During his two terms as the fortieth president of the United States, Ronald Reagan kept a daily diary in which he recorded, by hand, his innermost thoughts and observations on the extraordinary, the historic, and the routine day-to-day occurrences of his presidency. Brought together in one volume and edited by historian Douglas Brinkley, The Reagan Diaries provides a striking insight into one of this nation's most important presidencies and sheds new light on the character of a true American leader.
The diaries our 40th president kept while in office--edited and abridged by historian Brinkley (The Great Deluge)--are largely a straightforward political chronicle. Reagan describes meetings with heads of state and antiabortion leaders, reflects on legislative strategy and worries about leaks to the press. He often used his diary to vigorously defend his polices: for example, after a 1984 visit with South African archbishop Desmond Tutu (whom Reagan calls "naeve"), the president explained why his approach to apartheid--"quiet diplomacy"--was preferable to sanctions. Reagan sometimes seems uncomfortable with dissent, as when he is irked by a high school student who presents a petition advocating a nuclear freeze. And he often sees the media as a "lynch mob," trying to drum up scandal where there is none. Reagan's geniality shines through in his more quotidian comments: he muses regularly about how much he appreciates Nancy, and his complaints about hating Monday mornings make him seem quite like everyone else. Brinkley doesn't weigh down the text with extensive annotation; this makes for smooth reading, but those who don't remember the major political events of the 1980s will want to refer to the glossary of names. Reagan's diaries are revealing, and Brinkley has done historians and the broad public a great service by editing them for publication. (May 22)
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May 31, 2007
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Excerpt from The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan
The Inaugural (Jan. 20) was an emotional experience but then the very next day it was "down to work." The first few days were long and hard--daily Cabinet meetings interspersed with sessions with Congressional leaders regarding our ec. plan.
Monday, January 26
A meeting on terrorism with heads of F.B.I.--S.S.--C.I.A. Sec's of St., Defense & others. Have ordered they be given back their ability to function. Next a Cabinet meeting on the deal with Iran. We just may not implement some of the Carter executive orders on grounds they violate our own laws. Hostages will arrive in country tomorrow. It seems some of them had some tough questions for Carter in Germany as to why they were there so long and why they were there to begin with. Rest of day meeting committee chairmen & Sens. on raising the debt ceiling.
Tuesday, January 27
Ceremony on S. Lawn to welcome hostages home. Thousands of people in attendance. Met the familys earlier. Now we had in addition the familys of the 8 men who lost their lives in the rescue attempt. One couple lost their only son. His widow was also here. I've had a lump in my throat all day.--Evening 1st white tie reception for the diplomatic corps.
Wednesday, January 28
Visit by P.M. Seaga of Jamaica, his wife & members of his admin. Our 1st state luncheon. He won a terrific election victory over a Cuban backed pro-communist.
I think we can help him & gradually take back the Caribbean which was becoming a "Red" lake.
Thursday, January 29
Nancy had a great triumph with committee which rides herd on White House (to preserve its history). They were enthusiastic about what she has already done to upgrade the 2nd & 3rd floors.
[Received cable from Mike Mansfield, U.S. ambassador to Japan.]
Friday, January 30
More meeting with Cong. leaders on trying to get debt ceiling lifted. If don't we'll be out of money by Feb. 18. Cong. recessing from 5th to 12th. Must get passage of bill by Fri. the 5th.
Short day in office--left for 1st weekend in Camp David. It was great to be in a house with the knowledge you could just open a door and take a walk outdoors if you wanted.
Saturday, January 31
Had a before lunch walk (it was cold). Spent afternoon in front of fire reading intelligence reports & Briefing papers for visit by Pres. Chun (Korea). We have definite evidence Nicaragua transferring hundreds of tons of arms from Cuba to El Salvador. P.M. ran a movie--"Tribute"--Jack Lemmon. He is truly a great performer.
[Sunday, February 1: took walk; returned to W.H.]
Monday, February 2
What's getting to be routine--full day in Oval office.
Tuesday, February 3
The arrival of Pres. Chun, his wife & staff. These meetings through an interpreter which can become a strain. Good meetings though--assured him we would not withdraw our troops from Korea
Wednesday, February 4
Cabinet discussion of grain embargo. I've always felt it hurt our farmers worse than it hurt Soviets. Many of our allies filled the gap & supplied Soviet. But now--how do we lift it without sending wrong message to Soviets? We need to take a new look at whole matter of strategy. Trade was supposed to make Soviets moderate, instead it has allowed them to build armaments instead of consumer products. Their socialism is an ec. failure. Wouldn't we be doing more for their people if we let their system fail instead of constantly bailing it out?
[Compliment from Weinberger on cabinet meeting.]
Thursday, February 5
[President's prayer breakfast; meetings with Boy Scouts and high school students.]
Lots of phone calls--Sen. Robt. Byrd (D) is playing games with bill to raise debt ceiling. Has held vote over til tomorrow.
Friday, February 6
My birthday. Nancy, Tip O'Neil, Paul Laxalt, Tom Evans & Cong. Wright from Texas surprised me (all duly recorded by Cap. Press Corps) with a beautiful cake.