurt, it would anybody. But he, again, he'd get back to the deep belief that everything happens for a reason. And that whatever happened to him there was a reason for it.
Narrator: Reagan was rescued from obscurity when General Electric signed him to host a weekly television series, "GE Theater," at an annual salary of $125,000. Every Sunday evening, Ronald Reagan visited Americans in their living rooms.
Reagan (archival): Our play tonight, is about a home away from home, a problem facing one of our military families on occupation duty overseas. Now to Col. Wheeler, a doctor in the regular army, home is wherever he is quartered at the convenience of the government.
Narrator: His role as celebrity spokesman took him to GE plants across the country. After 17 years in Hollywood, Reagan was reacquainting himself with America.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: GE was perfect for him. And the reason it was is that he was able to get out on the road and talk to people at a long distance from anybody else, speeches that were rarely covered, and if covered at all, were covered in the hometown newspaper. And there were no national coverage. And he was able to, he was free to make mistakes. It was a kind of apprenticeship that isn't there for most people, and he made the most of it.
Narrator: Initially, Reagan regaled his listeners with anecdotes about Hollywood and his fight against Communists. But soon his speeches broadened to include other concerns.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: This was a company that was basically a middle class company. Most of the workers identified with the middle class and a lot of them identified with the concerns of management that there were too many restrictions on them.
Narrator: Reagan picked up on the grumblings of GE executives and employees, angry about government intrusion and rising taxes. "I realized the enemy was big government," he later wrote. Reagan had found his political mission. He would fight Communism and big government. He delivered his message with evangelical zeal across the nation. After eight years on the GE circuit Reagan emerged as a recognized conservative spokesman. Now a wealthy man, he was able to provide for his family "The California Dream."
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: He's always wanted a ranch and almost always had one. That would probably have been the place where all of us probably spent the most time with him. He made sure we all had horses at a relatively early age.
Patti Davis, Daughter: I have a lot of happy memories with my father when I was younger and I was, I tried to keep up with him athletically because it was, you know, something I loved, but it was also a way to spend time with him. Both my brother and I learned to swim probably before we could walk. My father, having been a lifeguard, believed that you just learned to swim and then you are not ever gonna get into trouble.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: So he made sure that we had swimming lessons and he also used to test us every once in a while. You know, throw us. Just to see if we could react quickly, and you know and not panic, and you know be able to find the side. And he would play with us in the pool and we'd ride on his back and all that kind of stuff.
Patti Davis, Daughter: He used to give birthday parties for either me or Ron out at the ranch and hire a man who had this trick horse or who could I don't know count with his hooves or something, I don't know.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: The fact that it was this horse. There was always the same guy with the same horse and the same dog. The same Dalmatian and the same pinto pony birthday party after birthday party at the Malibu ranch, whether it was Patti or me there he'd be.
Patti Davis, Daughter: It was sort of that Ozzie and Harriet kind of home. No family is entirely harmonious. I mean, Ozzie and Harriet weren't harmonious in their real life either. Of course it's not, of course not. But that's what we wanted to think families were in the 50s.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: We were conscious, I think, growing up, all of us, I know I was, that there were really two sets of people, two definite and distinct sets of people involved in the family. There was my mother and father, and there was everybody else. And that while we were all part of the family, when push came to shove there was a distinction to be made. That you know it really wasn't like, you know, be seen and not heard, but it was you know we were expected to put ourselves in second place to whatever they were doing.
Announcer (archival): Ladies and Gentlemen we take pride in presenting a thoughtful address by Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan.
Reagan (archival): Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Narrator: Reagan burst onto the national political scene in 1964 with a televised address on behalf of conservative Republican candidate Barry Goldwater.
Reagan (archival): I have spent most of my life as a democrat; I have recently seen fit to follow another course.
Narrator: President Lyndon Johnson had just declared his War on Poverty, expanding the role of government.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: "The Speech" as it's known amongst Reaganauts. That was the culmination of the quintessence of all his speeches honed on the GE circuit. All of the catch phrases that he'd found worked well, all the ideology that he'd polished during his years as a GE corporate spokesman and emerging political orator, it all came together at this moment.
Reagan (archival): This is the issue of this election whether we believe in our capacity for self government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
Narrator: Time magazine called the speech "the one bright spot in a dismal campaign." Although it could not rescue Goldwater from defeat, it placed Reagan on the cutting edge of conservative politics.
Edwin Meese, Chief of Staff to Governor Reagan: There was still a big government ground swell among the liberal elements, and certainly the idea of conservatism as we know it today was not something politicians embraced very eagerly, nor did the voting public. So in that sense Ronald Reagan was ahead of his time.
Narrator: Reagan's maverick attack on big government brought him to the attention of California entrepreneurs who were searching for a candidate to run for governor in 1966. "That speech," Reagan remembered, "led me onto a path I never expected to take."
Reagan (archival): I've come to a decision that even a short time ago I would have thought impossible for me to make. And yet I make it with no lingering doubts or hesitation. As of now I am a candidate seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Robert Dallek, Historian: California in the 1960s is a society that is going through tumultuous change. He runs in 1966, as a staunch Goldwater conservative who will restore to the people their autonomy and freedom from government. And it strikes resonant chords with millions of people in California who were bothered by the welfare system, bothered by the high taxes, bothered by the radicalism of the students, bothered by the crime in the streets, bothered by the inner city explosions. And on all those counts, he was very effective in appealing to the mass of suburban voters in California.
Narrator: Democratic Governor Pat Brown understimated Reagan and the revolt brewing in his state.
Pat Brown, Governor of California: What have my opponent's contributions been to this growing, thriving state of ours. He's divided his time between propaganda pictures against everything from Medicare to the Tennessee Valley Authority. And starring in such unforgettable screen epics as "Bedtime for Bonzo."
Lyn Nofziger, Press Secretary: They looked at Ronald Reagan, that dumb actor and they said, "Oh man, this is the guy we want to run against. He has no political experience, he's not going to be able to handle himself well."
Stuart Spencer, Senior Political Adviser: So we devised a technique where he would give his 20-minute speech and incidentally Ronald Reagan wrote all his own speeches when he ran for Governor in 1966. He'd give the 20-minute speech and we'd open it to 20 minutes of Q & A for the people there at the meeting or the press, and if he could handle those questions we felt we could get over the hump of, "here's an empty person who doesn't know anything about government or doesn't have any real ideas."
Reporter (archival): Ronnie, where do you stand on the death penalty.
Reagan (archival): You just expressed a question which is also as much on the minds of the people in the state as Berkeley. This too is a question asked all over the state. And as I've answered to those other people, I would tell you I think all of us have wavered back and forth on this issue because of our Judeo-Christian background our questioning as to our right to take human life. But I believe we have the right to take human life in defense of our own.
Reporter (archival): Do you discount the fact that many women may be influenced by the fact that you are a movie star, you're handsome and young and that sort of thing.
Reagan (archival): Well now, you can't have it both ways. Some of the people on the other side have been suggesting before I became a candidate that I wasn't very acceptable as a movie star. So. No. I do believe that the people are aware of the issues....
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Here Reagan is. He's answering questions. And I came back and I called my editor and he said, "What did you think of him?" And, I said, "I don't know." I said, "I don't know why these, why anybody would want to run against this guy." Why would you want to run against somebody who everybody knows and likes and who is friendly and popular.
Narrator: As Reagan gained exposure, his aides began to shape his image.
Lyn Nofziger, Press Secretary: A political reporter for KPIX in San Francisco said, "I want to do an interview with Reagan on horseback." And, I said, "That's a great idea, that really humanizes him." And he had a ranch out in Malibu Canyon -- about 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles. So, we went out there and he came out wearing jodhpurs. And I said, "What in the hell are you doing in those jodhpurs?" "Well," he said, "that's how I always ride around here, very huffily." And I said, "Ron, we're trying to win an election here, you know. People in California, as they see you in those jodhpurs are going to think you're an Eastern sissy." He says, "Well, this is what you wear when you're jumping horses." I said, "We're not jumping horses, we're going for a ride. She wants you to be a cowboy. I want you to be a cowboy because that's what the people here will identify with." So, he said, "Well all right." So, he went back in and changed into jeans and boots.
Narrator: Reagan would come to embody the great myth of the American West -- the independent cowboy standing tall.
Robert Dallek, Historian: It fits into the whole image of him as a kind of tough minded heroic figure someone who is coming to their rescue. And they see him as an honest man, they see him as an honest politician, as someone who speaks his mind.
Reagan (archival): This small minority of beatniks and malcontents and filthy speech advocates have interfered with the primary purpose of that university, and they've brought shame on a great university. A university of which you and I have a right to be very proud and which for many years we have been very proud. The people of this state are entitled to an open hearing to reveal what has been taking place and to fix responsibility.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: There was a sense that traditional values, traditional institutions were being challenged and so, people took a chance and they voted on a Hollywood movie actor ah against an established and relatively popular incumbent Governor.
Narrator: On January 2, 1967, Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as Governor of the State of California. He had not only beaten Brown. He had beaten him by one million votes.
Reagan (archival): I do.
Judge (archival): That you take this obligation freely, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that you will well and faithfully discharge...
Patti Davis, Daughter: I was hysterical when I found out that my father had been elected Governor. The Vietnam War was going on. Berkeley was going on. The, you know, the one place I wanted to be if I hadn't been 14 years old and at a boarding school in Arizona was on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, braiding flowers into my hair. I mean, this was my goal in life. And now my Gover-, my father was Governor of California. So this was, this was, I just didn't think it was a good image for me, you know?
Narrator: Patti was not the only Reagan facing an image problem. Her mother drew the attention of the press when she refused to live in the governor's Victorian mansion -- an historic landmark.
Nancy Reagan (archival): I have to translate everything into being the mother of an eight year old. You are right on a busy corner. I love old houses I'll start with that. And I love old things and I love tradition. I don't think there has ever been a governor with an eight year old child before.
Narrator: Nancy moved her family to an exclusive Sacramento suburb becoming the target of criticism. She was devastated when writer Joan Didion called her actress smile "a study in frozen insincerity." The governor too raised a few eyebrows with his talk about biblical prophecy. The Reverend Billy Graham had stirred Reagan's interest when he told him that judgement day was near. Reagan would repeat Graham's warning adding: "for the first time ever everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon." One sign was what he called "the Communist takeover of Libya." With no experience, Reagan faced the task of running the State of California. When a reporter asked what kind of a governor he would make, he quipped, "I don't know. I never played governor."
Lou Cannon, Biographer: He faced an enormous challenge, because Reagan really didn't know anything about politics or governments and he had a lot of people around him who arguably knew even less. I mean, I remember Lyn Nofziger once said, "You know, we weren't just amateurs. We were novice amateurs."
Narrator: Reagan's first decision, designed to reduce the size of government, proved a disaster.
William Hauck, Speaker's Staff, California Legislature: He decides that in his naiveté about running state government that you could just do a 10 percent across-the-board cut, and that would be easy to accomplish. Well, he found out that it was not easy to accomplish and that it probably wasn't equitable.
Narrator: Announced at a time of growing campus unrest, the cuts pitted the governor against students at the University of California. They would be required to pay tuition for the first time.
Reagan (archival): "I'm gonna get out. I don't care. Let's go outside. Okay. Now."
Narrator: After years of playing the hero, Reagan found himself cast as the villain.
Lyn Nofziger, Press Secretary: We were down at the University of California campus, in Santa Barbara and all of the students were all mad at him. We'd come back from lunch, to go back to where they were having the meeting and the students just kind of lined up along the pathway and they all gave him the silent treatment, you know, and nobody said hello, nobody waved, nobody did anything. They just stood and stared at him. So, he walked through this gauntlet of people, very nonchalantly, got up to the doorway where we're going, turned around and he said, "Shhh" - everybody broke out laughing and he walked on in.
Narrator: Reagan struck a chord with Americans nationwide who were becoming fed up with the radical '60s.
Man (archival): When I saw him make a speech in 1964 for Goldwater, I said, "There's the man that should be running for president and there's the man we need for president."
Woman (archival): I like the way he takes a firm stand on things and the way he goes about them.
Man (archival): I think his views agree with mine.
Woman (archival): He has the same type of feeling with the people that John Kennedy had, I think.
Man (archival): He's the hope of America.
Archive Reagan draft montage song: "Ronald Reagan he is the one. He is the one to beat. He's the leader of the GOP... "
Narrator: A Reagan draft initiative caught fire. When the Republicans gathered in Miami in 1968, Reagan, after only 18 months in elected office, was the choice for president among conservatives. By then, former Vice President Richard Nixon had a lock on the nomination.
Reagan (archival): I hereby proudly move on behalf of my fellow Californians that this convention declare itself as unanimously and united behind the candidate Richard Nixon as the next president of the United States, and I so move.
Lyn Nofziger, Press Secretary: Reagan was not upset. He told me, "Lyn, I just didn't think I was ready for it." So, you know, he knew it himself very well and he'd obviously, he'd have taken it if there had been this great demand for him but, but he knew that he would be better off waiting.
Narrator: Reagan returned to California to face the first true crisis of his governorship. The student revolt which had begun in 1964 reached its climax at Berkeley in the Spring of 1969. The university was paralyzed by a student strike, which was joined by members of the Black Panther Party and even some professors.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: There was a spellbinding moment when he was governor confronting a bunch of Berkeley University profs. He suddenly recognizes in their midst a radical from his Hollywood days, his name was I think Popski. And he said, "You, Popski, I know you and I know what you stand for." Lost his cool. There was a direct connection there, the anarchy that prevailed on the Berkeley campus in 1969 with the anarchy that he saw immediately after World War II outside the gates of Warner Brothers.
Narrator: When the police failed to break the strike, Reagan sent in the California Highway Patrol. That only heightened tensions.
Reagan (archival): I believe that where any group's rights are being imposed upon, or any individual's rights, by any others, it is the obligation of government to protect those constitutional rights at the point of bayonet if necessary.
Narrator: The National Guard descended on Berkeley replete with bayonets. It occupied the city for 17 days. Most Californians regarded Reagan as a hero for restoring the peace at Berkeley. Others felt he had acted as a trigger happy extremist.
The following year Reagan ran for re-election with little to show for his first term. He had promised to lower taxes but they had increased. And he had failed to curb the growth of government.
Reagan (archival): Some of the things they've said about me and education, this may get you expelled.
Narrator: Reagan won in November and launched an new initiative to cut back government spending.
Reagan (archival): Welfare is the biggest single outlay of public funds at three different levels of government: federal, state and county. And welfare is adrift without rudder or compass.
