There they are, sitting in Walter Cronkite's booth high atop the convention center, looking somewhat dazed and a little nervous.
Nancy reaches over and grabs Ron Jr.'s hand and clutches it through the whole interview. Patti sits stiffly in her seat waiting for the next question. They look as if they have just seen a UFO.
Cronkite is being gentle, deferential, the family doctor telling them it won't hurt a bit. He asks them if they will campaign for their father. They both say "no." Just like that. Cronkite seems taken aback. He falters. Their mother laughs nervously and says she's sure we'll be seeing them around. They don't say anything. Cronkite thanks them and the interview is over.
But not the publicity.
Patti and Ron Reagan are just beginning to get a taste of what it might be like for them if their father is elected president. They haven't quite made up their minds whether they like it or not.
"It can be kind of fun," says Ron, smiling a little shyly. "It's kind of fun to do a Barbara Walters interview. Sort of strange. You sort of step outside yourself and see yourself sitting there being interviewed by Walter Cronkite or somebody."
"It's kind of a dream," says Patti.
"But on the other hand," says Ron, "it can be a pain in the a--."
He did it. Right there in front of three Reagan staffers and a tape recorder monitoring the interview.
Mrs. Reagan has requested that the interviews be monitored of Patti and Ron. Mike and Maureen, Reagan's children by Jane Wyman, don't get tape recorded in their interviews. They are old pros and have been campaigning for their father all year. But Lyn Nofziger, Reagan's press secretary, does assign someone to minitor them.
Pattie and Ron have not been campaigning, nor have they had much exposure to the press. Now there's no choice. Everybody wants to know about their love lives, their careers, their feuds and disagreements with their parents, their flaunting of their own lifestyles in the face of their parent's strong moral objections to premarital sex, and other "trends of the modern generation.
So they decided to try it and see what it's like. Ron, 22, had scheduled a press conference in New York a few weeks ago, but it was canceled at the last minute.
"I didn't cancel it," he says. "It was just canceled. We were getting so many requests at Joffrey II that we thought the best idea would be to just have an open press conference and let everybody come and have 15 minutes where I could answer questions. Except that a few people here [in the campaign] thought that would be a little like throwing me to the lions, I think, since I've never done anything like that before. I don't think it would have been a problem, but they wanted to spare me the wolves."
"It's almost easier to give a few [interviews], hit all the major media -- than to have them constantly on your back clamoring.Besides we're here. We can either do this or lay by the pool." 'A Killer of a Job'
Certainly their careers and lifestyles are more varied than those of most other presidential aspirants' children:
Patti Davis (she uses her mother's maiden name) is a 27-year-old actress and songwriter who has had small parts on "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat." She lived for a year with a guitarist for the Eagles rock group and now lives at home. She hopes to do more acting, and says "it's hiatus period in Hollywood" so she's mostly writing.
Ron Reagan, 22, worked for his father's 1976 presidential campaign, went to Yale, then dropped out to become a dancer with the Joffrey. He lives with a former dance school classmate, Doria Palmieri, 28.
Maureen Reagan, 39, is a former talks show host in Caifornia and now is a director of an organization that aims to increase U.S. exports. She is twice divorced and an outspoken defender of the ERA.
Michael, 35, heads a company that sells gasohol production equipment. He is a former motorboat racer, married for the second time. An adopted child, Michael has made hundreds of speeches for his father's campaign.
The interviews were scheduled separately. First, Maureen and Mike, then Patti and Ron.
Maureen and Mike are more or less middle-aged in their views. Their values are more compatible with those of their parents. They are both politically active, outspoken Republicans, open, honest, much more confident about their roles and the campaign. Patti's political views seem to inspire a bit of distrust in Michael. When she talks about her father the presidential candidate, Michael said to one reporter, "I'd like to be a fly on the wall."
Maureen and Mike both unreservedly want their father to be president of the United States and are doing everything they can to help them get there.
Maureen especially is an articulate, humorous advocate of her father's -- but not on all the issues. A Carol Burnett lookalike, she mugs a lot. Only on the issues does she become serious.
"If I couldn't find more to agree with than disagree with, I wouldn't participate in the campaign," she says. "I would never campaign against him but I couldn't do it for him either."
She does not see her father as the right-wing extremist some have painted him to be.
"If we were all on a plane, some on the right, some on the left, we'd still be all in the same plane, some on the right, some on the left, we'd still be all in the same plane. It's the extremists in both parties who would be out on the wings. Ronald Reagan would be in the middle of that plane. In the mainstream."
Mike, slightly overweight and earnest, is unaffected and much less in disagreement with his father's views than any of the other children.
Patti and Ron are children of their generation. They are against nuclear weapons, they claim to be apolitical, they are much more laid back in their approach, much more cynical and suspicious or perhaps realistic about politics and the campaign process, much less willing to get into the fray. They seem to be on a tighter leash than the older two, much less willing to talk for fear of saying what they really think.
