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100 Years of Ronald Reagan: Author Steven Hayward on his legacy

Steven Hayward
Monday, February 7, 2011; 11:00 AM

Join author Steven Hayward on Monday Feb. 7, at 11 a.m., as he discusses the legacy of 40th President Ronald Reagan. Ask your questions now.

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Reagan Today: Would Ronald Reagan be nominated in today's GOP? He was more of a pragmatist back in the 80s, and I believe would cringe with some in the GOP striving for purity, instead of the big tent party that he talked about

Steven Hayward: I think he'd easily be nominated today; after all, John McCain won the GOP nomination convincingly last time around, despite conservative and grassroots dislike of him.

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The Actor As President: Ronald Reagan was a good actor, and a great communicator as President. Thus, some think much of his Presidency composed a lot of his reading speeches like cue cards and not being very involved in deciding what it was he was reading. How is your reaction to that accusation?

Steven Hayward: He also tended to write his own talking points for his summits with Soviet officials, and disregarded the State Department briefing books.

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Reagan's Children: I'm 63, and remember well my HS civics teacher being very disapproving of Eleanor Roosevelt, saying she was always telling everyone how to raise her children even though all of hers had been divorced and generally made messes of their lives. I thought of this during the Reagan Administration, when "family values" were supposed to be paramount, but he and Nancy were at some point estranged from all 4 of their children. One, OK, maybe even 2, but all 4? That to be spoke reams about his qualities as a person. I actually voted for him twice, but both were votes against his opponent, rather than for him.

Steven Hayward: At one point in the 1980s, an exasperated Nancy Reagan told Bill Buckley, "I love my children, but sometimes I don't like them."

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How was Morris chosen as biographer?: When Morris finished his official biography of Reagan, Dutch, many thought that he really missed capturing what Reagan was really like, despite having unlimited access for hundreds of hours. What do you think? And what book do you think is the best overall book of Reagan or the Reagan years?

Steven Hayward: I think the best books about Reagan (aside from my own, but I'm obviously biased) are Lou Cannon's especially his last one (whose exact title I forget), an almost complete bio that takes Reagan from childhood through the governorship to the White House.

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The real Reagan: I remember Reagan as a mean spirited president who dumped on the poor to make the rich richer.I think the Reagan legacy proves the power of revisionist history. I don't think his legacy would be seen the same way by "neutral" historians. It bothers me that authors on the right and left see their role more as propogandists then historians.

Steven Hayward: They already have.

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100 Years of Incredible Lies and Distortions: Since Ronald Reagan was a reactionary, none too bright, perhaps suffering from dementia throughout his two terms as many have insisted, completely ignorant of economics, guilty of criminal conduct while in office, racist and otherwise bigoted, mean, largely uneducated and indifferent, not seriously religious, a hypocrite and a liar, a corporate tool and largely a PR hack throughout most of his adult life and especially as President of the United States, is this man not a perfect symbol for the current incarnation of the GOP?

Steven Hayward: So we'll put you down as undecided?

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Health care reform: I have heard that Reagan was a proponent of health care for all Americans? But this was notion was stifled by the GOP.

Steven Hayward: Reagan as far as I know always opposed government-sponsored universal health care.

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Warts and all?: How open should we be about Reagan's mistakes? Selling guns to Iran? Bargaining with terrorists over hostages after saying he wouldn't? Calling Marcos a "friend of democracy"? Saying that (then apartheid-ruled) South Africa had supported the U.S. in all of its wars? One news report said the Reagan Library's exhibits were open about Iran-Contra, but to what degree? Today we have some criticizing Obama for not being tough enough with Iran, but he didn't sell it guns.

Steven Hayward: Beyond that, I have challenged conservatives to examine what should be learned from Reagan's failure (which Reagan acknowledged later) to control government spending growth more effectively.

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Taxes: Ronald Reagan raised taxes seven of the eight years he was President. He also tripled the deficit. Wouldn't the present day GOP be less in love with him if they knew these facts?

Steven Hayward: Reagan believed that not all taxes are created equal as to their effect on economic performance.