Narrator: In his first term Reagan had governed through confrontation. Now he needed to collaborate with the democratic controlled assembly if he wanted his welfare bill to pass.
William Hauck, Speaker's Staff, California Legislature: Reagan was beginning to think about his own legacy. He was beginning to think about the accomplishments that he would be looked back on when he left the governorship, and I'm sure that people would argue that Reagan was also beginning to build or try to build a record, to run for President for a second time.
Narrator: The Bill passed. Reagan saved taxpayers $2 billion and learned an important lesson.
Michael K. Deaver, Aide to Governor Reagan: He proved to himself that he could make some changes that he could not only talk about and move people to get things done, but he could actually move the mechanics of government to get things done, and I think that confidence that it gave Reagan was more important than most people realize.
Edwin Meese, Chief of Staff to Governor Reagan: And so when he left, he left with a kind of a ground swell of approval in the state, and a great deal of interest throughout the country among many people that he go on, and perhaps run for the Presidency in the future.
Reagan (archival): Now, wait a minute, wait a minute, hold it. You are all asking the same question and you are all gonna get the same answer. So we might as well do it once. No, I've made no change whatsoever. I've said repeatedly, and I repeat again. I have a decision to make. I don't know what that decision will be. When the time comes I will announce it. Yes or no. And I assume that that will be sometime before the end of this year.
Maureen Reagan: That summer, I had everybody over to my house for dinner and we were playing charades and I've forgotten exactly how it happened but I guess it was a book title and my father was the one doing it, and finally he just stood there and just went like this. You know like, "It's me" and we all screamed, "Making of a President."
Narrator: In his bid for the 1976 Republican nomination, Reagan faced enormous odds. He was taking on President Gerald Ford, and his own republican party. He lost to Ford in New Hampshire, and kept on losing.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: I think that that is a point in time, at least in my mind, when you really saw the essence of Reagan's character in its full flower. At that time if I recall correctly, the campaign was basically considered dead in the water. He had just lost five straight Presidential primaries to President Ford. Maybe most importantly we were about $2 million in debt.
Reporter (archival): Does it change significantly any of the political plans of yours?
Reagan (archival): No, not a bit. I'm going to run as hard as I can and figure I'm behind.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: And the question was, should we quit. And I think the general attitude was, it's not should we? It's do we have any choice? And we had this discussion, and the consensus was, certainly you have to... you have to quit. And Reagan was just sitting there listening to this. "And I'm telling you right now," and he was looking at everybody in the room, "that I am going to run in every single primary from here to the convention even if I lose every single one."
Narrator: Reagan searched for an issue to ignite his campaign.
Reagan (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, I'm deeply concerned about our defense posture. Despite the assurances of Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Ford, the United States is no longer the first military power on earth. The Soviet army is now twice the size of ours. Russia's annual investment in weapons, in strategic and conventional, now runs some 50 percent ahead of ours. Under Kissinger and Ford, this nation's become number two in military power in a world where it's dangerous, if not fatal, to be second best.
Narrator: Televised repeatedly on the eve of the North Carolina primary, Reagan's warning of a new Communist menace brought him his first victory. As the primaries moved to the more conservative South and West, the campaign gained momentum.
Reagan (archival): We are ahead of our projections at this time, where we thought we would be. And many people say well you know is that just whistling past the graveyard or something. No. We're ahead to the extent that recently for the first time I said I believe that there was a very great possibility if not probability that I could go to the convention with enough delegates in advance to win on the first ballot.
Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: After winning some of those primaries, none of us ever thought that it was out of our reach, something would happen that would turn that convention. And I think Reagan believed that.
Delegate (archival): Madame chairman, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, home of the Phillies and the Pirates, casts ten votes for Governor Reagan and 93 votes for Gerald Ford.
Delegate (archival): Twenty votes for Gerald R. Ford.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: Ford had given his acceptance speech, and he then turned to the sky box where we were, where my father was, and sort of beckoned my father to come down. I think he was conscious of the fact that nearly 50 percent of the people in the hall, maybe even more, really would have preferred Ronald Reagan to be the candidate.
Nancy Reagan: The response of those delegates was something unbelievable, just unbelievable. And there we were in this box way back in the back and we stood and he kept doing this to them, to tell them to sit down, they never would sit down. They wouldn't stop yelling and yelling for him and, "speech, speech." I just hoped that that that Ronnie had something that he wanted to say because he said to me, as we were running, we didn't expect to to be up in the stage and as we were running to get there, he said, "I haven't the foggiest idea of what I'm going to say."
Reagan (archival): If I could just take a moment. I had an assignment the other day. Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles 100 years from now. We live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive at each other's country and destroy virtually the civilized world we live in. And suddenly it dawned on me those who would read this letter 100 years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here... Mr. President
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The power of that speech was extraordinary. And you can just feel throughout the auditorium the palpable sense amongst the delegates that we've nominated the wrong guy.
Narrator: The next day Reagan bid farewell to his campaign staff.
Reagan (archival): Sure, there's a disappointment in what happened, but the cause, the cause goes on. [Applause] Don't get cynical. Don't get cynical because look at yourselves and what you were willing to do, and recognize that there are millions and millions of Americans out there that want what you want, that want it to be that way, that want it to be a shining city on a hill.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: On the plane going back, I went over, I had a convention ticket, and I asked him if he'd sign it as a souvenir. And what he wrote was, "We fought, we dreamed, and the dream is still with us." And looking back on it now, he never gave up, just kept right on going. It was, it was, you know, this incredible crushing defeat. And it didn't crush him.
He just came back up shook his head and said, "OK, what's next?" And that began the campaign for the year 1980.
Narrator: Reagan retreated to his new ranch in the mountains high above Santa Barbara. Rancho del Cielo: the ranch in the sky.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: It was a place where he could renew himself. And rejuvenate himself. And he would go out, you know, for hours at a time. He'd just sort of disappear up into the hills and into the brush with you know sometimes with a chain saw. And, he, you know, was just happy as a clam out there, doing his ranch thing.
Dennis LeBlanc, Ranch Manager: His form of relaxation was very hard physical labor. He was not a type of man to relax. We started building fences. It's been over the course of quite a few years because he actually built the fences or designed the fences out of telephone poles. He designed it so when you looked at the fence everything was uniform. We started to just do it around the house. But then when we finished with that and we sat back and looked and said, "Well, wouldn't it look nice if we went around the pond." Well we went around the pond and we created a pasture. Well, the pasture needs fencing. So we went around the pasture. Then we built an orchard, and, "Well, you know we should probably continue the fence around the orchard." These fences are not going anywhere.
Narrator: Reagan was killing time. Waiting while America ripened toward his conservative message. "People were rebelling," he observed, "A prairie fire, was spreading across the land."
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: Stop and think what this country had been through by 1980. We had been through the Vietnam War, we'd been through Watergate. We'd seen one President after another tarnished, by scandal, by failure, by an assassin's bullet. By 1980, we were pretty cynical. By 1980, we had just been through a couple of years of double-digit inflation. We'd seen the Soviet Union seemingly on the march around the world, most notably, in Afghanistan.
Narrator: Reagan ran for president on a Conservative platform of less government and stronger defense. Promising to restore America's greatness.
Reagan (archival): My fellow citizens of this great nation. With a deep awareness of the responsibility conferred by your trust, I accept your nomination for the Presidency of the United States. They say that the United States has had its day in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems, that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities. My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.
Maureen Reagan: He was so unhappy about what was happening to the country. The fact that people didn't believe in themselves, they didn't believe that they could make things better, that America was a nation in decline. All of those things and he knew in his heart those things were not true and he believed that as President he could make the American people look inside themselves and recreate what they needed to have their own American dream.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: I think he felt sincerely in his heart that he was rescuing the United States from a period of poisonous self-doubt, loss of direction, loss of belief in itself. I think he felt in the late 1970s that he could rescue Jimmy Carter's America and carry her back to the shore and make her alive again.
Narrator: Reagan kicked off his Fall campaign in Jersey City, with a great American symbol as a backdrop. He addressed a blue collar ethnic audience -- appealing to their patriotism and to their growing sense of insecurity.
Reagan (archival): Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well. If it's a definition. If it's a definition he wants I'll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.
Edwin Meese, Chief of Staff to Governor Reagan: Most people don't remember now, but that was probably the worst economic situation the United States had been in since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: Inflation was roaring, interest rates were going up. People couldn't afford to buy a home. A lot of people remember very clearly if they were old enough to drive a car then, you couldn't buy gasoline no matter how much money you had. We had a hostage crisis in Iran. People were getting worried.
Narrator: Fifty-two American diplomats had been held hostage in Iran for a year. They were a daily reminder of America's impotence. And a political liability for Jimmy Carter.
Reagan (archival): I believe this Administration's foreign policy helped create the entire situation that made their kidnap possible and I think the fact that they've been there that long is a humiliation and a disgrace to this country.
Narrator: Everyday the American hostages remained in captivity Carter's prospects for re-election dimmed.
Reagan (archival): Earlier this evening I spoke on the phone with President Carter. He called, John Anderson called. But the President pledged the utmost in cooperation in the transition that will take place. [Applause] And now just, all I can say to all of you is thank you. And thank you for more than just George Bush and myself. Thank you because if the trend continues we may very well control one house of the Congress for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Narrator: The Republicans did gain control of the Senate. Reagan beat Carter in a landslide, carrying 44 states. It was a great victory for Reagan and the conservative movement.
Reagan (archival): I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear. That I will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States.
Narrator: When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 expectations were low. At a time when America faced an economic crisis and an escalating cold war, many wondered if anyone could manage the country. Least of all, a former Hollywood "B" actor. "Things could go very badly in the first year," Reagan's staff had warned, "resulting in an erosion of Republican momentum and public confidence." But Reagan projected great assurance. He believed, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt 50 years before him, that his mission was to restore America's trust in itself.
Reagan (archival): It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We're not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: He and Franklin Roosevelt have so much in common. They're both great communicators, they're both buoyant optimists. They both came to Washington, in periods of great economic distress. But, there's a major, major difference, apart from one being a liberal, one being a conservative. FDR was a great improviser. He made up the New Deal, almost day by day. Reagan came to office with a very fixed set of beliefs and an agenda to try and implement those beliefs.
George F. Will, Columnist: Ronald Reagan had a few very simple precepts. Government was too big, taxed too much, and the Soviet Union was getting away with murder internationally. You guys work out the details.
Narrator: The key guys in the Reagan White House were Chief of Staff James Baker, who knew how Washington worked and Edwin Meese and Michael Deaver, who knew from Sacramento how Reagan worked. Deaver had another assignment: the first lady.
To this "Troika," Reagan delegated unprecedented authority.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: In some ways he governed like a Turkish pasha. He assembled people around him, brought people in, talked to them, made it clear to them what he wanted to do, and then the attitude seemed to be, OK, now you know what I want to do, let's do it. And he just assumed that these things would be done.
Narrator: The future would expose the weakness of Reagan's propensity to delegate. But for most of his first term the troika served him well.
Senator Howard Baker, Majority Leader: The Carter administration had made a terrible mistake by sending up so much legislation in their first hundred days that the focus became very diffused. We didn't make that mistake. I said, "Look our 100-day plan says we are to have three priorities and those three priorities are economic recovery, economic recovery, and economic recovery, and that's what we oughta focus on for the first 100 days and carry out our plan."
Narrator: It would come to be known as "the Reagan Revolution." On its surface it was simple. A tax cut, reductions in domestic spending, and a blanaced budget. But Reagan also wanted a military buildup to confront the Soviet Union.
David Stockman, Budget Director (archival): I have to say that I am not one to shrink from a tough task. But I must also say -- and I think every Cabinet member here will agree with me -- that the goals that you gave us are extraordinarily difficult to reconcile.
Narrator: Budget Director David Stockman warned Reagan that without deep cuts, budget deficits could rise as high as one hundred billion dollars. But Reagan was convinced that his tax cut would stimulate productivity and ignite an economic boom. The government would then collect enough taxes to balance the budget. It was called supply side economics, and even prominent Republicans were skeptical.
Senator Howard Baker, Majority Leader: I came out of a meeting with the President, when he had described his economic program, which entailed pretty good sized tax cuts and I was asked by the gaggle of reporters outside the northwest entrance to the west wing of the Capitol what I thought of it, and I uttered the words that probably should go at the very top of the list of things I never should have said. I said, "Well, altogether it's a riverboat gamble." And it was.
Reagan (archival): It's time to recognize that we've come to a turning point. We're threatened with an economic calamity of tremendous proportions, and the old business as usual treatment can't save us. Together we must chart a different course. On February 18, I will present in detail an economic program to Congress. It will propose budget cuts in virtually every department of government.
Narrator: The cuts fell most dramatically on programs designed to help the poor. "I'm trying to undo LBJ's Great Society," Reagan wrote in his diary. "It was his war on poverty that led us to this mess." Reagan also called for a 30 percent tax cut across the board. All tax payers would benefit. But the wealthy would benefit the most. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill vowed to fight. Reagan's program, he said "soaked the poor to subsidize the rich."
Tip O'Neill (archival): He and I don't agree on his plan whatsoever. I believe in the plan of fairness. Very easy to put the question. The question is this: Do you make over $50,000 or less than $50,000. If you make over $50,000 then you are for the Republican plan because that's who it's geared for.
Reagan (archival): Just here to meet with the leadership and talk about our problems.
Narrator: Reagan faced a formidable task. For his economic package to become law, he would need to convince 26 of O'Neill's Democrats to break rank. In the first 100 days of his presidency Reagan met with 467 legislators and phoned many more.
Once he called 29 members of congress in a single night.
James A. Baker III, Chief of Staff: He never once moaned about having to make a Congressional call because President Reagan understood that we judge our Presidents on the basis primarily of their success, in getting their programs through the legislative branch. We would give him a script for each of these Congressional calls and he never missed it. He was an extraordinarily hard worker.
Richard Darman, Presidential Aide: Most of America thought that he was someone who watched television and went to bed. He didn't. Every single night he would do a stack of work. He would almost obsessively go through every single bit of paper he would get. Indeed, the First Lady early on complained that I was keeping him up too late at night, but the too late was 2:30 in the morning.
Narrator: In his effort to sell his program, Reagan's best weapon was his power of persuasion.
Maureen Reagan: He had the ability to project out of himself, that's what actors do. They make you feel happy or sad. They make you laugh and cry. They make you feel all of the emotions. And so when you're in politics and you want to get a message across to people you have to be able to go in front of yourself and to project out to those people.
Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: All you wanted to do is fix the camera on his head and let him talk. You didn't need him to walk around the desk or sit on the corner and do all of those things that people have to do to make politicians interesting. He was able to speak in ways that the American people believed and in a language that they understood. He vocalized their frustrations and hopes and fears and gave them a vision.
Reagan (archival): During recent months many of you have asked, what can you do to help make America strong again. I urge you again to contact your Senators and Congressmen. Tell them of your support for this bipartisan proposal. Tell them you believe this is an unequaled opportunity to help return America to prosperity and make government again the servant of the people.
James A. Baker III, Chief of Staff: He would make a speech ah televised national address and say, "Call your Congressman, call your Senator, help me out. Here's what I want to do." And boy, the calls would flood the Congressional switchboards. It was very, very effective.
Narrator: With every appeal, Reagan's conservative agenda gained momentum. By March, two thirds of Americans favored the President's program -- especially the tax cut. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if this is real," said Deaver. "So do I," Reagan replied with a smile.
On March 30th, 70 days into his presidency, Reagan delivered yet another pitch -- to a union convention at the Washington Hilton Hotel. At 2:25 he left the meeting and approached his limousine.
Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: I ran to the car behind the limousine. I thought we were going to the White House. We started going over dividers on Connecticut Avenue and I realized when we came into the port of the George Washington Hospital that we were going there. I jumped out of the car and Reagan's getting out of the car, and he always had this thing where he would pull his pants up to be sure they were just right, button his coat again, which he did when he got out of the limousine. And I thought, "He's fine" -- walked into the hospital, the minute he hit the door, he went down.
Nancy Reagan: When I got there, everybody's still telling me, "He hasn't been shot, he hasn't been hit." And I think it was Mike Deaver who was standing waiting for me and I think he was the one who told me, that ah, he'd been hit.
Narrator: A deranged lone gunman, John Hinckley, Jr., had fired six bullets at the president. One ricocheted off Reagan's limousine, and tore into his left lung missing his heart by an inch.
Patti Davis, Daughter: I was afraid he would die and that he would die without me really knowing who my father was. I knew how close to death he was once I got to Washington, the country didn't know until years later.
Nancy Reagan: He was so white. I have never seen anybody so white, and he had that thing over his face to help him breathe and there was blood. And, he opened his eyes and saw me, and that's when he said, "honey I forgot to duck."
Narrator: Reports of Reagan's courage reassured an anxious nation.
Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: That was that moment when we really saw inside the man. We really saw what he was made of -- to be able to have that grace and that humor, at that particular time in this life.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: The quips to the doctors, about you know, "I hope you're all Republicans" and all that kind of stuff, and "Honey, I forgot to duck." You know, that wasn't some invention of somebody. He was actually doing that. And you know, probably going through his mind is, "Gee, I hope I'm not putting these people out."
Reporters (archival): How are you feeling Mr. President? How do you feel? How do you feel?
Reagan (archival): Great.
Reporters (archival): What are you going to do when you get to the White House Mr. President. What are you going to do when you get home?
Reagan (archival): Sit down.
Narrator: Reagan returned to the White House 12 days after being shot. Only those closest to him knew how transforming his near death experience had been.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: I think it confirmed everything he'd ever been taught, beginning by his mother about God's plan for him as an individual. Mother Teresa came to the White House, with no fanfare, not long after the assassination attempt, and met privately with the President. And at the end of the meeting, she told the President that God had a plan for him and that God had intended for him to suffer.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: That was when he decided that the life which had been spared was now going to have to be put to the service of the God who had saved him. He became much more devout and evangelical from that moment on. His thoughts became slower, his speech became slower, he deliberated more, he hesitated more when he spoke. He lost his quickness. And for the rest of the presidency, it was a very, very slow and steady mental and physical decline.
Sam Donaldson, Journalist: Mrs. Reagan never recovered. Mrs. Reagan was horrified. And she gave immediate instructions to Michael Deaver who was her contact in the Chief of Staff's Office, words to the effect, "This will never happen again -- you see to it." And they saw to it. He never walked across an airport tarmac. He never worked a fence line. He never got out of his limousine on a public sidewalk but it began to close down the presidency, even more from the standpoint of access to the average citizen, the average voter in this country.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: It took Reagan out of most of the routine of being President. In a sense it aborted the inner life of the Presidency. Put the Reagan Presidency on this track where Reagan was more distanced than he should have been from decision making.
Narrator: On April 28th, four weeks after the attempt on his life, a barely recovered Reagan received a hero's welcome from Congress.
Reagan (archival): Thank you. Thank you. You wouldn't want to talk me into an encore would you? Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished members of the Congress, honored guests and fellow citizens, I have no words to express my appreciation for that greeting. I have come to speak to you tonight about our economic recovery program and why I believe it's essential that Congress approve this package.
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: There he was, almost Lazarus-like standing before the Congress. Here's a guy who had survived a very deadly shot of an assassin and to come back with such élan and to ask for support was big stuff. I mean, you're talking about Hollywood drama here and he played it for all it was worth and he should have. And I think that that's when he probably ran his vote up over the top.
Congressman (archival): On this vote the ayes are 238 the nays are 195.
Narrator: The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of his economic package. In the House, Reagan had convinced enough Democrats to break rank. He rejoiced in what he called "the greatest political win in half a century."
Tip O'Neill (archival): Mr. President. Congratulations, you're a tough adversary. Well. No hard feelings old pal. It's a great two party system we have. We gave our best, and you outdid us. As a matter of fact you stunned us. I never figured you could beat us that badly. You're a little stunned yourself. Well listen I want to wish you all the success in the world. The fiscal policy of the nation now belongs to you. You've got two clear-cut victories up here.
Narrator: On August 13th, 1981 Reagan headed for his Ranch in the Sky to sign the bill which would turn his conservative agenda into law.
Richard Darman, Presidential Aide: It was perfect for the imagery of the western romantic American tradition. Symbolically, an ideal place to start the ratification of step one of the Reagan Revolution.. And so, it was a well chosen set, at least in concept. In reality, the particular day turned out to be one where you couldn't see much of anything. There was this tremendous fog that poured in. You could hardly see the President when he came out to sign the bill. So yes, the thought did cross my mind that maybe we were all doing something in a fog that is without as clear a vision as we should have had of what we were up to.
Narrator: The bill Reagan signed that day did not include a balanced budget. Without further cuts, the United States would face the largest deficit in its history.
Reporter (archival): How much more in budget cuts are you going to have to make over the next couple of years and will you still be able to balance the budget in '84.
Reagan (archival): Well, this has always been our goal and will continue to be our goal, but remember that we always said that there were further budget cuts for the coming years, for '83 and '84.
Narrator: That Fall, budget director David Stockman told Reagan he would have to cut deep into defense spending -- the keystone of his anti-Soviet policy -- and social security if he wanted a balanced budget.
Richard Darman, Presidential Aide: When he was presented with the question of whether he would reduce the rate of growth of defense, he decided not to and concluded that though he didn't want the deficit, the country would tolerate it if the economy were strong.
Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense: He always phrased it this way -- if it were a question of balancing the budget or regaining strong military capabilities, he'd always opt for the latter. And he never never wavered in that.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: He had a chance to tackle entitlements, he had a chance to break Social Security costs and he wasn't willing to do it because he would have forfeited his most precious asset, his popularity, to do it. And he wasn't willing to do that.
Narrator: Those were fateful decisions. Reagan would never again have as good an opportunity to adjust his budget and avoid the ballooning deficits of the decade ahead. That year, the economy took a downward turn. By November, blue-collar workers, who had voted for Ronald Reagan were losing their jobs. Inflation had prompted the Federal Reserve Board to increase interest rates. Reagan was forced to admit that the nation was headed into a recession.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, your Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan, yesterday gave a rather pessimistic view of the Nation's economy. I think he called it a "real downer" that we were facing. Do you share his ah pessimistic view of the economy? Are we in for a real downer in your opinion?
Reagan (archival): Well now, I don't know what his definitions is of a "real downer" I think that we're going to have some hard times for the next few months. I think we're going to see a pickup in the economy, and I think that Don Regan believes this also, in Spring or latest early Summer.
Narrator: That Spring, when the president vacationed at the home of actress Claudette Colbert there were no signs of improvement. Reagan who had seen himself as coming to America's rescue began to be cast as callous and insensitive; "splashing in the lap of luxury, while Americans go hungry," one reporter wrote. But the press reserved its harshest criticism for the First Lady. Calling attention to her designer dresses. Her lavish entertainment. Her millionaire friends. And her decision to spend $210,000 on new china.
The extravagance added to the perception of insensitivity -- a perception Reagan bitterly resented.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: His invariable line when the subject of poverty and homelessness was raised was I know all about the Depression because I was out hitchhiking across the landscape looking for work in the depths of the Depression. I know about poverty. Actually it was just a matter of a couple of weeks. He got a job very quickly and from January 1933 onward never had to look anywhere for a salary check.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: If you wanted something done by my father, if you wanted him to move a certain way on a certain policy, what you had to do was humanize it, bring him a person that's afflicted by some problem or another, and all of a sudden then it becomes very real to him
Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: He would have three or four checks, personal checks in the top drawer of his desk, in the Oval Office and he was always running out of those checks because he was writing checks to people. I went in there one time and he had written a check to some woman who was on welfare. And the next month he got his bank statement. Well, you know, the bank statement had these checks and her check wasn't in it. So, he called her on the phone and said, "You know, you haven't cashed that check." She said, "Oh no, I framed it." He said, "Well my God I sent you that money so you'd have some money to eat. I'll send you another check, you keep that one framed and cash this one."
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: Simply because he becomes aware of one person's plight and responds to it as human beings doesn't really solve the problem. I mean he's basically responsible for the economic management of the United States and he has to deal with that responsibility, not simply as an individual citizen.
Narrator: As the recession deepened through 1982, its effects were felt across America. Farmers were driven off their land by high interest rates. In the cities, homelessness became a scandal. Thousands of businesses failed. Unemployment reached its highest level since the Great Depression.
"I prayed a lot during this period," Reagan wrote, "not only for the country and people who were out of work, but for help and guidance in doing the right thing."
Pressure on Reagan to change course mounted. His program -- now derided as "Reaganomics," -- had not only failed to produce growth, but was leading the nation into fiscal disaster.
"We are really in trouble," Reagan confided to his diary. "Our projections are out the window.... We look at $200 billion deficits if we can't pull off some miracles."
Even true believers were disillusioned. David Stockman, tired of arguing for cuts now urged the president to raise taxes.
"Reagan," wrote columnists Evans and Novak "was having to fight two thirds of his administration to save his economic program."
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: There are very few conventional politicians who would have stuck it out as he did. But he came to office imbued with a conviction that less government and lower taxes would resolve the pervasive sickness of the American economy. And what he saw in 1982 was the fever that was about to break.
Narrator: Reagan stayed the course. "I believed the economic recovery would work," he wrote, "because I had faith in those tax cuts and faith in the American people." But the American people were losing faith in Ronald Reagan.
Man (archival): He'd better read the papers a little better, go down to the unemployment office and see all the people standing there, getting unemployment benefits -- those that can get em and those that have ran out of them and so forth. The president himself hasn't got the message yet.
Second Man (archival): I don't like to turn to Welfare, but if that's what is gonna take to get by until this current economic situation is through that's what we'll have to do.
Third Man (archival): I think the American dream is in the past. It's long gone.
Crowds (archival): What do we want? Jobs. When do you want them? Now.
Narrator: On November 2, in critical mid-term elections, voters would pass judgment on Ronald Reagan and his conservative program.
Reagan watched as the American people gave a vote of no confidence by throwing 26 Republicans out of the House. The political disaster his staff had feared was upon him.
Helen Thomas, Reporter (archival): With 11.6 million people out of work would you be willing to have some cutbacks in defense spending to help these people who are out of work?
Lou Cannon, Biographer (archival): Have you ruled out the possibility that would modify in anyway your call for an increased defense budget maybe just for this one year?
Narrator: Ronald Reagan had vowed to fight Communism. Now his defense build-up -- the chief weapon in his anti-Soviet crusade -- was coming under attack.
In what might have been the largest peace time gathering in American history, nearly one million people rallied in Central Park to call for a freeze in nuclear weapons production.
Woman (archival): All of us want to live and we want life for our children and our grandchildren.
Narrator: Two years into his presidency the talk in Washington was of chaos and disarray.
"The question no longer is whether Reagan has failed," wrote a conservative analyst, "but the magnitude and ramifications of his failure."
By January 1983, Reagan's approval rating had plummeted to 35 percent. Her husband, Nancy confided to a reporter, might not seek a second term.
Richard Wirthlin, Pollster: I brought him the bad news that his job rating was low and he was very serious for a moment and then he smiled and he then reached over and patted me on the arm and said, "I know just what I can do about it. I'll go out and get shot again."
Narrator: If Reagan's presidency failed, his crusade to protect America from big government, begun in 1964 would fail with it. His crusade to save the world from communism, begun in 1946 would fail too. Ronald Reagan had come to office to rescue America. Now he was the one in need of rescue.
Announcer (archival): Miene damen und herren - Mr. Ronald Reagan und Mrs. Nancy Reagan.
Narrator: As a boy, Ronald Reagan inherited the values of the American heartland at the time of Calvin Coolidge -- a clear sense of right and wrong. And self-reliance. His experience as a lifeguard left him with a sense he could rescue those in need. In the movies he played the hero who came to the rescue; he felt he was playing himself. As President, the world was his stage. The script was his own. The possibilities of rescue were enormous.
Reagan (archival): General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. (applause)
Narrator: Ronald Reagan had almost no experience in foreign policy, little knowledge of history, and a capacity to be disengaged that grew worse as he grew older. But he never lost his sense of America's mission.
Reagan (archival): Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: Reagan had a very old fashioned patriotism, which accepted unquestioningly American exceptionalism and America's role as a moral, as well as, a geographical beacon for the rest of the world. Reagan believed the evil empire was evil and Reagan believed that the United States was put here by God to combat the evil empire and to prevail.
Narrator: Ronald Reagan had been optimistic in 1980 that he could revitalize the economy and restore national confidence.
Reagan (archival): I am not frightened by what lies ahead and I don't believe the American people are frightened by what lies ahead.
Narrator: Two years later Reagan realized many Americans were frightened. They had lived through a recession for more than a year.
Voice (archival): They tell ya we got hundreds of people laid off, and we're not taking applications. That's scary, too, because....
2nd Voice (archival): We got people in the shop that voted for him, and they think it's the biggest mistake they ever made.