Patti is a particularly attractive and graceful young woman. Ron is equally appealing. They are, to say the least, uncharacteristically restrained in an interview.
Ask Patti if she would like her father to become president of the United States, and she laughs, glances at Ron then shrugs. "He wants it and so I want what he wants," she says, looking a bit uncomfortable. "It's difficult to wish that job on somebody you love. It would be a difficult thing to se someone you love and care about in that job, under that pressure. So I'm a little torn."
"It's a killer of a job," says Ron. "But it's his goal."
"I don't think you have to see it first-hand to know about it," says Patti. "I mean, just the pressure."
"You see it on their faces," says Ron.
"Yeah," says Patti. "Just looking at them. I mean, that job leeches the life out of men."
"Just read the papers and see how they're always trashed," says Ron.
"Really," says Patti, "because somebody's going to disagree with you all the time." She thinks her father wants the job despite all this, because "I think he wants it for very unselfish reasons. I think he really believes he can make a contribution and make some changes."
"I think he feels he is needed," says Ron. "I don't think he really wants the job."
"It's kind of a calling," says Patti. "He gets energized by doing something and by working and by going outside of himself to work for other people. It energizes him and I think that's part of the reason he's so young for his age."
"You said he'll probably outlive us all," Ron said to his sister. "Looking at him you would not say he was 69. He isn't really -- physiologically he's not 69, he's much younger. When you see him knocking in those fence posts at the ranch. . . ."
"He's a great advertisement for clean living," laughs Patti. "He has all those bee pollen bars in the refrigerator."
It seems that the potential future president of the United States takes bee pollen for energy and health.
"If it gets printed," jokes Ron, "they'll probably put his picture on the packages." Family Squabbles
The Reagan kids, all of whom dropped out of college, are independent and outspoken about it. They make no bones about their family disagreements, unlike other presidential children, who have been particularly circumspect in deference to their father's role.
This does cause discussion, but they get tired of talking about family squabbles.
"I don't know any family that doesn't have squabbles," says Mike Reagan. "Am I supposed to say we never have squabbles?"
"Oh, we're all automatons," says Maureen. "We just say yes and no," and she makes the motions of a robot. "The thing that blows me away is when people ask us if we are going to move into the White House."
"Our disagreements," she says, "are on how you solve the problems, how you do it."
"The fact is," says Mike, "that I am 35 years old. The idea that because my father is going to be president of the United States means that we never have squabbles is ridiculous."
"I think that families who are together all the time seem to try to avoid each other," says Maureen.
"Look," says Maureen, "I can say to Michael that I'm mad at mother or dear old dad or Ron but I will kill anyone else who says it."
Maureen says that their mother, Jane Wyman, is "totally apolitical" and has taken no part in the political career of her ex-husband."She doesn't want to be used," says Maureen. The only comment Jane Wyman has made, according to her daughter, was when Reagan won the gubernatorial race in California. "Well," she commented, "that's his Oscar."
Maureen and Mike are much more optimistic than their younger brother and sister about one person being able to handle the job and the pressures of the presidency.
"The president does not do the job alone," says Maureen. "He has a cabinet, a staff of people and a program. I disagree that no one man can do it. I firmly believe in the power of the presidency. I use the example of power over and over. Power is nothing to be afraid of. It's the misuse of power that we should be afraid of . . . My father has an uncanny ability to attract good talent."
Both Maureen and Mike believe that their father's appeal to the voters is the level on which he addresses them.
"He talks," says Maureen, "in a language they can understand. He says things they feel. People hear what they've been thinking and feeling for five years."
"Some of the candidates," says Mike, "talk at such a high level, 40 feet above the audience. It takes a day to sink in. My father is trying to get the answers down so that you and I can understand." 'Kind of Neutral'
In contrast to Mike and Maureen's gung-ho attitude about the campaign, Patti and Ron seem uninterested, except for a sort of clincal fascinationwith the process.
Their difference, says Patti, might just come from the fact that "we come from a more interesting family." And too, that there is "a wider age range between us than other candidates' families."
"There were two marriages," points out Ron.
They don't make any apologies for the fact that they don't campaign.
"I'm not a political person," says Patti."I talk about my father, but I just don't do that. I have my own career, my own work."
"I can't take that much time off from dancing," says Mike.
They say their parents have never asked them to campaign.
"No," says Patti. "That would be our own choice if we wanted to or didn't."
She also says that if her father weren't running she probably wouldn't vote at all. "It's not particularly admirable, but in all honesty I probably wouldn't. I tend to be kind of neutral."
Ron says he is apolitical "in a certain sense. But I care about what happens. I try to keep up with what's going on . . . I have a couple of issues I do feel strongly about, the main one being nuclear energy. But I feel that that goes beyond politics. It's a much more human issue than a political one, and I'm very concerned with it because I think it's . . . we're playing around with something we shouldn't be playing around with. So we disagree on that but we do discuss it, and it is a topic of open discussion."
