Mike’s interview with author Craig Shirley
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “I’ll bring Craig Shirley back on now who wrote two biographies about Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s Revolution and Rendezvous with Destiny. That last part of the speech was about four minutes long where he basically presaged his future administration.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
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Ronald Reagan: . . . of which the President spoke here tonight; the challenges confronting us; the erosion of freedom that has taken place under Democrat rule in this country; the invasion of private rights; the controls and restrictions on the vitality of the great free economy that we enjoy. These are our challenges that we must meet.
And then again there is that challenge of which he spoke, that 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 in 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 a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge.
Whether they had the freedom that we have known up until now . . .
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Mike: He goes on from there and talks a little bit more about that. I’ll bring Craig Shirley back on now who wrote two biographies about Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s Revolution and Rendezvous with Destiny. That last part of the speech was about four minutes long where the —
Craig Shirley: Yeah, it wasn’t very long at all.
Mike: No, but he basically presaged his future administration.
Shirley: That’s what I wrote about in my book Reagan’s Revolution, which was about the 1976 campaign. This speech, he had just lost the nomination the night before to Ford by only 57 delegate votes out of 2,259 ballots cast. It was extremely, extremely close. It was the first time since 1952 that Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, had gathered for their convention not knowing who their nominee of the party was going to be. You’d have to go back to Taft and Eisenhower in ’52 when they met in Chicago and didn’t know who the nominee of the party was going to be until they actually voted. It was very touch and go. At the last night, Ford gives his acceptance speech and does a very good job, which was unusual because Jerry Ford was not known as a great speech maker. He knows he’s got a divided convention and a divided party. So the idea is to invite Reagan down to the platform at the last minute to help unify the party.
But also, the idea, too, that was told to me by both Ford and Reagan forces when I worked on my book, is that the Ford people still bought into the idea that Reagan was a lightweight, grade-B actor with premature orange hair. He was nowhere without a teleprompter or a prepared speech or his 4×6 cards. The idea was to make his armor look a little less shiny than Ford’s and Ford would win the night. Reagan goes down there and just parks it. He gives this magnificent speech. He’s really talking about his heart. It wasn’t vote for Ford or vote for the Republicans, but it was philosophical about the platform, which he was very invested in, but then about the future and about war and peace and freedom and nuclear war and all those things that were very much on his mind in ’76. Then, as you said, presaged his administration. In 1987, we signed the INF Treaty. It was the first time since the dawn of the Cold War where we’re actually reducing nuclear stockpiles.
Mike: Craig Shirley, who’s the author of Rendezvous with Destiny and Reagan’s Revolution, as someone who had a seat at the revolution since you’ve interviewed so many people and then put the book together on it, did you learn as you were writing a lot about the story or perhaps a —
Mike: — a different view of the mythology that Reagan was this big pro-war guy? It doesn’t seem to me, from what I’ve read and studied about, that he was. He knew it could be necessary at times, but he, unlike those that have come after him who seek to claim his mantle, he really did seek peace, didn’t he?
Shirley: Yes, very much so. He didn’t coin the phrase, Barry Goldwater did, “peace is strength,” but he adopted it for the 1980 campaign and that became the watch word. People think of Reagan as being some warmonger, but he only committed U.S. troops twice in his presidency, once in Grenada and once in Beirut. Of course, he regretted Beirut for the rest of his life and said so in his autobiography. He was very restrained when it came to the Middle East unlike — I think the last ten years we’ve either bombed or invaded 13 Middle Eastern countries. What was on his mind was the Soviet Union. He viewed the Soviet Union as the focus of evil in the modern world. He said so many times publicly. It was his job, his goal, and he recast the debate.
We had been operating since the end of World War II, first under Truman as a policy of containment, and then under Nixon under a policy of detente. It was the coexistence with the Soviet Union — the word neocons, the Irving Kristols of the world and other people like that that believed that the Soviet Union was a think of permanence, that it would never go away, that the Berlin Wall was a thing of permanence and would never go away, and that we needed to basically understand that and live with it. Reagan comes in and he upsets the dialectic and scares the hell out of some of these elite liberals and elite neocons by saying: No, we can win the Cold War.