Man (archival): Reagonomics is right on, but, look at me, I used to work for these people, and now I gotta stand in line to get a box of cheese.
Narrator: His blue collar supporters were defecting. There might not be a second term. Reagan's defense buildup had triggered protests at home by those who feared his finger on the nuclear trigger.And demonstrations in Europe that threatened the NATO alliance. If Reagan's presidency failed, his personal crusade against communism and the Soviet Union would fail with it. The passions that had consumed him since 1946 when he battled communists in Hollywood -- and an anonymous caller threatened to disfigure his face. The passions that animated his presidency from the very start, 35 years later.
Reagan (archival): I know of no leader of the Soviet Union since the revolution, including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one world socialist or communist state. Now as long as they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, I think when you do business with them, even at a détente, you keep that in mind.
Narrator: Reagan rejected détente, the efforts of three presidents in the 1970s to lessen the tensions of the nuclear age through treaties. Treaties that allowed each side to build thousands more strategic nuclear warheads. He saw the Soviets projecting their power in Afghanistan, Africa, and Central America -- filling the void when America's resolve weakened after the failure in Vietnam. He decided to confront them.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He was not afraid of this monolith. I think he felt that Jimmy Carter was afraid and that Gerald Ford was, and who knows else. Reagan was never afraid of the Soviet Union and he hated it very much. It's about the only powerful negative emotion he's had in his life was that animus against this totalitarian system.
Narrator: Within days of saying the Soviets lied and cheated, Reagan greeted their ambassador, Anatoli Dobrynin. The "truth is, he and his wife are most likable," Reagan wrote, "and very much in love after 40 years of marriage. You wonder how they can stick with the Soviet system."
Reagan approved an across the board military buildup, the most massive in peace time history. He told his Secretary of Defense to order what was needed and not to worry about the budget. Pentagon spending would reach $34 million per hour.
From a position of strength, Reagan said, he would negotiate arms reductions. He would build up to build down. That was the stated goal. The unstated goal was more ambitious.
Richard Allen, National Security Adviser: He did not want an arms race, but if there was to be an arms race, we were not going to lose it. And that was the message he wanted to convey to the Soviets. Namely that we would be willing to spend them into oblivion. And it would be done peacefully, although the major expression of this spending race so to speak would be military.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He had this overriding conviction that a strong military face presented by the United States for a year or two would bring this hostile system to its knees.
Narrator: In his campaign Reagan had told reporters the Soviet economy could not sustain an arms race. William Casey, his new CIA director, confirmed this.
Herbert E. Meyer, Special Assistant to CIA Director: What we realized is that the CIA was monitoring Soviet strengths. It was not looking at Soviet weaknesses. And we felt that there were weaknesses. Now you can simultaneously be strengthening your armor and also dying of cancer. And we started to look at that. The result is we came up with a very different perception of the Soviet Union than the conventional wisdom subscribed to.
Narrator: Reagan and Casey decided to push the Soviet Union to the point of collapse.
Herbert E. Meyer, Special Assistant to CIA Director: It's very dangerous. And there were a lot of people who said, "Oh dear, you're right, the bear is wounded, don't poke sticks at a wounded bear." The Casey and Reagan approach was hey, my enemy is on his knees, it's a good time to break his head. It's a very gutsy decision. They decided, not just those two, but among others, that they wanted to win the Cold War. And their definition of winning the Cold War was that the Soviet state would cease to exist.
Polish Workers (archival): "Democratzia"
Narrator: In 1981, Reagan saw a chance to strike at the heart of the Soviet empire. The Polish workers movement, Solidarity, marched for democratic freedoms. When the government declared martial law, Reagan was determined to keep Solidarity alive.
He met Pope John Paul II a few months later in June 1982. Like Reagan, the Polish Pope had also survived an assassin's bullets in 1981. He too believed God had spared him for a special mission.
The Pope would turn the Catholic Church in Poland into an underground Solidarity network. Reagan imposed economic sanctions and committed the CIA to undermine the government and keep Solidarity alive. If Poland were freed, they felt all Eastern Europe would follow.
Other covert actions were less peaceful. In Afghanistan Reagan continued President Carter's policy of backing the factions fighting a Soviet invasion. In Central America, the CIA began to train forces to harass the Sandinistas, the Soviet backed government in Nicaragua. The "Contras" became one of Reagan's favorite causes.
Reagan (archival): They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French resistance. We can not turn away from them. (applause) All they need is proof that we care as much about the fight for freedom 700 miles from our shores as the Soviets care about the fight against freedom 5,000 miles from theirs.
Narrator: Reagan spoke to the hopes of people the world over who feared communism. The "Great Communicator" had the actor's gift of connecting with his audience in a deeply personal way. But in private he held himself apart.
Lyn Nofziger, Reagan Adviser: I don't think anybody absolutely knows Ronald Reagan. There always seemed to be a kind of a veil between Reagan and the rest of the world. And you know, not obvious or anything, but you kind of didn't get that last quarter of an inch through there.
Patti Davis, Daughter: My father's very shy emotionally. So I would say he is probably not as demonstrative as other people.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: I don't think in my life that I've ever had a real conversation with him.
Narrator: Ron Reagan dropped out of Yale in 1976 and after four years of rigorous training became a professional ballet dancer.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: I remember once they had come to see me dance, and a little while later Mike Deaver came up to me and said, "You know, I was talking to your dad the other day and he said to me, 'I wonder if. I wonder if Ron knows how proud of him I am.' And I said, 'well, he... did he delegate you to come and tell me?'
You know. I... I, you know, I don't know, he's never told me. And I think, in effect, it was Mike Deaver sort of being assigned the task of you know, I don't think he put it in so many words, but you know, "go tell my son I'm proud of him." But I think he would have found it very difficult to say that himself.
Narrator: By 1982 many Americans thought Reagan's weapons buildup was madness. It energized a movement to freeze production of nuclear weapons. Reagan's crusade was against communism. The freeze movement's was against the bomb. Use of the bomb, scientist Carl Sagan warned, would doom the earth to a "nuclear winter." A fate more likely, Reagan's opponents felt, with yet more bombs -- in the hands of the man who pacified Berkeley with bayonets.
Robert Dallek, Historian: They saw him as something of a cowboy. They identified him with Barry Goldwater, who in the 1964 campaign says, "We should think about lobbing one into the men's room of the Kremlin," you see. People would -- had bumper stickers in 1964 the, the Goldwater bumper sticker was "In Your Heart You Know He's Right." And the opponents said, "In Your Heart You Know He's Nuts," seeing him as a dangerous character who might provoke a nuclear war. And Reagan was seen by many people as the heir of that rhetoric. And he frightens people.
Robert McNamara, Former Secretary of Defense (archival): The stocks of both Warsaw Pact and NATO have been increasing dramatically. The deployments have been increasing. More and more one hears of the necessity of developing plans for fighting and winning nuclear wars. Inconceivable to me. Madness.
William Colby, Former CIA Director (archival): It is precisely a freeze which would stop the further build up of weapons aimed at our country. I think the freeze is both in the mutual interest of our two countries and is certainly verifiable.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (archival): I reject the absurd theory that we can have fewer nuclear bombs tomorrow only if we build more nuclear bombs today.
Rally Host John Shea (archival): We are the people. We want no more nuclear weapons.
Narrator: By the spring, the freeze had grown into an enormous grass roots movement. A freeze resolution was introduced in Congress. On June 12, nearly one million Americans rallied in Central Park to send a message to Ronald Reagan.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility (archival): His motto is "Arm to Disarm." Those bombs will produce a nuclear war called "On the Beach" where every person on the earth dies of radioactive fallout within a few weeks. That's what these new bombs mean and that's what the President is doing.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility: I thought he could possibly press the button. Yeah. I was terrified. And I didn't understand why people had this adulation for him.
Mike Farrell (archival): Say a warm hello to Patti Davis.
Narrator: Reagan's daughter Patti Davis made her movement debut in the Hollywood Bowl. Survival Sunday, 1981.
Patti Davis, Daughter (archival): We have a choice.
Patti Davis, Daughter: My motives were the same as everybody else's. But I wasn't like everybody else. My father was sitting in the White House. So, you know, I was out there with the intention of speaking in a sense, for world peace, but the best thing I could have done for world peace that day, I think, was to stay home. Because really all I was communicating was that I was at war with my father.
Reporter (archival): Have you ever tried to influence your father on this issue or would you ever try?
Patti Davis, Daughter (archival): We discuss it. We discuss it.
Narrator: Patti Davis met Dr. Caldicott at a star studded fundraiser for the freeze movement at Hugh Heffner's Playboy mansion in Hollywood. She invited Dr. Caldicott to the White House to try to convert her father.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility: To break the ice, I said to him, "You probably don't know who I am, do you?" And he said, "Yes, I do. You're an Australian, you read "On the Beach" when you were a young girl, and you're scared of nuclear war." And I said, "Yes, that's right." He said, "Well I too am scared of nuclear war, but our ways to prevent it differ. I believe in building more bombs."
After we'd been talking for about an hour, he reached into his inside pocket and pulled a piece of paper out. And he'd written in this backhand writing of his "People who work for the nuclear weapons freeze are either KGB dupes or Soviet agents." And I said, "But that's from last month's Reader's Digest." And he said, "No," he said, "it's from my intelligence files."
Patti Davis, Daughter: There was so much around that visit and in the background of that visit that made it impossible for it to be an open dialogue.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility: Patti didn't really participate, she was deeply involved watching, except at one point where I had a document I wanted to show him, and I was bending down to my briefcase to pick it up, and she said, I heard her say, "Daddy I know that what the doctor is saying is correct because I've got a 1982 Pentagon document to prove it." And he looked at her and he said, "That's a forgery." I mean he didn't even ask her where it is. You know, what document it was. Anything. He just said, "That's a forgery." I was stunned.
Narrator: Dr. Caldicott recalled the meeting as "the most disconcerting" of her life..."I left the White House hardly able to walk from shock and staggered back to my hotel..." "I shared her fear about what the remaining years of my father's administration would bring,"
Patti wrote. "I sat at the dinner table that night drinking too much wine. I felt like I'd let down an entire movement."
Dr. Caldicott is "a nice, caring person," Reagan wrote in his diary. "But she is all steamed up. I couldn't get through her fixation. For that matter I couldn't get through to Patti. I'm afraid our daughter has been taken over by that whole gang."
William Sloane Coffin (archival): Good-bye nuclear weapons. Forever good-bye.
Narrator: For all their disagreements, Reagan shared with the anti-nuclear activists an abhorrence of nuclear weapons. If the bomb made Helen Caldicott worry about "On the Beach" or Carl Sagan about "nuclear winter," it made Ronald Reagan worry about Armageddon -- the Biblical prophecy of the end of the world.
Michael Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff: I heard him on more than one occasion talk about Armageddon. And I think he believed in all of the prophecies in Revelations. When they talked about the metal horses or the iron horses and so forth, he would refer to those as the tanks. There was no difference in other words he said you could take those descriptions of what was going to happen and show that that was exactly what we were moving towards today ourselves unless we did something about it.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He was a passionate anti-nuclear idealist, Reagan. I don't know if this is understood as much as it should be. The very notion of mass destruction by nuclear weapons was deeply abhorrent to him.
Narrator: In July 1979 Reagan had visited the Air Defense Command, deep under Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. The trip reinforced his aversion to the conventional wisdom of the nuclear age -- that there is no defense against a missile attack. Only the threat of retaliation.
Martin Anderson, Senior Adviser: On the plane coming home, I was discussing this with Reagan. He said, look, the President has two bad choices. If a nuclear missile is fired at the United States you can either do nothing, let the missile land and explode and kill a lot of people -- or, you can retaliate. And, you're told the missile is coming in, you get 10, 15 minutes before it hits. So, you'd push your own button and punish the aggressor. You you know where the missile's coming from and maybe set off a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union and have an Armageddon, destroy most of our civilization. And he said, both choices are bad choices. There has to be another way and we need to really explore the whole question of missile defense.
Narrator: The most controversial initiative of his presidency reflected the Ronald Reagan who had faith in America. And in his own ability to rescue. And to prevail.
Reagan (archival): I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive.
Narrator: To Reagan, defense was a moral imperative. But a daunting task to those who had to work out the details. Perhaps there would be satellites in space with computer guided lasers that would zap enemy missiles. Most scientists dismissed Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI as unworkable. He was known to have a rich imagination.
Anthony Lewis, Columnist: I think Ronald Reagan really believed in SDI. I think he had this view that, I mean it was like the way he used to talk about events that had actually happened in the movies as if they really had happened. I think he was -- like, you know, Star Wars -- the movie.
Reagan (archival): Alright Haydon, focus that inertia projector on them, and let 'em have it.
Narrator: The "Star Wars" in which Reagan starred was filmed in 1939.
Reagan (archival): The inertia projector. It's a device for throwing electrical waves capable of paralyzing alternate and direct currents at their source.
Man (archival): The inertia projector. It not only makes the United States invincible in war. But in so doing, promises to be the greatest force for world peace ever discovered.
Narrator: It was sometimes difficult for Ronald Reagan to distinguish fantasy from reality.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: He believed in this so strongly that he began to think that SDI was in existence when it wasn't even on the drawing board. That he so passionately, passionately wanted there to be a nuclear defense.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: In a loose way it was a religious notion, the City of God surrounded by an inviolable barrier. The weapons of the heathen will bounce off our shield and shatter into fragments. We will be inviolable here beneath this shield. Shield, shield, he used the word shield a lot.
Narrator: Reagan presented SDI as a benign shield. The soothing rhetoric may have disguised another motive.
James Baker III, Chief of Staff: I think President Reagan saw SDI as being yet another pressure on the Soviets, as something that they could not withstand and I think he was right. Whether it would work or not, it was a heck of a challenge to the Soviet empire, which was having a very difficult time competing ah economically and otherwise.
Alexander Bessmertnykh, Foreign Ministry, USSR: The first reaction was really frightening. I mean people were just enormously frightened by that program.
Pavel Palazchenko, Foreign Ministry, USSR: In part, I think, because it probably revealed in their minds the impossibility for the Soviet Union to really compete in that area because of our technological inferiority at that time.
Narrator: SDI became an expensive research project. Reagan's dream of making missiles obsolete was for the future. He still had to cope with their threat. Before he took office the Soviet Union had deployed highly mobile missiles that could wipe out Western Europe in minutes. NATO had decided to counter them with a new generation of US missiles but also to negotiate limits on all the missiles. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had little interest in negotiating, suggested a negotiating position: if the Soviets pulled out all their missiles, NATO would not deploy any new ones. This so-called "zero option" was a very hard line. Reagan bought it.
Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense: The President said that that would be very good if we could get that and I said, "Yes, one of the arguments you're going to hear, Mr. President, is that the Soviets will never agree to this, and therefore, we shouldn't even propose it because that means we can't get an agreement."
Richard Allen, National Security Adviser: Why should the Soviets have any incentive to remove what they already had in place? And the whole arms control community, the professional arms controllers, believed strongly that this was unfair. It would be unfair, unjust to ask the Soviets to do this. Besides everyone knew that the Soviets had this fundamental sense of insecurity, so we shouldn't exacerbate that sense of insecurity. That's exactly what Reagan wanted to do, was to exacerbate the feeling of insecurity. It was very simple.
Narrator: The face that Reagan showed the world early in his term was that of his hawkish advisors -- provocative and uncompromising.
Reagan (archival): The United States is prepared to cancel its deployment of Pershing 2 and ground-launched missiles if the Soviets will dismantle their SS-20, SS-4 and SS-5 missiles. This would be an historic step. With Soviet agreement, we could together substantially reduce the dread threat of nuclear war which hangs over the people of Europe.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, what are the chances the Soviet Union will accept your proposals?
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: It was took as a joke. Nobody in his right mind thought of the possibility of zero-option. No. We, at that time, we thought that we would be able to make a deal. We'll keep part of the our missiles. We'll somehow split Europe and the United States. It was always in the cards -- this big game. Say, to make some division between major European countries and the United States -- playing on their fears -- fears of nuclear war, you know -- this winter -- nuclear winter or some awful scenarios.
Narrator: The Soviets sought to exploit legitimate European anxieties of a nuclear war fought on the soil of Europe, already bristling with nuclear weapons on both sides. Demonstrators marched for a nuclear free Europe. If they succeeded, the NATO alliance which had held together for 32 years to thwart Soviet advances would be in shambles.
Tony Benn (archival): This may be, this may be the greatest political meeting ever held in this country.
Narrator: Reagan arrived in Great Britain as NATO's crisis escalated.
Speaker (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. President Reagan.
Narrator: In his speech to Parliament he went beyond the missile debate to highlight his broader goals, the crusade of his lifetime.
Reagan (archival): What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term. The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism, Leninism, on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister: Ash heap of history. Hitler had been dispatched to the ash heap of history. If you look at that whole sentence, he was saying that our purpose is that these tyrannists, as past tyrannists, should be consigned to the ash heap of history. He was right.
Reagan (archival): Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best, a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny. Thank you.
Narrator: As he preached his message of freedom and built up America's defenses, Reagan avoided talking to the Russians. But he knew that would change.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: He wanted to engage with the Soviets. You kind of got the impression from a distance that he didn't, that he just wanted to have -- be militarily strong and that was it. But that wasn't it at all. He could see as a good negotiator that you negotiate effectively when you're strong but also that your strength erodes unless you use it. As a negotiator he didn't want to just stand on strength.
Narrator: But Reagan seldom took the initiative. He has been compared to a Turkish pasha awaiting overtures from his advisors. In February 1983, Secretary Shultz asked if he wanted to talk to Ambassador Dobrynin.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: And he said, wonderful. And that set off a big fight inside the White House because his staff didn't want him to do that. I think that they didn't want to have these discussions, and they didn't have as much confidence in him as I did. But he just smiled and brushed them off and said, bring him over. And I did.
Narrator: Reagan pushed human rights with Dobrynin -- urging him to help with the emigration of Russian Pentecostals, Christian dissidents who had been living in the basement of the American embassy in Moscow for almost five years. A few months later they were allowed to leave the country.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: And the deal was, we'll let them out if you don't crow. And Ronald Reagan never said a word. It was the first deal he made, but it was unknown, and I think it was impressive to the Soviets because it showed them number one, he kept his word, even though it was very tempting politically to trumpet what he had done. And number two, it showed them that he really cared about human rights.
Narrator: It was not Reagan the negotiator but Reagan the crusading ideologue who addressed Evangelical supporters a few weeks later. Congress was about to vote on the freeze resolution which could jeopardize his deployment of missiles in Europe. And Reagan was about to give his most controversial speech.
Reagan (archival): So in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.
George F. Will, Columnist: People recoiled in horror. They said, you can't talk this way. Reagan said, I'm doing it on purpose because the whole thrust of détente had been to demoralize our foreign policy. Ronald Reagan wanted to remoralize it. Let's tell them that we think they are thugs and that they are ah a focus of evil in the modern world and let's get the American people back into the Cold War as a moral, I'll say, crusade.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He saw a lack of freedom. He saw social degradation. He hated what he saw. He at least understood and was courageous enough to articulate to the rest of the world that what there is over there is despicable. It's evil. One of the oldest words in any language. Evil.
Robert Dallek, Historian: This was the rhetoric of the 1950s that you cannot have compromise with evil. You cannot have compromise with a Soviet system that is intent upon our destruction. And Reagan is harking back to this early Cold War rhetoric and thinking, you see. And people find it frightening, they find it chilling.
Thomas Watson (archival): The danger we face today warrants laying aside all other matters. Even staying in session day and night if that is required.
Averill Harriman (archival): The dangers are great. And therefore any negotiations that could be started, I'm for.
Senator Tsongas (archival): You're going to be the only administration going back to the '50s that either did not negotiate a treaty with the Soviets or met with them.
George Shultz, Secretary of State (archival): So be it. I don't think we want to get ourselves in the position where we don't want to be the only administration that didn't make an arms control agreement, and so therefore let's go make one. That's no way to approach it.
Narrator: Early in the morning of September 1st, 1983, a Korean airliner strayed into Soviet air space. It was shot down with the loss of 269 lives. Newsweek wrote: "The world witnessed the Soviet Union that Ronald Reagan had always warned against."
Reagan (archival): This was the Soviet Union against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.
Narrator: Reagan's rhetoric was tough, but when Weinberger urged him to break off arms talks with the Soviets, he resisted. He sided with Shultz who urged him to remain engaged. In the Kremlin the rhetoric was also harsh. The Soviets compared Reagan to Hitler. Called him mad. The question for Soviet leader Yuri Andropov was how to engage Ronald Reagan.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The latter months of 1983 when Andropov had to come to terms with the knowledge that he was a dying man, plus the knowledge that Ronald Reagan was a much more formidable adversary than had originally been assumed, that he was not an old stupid ideologue, but that he was actually a very canny and determined warrior, the combination of these two realizations, these two perceptions on Andropov's part, brought about, I believe, the selection of Mikhail Gorbachev to be his successor. Andropov started grooming Gorbachev in 1983 as the only likely Soviet leader who would be able to handle this formidable, adamantine anti-communist on the other side of the Atlantic.
Narrator: On Nov 20, 1983, 100 million Americans watched The Day After, a television movie which portrayed the effects of a nuclear war on Lawrence, Kansas. Reagan saw a preview. "It was a scenario," he wrote, "that could lead to the end of civilization as we knew it." The film aired on the eve of the deployment of American missiles in Germany. The inveterate optimist confided: it "left me greatly depressed." But undeterred, Reagan dispatched the missiles to Europe on schedule. Reagan's goal was to negotiate from strength.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: The deployment of INF missiles in Germany particularly, but Britain and Italy too, showing the strength and cohesion of the NATO alliance was a Cold War turning point. You have to have -- show the strength before you can have effective diplomacy.
George F. Will, Columnist: There was a whole generation of people who were always haunted by the prospect that our amiable, undisciplined democracy wouldn't have the staying power, it would just get outlasted. We said, "Well maybe they're just tougher than we are and, stupidity armed with discipline will win after all." And that was what at issue in the early 1980s was whether or not democracies would crack. If NATO had decided upon a deployment and had then been unable to follow through on it, the Soviet Union could have had a new burst of confidence, the Atlantic Alliance would have been cracked, and who knows what would have happened. It didn't turn out to be the case in large measure again, because the President was staying the course internationally as well as domestically.
Pavel Palazchenko, Foreign Ministry, USSR (archival): The present round of the negotiations is discontinued. Without any date set for their resumption.
Narrator: Soviet delegates walked out of the arms control negotiations. For the first time in more than 20 years there were no superpower talks.
Helen Thomas, Reporter (archival): Senator Byrd says that our relations with Soviet Union have reached the lowest point in 20 years. And six eminent world leaders today said that we are headed for global suicide. What are you going to do about it with this arms race?
Reagan (archival): I don't think we are, and I don't think we're any closer or as close as we might have been in the past to a possible conflict or confrontation that could lead to a nuclear conflagration.
Narrator: Some in the Kremlin also worried about Reagan's intentions.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: First Deputy Foreign Minister Kornienko asked me to come to his office. He showed me a Politburo paper informing us that the United States have plans all prepared and in place for first strike against the Soviet Union with first priority to destroying all command center and structures of the country. And Kornienko asked me to prepare some paper which would send a signal that we know about these plans and we will not be caught unprepared.
Narrator: When Reagan read intelligence reports indicating the Soviets had feared a first strike, he turned to his National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane and said, "Do you suppose they really believe that? I don't see how they would believe that. But it's something to think about." Later that day he worried about Armageddon.
Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Adviser: When he talked about it, he would be genuinely anguished and would physically withdraw and lean forward and with quiet passion explain his fear that Armageddon was at hand and that unless he tried to move us away from this incredible nuclear threat of each other, that it could happen in his lifetime and he was determined to do something about it.
Narrator: But Reagan had something to cheer about. In 1983, after 16 months of recession Americans slowly went back to work. Spurred by tax cuts, lower inflation and government spending, the economy began to improve. The recovery would turn into an unprecedented boom -- that lasted for eight years. In 1984, the President could campaign on America's renewed confidence.
Campaign Spot Narrator (archival): It's morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history. With interest rates and inflation down, more people are buying new homes. And our new families can have confidence in the future. American today is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we want to return to where we were, less than four short years ago?
Ed Rollins, Campaign Manager: We'd come through the darkness of the night. We'd come through the economic crises and the recession of '82. We're now to a point where we'd rebuilt the defenses of the country. The military, basically, felt good about themselves again which they clearly didn't in 1980. The American country felt good about itself again, which it clearly didn't in 1980.
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: Of course, it was "Morning in America," they were running the biggest deficits in history, and pouring stimulus into the economy and everybody was happy and nobody was afraid. So, the middle class -- the minute the middle class in this country no longer fears unemployment, it gets very very conservative. When it fears unemployment, it identifies with poor people because it says, we're next. But, as long as they figure, we're next to get rich, in a time of a boom, they're very conservative.
Narrator: As he had in 1980, Reagan would reach out to blue collar workers. His appeal amazed his opponents.
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: He didn't know anybody by name. He didn't even know his own HUD Secretary, Sam Pierce. He called him Mr. Mayor when he met him one time. I mean, a man like that who is so unfamiliar with the individuals he has to deal with, you would think was an idiot but he wasn't because Ronald Reagan knew one person and I don't know who this person is, maybe I've never met him but this person is the American people. Even though Ronald Reagan lives in Bel Air, and he hangs around with the Bloomingdales, somehow he still evokes the guy that goes to the Knights of Columbus and plays cards on Friday night. That guy who struggles every day just to make it through the week, who worries about never having a vacation, who's afraid he might get sick and lose his health insurance. That guy thought Ronald Reagan was his guy. Thought Ronald Reagan was looking out for him. That's an amazing power. But he knew who he was talking to, and he talked to them.
Reagan (archival): Alright. I'm willing if you are.
Narrator: Things were going well until one August day at his ranch.
Reagan (archival): Alright. My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
Narrator: That gaffe before an open mike helped Reagan's opponent. Former Vice President Walter Mondale appealed to voters worried about Reagan's hard-line toward the Soviets.
Walter Mondale (archival): He opposed every agreement by Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. Every one of them - to control nuclear armaments. He has conducted an arms race on earth, and now he wants to extend it to the heavens.
Richard Wirthlin, Pollster: The public generally felt a little more comfortable with the way Walter Mondale described how he would negotiate than they did with Reagan's peace through strength platform because they could not really see at that juncture how peace could be realized through strength.
Narrator: A campaign ad tried to explain.
Commercial Narrator (archival): There is a bear in the woods. For some people the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious. And dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who is right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear.
Narrator: How close to get to the bear had been an issue for almost four years. Reagan's key White House advisors who had opposed dealing with the Soviets had either left or been eased out by Nancy Reagan as she maneuvered behind the scene. When Reagan invited Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to pay a visit before the election, Nancy was delighted. "For years," she wrote "it had troubled me that my husband was always portrayed as a warmonger."
Nancy Reagan: Andrei Gromyko came up to me and said "Does your husband believe in peace?" And I said, "Well of course." And he said, "Well then will you whisper that in his ear every night?" And I said, "Yes I will, and I'll whisper it in your ear too."
Narrator: The meeting helped defuse one of Mondale's campaign issues. But a few days later Reagan's age -- 73 -- became an issue. In his first television debate he seemed confused.
Reagan (archival): We have. Our military. The morale is high. The, I think, the people should understand that two-thirds of the defense budget pays for pay and salary. Or pay and pension.
Narrator: Nancy blamed Reagan's staff and wanted to fire Richard Darman who she felt had swamped Reagan with too many facts.
Henry Trewhitt, Baltimore Sun (archival): You already are the oldest President in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale.
I recall yet that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?
Reagan (archival): Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt. And I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.
Narrator: The age issue would not go away. But Reagan routed Walter Mondale with 59% of the vote. "We can read," Tip O'Neill would later tell him. "In my 50 years in public life, I've never seen a man more popular than you with the American people."
Crowd Chants (archival): Four more years
Lou Cannon, Biographer: If there's one constant in American Presidential politics, it's that landslides are poison to the winner. I mean Roosevelt's landslide, he packs the Supreme Court. Johnson's landslide, we go to war in Vietnam, you know. Nixon's landslide we have the Watergate cover-up. Landslides are just murderous for the winner. I mean because there's so much power in that place. If you give a guy and you say, he's won everything and I've carried every state except Minnesota, then you've got to look out.
Crowd Chants (archival): Four more years
Reagan (archival): I think that's just been arranged.
Narrator: In the next four years Reagan would see his best days as President and his worst. Without the help of his oldest advisors. His troika was burned out. Michael Deaver who had been with Reagan since he became governor would soon leave government. Edwin Meese who had been with him just as long left to became Attorney General. Chief of staff James Baker became Treasury Secretary switching jobs with Don Regan who became the new chief of staff.
