THE EARNEST CORRESPONDENT, eager to cultivate his relationship with the vice-president, complained in a letter written in his own hand that the leader of the opposition was urging a "frightening call to arms" while at the same time proposing to take the country down the road to Marxism.
The vice president was Richard Nixon, the leader of the opposition was John Kennedy, and the correspondent in that summer of 1960 was none other than Ronald Reagan. The president's letter is one of a series he wrote; Nixon beginning in 1959 which has become available for public inspection among Nixon's pre-presidential papers at the federal records center just up the San Diego freeway from San Clemente.
While there are few real surprises in Nixon's Ronald Reagan file box 621, it is more than passing interest because of Nixon's continuing influence upon Reagan's views. Reagan and Nixon, one document indicates, first met not in California but in Washington in 1947 when Nixon was on the House Labor Committee and Reagan represented the Screen Actor's Guild.
However, they apparently did not begin to change written views on a sustained basis until the summer of 1959 when Nixon had his famous "kitchen debate" with Khrushchev in Moscow and Reagan began offering his comments on a variety of topics in a series of handwritten notes on his personal letterhead.
The available correspondence and memoes run through the 1960 campaign, when Reagan unsuccesfully urged Nixon to select Barry Goldwater as his running mate, into the 1962 California gubernatorial race, when Reagan remained neutral during Nixon's primary fight. During this period the signatures rapidly became more informal, the "Ronald" of late 1959 giving way by mid-1960 to "Ronnie Reagan."
In mid-1959 Nixon wrote Reagan complimenting him on one of his speeches on the economy and government. In his June 27 reply Reagan noted that General Electric -- his television sponsor -- "has never suggested in any way what I should or should not say. During the last year particularly, I have been amazed at the reaction to this talk. Audiences are actually militant in their expression that 'something must be done.' The only adverse opinion in the last two years was an editorial in a local 'Teamster Union' paper which I accept as further evidence that 'sound thinking' is on our side."
After detecting a "ground swell of economic conservatism" in the country, Reagan added, "As a matter of fact we seem to be in one of those rare moments when the American people with that wisdom which is the strength of Democracy are ready to say 'enough.' Such a wave of feeling, marked the end of the 'Capone era.' Prohibition was ended in the same way with people (even those who opposed drinking) deciding that the wrong method has been tried."
On Sept. 7, Reagan wrote the vice president to congratulate him on the success of the Moscow trip. "One thing in particular has long needed saying, namely that 'communism or Marxism is the only systems with aggression advocated as an essential part of its dogma."
"As the cold war continues I'm sure many people lose sight of the basic conflict and begin to accept that two nations are foolishly bickering with some justice and right as well as wrong on each side. This 'tolerant'view ignores of course the fact that only 'communism' is dedicated to imposing its 'way and belief' on all the world. This is in direct contradiction to our belief (so forcefully expressed by you) that people should be allowed to choose for themselves.
"It was almost startling to hear you say this directly to the Russian leaders because I suddenly realized it was a truth seldom if ever uttered in diplomatic exchanges.
"Knowing that 'questions' are the best form of argument and debate I would like to see us, in the future, answer their charges of 'imperialism' by asking over and over again, 'Has Russia abandoned the Marxism precept that communism must be imposed on the whole world?'
"Only when their answer to that question is affirmative can we truly believe in 'co-existence.' Until such time 'co-existence'means 'don't do anything while I steal your horse."
Nixon ordered his staff to produce a "special reply " adding that Reagan's analysis "is exactly on the beam."
On Dec. 11 Reagan, noting that he would be doing the ABC-TV commentary on the Rose Parade in which the vice president was scheduled to participate, asked Nixon for the opportunity "to talk to you as well." Nixon replied that he would be "on the lookout" for Reagan.
On July 15, 1960, following the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Reagan wrote Nixon that "TV has opened a window onto convention deliberations and the 'demonstration' is revealed as a synthetic time waster which only serves to belittle us in what should be one of our finer moments. One has a feeling that general gratitude would be the reward for anyone who would once and for all declare the 'demonstration' abandoned.
"Starting with the opening speech and continuing through all the speeches until Kennedy's acceptance speech, I thought the Democrats could pick up some campaign money by selling the collection of addresses as 'talks suitable for any patriotic occasion with platitudes and generalities guaranteed.' I do not include Kennedy's acceptance speech because beneath the generalties I heard a frightening call to arms. Unfortunately he is a powerful speaker with an appeal to the emotions. He leaves little doubt that his idea of the 'challenging new world' is one in which the Federal Govt. will grow bigger and do more and of course spend more. I know there must be some short sighted people in the Republican Party who will advise that the Republicans should try to 'out liberal' him. To my opinion this would be fatal."
After offering to help get out the Republican conservative vote during the fall campaign, Reagan returned to the subject of Kennedy. "One last thought -- shouldn't someone tag Mr. Kennedy's bold new imaginative program with its proper age? Under the tousled boyish hair cut it is still old Karl Marx -- first launched a century ago. There is nothing new in the idea of a government being Big Brother to us all. Hitler called his 'State Socialism' and way before him it was 'benevolent monarchy.'"
In a marginal note Nixon instructed his staff to "use him as a speaker whenever possible. He used to be a liberal!"
Eight days later Reagan called Nixon at the Republican convention in Chicago: "Respectively urge consideration Goldwater for Vice President. Cannot support ticket if it includes Rockefeller." On Aug 8 Nixon, having chosen Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate, replied to Reagan's July 15 letter, tactifully ignoring any mention of the July 23 telegram.
The final entry in the file is an April, 1962, memo to Nixon from an aide who had contacted Reagan by phone to ask him to approve a draft statement criticizing a recent attack on Nixon by Howard Harvis, now of Proposition 13 renown. Reagan declined, saying any statement might kick up more of a storm than the original Jarvis accusation. Reagan suggested Nixon simply ignore Jarvis, and added that he was staying out of the gubernatorial primary in order to be more effective out the conservtive vote on Nixon's behalf in the fall campaign.
Asked about the evolution of President's views on the usefulness of floor demonstrations at political conventions, Karna Small, White House spokeswoman, said that television in the past two decades "has grown up tremendously" while the president's "feelings have evolved to the point where he is considered one of the foremost communicators in the world."