During the 1980 campaign, when he was proposing to junking Carter’s salt to talks and funding an increased buildup of the Pentagon and our military, a reporter asked Reagan: Isn’t this going to lead to an arms race? Reagan says: Maybe what we need is an arms race. Of course, the elites just went bonkers over this because this is obviously an irresponsible man. What Reagan understood all along was that the American spirit and the American willpower and the American economy and American productivity could run the Soviets into the ground if we stuck to a program long enough to do so. Obviously he was proven right.
Mike: Just taking that commentary from author Craig Shirley a step further, the thing that ought to disappoint the Reagan fans, especially those that realize that the president, and even as private citizen Reagan, he never was a big pro-war — again, he understood that it had to be necessary at times, but he wasn’t a McCain or a Lindsey Graham or that sort.
Shirley: No, no, he utterly and completely rejected nation-building and the whole nonsense about making the world safe for democracy. As a matter of fact, he was very strategic in his thinking. There was a time during his presidency where the Saudi government wanted to purchase AWACS, which were high-flying advanced airplanes to detect —
Mike: Reconnaissance planes.
Shirley: Exactly, reconnaissance planes. Israel lobbied very hard against it, but there was a benefit in selling the AWACS to the Soviets. The Saudis, in response, increased their oil production, which lowered the world price of oil, which was a benefit to the U.S. consumer, but it also hurt the Soviets because the one thing they did make money on was selling oil on the world market. With a depressed price, they were making less money. He wasn’t just bidden to follow Israel’s foreign policy the way so many other presidents have.
Mike: Just to finish up the other thought I had on this, Craig, it’s the McCains and the Grahams and the rest of the war hawks now that can incessantly refer back to peace through strength and back to military buildup and want to use that as now the excuse to launch nation-building and offense wars instead of defensive wars. The irony, especially on someone like you who’s studied this, the irony of that just can’t be lost on you.
Shirley: Absolutely. It seems like sometimes I spend half my day just pushing back on falsehoods that are uttered about Ronald Reagan, like this nonsense that he and Tip O’Neill were good friends. That’s utterly and completely ridiculous; they weren’t. They regard each other warily. O’Neill said awful things about Reagan. It’s just complete mythology that somehow they were great, true friends like fraternity brothers who got together at five o’clock and drank beers. It’s not true.
Also, invoking Reagan’s name in the name of nation-building is — Reagan was a student of history. This is another thing I learned. I’ve worked on his campaigns. I worked for him. Even all those years in the ‘70s and ‘80s I didn’t really understand how nuanced his thinking was until I got into spending the last 15 years immersing myself in all of his writings and all of his speeches and all of his commentaries. He knew that occupiers, that invading armies failed oftentimes because of the harshness of their policies. Caesar and
Napoleon and Alexander all failed as occupiers of conquered countries. Further, what really sparked the American Revolution, in many ways, was not the taxation without representation, because by 1775 King George III had withdrawn most of the taxes. It was the writs. It was the ability for the British officers to go into your house, sleep in your bed, eat your food, avail themselves of your tobacco or warm fire that really drove the Bostonians and later the rest of the colonies around the bend. The British were no longer viewed as fellow countrymen but simply as invaders. That’s what sparked the American Revolution as much as anything.
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You saw it play out with Reagan’s policies. Instead of invading the Warsaw Pact countries of the Baltics or Nicaragua, what he did was arm and help indigenous forces, pro-freedom forces knowing that they could generate popular support for their cause. We helped the contras in Nicaragua. We helped Walinsky in Poland. We helped Vaclav Havel in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. He used the moral support of the bully pulpit to speak out in support of them, meanwhile funneling arms and equipment and other technical support to these indigenous freedom forces.
End Mike Church Show Transcript