Patti says she is a health food nut, a vegetarian, and she takes exercises every day with her friend Jane Fonda, also a strong foe of nuclear power, at Fonda's class in Los Angeles.
"I'm in agreement with him on the major things," says Ron. "Foreign policy, military strength, things like that. But I don't think it would hurt to pass ERA. And abortion. I don't agree with that part of the plank. Nuclear power -- I think it is all right for a short term. But of course the problem is that we don't know what to do with all the garbage it makes -- so I think we have to find an alternative, maybe solar power."
As for the differences on issues of morality, "We discuss it," says Patti. "I think every generation has a particular set of morals and times change, and I think everyone's pretty tolerant of that."
"We do disagree," says Ron. "But my parents agree you have to live your own life with your own set of values and your own morality."
It may be harder for the Reagan kids to live their own lives now that their father is so prominent.
They have yet to be burned by the press, although Patti says she didn't like it when Time magazine called her "extremely shy." "I wouldn't put myself in that category," she says.
And too, says Ron: "The quotes are never really what you said. They make you sound a little more inarticulate."
"I haven't been affected by it [the publicity] too much at all," he says. "At the Joffrey school they didn't know who I was until the last couple of months."
Patti doesn't feel she has been affected by the publicity yet. And both of them have avoided talking about their personal lives for that reason. "I don't think relationships are anybody else's business," she says. Ron will say they are both unattached. "That's not to say people won't make it their business," says Ron.
"The loss of privacy," he says, "is a consideration but so far it hasn't affected me."
"I really haven't noticed it," says Patti. "The thought crosses my mind sometimes, yeah. I try not to worry about it," she smiles. "In fact, I try not to worry. 'Epitome of a Feminist'
Maureen Reagan has been particularly vociferous about the ERA, which she strongly and publicly supports. Her father was once wholeheartedly in favor of it and even supported abortion in his days as governor. When asked if Nancy had a role in changing his attitudes about both, as some have said, Maureen smiles tightly. "You'd have to ask him where the change came," she says. She does not like that anti-ERA plank in the Republican platform. To say the least. "I don't like it. I think it's wrong. I was disappointed and very hurt. I personally will work for it the rest of my life."
She does take up for her father on the issue, though.
"A lot of people say that dad's not for ERA, therefore he's for equal rights," says Maureen. "That's not true. We disagree on the way to do it and how to do it. He is in favor statutory change but I'm hoping he'll come to understand that the constitutional way is the best."
She saves her harshest judgments for Phyllis Schlafly, the head of the Stop ERA movement.
As to where she puts Schlafly in the spectrum, she says, "I don't put Phyllis anywhere. She puts herself there, all by herself. We're not very friendly."
She says that though Schlafly is a Reagan supporter, "when you're a candidate for president you can't control the people who support you. But I do resent the use of this convention by Phyllis and her Stop ERA group. It has nothing to do with this convention and it attracts the NOW people. I understand why they feel they should react to it. My complaint is that she should not try to use the party or this structure for her own personal gain. I don't like people who misuse the system."
When approached for a comment on Maureen Reagan's views about her. Phyllis Schlafly was seated at a phone booth in the Plaza Hotel lining up appointments after a Stop ERA luncheon, her two bodyguards hovering nearby.
Her lips tightened as she heard what Maureen had said. Then she managed a frosty smile. "That's ridiculous," she cooed. "Do you know what the votes were? And on a generous compromise?" She smiles again. Tightly. Ever sweetly. "Like many other ERA proponents the personal attack is part of what they have to say. I do not indulge in it. That type of thing is very characteristic of the debate. Most of the pro-ERA'ers spend most of their time making personal attacks on me. It's a very fine way of ignoring the merits of the case. That's the issue. Not some personal attack Maureen makes on me." She smiles.
Outspoken as she is on the subject of feminism and the ERA, Maureen Reagan doesn't like to talk about her relationship with her stepmother, Nancy. The two often have had disagreements on the subject of feminism but Maureen has managed to sidestep that issue nicely. She smiles very sweetly at the mention of her stepmother. "Why Nancy is the epitome of a feminist," she coos. "I have a mother who had a career by choice, who is extremely talented.
"I have a friend in Nancy, who had talent and a very fine career," she says, choosing her words carefully, "but she felt she personally could not combine two careers. As a feminist I support your right to choose."
And how did Nancy Reagan take this explanation? Maureen Reagan bursts out laughing. "She swallowed hard. She does not perceive the ultimate definition of feminism."
Maureen Reagan does not think it a bit strange for the Reagans' four children to disagree with each other or their parents.
"They built us to be independent to think on our own, to think independently," she says.