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Remembering Reagan

Legacy of the 40th President

Adriana Bosch
Producer, 'American Experience: Reagan'
Wednesday, June 9, 2004; 1:00 PM

Former president Ronald Wilson Reagan, 93, died June 5 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Often called the "Great Communicator," he was an icon who redefined the nation's political agenda and reshaped U.S.-Soviet relations. After leaving office, he announced his condition of Alzheimer's in a letter expressing his gratitude of service to the American people. A former actor, Reagan switched to politics and ended up serving two terms as president. He not only was the most popular president of the twentieth century but one of the most controversial as well.

Weeklong memorial plans and ceremonies include public services in Washington and California for the former 40th president of the United States. National and world leaders and thousands of mourners are expected to pay their last respects.

Adriana Bosch, producer of the PBS documentary, "American Experience: Reagan," and author of "Reagan: An American Story," was online Wednesday, June 9 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the legacy of the former president.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Adriana Bosch: Yesterday, I heard one of the greatest tributes to Ronald Reagan from one of the world's surviving dictators and that was from Fidel Castro. Coming from a dictator, Castro remarked that "a man died today who should never have been born" and that to me is probably the greatest tribute -- the idea being that Reagan rocked the world on which dictators such as Castro stood on and to me that captured Reagan's contribution to humanity.


Alexandria, Va.: Adriana, your PBS documentary of Reagan was magnificent, and I've watched it four times. If you were making it today, six years later, would you change anything, de-emphasize anything, or come up with any different viewpoints or interpretations on his life?

Adriana Bosch: Thanks so much for being a great fan. I also watched it again on Sunday being away from it for a few years. I felt that the documentary was done at a time when the legacy of Reagan was beginning to gel and we were very close to a full portrait of a man and his role in history. There is one place where we might have given him even more credit than the documentary gives him and that is in 1974-80, he wrote a lot of columns and made a lot of radio programs that really gives testimony to his thinking and the evolution of his political philosophy and approach. If I were to do it again, I would have spent more time in that period in really exploring his thinking and during the shaping of his political philosophy and ideas.


Alexandria, Va.: Great DVD BTW - I have all of the President Series.

I remember the scene when Patty Davis was talking about bringing Dr. Caldicott to the Whitehouse. Could you expand on these interviews? This was interesting because I felt that it was obvious that when reflecting back, Ms Davis had regret about airing family disagreements in public and that Dr Caldicott underestimate the Pres. and I was wondering whether there could be more to this part of the documentary.

Thank You

Adriana Bosch: I think we caught Patty at a time when she was in the midst of reconciling with her father and family and she was paying close attention to her actions and how she felt about publishing her books, one airing her family's laundry. She was really struggling with those emotions. In looking back in the film, I could not help but sense that her personal differences with her family correlated with her political beliefs. She was front and center in being the president's daughter and opposing his politics at the same time through the anti-nuclear phase movement.


Herndon, Va.: Ms. Bosch: I watched the repeat of your "American Experience" on President Reagan the other night on Channel 26. Well worth "reseeing." It's been said, although I can't confirm it, that President Reagan never referred to the AIDs epidemic. Is this correct? He obviously had great compassion for people in the personal, if not sometimes in the abstract. Why the lack of interest?

Adriana Bosch: I think by the time that the AIDS epidemic broke, Reagan's mind was primarily focused on the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War. At the same time, he was also dealing with the Iran Contra scandal, so it just didn't register on his radar and that was enough for him at that time. He did not address the AIDS epidemic and that leaves a dark spot on his legacy. However, I don't think it was lack of compassion but it was lack of energy and attention to handle more than just a few major issues in his presidency.


Washington, D.C.: I still would love to know if Reagan approved and had prior knowledge of the diversion of funds concerning the Iran-Contra affair. Will we ever know? Will anyone concerning it give a death-bed confession?

Adriana Bosch: I don't know if we will ever know and we still don't know yet. From what we do know at the time of the documentary and now, we suspect that Reagan might not have been told the details. However, by his own vehemence he might have indicated that no obstacle should stand between the U.S. government and the contras. Clearly by then, Reagan was not engaged by the day to day workings of his administration as he should have been.


Arlington, Va.: As a Democrat, really enjoyed your program, recently rebroadcast on WETA locally. I wonder, you relied fairly heavily on Edmund Morris as official biographer but I notice in the days after Reagan's death, Lou Cannon is being called Reagan's most respected biographer. Any concerns about using Morris?

washingtonpost.com: Transcript: Lou Cannon, (Live Online, June 8)

Adriana Bosch: We used both Lou Cannon and Edmund Morris. I think that Lou is a magnificent biographer and knows more about Reagan than anyone else. We spent a lot of time with Cannon and recognized that he was and is Reagan's foremost biographer following him from the 1960's to his last days of presidency. As for Morris, we felt that he had very good insights into Reagan's personality and motivation. And we believed he helped our documentary.