Ed Rollins, Campaign Manager: Everybody else that was left in the White House had no history with Reagan. They hadn't been in his campaign. They hadn't been from California. They hadn't been, most of them hadn't been on the first term and Don Regan had his staff from Treasury, so it was sort of like you know I was always convinced that the President would wake up someday and say where have all my friends gone. His friends were still around government. They weren't in the White House day in day out controlling what he saw or the information flow that he had.
Narrator: The little boy who could not form attachments simply let his old friends go. He did not seem to realize how well they'd taken care of him.
Lyn Nofziger, Reagan Adviser: When Don Regan became chief of staff, one of the pieces of advice I gave him was, "Don go out and get your own Mike Deaver. Somebody who will listen to Nancy and take care of her needs and so forth because if you don't then she will call you all the time and it's hard to get your work done when you're talking to Nancy all the time." And so he said fine but he didn't do it. He thought that he could separate the two of them, and he couldn't.
Narrator: The "Mommy watch" would fall to Don Regan. Regan would try to do alone what a staff of three had done in the first term. And do it in a style many thought was too imperious.
Ed Rollins, Campaign Manager: I mean Don Regan was a tyrant. And he was miscast as a chief of staff and never thought of himself as staff. He thought of himself as Deputy President. Said to me one day, "I can make 85 percent of the decisions the President makes." And I said to him, I said, "Don, I just ran a campaign in 50 states. I didn't see your name on the ballot anywhere."
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: Oh, come on. That is absolute balderdash. I could think of a couple of other words to use, but, since this might be a family program, I won't use them. The President of the United States is the President of the United States. And as chief of staff, you carry out whatever it is that the man wants to do. Now sure, I had been a CEO, myself, of a company with 25,000 or more people. I had been Secretary of the Treasury which had hundreds of thousands of people. I knew something about administration, how to command. But I also knew that I was chief of staff.
Narrator: The President embraced his new chief of staff and never challenged his take charge style. The problems would come later. But the opportunities of the second term were apparent within weeks. Reagan had written to Leonid Brezhnev in 1981 suggesting they meet when the climate was better. Brezhnev died the next year. In 1983 he had written Yuri Andropov of his interest in eliminating "the nuclear threat." That year ended with a heightened threat. Then Andropov died. At 4 a.m. on March 11, 1985 Reagan was awakened to be told that Konstantin Chernenko had died. "How am I supposed to get any place with the Russians, I asked Nancy, if they keep dying on me?" The new man in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, was not about to die on anyone. He was 54 years old, vital, alert, intelligent. And a reformer. He would try to make the Communist economy more productive and the political system more open. Margaret Thatcher had met Gorbachev and had been impressed.
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister: I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together. We both believe in our own politician systems. He firmly believes in his. I firmly believe in mine. We're never going to change one another.
But we talked, and we discussed freely. Now that was what we wanted. This was what President Reagan had been wanting in the battle of ideas. So I said, "Look, this man is prepared to meet argument with argument. That's a totally new phenomenon. So we really can do business and perhaps get somewhere."
Narrator: As soon as Gorbachev came to power in March, Reagan proposed a meeting. It would lead to his greatest achievements. In June he confronted terrorism. His response would threaten his presidency.
Pilot (archival): They are beating the passengers. They are beating the passengers. They are threatening to kill them now.
Narrator: Terrorists hijacked a plane and murdered an American passenger. This crisis was resolved. But it heightened Reagan's concern for seven other Americans held hostage in Beirut. They had been kidnapped by followers of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini who had held American diplomats hostage and helped undermine Jimmy Carter's presidency. Reagan took a firm stand on not dealing with terrorists.
Reagan (archival): Let me make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices wherever they may be that America will never make concessions to terrorists. To do so would only invite more terrorism.
Narrator: But Reagan heard how William Buckley, his CIA station chief in Beirut, had been beaten by his captors. As he personalized the plight of the hostages, the importance of his policy tended to fade.
Reagan (archival): I don't think anything that attempts to get people back who have been kidnapped by thugs, murderers and barbarians is wrong to do. And we're going to do everything we can to get all of them back that are held in that way.
George F. Will, Columnist: This is the soft side of Ronald Reagan. He was really bothered by the hostages. It would take a harder man than Ronald Reagan to say what a President ought to say which is, "Sorry this is a big country and big countries have casualties if you will and we just have to regard those people as for the moment casualties. Put them out of your mind." Ronald Reagan had a hard time being hard.
Narrator: In July 1985 five days after an operation for colon cancer, Reagan was asked by his National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane to approve a secret plan. It was time to improve relations with Iran by courting moderates who might succeed the Ayatollah Khomeini. And who might influence their followers in Beirut to release the seven captive Americans.
Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Adviser: His reaction was that yes, if we could open a dialogue with people who might succeed Khomeini, that would be good. When the possibility of the release of the hostages was added, he was even more enthusiastic.
Narrator: Reagan soon approved a shipment of arms to Iran which he would later deny was a trade for hostages. That wasn't all he would deny. "I didn't have cancer," he later told reporters. "Something inside of me had cancer, and it was removed." The next month Reagan was at the ranch, ready to saddle up.
Nancy Reagan: There was a constant argument to try to convince him, no he could not ride, as he wanted to ride.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: Finally the elapsed time is over and the First Lady protectively says, "Well let's start off gently and we'll just walk our horses around the ranch." The next day he went out to ride and there's a stretch where you have a nice straight-away.
John Barletta, U.S. Secret Service: The doctor would be in a vehicle behind us, and a lot of places we'd go the vehicle couldn't be in eyesight, so he'd kind of, well, if he's not looking we can do it. I won't tell, will you?
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: And I heard this yell up in front from several people and I, so we put it into gear and rode up closer. And all we could see was the dust from the hoof beats in the distance as the President galloped away from the crowd.
John Barletta, U.S. Secret Service: Well, he was something. No way in hell were you going to stop that man from riding. And it was fine.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: One of the agents next to me says, "Doc, the First Lady wants you down in the barn." And as I walked down there, everybody else is walking away, which wasn't customary and I said, gee, what's in store? She says, "Now John," she says, "you stand here. We're going to have a little meeting, but we're not all here yet."
Nancy Reagan: Yup. Ever the protector.
Narrator: Three months later Ronald Reagan would have another summit, in Geneva. Ronald Reagan had warned that the Soviets cheat and lie. He had opposed every arms deal American presidents had made with the Soviets in the 1970s. But he arrived in Geneva in November 1985, confident that he could handle the new leader of the evil empire.
Richard Norton Smith, Former Director, Reagan Library: Conservative Republicans for 50 years had tended to denigrate the importance of personal diplomacy. It's, it's the legacy of the Yalta Conference and they thought FDR had sold us out and then we sold out China -- we were always selling out someone, and the sale was usually by a President who thought that, if only he could get in a room with his Soviet counterpart that that his charm and his arguments would prevail. That's the conservative tradition and yet, Reagan clearly believed that he could do that. That the force of his personality and of his arguments and above all, of his sincerity, would impress themselves upon the Soviets.
Narrator: Secretary Weinberger was less sure. His letter urging Reagan not to hamstring SDI was leaked to the press and seen as an effort to sabotage the summit. Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party, came to Geneva to negotiate with the man Yuri Andropov had considered impossible. Called mad. Compared to Hitler. The vigorous 54 year old whose charming smile was said to hide teeth of iron had come to meet the 74 year old President who had railed against communism for almost forty years.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: I felt a strong fear, a palpable sense of fear throughout the delegation that this young, formidably intelligent, aggressive Soviet leader was going to run rings around our, gentle, slow, slightly doddery, aging President. The American delegation was afraid that he was going to be outsmarted, outmaneuvered and diplomatically perhaps destroyed.
Reporter (archival): What's the first priority, Sir?
Reagan (archival): Peace.
Narrator: Reagan had lots to worry about. Including a chore at the Aga Khan's villa where he stayed.
Nancy Reagan: My friend Sally said to me, "Now there's just one thing. My son has some goldfish that he adores and would you mind feeding the goldfish in the morning. And Ronnie of course right away "well, of course, absolutely." And one morning he went into the little boy's room, and one goldfish was dead. Well I thought Ronnie was going to die. He called everybody in there and said, "You've got to take this goldfish out and find one that looks exactly like it so that we can replace this."
Narrator: The goldfish replaced, it was time to meet Mikhail Gorbachev.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: And I see it now in memory in slow motion. It was supremely dramatic. This great, gleaming, black Zil comes whispering around the corner on the gravel, crunches to a halt. Down the stairs comes this great, gliding, blue suited unbelievably self-confident and calm President, without a coat on, in the freezing air. And out of the big black Russian limousine comes this awkward, short, rather dumpy, heavily overcoated, heavily scarfed, hatted communist leader, who fumbled with his scarf and fumbled with his coat as he approached this great benign presence. And they met at the foot of the stairs. Reagan towered over Gorbachev. Gorbachev looked up into Reagan's face, looked at him very intensely. Reagan smiled down at him and then gently choreographed him up the stairs.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: Gorbachev's in standard Politburo hat, standard Politburo overcoat. It reminds me of KGB agent from bad American films. So, I said to myself that that we have lost this photo opportunity. We have lost this first round.
Narrator: When the delegations met, Reagan recalled, "I took Gorbachev through the long history of Soviet aggression. I wanted to explain why the free world had good reason to put up its guard against the Soviet bloc."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: His language was brutal. He would say things like "Let me tell you, Mr. General Secretary, why we fear you and why we despise your system." Now that in a diplomatic meeting is extremely confrontational language.
Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary USSR: The President from the very start started to speak in a kind of lecturing tone as though I was a suspect or maybe a student. And I cut him short. I said, "Mr. President, you are not a prosecutor. I am not the accused. You are not a teacher. I am not a student."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: But Reagan somehow was able to say things like that, but at the same time he seemed to have a sweetness and a benign quality about him that neutralized or at least took the edge off of what from Richard Nixon would seem like a declaration of war.
Narrator: To ease the tension, Reagan suggested they talk in private. As they walked to a less formal house by the lake, they chatted about Reagan's movie career -- the first time they had talked as human beings.
Alexander Bessmertnykh, Foreign Ministry USSR: Gorbachev immediately started to like Reagan. That was a very surprising thing. I think Reagan had something which was so dear to Gorbachev and that was sincerity.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: This human vision and human touch. And when he talked with our leaders, he talked very emotional. And he came across. This is a human being. He is trying to explain himself to you.
So maybe for the first time our leaders started to think that on the other side it's not a machine. It's not some robot.
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: I think that people don't reckon with the power of charm and just personal persuasiveness. And, you know, when my father kind of turns the high beams on, even somebody like Gorbachev tends to melt.
Narrator: As they walked back to rejoin their delegations, Reagan invited Gorbachev to Washington. Gorbachev reciprocated with an invitation to Moscow. On the second day Reagan found Gorbachev ready to talk about "building down" their arsenals. But determined to kill SDI. Reagan resisted.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: Gorbachev was visibly irritated. He said, "Why you are repeating the same and the same thing to me? I've heard that many times. Stop this rubbish. Tell me something more." It was literally so, it was a harsh discussion.
Narrator: But at the end, the mood was warm. Reagan left Geneva with SDI intact. And an agreement: a "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." The world breathed a sigh of relief. There was another communiqué -- to Hussein Aga Khan and his parents: "Dear Friends, On Tuesday I found one of your fish dead in the bottom of the tank. I don't know what could have happened but I added two new ones, same kind, I hope this was alright. Thanks for letting us live in your lovely home. Ronald Reagan."
House Sgt. At Arms (archival): Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.
Narrator: "I haven't gotten such a reception since I was shot" Reagan would quip. The image of Ronald Reagan as a trigger happy cowboy had begun to fade.
Reagan's prestige hit its high on the 4th of July 1986 as he stood on the decks of the John F. Kennedy and pushed a button which sent a laser a mile across New York harbor to light the refurbished symbol of the American promise.
Liberty Weekend was the centennial of the Statue of Liberty and Reagan showed what Time magazine called his "genius for American occasions" with the biggest fireworks display in American history.
Reagan (archival): The things that unite us, America's past of which we are so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world and this much loved country. These things far outweigh what little divides us. Tonight we pledge ourselves to each other and to the cause of human freedom, the cause that has given light to this land and hope to the world.
Narrator: "Ronald Reagan has found the American sweet spot," Time wrote with wonder. "Reagan is a sort of masterpiece of American magic -- apparently one of the simplest creatures alive yet a character of complexities that connect him with the myths and powers of his country in an unprecedented way." Reagan's successes were more than symbolic. That month in Poland the government gave in to one of his conditions for ending sanctions and freed political prisoners. Solidarity was alive. Reagan upped the ante in Afghanistan from harassing the Soviets to forcing them out. The rebels were about to realize the benefits of the Stinger missile. In Nicaragua things were different. In 1984 Congress cut off funding for the Contras and made CIA support illegal. Reagan told his national security advisor Bud McFarlane: "We've got to find a way to keep doing this, Bud. I want you to do whatever you have to do to help these people keep body and soul together. Do everything you can." On Liberty weekend, a year and a half into his second term, Reagan was the master of the ceremonial side of the presidency. But he was less and less engaged with his job.
Ed Rollins, Campaign Manager: In the first term we had Baker and Deaver and Meese and Clark. They would bring things to the president, and they would fully engage in the discussion and the dialogue with him. Don Regan had a tendency to keep staff away from the President and basically have staff brief him and he would go into the President himself.
Maureen Reagan, Daughter: As time went on I sensed a discomfort in him. I knew that he was coming upstairs quieter at night where he used to come up with great stories about some decision that had been made and who was arguing what. Now, it was just, it was all just kind of quiet. And, we'd have to draw out of him, you know, kind of what happened during the day and there was a, there was just a kind of sadness about it. I mean, Ronald Reagan did not understand that his Chief of Staff thought he was Prime Minister -- he just didn't get it.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: A good way of tracking how much a President is doing is looking at the papers that come through his hands and seeing how much they engage his attention. And in the first years of Reagan's presidency, he is constantly checking these points off, writing comments, thinking about them. But as the years proceed you can see he is less and less interested. They just become check marks. Check marks. Check marks. He was saving his faculties as old men do for the really important, vital events.
Narrator: In October 1986 Reagan met Gorbachev for the second time in a hastily called summit at Reykjavik, Iceland. Once again, his conservative backers, now largely out of government, were worried he would seek an arms agreement just for the sake of an agreement.