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A Crucial Subject the Founding Fathers Didnâ??t Address: Too bad the Founding Fathers didn't require in the Constitution that if politicians cut taxes or increase spending, they were required to make equivalent spending cuts or find specific new revenue sources -- not hollow rhetoric or endless borrowing -- to fund the Federal Government. This is a simple concept but one most politicians don't have the moral fiber to address. Reagan cut taxes, increased unfunded spending and the National Debt went up nearly 200 percent when he left office and headed back to live out his days in the cushy Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Other than nostalgia, why is Reagan championed by conservatives on this particular subject?

Steven Hayward: None of these ever got very far (though the balanced budget amendment passed one house I believe), and might not be good ideas anyway.

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Racism: Didn't Ronald Reagan make his first speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi after getting the nomination and wasn't the purpose of the visit to send a message to Southern Whites that he was on their side? And isn't that how he carried the south. Should anyone be proud of that?

Steven Hayward: How come Babbitt could get away with saying that, but not Reagan?

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Gay rights: Where do you think President Reagan would be now regarding gay rights when you remember he was against the Briggs Iniative that would have prohibbited gays from working as school teachers ?

Steven Hayward: I have no idea where he'd come down, though I suspect he'd oppose gay marriage, and support civil unions, which is the halfway house on the issue right now.

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RR's view of government?: When Reagan famously declaimed in his first inaugural address that government doesn't solve problems, it IS the problem, he made what is probably the most radical, extremist statement we have heard from any public official in the modern era, worthy of a 1920s anarchist. Yet during his time in office he signed multiple tax increases and expanded the federal budget and workforce. So what was his real view of what government is for? What did he think the government was supposed to be doing?

Steven Hayward: Not terribly anarchist--or even libertarian.

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Reagan & the future of the planet: I'm afraid--and I mean that honestly--that Reagan's most important legacy may turn out to be the fact that he redefined the GOP as a party hostile to what it perceives as environmental activism. During his presidency, that meant inaction on national issues such as acid rain. Now, however, the apparent permanence of that position means that one of America's two great political parties is implacably opposed to accepting the reality of climate change, and acting on it.It's not what Reagan intended or perhaps would have wished were he alive now, but given the importance of the U.S. in all global affairs, this aspect of his legacy may well turn out to have catastrophic consequences for the entire planet. I truly hope I'm wrong.

Steven Hayward: Answer: Gov. Reagan, in 1970, about the time he appointed a Sierra Clubber as his top environmental aide, cancelled several dams and road projects, set aside about 100,000 acres of redwoods in state parks, etc.This was mostly due to technology changes that came on line.

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Best thing?: What is the best thing Reagan did for America?

Steven Hayward: The air was thick with reform proposals, from a single six-year term to parliamentary style cabinet government.s successors, but not because the presidency itself is in trouble.

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Favorite Reagan story?: Do you have any particular memories of Reagan? Something that sticks out to you? A story you remember well?

Steven Hayward: You can look this one up on YouTube.

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washington DC: not sure what the big deal is about RR losing his marbles, i remember hearing him at an ABA session in 1985 and thinking "they got what they wanted." Didn't they know he wasn't all there but reelected him anyway? That's what i think.

Steven Hayward: (But so was FDR in 1944.)

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Was Dick Cheney Right About Reagan?: Isn't it a myth or accepted as dogma by the MSM that the Democrats are the party of tax and spend and the Republicans are fiscally responsible? Doesn't the evidence going back to Reagan indicate the GOP when in power has run enormous deficits and debt and grew the Federal government? Dick Cheney said that Reagan proved deficits don't matter.

Steven Hayward: I think it comes down to something simple--Democrats seem much more eager to raise taxes and spending than Republicans (certainly true under Obama), but one thing the Tea Party proves, I think, is that a lot of people now have noticed that both parties are pretty bad on this score.I still don't know what to make of Cheney's remark, and I've heard competing and conflicting explanations of what he actually meant by it.

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GOP: I find their obsession with Reagan to be a bit creepy and cult like. Reagan also wasn't the stalwart Republican people would now like to make him out as. I do think, though, that is a very demonstrative of the lack of new ideas and fresh thought on the right that they are left to hitch their wagon to a so-so president from 30 years ago...