Washington, D.C.: With respect to Mr. Reagan's legacy, didn't Reagan himself state that buildings, etc., shouldn't be named for people until at least 15 years after their death so that history could judge their achievements with a larger perspective? That said, what do you think of the mad rush to ignore Reagan's own wishes and name all kinds of things after a man who wasn't even dead when the renaming took place?

Adriana Bosch: Somehow, the legacy of Reagan was so clear and so close to the end of his presidency. According to George Will and what he said to us in our documentary -- that if you want to look for his monument, look at what you don't see. You don't see the Berlin Wall, you don't see the Iron Curtain from Stetin to Trieste -- the legacy was clear only three years after he left the White House. So it didn't take that long for his contributions to history to be clear and that accounts for how quickly his legacy became absorbed in American culture.


New York, N.Y.: How was Ronald Reagan as a father, in your estimation? I have read different descriptions from his being a wonderful father to an absent father.

Adriana Bosch: He was a distant father. Ronald Reagan as a father was very much in tune with Ronald Reagan as a man in character. He was distant but warm and kind at the same time. I just read a quote from his son that his father was a gentleman and even warm to a gas attendant. That was the same warmness he expressed to his children and his son mentions that it would often make them wonder how different or special they were to him. Reagan's relationship with Nancy was so tight that often the children felt excluded. This was the same sentiment among all the children that they felt outside the circle of their parents relationship.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: How did Reagan reconcile some of the contradictions in his life? For example, he claimed to be in support of traditional family values, yet his own family was in disarray. The same can be said of his religious life (promoted morality and church, yet rarely attended himself, was divorced, etc.)

Adriana Bosch: I don't know how he reconciled these things. My best guess is that in following his biographers, Reagan was a child of an alcoholic and that was the defining experience in his life. He learned to see things in their best light and learned to block things that were unpleasant. He probably thought and saw that he was a good father and did not see that he was not engaged enough with them. He did look through rose-colored glasses and I think this is a common way for children of alcoholics to learn to block the ugliness of everyday life. I don't think he was dishonest, I just think he didn't see it.


Washington, D.C.: Did you ever meet Reagan personally?

Adriana Bosch: No. When we started doing work for this work, Reagan was struck with Alzheimer's. However we did meet Nancy and most of the Reagan children -- Ronny, Patty, the late Maureen. We had two meetings with Nancy -- one at the Reagan ranch in Santa Barbara before we interviewed her on the camera.


Chicago, Ill.: The press coverage of Reagan right now is overwhelmingly positive. Do you think that there are any areas of his presidency that the media should be more critical of (or perhaps will be more critical of down the road)?

Adriana Bosch: There are two things that come to mind, the spread of AIDS and the way he handled the crisis and America's tolerance for inequality. Since the 1980's Americans have grown to be more tolerant of inequality.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Maybe this is something you never came across, yet I always wondered why Ronald Reagan chose Dick Schweiker as his running mate in 1976. While I believe that was an excellent choice, I never understood why he did it without first being assured that enough delegates would switch to him to give him the nomination over Ford. Very few, if any, including Pennsylvania delegates, switched to Reagan because of the choice. Has there ever been a fuller explanation of what caused Reagan to pick Schweiker? John Sears claimed Reagan actually picked Weicker, and the wrong man was telephoned, and I can't believe that is the best explanation anyone has so far.

Adriana Bosch: You probably know far more about this than I do. But of course, you are right to take John Sears with a grain of salt.


Barre, Mass.: What do you think were Reagan's lasting contributions from his presidency? Are there any parallels that we can draw to present times?

Adriana Bosch: I think without question, Reagan's greatest legacy was the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire. I also think he taught America to believe in itself again after a long time of self-doubt. Reagan lived in a world that from a perspective from 2004 seems to be a simpler world than in a world that we live in now. He faced enormous threats of nuclear war and the threat of the Soviet expansions but there were answers and he found them. I think the issues that we confront today are far more complex.


Adriana Bosch: We are now mourning Ronald Reagan but we should also pay tribute to Nancy Reagan. This was a team that moved through life together. This was a duo, a relationship forged in adversity. She was instrumental to his own success and played an important role in his presidency.

Thank you for your questions and taking the time to watch our PBS American Experience documentary on the history of Ronald Reagan.


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