Lyn Nofziger, Reagan Adviser: I said, "Well Mr. President, I'm here because there's a lot of people worried that you're going to go to Reykjavik and give away the store." And he said "Lyn," he said Lynwood cause he always called me Lynwood which is not my name. He said "Lynwood, I don't want you ever to worry about that." He said, "I still have the scars on my back from when I fought the communists in Hollywood." He said, "Don't ever worry about it.
Narrator: Gorbachev had his own problems. He needed an arms agreement. He could not manage both economic reform and the arms race, especially SDI. He would try his best to make Reagan give away the store.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: Propose to him a package beyond all the expectation. To talk real big, see, that was his idea. Why we shall discuss all these small things. Let's come up with a big idea and sell it.
Narrator: Gorbachev offered Reagan everything he had wanted: they would both destroy half their long range bombers and missiles. Eliminate all the missiles threatening Europe. And he made a major concession on human rights.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: They agreed for the first time that human rights would be a legitimate recognized, regular item on our agenda. They agreed to that. That was a break-through and with all due respect to the arms control breakthroughs, when you are breaking through on the nature of the relations between a government and its people, you're really getting a lot deeper than perhaps you think.
Narrator: Gorbachev, Secretary Shultz wrote, laid "gifts at our feet." The delegations worked all night to iron out the details of his proposal. The next morning, Gorbachev insisted that all the missile reductions he proposed were contingent on restricting SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refused. The meeting appeared to be over.
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: He wanted to get out of there and be home. He wanted to be home for dinner that night if at all possible and with the change of hours if he left in the early afternoon, he could be home in Washington for dinner. And as a matter of fact I remember his talking to me about that saying, "Don these things are really dragging on." And I had to say to him "Hang in there, Mr. President, I think we're winning."
Sam Donaldson, Journalist (archival): Mr. President, have you made any real progress, Sir?
Reagan (archival): We're not through.
Sam Donaldson, Journalist (archival): Are you going to meet again, sir?
Reagan (archival): Yes.
Narrator: At this point the Soviets challenged the Americans to make a concession. The U.S. delegation did. It agreed to abide by the treaty banning space defenses for 10 years. And proposed that during that time both sides scrap all -- not just half -- their long range missiles. Reagan liked the boldness of the proposal.
Alexander Bessmertnykh, Foreign Ministry USSR: Reagan responded with the idea of having the complete elimination of strategic ballistic missiles. And Gorbachev said, "How about eliminating all the nuclear weapons instead of just going part by part?" They, they actually moved each other to the direction of the discussion of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. They were carried away. The two gentlemen were carried away with the historic ideas they had presented to each other.
Sergei Tarasenko, Foreign Ministry USSR: It's easy to say that President Reagan was anti-communist or anti-something. No, he was a romantic. I, later on, I judged, he really was maybe the last romantic of this generation.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Gorbachev also had a romantic abolitionist vision of nuclear weapons. And you've got the two leaders of these two powerful countries running way beyond their arms controllers and their defense ministries and their State Departments and saying let's get rid of nuclear weapons.
Alexander Bessmertnykh, Foreign Ministry USSR: There was a time out asked by the American side. And Gorbachev walked out and we were sitting in a small room and he said, if Reagan accepts, the world will be a new one. Things will change historically.
Narrator: Reagan could realize his dream of reducing the nuclear threat. Perhaps only by risking his dream of a space defense. Gorbachev still insisted on restricting SDI research to the laboratory.
Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary of Defense: The President needed to understand. He needed information in a very tense situation. When asked, I expressed the categorical view that there was no way you could see the program through to a successful conclusion if we accepted the constraints that Gorbachev had in mind. Upon hearing that, he turned to Don Regan and said, "If we agree to this, won't we be doing that simply so we can leave here with an agreement?" And it was a rhetorical question, of course, and you knew the moment he put it that he'd made his decision. And within seconds, it was over. Presidents grasp at treaties because they convey an image of Presidents as statesmen and peacemakers, and they're sometimes not bothered about the details. It took tremendous discipline for Ronald Reagan to leave that little room without an agreement.
Narrator: "I still think we can find a deal," Reagan said. Gorbachev replied, " I don't know what else I could have done."
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: He got into the car and his shoulders slumped. He was in the back seat. You would have thought that he'd just lost a combination of the Rose Bowl and the Stanley Cup and the Olympics. He was so down. I've never seen a guy so beat in all my life.
He said, "Don we were that close," and he held up his left hand. Just finger and thumb. That much. He said, "We were that close to getting rid of all missiles" and he said he wouldn't, he, give in. He kept insisting that we had to do away with SDI and I couldn't do that. He said, "I promised the American people I would not give in on that. I cannot do it."
Narrator: At the time, Reykjavik was considered a failure. Conservatives criticized Reagan for the deep cuts he was willing to make in nuclear weapons -- for almost giving away the store. Margaret Thatcher worried he was bargaining away Europe's security. The mainstream press faulted him for walking away from the most sweeping offer of arms reductions in history, for sinking a summit by being so stubborn on Star Wars. Gorbachev stressed the positive.
Mikhail Gorbachev: I said to the reporters that indeed Reykjavik was a breakthrough. And I said, "Reykjavik will eventually produce results." And that is exactly what happened. Without Reykjavik, the process that eventually started and that brought about the one treaty and further treaties. That would not have been possible. Reykjavik is really a top of the hill. And from that top, we saw a great deal.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: When Gorbachev visited me at Stanford University after we were both out of office, I said to him, "When you entered office and when I entered office, the Cold War could not have been colder, and when we left it was basically over. What do you think was the turning point?" And he said, without any hesitation, just like that, he said "Reykjavik." And I said, "Why?" expecting him to talk about missiles and stuff like that. He said, "Because for the first time the two leaders really had a deep conversation about everything. We really exchanged views, and not just about peripheral things, about the central things," and that was what was important about Reykjavik.
Narrator: Three weeks after Reykjavik, reports from Beirut claimed the Reagan administration had approached Iran with an arms for hostage deal. Reagan denied it.
Reagan (archival): Could I suggest an appeal to all of you in regard to this -- the speculation, the commenting and, all on a story that come out of the Middle East, and one that has no foundation -- that all of that is making it more difficult for us in our effort to get the other hostages free.
Narrator: Days later Reagan admitted arms had been shipped to Iran to forge a better relationship but denied they were arms for hostages.
Reagan (archival): In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories of arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not, repeat, did not, trade weapons or anything else for hostages. Nor will we.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Reagan had absolutely convinced himself, as much as he had convinced himself in SDI, once he believed in it, that we had this wonderful system in place, he had convinced himself that he was not dealing with the kidnappers. He had promised that he would never deal with the people who had taken the Americans hostage. He had convinced himself that he was dealing with these Iranian moderates, and that he was dealing with the middlemen, he was dealing with the people who were dealing with the kidnappers.
Christopher Matthews, Aide to House Speaker O'Neill: The American middle had been confounded by this patriotic President who had won on standing tall, who was found to be paying tribute to the enemy in a kind of pusillanimous way.
Narrator: Reagan had questions to answer.
Reagan (archival): Good evening.
Helen Thomas (archival): Mr. President, how would you assess the credibility of your own administration in light of the prolonged deception of Congress and the public in terms of your secret dealings with Iran, the disinformation.
Bill Plante (archival): The record shows that every time an American hostage was released there had been a major shipment of arms just before that. Are we all to believe that is just a coincidence?
Jerrimiah O'Leary (archival): What would be wrong with saying a mistake was made on a very high risk gamble so that you can get on with the next two years?
Reagan (archival): Because I don't think a mistake was made.
Sam Donaldson, Journalist: Ronald Reagan doesn't see the world that you and I see. He sees a world through rose colored glasses. It's a wonderful world. But, it's not the real world that exists out there. And so, he didn't want to see a world in which he had traded arms for hostages. That ran against his grain. That's not his world, yet he did it.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: Reagan is a classic model of the successful child of an alcoholic. He doesn't hear things and doesn't see things that he doesn't want to hear and see. And that's the thing you learn. You learn that as a child, and Reagan learned it.
Narrator: Questions continued to nag Reagan. And there was conflicting testimony by others. Attorney General Ed Meese offered to investigate the matter over the weekend. Meese insisted on seeing Reagan on Monday.
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: How about five minutes. He's got the Afghanistan freedom fighters coming in but we'll give you five minutes. He said, "Okay five minutes that's all I need." So he came in he said, "Mr. President I got some bad news for you." "What's that?" He said, "There's been a probable diversion of funds from the arms sales to Iran then diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua." The President said, "I'll have to clean this up a little bit. Aw shoot," or words to that effect. The President actually turned white. He blanched and he said what could have been going through their minds. Why would they do this?
Narrator: Reagan had asked that the Contras be held together body and soul. They were -- in a manner which stretched if not violated the law.
Edwin Meese, Attorney General: He said, "We've got to get to the bottom of this immediately. And we've got to let the public know." He was very definite there should be every precaution taken that no one would think that there was any cover-up or any attempt to conceal whatever wrongdoing we might find.
Reagan (archival): As I have stated previously, I believe our policy goals toward Iran were well founded. However, the information brought to my attention yesterday convinced me that in one aspect implementation of that policy was seriously flawed. And now I'm going to ask Attorney General Meese to brief you--
Reporter (archival): Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, Sir?
Reagan (archival): Hold it. No and I'm not taking any more questions. In just a second, I'm going to ask Attorney General Meese to brief you on what we presently know of what he has found out.
Reporters (archival): Is anyone else going to be let go, Sir? Is Secretary Shultz going?
Reagan (archival): No one was let go. They chose to go.
Reporter (archival): Can you give Secretary Shultz a vote of confidence -- if you feel that way?
Reagan (archival): May I give you Attorney General Meese?
Helen Thomas, Journalist (archival): Why don't you say what the flaw is?
Edwin Meese, Attorney General (archival): That's what I'm going to say -- what it's all about.
Bill Plante, Journalist (archival): (How is it) that so much of this can go on and the President not know it? He is the President of the United States, why doesn't he know?
Edwin Meese, Attorney General (archival): Because somebody didn't tell him, that's why.
Reagan (archival): And to wish everybody else a very happy Thanksgiving Day.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, who's going to head that commission investigating what happened?
Reagan (archival, to turkey): Did you ask a question?
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, what did you know about money going to the contras?
Reagan (archival): All I know is this is just going to taste wonderful. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. [To turkey] He's not looking forward.
Narrator: "I felt I was the one being roasted," Reagan would later quip.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, how much trouble are you in because of the Contra revelations?
Reporter (archival): Did you know about the Contras, sir?
Reporter (archival): When will you be able to speak out on this Contra business?
Reporter (archival): Is John Tower going to be the head of your commission?
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, you've never ducked tough questions before.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, hasn't this damaged your presidency?
Narrator: If he knew of the diversion of funds to the Contras, he would be in trouble. If he did not, he was not in control of his White House staff. Reagan accepted the resignation of his National Security Advisor John Poindexter who presided over the operation and fired Oliver North who ran it. He resisted Nancy who wanted to fire George Shultz for not supporting him in public. But his oldest advisors pressured him to fire Don Regan.
Stuart Spencer, Senior Political Adviser: Yeah, Deaver and I told him to get him out of there. His days are numbered. You know, he basically said that he wasn't going to sacrifice anybody for, for any of his problems.
Michael K. Deaver: I finally said, "You know I think this has come to the point where you've got to get rid of somebody because you've got to do something that says this is an action I'm taking and I'm getting it behind me and I'm going to go on and do other things and unless you make a bold move like that. The media is not going to let you go on -- so I think you got to get rid of somebody. And, he got very angry and said that you know, I'll be damned if I'm going to throw somebody's ass overboard to save my own." And, for the life of me, I don't know why I said, "Ron," but I said "Ron it's not your ass I'm talking about, it's the country's ass." And, he l ooked at me very quietly, and he said, "You know what I think about this country." And that was the end of the conversation.
Narrator: Nancy led the battle to get rid of Don Regan. Reagan could not escape the issue at home. Or in the Oval Office. As a child Reagan had learned to avoid pain by withdrawing. Now there was nowhere to go.
Reagan (archival): Nancy and Byron, let's see if we can't turn this cold, dark evening into one of light and warmth.
Narrator: The shadow of Watergate descended over the White House. "This presidency is over," columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote. "Nineteen-eighty-seven will be a Watergate year and the following an election year."
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: Well, I went to the White House because it was clear that he was going through some sort of crisis, and I just felt that, you know, as his son, as a family member that I ought to be there, somebody ought to be there, that, you know, somebody ought to buck him up and help him get through this. It was the first time I'd really seen him with the wind completely out of his sails. One of his greatest assets was the trust of the public. And when it turned out that in fact there had been an arms for hostage deal, the public stopped believing him, at least for a while. And the polls all showed that, and you know, he got the polling data every day. And it became very troubling for him to realize that he was losing the audience in a sense.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: That was the first time I got the feeling that he was not able to handle anything that came at him again. He wasn't quite up to handling a crisis of that dimension.
Narrator: In early 1987, the White House grappled with how to extricate Reagan from the worst crisis of his presidency. Don Regan wanted to get the President on the road -- to work his charm on the public. But Reagan was recovering from another serious operation -- this time on his prostate. Nancy wanted him to stay put. And that wasn't all. Nancy's astrologer feared "the malevolent movements of Uranus and Saturn." The alignment of the planets, it seemed, raised the danger of impeachment and assassination.
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: And in the middle of all this turmoil she was incessantly calling me. One day I got home late from the office. No dinner. It was after nine o'clock. I was just starting to eat when she called and was on the phone 15 or 20 minutes and we were getting nowhere about she telling me that I had to do something, and I saying Nancy I got to either get the President out or something of that nature. He's gonna have to be the key here. None of us can solve this for him. We went back and forth and back and forth and finally I was just so disgusted I hung up.
Stuart Spencer, Senior Political Adviser: It goes with the turf if you're dealing with the Reagans. I mean I knew that back in '65, '66. And Don Regan for some reason, took the point of view that Nancy Reagan wasn't important. That was wrong. And I guess when he hung up on her on the phone that was the end of it. Then we all had to go to work.
Howard Baker, Former Majority Leader: My late wife took the call and it supposedly went like this: "Joy, where's Howard?" According to her, she said to the President, "Howard is at the zoo. "And Ronald Reagan was heard to say, "Wait till he sees the zoo I have in mind for him!"
Narrator: Don Regan heard that CNN was reporting the President had chosen former Senator Howard Baker to replace him.