Steven Hayward: Not even Wilson Democrats make the lists.)

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Tip O'Neill: Reagan used to invite Tip O'Neill to dinner. How can Obama get Boehner to come to dinner?

Steven Hayward: If nothing else, they can share a cigarette together on the White House balcony.

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Reagan and Obama: Why does President Obama say such nice things about Reagan when he was disastrous for the American people with his policies. He can only be accredited with being a good speaker who could unite the country together as he stabbed us in the back.

Steven Hayward: I think you can chalk this up to the basic comity of American politics that everyone says we want more of after Tucson.

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Reagan wouldn't be nominated today.: He had too much guts on immigration reform. Nobody likes to remember amnesty was Reagan's thing--or if they do, they call it a mistake.

Steven Hayward: It might go differently if Bush had actually emulated Reagan's approach to the issue.

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Reagan's Rehabilitation: An article in Salon had an interview with Will Bunch, who wrote "Tear Down This Myth" and Bunch credited Grover Norquist's Ronald Reagan Legacy Project for rehabilitating Reagan's image, which was once worse than Carter's. Did time and Reagan's Alzheimer's basically lessen American's feelings toward him and his Presidency?

Steven Hayward: Similarly with Reagan, the discovery of his extensive writings in the 1970s, and the opening of documents from his presidency, contradicted a number of misperceptions about the man, while introducing new mysteries (such as his fervent nuclear abolitionism).

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Reagan and religion?: To what degree was Reagan's thinking, especially in the later years of his administration, influenced by fundamentalist, "end times" views?

Steven Hayward: But that (crackpot) book informed a lot of fundamentalist Christian thinking back then.

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Budgets: Could you please tell us if Reagan ever submitted a proposal for a balanced budget?Hint: the answer begins with the letter "n."

Steven Hayward: In Reagan's case, even if they'd got all the budget cuts they proposed for those five years, the recession of 1982 would have put it all out of whack right away.

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Favorite quote?: Do you have a favorite Reagan quote? Why do you like it?

Steven Hayward: I'll post it if I can lay my hands on it.

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Philadelphia, Miss.?: If Reagan in 1980 didn't know about the "checkered history" of Philadelphia, Miss., wouldn't that indicate someone who was a little out of touch with some important public issues?

Steven Hayward: I am pretty sure--though I'd have to go back and check--that he had commented on the Schwermer--Chaney--Goodman murders back in the 1960s.

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Reagan and gay rights : Mr. Hayward: I learned some years ago that there was a coterie of older, wealthy gay men around Nancy Reagan, especially a former movie star turned interior decorator named William "Billy" Haynes, who wound up redecorating the American embassy in London for Walter Annenberg. The interesting thing is that when Mr, Haynes died, the only person who could really comfort his grieving, long time partner Jimmy Shields was Ronald Reagan, who told Jimmy (I am quoting from memory), "You know, Billy wouldn't want you to carry on this way, he'd want you to keep the decorating business going." Those who think that Ronald Reagan was ultraconservative on social issues should remember he lived in Hollywood for much longer than he lived in Sacramento or DC. Thanks.

Steven Hayward: If not them, then two other gay friends of Nancy's.

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Boehner: He did invite him to the state dinner for China and Boehner refused the invitation. Not exactly detente.

Steven Hayward: There's no real face time at state dinners (I've been to one--great fun for a citizen, but probably less so for a senior member of Congress.)

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Deification??: I am having a hard time with this continuing effort to deify Reagan. I lived thru his attempts to shut down EPA and other government agencies during his first term, and believe me, it was an ugly time. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and he failed. Even US industries recognized the folly of having 50 states doing regulations rather than one central agency. This whole effort to make him the latest "saint" is unseemly.

Steven Hayward: Quite right that business does not want 50 separate state regulatory standards; I don't think regulatory federalism was part of Reagan's (stillborn) New Federalism initiative, but I could be wrong.

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Steven Hayward: Always makes for a stimulating time.

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