Donald T. Regan, Chief of Staff: And I blew my top. I said the hell with it. If that's the way they're gonna leak about me in the like I don't want to stay around anymore. I was so whizzed off at that point that I dashed off a very terse letter to the President. "I hereby resign." He called me. Very soft tones. That he didn't mean for this to happen. He wished it hadn't happened. And I said, "It's too late. I'm outta here."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The President should have done it. The President should have spoken to him personally and said "Don, I think the time for your long planned retirement has come." But Reagan who was not good at that kind of human touch when a man's career is coming to an end simply let the phone lie in its cradle and let other circumstances force Don Regan out -- was derelict in his duty.
Narrator: Don Regan had devoted six years of his life to Ronald Reagan. He never saw him again.
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff (archival): I will be on the job Monday. Full time. And in the meantime Jim Cannon and Tom Griscom will be my transition team.
Narrator: What Baker's transition team was told by Don Regan's White House staff that weekend shocked them. Reagan was "inattentive," "inept," and "lazy" and Baker should be prepared to invoke the 25th amendment to relieve him of his duties.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The incoming Baker people all decided to have a meeting with him on the Monday morning, their first official meeting with the President and to cluster around the table in the Cabinet Room and watch him very, very closely to see how he behaved, to see if he was indeed losing his mental grip. They positioned themselves very strategically around the table so they could watch him from various angles, listen to him and check his movements and listen to his words and look into his eyes. And I was there when this meeting took place. And Reagan who was, of course, completely unaware that they were launching a death watch on him, came in stimulated by the press of all these new people and performed splendidly. At the end of the meeting they figuratively threw up their hands realizing he was in perfect command of himself.
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, is this president fully in control of his Presidency? Is he alert? Is he fully engaged? Is he in contact with the problems? And I'm telling ya, it's just one day's experience and maybe that's not enough, but today he was superb.
Reporter (archival): And Mrs. Reagan? The issue of Mrs. Reagan's involvement in West Wing decisions?
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff (archival): I haven't talked to Mrs. Reagan today. I intend to do that later today. I intend to do that later today. But let me say, I've known Nancy Reagan a long time too. And I did speak to her on Friday, and I expect -- there's the phone now.
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff: From moment one at the White House with Ronald Reagan, I came away convinced not only was he fully in command -- fully competent -- but that -- he was not being well served by the arrangements in the White House -- but that he was fully capable of discharging that job in a very, very effective way. And I still think that.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He was an old tired man. He'd been guilty of neglect of proper supervision of the people who work for him but when he was shocked into real awareness of his job and his duties, he performed as well as ever.
Narrator: Reagan was shocked by the findings of a commission he had appointed. It held him responsible for a lax management style and for trading arms for hostages. Something he still refused to admit. One of Howard Baker's first tasks in rescuing the presidency was to get Reagan to admit his mistake. He found an ally in Nancy Reagan.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: That's where where Nancy Reagan really shines. She understood that he needed this public credibility. That's her great role, not getting rid of Regan. She went beyond protecting him to really leading him to this bitter cup that of apology that he had to drink from.
Reagan (archival): A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs and to administration policy and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.
Lou Cannon, Biographer: But once he had apologized to the American people and the American people more or less forgave him, you know, I mean not totally, you know. He was never he never got back quite the luster, but he... but he got enough of it back that he was able to... that he was able to govern and and to be at ease with himself.
Narrator: A year later Don Regan got his revenge. He wrote a book.
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff: I said, "Mr. President, we will have a press flap about this, and I think I should talk to the First Lady." He said, "I think you should." I said, "Would you set it up?" And he said, "Why don't you set it up?" And I did, I called her and I went upstairs and took the galleys with me, and couldn't figure out what I was, how I was going to open the conversation, but finally I just blurted out, "Nancy, Don Regan says here that you talked to an astrologer." And she said, "Well, I did."
Joan Quigley, Astrologer: Nancy was very concerned with the President's safety after the assassination attempt. And I am a very modern scientific astrologer. And, and I have at my command all the technical resources of the space age really in computers that I use. And I do very technical work.
Trader (archival): Five hundred points down, Emil. You said "I don't see straight?" Five hundred and two points down.
Narrator: The stock market crashed in October 1987 -- another set back for Reagan.
Trader (archival): What happened here?
Narrator: Black Monday raised doubts about the soundness of Reagan's economic policies. On Reagan's watch tax revenues would double. But they never kept up with spending.
The national debt nearly tripled. Although most Americans benefited, the gap between the richest and poorest became a chasm. Donald Trump and the new billionaires of the 1980s recalled the extravagance of the captains of industry in the 1880s. There were losers. Cuts in social programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s. Nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it. In the trying months following the Iran contra affair, biographer Edmund Morris had an insider's look at the President.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: This was around October of 1987. He writes in his diary, "Dick and Patty came after dinner and things immediately livened up as soon as they arrived." That's on a Friday night. The following day he writes in his diary. "Oh, I was mistaken. They didn't come down until lunch time today." He's talking about his wife's brother and wife, intimates who visited the White House a lot. They were members of the family circle. The schedule said, Mrs., Dr. and Mrs. Richard Davis will be joining the first family after dinner tonight. So Reagan writes it down after dinner as though they showed up. He says, things livened up when they came. In other words, he was so divorced from reality at that time that he didn't even realize that these people did not show up. Which is funny, but it's also scary.
White House Announcer (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
Narrator: Gorbachev's visit two months later was seen during Reagan's presidency as its triumphal moment. In retrospect it may have been the first of many.
Gorbachev came to sign a treaty eliminating the intermediate range missiles in Europe. To accept Reagan's zero option so scorned six years earlier. At Reykjavik he had tried to link these reductions to Reagan's giving up SDI. Now, eager for an agreement, he accepted Reagan's terms.
Reagan (archival): Thank you. It was over six years ago, Nov. 18, 1981, that I first proposed what would come to be called the zero option. It was a simple proposal, one might say disarmingly simple.
Narrator: For the first time in the nuclear age, a treaty would reduce nuclear weapons. Another, cutting long range missile forces in half, would be ready for President Bush to sign. Building up to build down produced results that made the goals of the freeze movement seem modest.
Howard Baker, Chief of Staff: It was historic. And I remember him expressing his pleasure that it was done, and I remember him pushing me hard for how the Senate was going to treat it. But I don't think I ever heard him crow about that. Thinking back on it, Ronald Reagan never crowed about anything. I don't think I ever heard him make an immodest statement about his own achievements. He was very straight forward and very modest man.
Narrator: The vocal conservatives now wrote off Ronald Reagan. Columnist George Will accused him of accelerating America's "intellectual disarmament" and "succumbing fully to the arms control chimera." Others called him a "useful idiot for Soviet propaganda" and an "apologist for Gorbachev."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: It was a historic achievement, and he was very pleased and happy about it. But I think he regarded it as an interim step in the progression he was making toward his real goal, which was the elimination of totalitarianism from the surface of the earth.
Announcer (archival): Miene damen und herren -- Mr. Ronald Reagan und Mrs. Nancy Reagan.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: The one thing that Reagan was more passionate about than anything other was the unsupportable phenomenon of totalitarian power enslaving a large part of the world's population. In other words what he was really looking forward to was the collapse of Soviet communism. He wanted to see the Wall come down.
Reagan (archival): Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: He wanted to see free elections and freedom, and liberty and Christianity in Russia. It's as simple as that.
Narrator: Reagan's "Mission to Moscow" in May 1988 was his final crusade. It began with a threat that forced the Soviets to let a Jewish couple emigrate.
George Shultz, Secretary of State: He said, "Well, on the way to the Kremlin, what I'm going to do is go to the apartment of this couple that you're not allowing to emigrate and visit with them." With 2,000 press along, you know. So he said that that's what he intended to do. By this time they knew Ronald Reagan well enough to know that if he said that was what he was going to do he would do it. He did not make idle threats.
Narrator: The next day he mortified the Soviets by entertaining 100 dissidents at the U.S. Embassy.
Reagan (archival): On human rights, on the fundamental dignity of the human person, there can be no relenting. For now, we must work for more. Always more.
Narrator: At the Danilov monastery he pushed for more religious freedom.
Reagan (archival): Our people feel keenly when religious freedom is denied to anyone anywhere and hope with you that all the many Soviet religious communities will soon be able to practice their religion freely and instruct their children in the fundamentals of their faith.
Narrator: At Moscow State University, Reagan tried to convert the next generation of Soviet leaders with his simple message of freedom.
Reagan (archival): Your generation is living in one of the most exciting, hopeful times in Soviet history. It is a time when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free. We do not know what the conclusion will be of this journey. But we're hopeful that the promise of reform will be fulfilled. In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope.
Narrator: Until the end Ronald Reagan tried to undermine the foundations of communist rule. To preach his dream of freedom. In his convictions he never changed. But his behavior did change. He found a communist he could trust.
Reagan (archival): Before things get too far out of hand, we'll find ourselves standing like this.
Alexander Bessmertnykh, Foreign Ministry USSR: He was a different man by the end of the '80s from what he was at the beginning of the '80s. And he realized the importance of the improved relationship with the Soviet Union and he has personally contributed to that very, very much. And that has changed the world. It presented the scene for the end of the Cold War completely which happened just several, a couple of years after that.
Reporter (archival): You still think you are in an evil empire, Mr. President?
Reagan (archival): No.
Reporter (archival): Why not?
Reagan (archival): I was talking about another time. Another era.
Mikhail Gorbachev (archival): This statement, I think, really focused, concentrated, all the changes that happened to Ronald Reagan, himself. It means that even a person who had a kind of bias and who was at an age when it's not easy to change, he showed that he was able and ready to change his position, to change his evaluation. So he is really a very big person. A very great political leader and, well, the rest is up to you.
Narrator: When Reagan was in Moscow in May 1988, the Cold War was ending. He never expected the tide would turn so quickly. That same month Gorbachev began withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The next year, in June 1989, Lech Walesa was elected president of Poland. Gorbachev refused to intervene. As Reagan had foreseen, the rest of Eastern Europe followed. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. In February 1990 in free elections in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas were voted out of power. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet system's best response to the challenge of Ronald Reagan, could not control the reforms he had begun. On Christmas Day 1991 he dissolved the Soviet Union. What Reagan had predicted before Parliament came true. The Soviet Union was consigned to the ash heap of history.
Anthony Lewis, Columnist: You can't deny credit to a president who was in power at a time when, the Cold War was, though we may not have known it at the time, approaching its end -- can't deny that credit. On the other hand, we paid a terrible price for that, and we are continuing to pay it, and our children are going to pay it, because we ran up budget deficits cumulatively larger than everything from the beginning of this country to that date which makes the ability of the national government in this country to govern very limited.
Narrator: When he left the White House in January 1989 Reagan had time to work on his ranch. There were still gophers to plink and brush to clear and vistas to open. He was almost 78 years old.
Dennis LeBlanc, Ranch Manager: Probably when he was 80, 81 he was still using the chain saws. But I believe he started concentrating more on the pole saw. You know, I don't know if age entered into it or not or if he just liked reaching high.
Narrator: There's a rock at the ranch where Reagan carved his initials and Nancy's and those of his married children. And Patti's name. "We've reached out to Patti since I left the White House," he wrote, "but so far she's made it plain to me that she thinks I am wrong and that she is against everything I stand for." On Feb. 4, 1994, five years after he left the White House, Patti called on her father to wish him a happy 83rd birthday.
Patti Davis, Daughter: I sort of got this overwhelming feeling that I should go see my father. I had started to write Angels Don't Die, about the spiritual gifts that he had imparted to me throughout my life. And, so he was very much on my mind. And I didn't even know if my parents were in town or, or, you know, if they were around, or if they were home. And I called and he answered the phone and he was there alone. And I went up and saw him and told him about the book that I was writing, told him how much he had enriched my life with his spirituality and by teaching me, really quite simply, to talk to God. And he was very moved by my telling him that because he had always wondered, as he said, what my faith was.
Narrator: Patti made peace with her father the day after his 83rd birthday tribute. There was no time to spare. At that event others began to notice him falter.
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister: I remember we met beforehand to do all the photographs, which we usually do. And he was very quiet and not very communicative at all. And Nancy had to lead him to the platform holding him by the hand. And when she put up her hand to wave, immediately, she said to Ron, "Wave." And he did. And I had thought that he was probably very tired.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: When his time came there seemed to be a hesitancy, and his voice was not its usual strong, exacting voice.
Reagan (archival): Frankly, for a minute there I was a bit concerned that after all these years away from Washington, you all would not recognize me.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: And then suddenly it was as if a switch had gone on, and his old elegance was right back.
Reagan (archival): I can't tell you how thrilled Nancy and I are to be here with you tonight to celebrate as Margaret said the 44th anniversary of my 39th birthday.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: After this was all over we went back to the hotel, and he said "I'm going to have to have a little help. I, I'm a little confused. I, I don't know where I am." And with just a little bit of a reminder, he was fine, but Mrs. Reagan had said, "There, now do you see what I mean?" she said. And she said, "this is happening more and more often."
Ronald Prescott Reagan, Son: I think all of us went through some period in our lives where we missed him while he was still there. And you know, kind of banged our head against that wall, you know, why can't we get any closer. Why can't there be more of a rapport. But after you accept that you know, there just isn't going to be, you know, then you make your peace with that and, you know, now I mean it's an awful tragedy of course, Alzheimer's is a terrible thing, and you know, you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. But some of the pain, maybe is lessened by the fact that things haven't changed that much in a way. You know, he's not. You know, we're not missing something that we had to begin with.
Dr. John Hutton, Physician to the President: The President was very frustrated and I remember one time when he was trying to explain something to me, he simply couldn't go on with whatever it was he was trying to get across to me and said, you know, I'm, John, I'm just bewildered. Finally, he realized that it was, that it was becoming even difficult to make tapes which he used to make for political friends, etc. and we finally had to abandon doing, making those, at which time he said, "I've got to somehow reach out and tell people that I can't do this anymore."
Narrator: This time there was no denial. "My Fellow Americans. I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease. Upon hearing this news Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way."
"We feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote a greater awareness of this condition."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: I can't think of anything that I've seen that was so transparently honest, courageous and articulate. The writing had the ultimate quality of good writing which is unblinking acceptance of the truth.
Narrator: "Unfortunately as Alzheimer's Disease progresses the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience."
"When the Lord calls me home whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future."
Edmund Morris, Official Biographer: I find it very difficult to think emotionally about Ronald Reagan. But that is one thing he did that catches me in the heart, is the courage with which he left his conscious life. The courage with which he stopped. He simply stopped.
Narrator: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you my friends. May God always bless you. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan."