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tv   Karen Tumulty The Triumph of Nancy Reagan  CSPAN  November 5, 2022 1:38am-2:32am EDT

1:38 am >> in this week public affairs virtual event we bring you a conversation with the washington post national politics columnist
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who is joining us in conversation for her brand-new book the tramp of nancy reagan in addition to working at the washington post she has worked at "time" magazine of the los angeles times in the recipient of many awards including the prize for excellence and recording as four years ago by simon & schuster to write the prior gravy it is being published tomorrow on april 13, 2021. they call nancy reagan a luminous and exhausted biography which chronicles the private life of influence of nancy reagan, the book draws on interviews with cabinet members, friends and family members and she became one of the most influential first ladies of the century. we invite you to join our virtual program joined in conversation by reagan foundation institute board of trustees kathy busch. >> good afternoon i am so pleased to welcome you today for the very special sneak peek at a >> good afternoon the much anticipatedst biography on nancy
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reagan. the book is officially released tomorrow and has graciously agreed to make the reagan library whenever first caps on the book tour readers will agree it is a well research balanced and insightful look into the life of one ofh the most fascinating and consequential figures in the interest of full disclosure i thought i would mention i was privileged to work with reagan as a young woman first in the white house and then in los angeles after they left washington. as part of theirir small staff ultimately serving as their spokesperson. it was an incredible adventure and one of the greatest gifts of my life it open my eyes to the world to the importance of
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decency kindness character and leadership i also saw the private side during unguarded moments witnessing their devotion to one another. i was not one of karen's sources so i read it was tremendous interest just like all of you will i thought i knew just about all there was to know about nancy reagan and her book prove me wrong speaking to hundreds of individuals drawing on archives and her own memoirs white house records and much more. welcome to the ronald reagan presidential library and it has become so popular especially during the year of separation. i really wish you could've been together at the presidential library or production for that colorful
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section of the berlin wall that freedom that reagan envisioned that they had a diplomatic hand instead we are relying on technology to take us back in time and bring us together to better understand nancy davis reagan the daughter, the actress and partner, another, first lady and caregiver. before we launch into s the book tackling the topics can you share what inspired you? why did you start the book with the soviet union quick. >> first of all thank you so much i also look forward to an we can sit out there on the beautiful patio at the reagan library spending so many
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wonderful hours to frosting from the fragility of the research room at the library. actually this book was not my idea it was simon & schuster's. it was my editor one of my dearest friends so she came to me a few months after mrs. reagan died and said we would love to have a biography of her. i remember the day of her funeral i was doing errands to say there arere so many layers there's just something about the project that struckal me as
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interesting classes they come to washington in the eighties n and my knowledge of nancy reagan is everybody else's to run between one of two caricatures as acquisitive socialite or the power behind the throne but listening to the attributes and watching the last decade other presidents life and then hers beyond that to get the sense of the depth of this relationship. originally thought it's about a woman and marriage as our love story getting deeper into the research i realized it was so much more. a whole new perspective on the
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presidency and i think ultimately a new perspective on history so why do i come in with the story w that george schultz told me aboutth the soviet union? i was looking w for something to signal to the reader that this is not your typical first lady biography. the story that schultz told me and those with impromptu to the night on —- to the white house to have dinner come it sounded like a social invitation. he had only been secretary of state seven months. he did not know the break-ins that well does that include a
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stop in china? but then they are asking about the a chinese leaders. do they have a bottom line? what makes them h tick and beyond t that talking about the soviet union and scholz away from the hardliners of national security council but to say this man has never had a conversation that he is dying to have one and has thought about this a lot and is constant in his own ability potentials realizes this is not a social application for
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nancy reagan wanted to get him around so he could understand something about her husband and has the potential to change history and also realizing something else in that moment that he has found an incredibly valuable ally in the first lady who is the only person in the world to know that is truly close and understand her husband mike nobody else does. so to learn about her unique role. she did not set foot in the west wing all that often but everybody there knew and she was displeased.
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and attended not to last very long in the reagan white house because she saw herself that she was someone who didn't have much of an appetite for interpersonal conflict. into ever sharper since the people. and then treasury secretary told me she has incredible radar and that was better than her husband. there is so much here. to take an incredibly deep dive and the stability of the home life larger-than-life who
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is critical and her father who had no role in her life and those who ultimately gave her the stability and the love that she craved. >> you are right. she is thehe product of a bad match between actress in a car salesman who shortly after went their separate ways and her mother very shortly after that leaves the little baby in the care of relatives. so for the next six years of her life she errands for this absent mother and as her send told me and other people pointed out, it cast a shadow on her spirit, and insecurity
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that never really leaves her. the matter how successful the at any minute the whole bottom could fall out and certainly that is underscored two months they get to the white house she almost loses her husband to the assassin's bullet. but she didn't share a lot about herself her own children really didn't know all that much about her childhood or the insecurity with those lingering effects and also to suggest that her mother actually abandoned her but i
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found one speech that she gave in 1986 they were honoring her that day but she says to the 400 children who come from foster care and broken homes and it's a s moment of vulnerability and candor that really struck me. the reason i'm here today there is a time i did not know where i belonged either but when anything else in the world was a normal family do you know what happens usually start to closure hard to people because that's you got hurt in the first place you open your heart.
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another thing that happens he stop trusting people because they did not live up to your trust in another thing that happens when you haveta been hurt and how can i be worth anything if they retreat in a terrible way? away understand why you feel beaten down by at all. as a sign of an alcoholic so what is the basis with this incredible bond that they finally found the security and validation and the love that
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the two of them could crave and that explains the insecurity of nancy reaganth and the complexity and it also explains her fearlessness of how she was fearless if there was anything that could possibly jeopardize the happiness that her and reagan finally realized and each other. o >> that leads into the next question of how m they on and the evolution of their love story and youev revealed in the book he was not even in a great place when h they met. your work suggested he was broken inside and in a deep freeze but she was loving and
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patient and he would later write nancy moved into my heart and replaced an emptiness i was trying to ignore for a very long time. share about those early years of the courtship of their marriage and those eloquent love letters he sent to her over their lifetime and that she saved. >> in the fall of 1949 they supposedly had a blind date. i have found evidence that nancy davis newly arrived on the mgm lot had tried to make their past cross long before that but she opens the door at her apartment that night knowing simply no way that they could have begun to iimagine the future that lay ahead for the two of them.
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he was an actor whose career was starting to scrape bottom the first wife to his shock and dismay had gotten bored with him andnd walked out. her star was on the rise and in some ways is still carrying a torch for jane wyman. he did have the scars of his own childhood and quite literally was aan broken man standing there on two crutches on her doorstep his thigh bone been broken and spent the last couple months traction and literally showed upwo in catches if she did not come along when she did it would have lost my soul. but he is not somebody who is ready to settle down or open
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his heart. but because of her incredible radar she has to wait him out and at one point even his mother tells her that. and she says this to nancy who she liked better i can see you are in love with him but he is not in love with you yet. you havee to wait for you will know when he loves you but you have to wait and she does. patiently, and gently and it takes several years. for him to come around and commit himself. >> so talk about talk about the arrival of children in the bustling home life he begins traveling the country and
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those that matter to working americans and all led to the realization and a real intimate way with people and campaigns sacramento and in the white house tells about those busy formative years for their life of p public figures and. >> they really are scraping by professionally and financially at one point reagan agrees to what is the most humiliating professional endeavor he becomes and see over floor show in vegas. but shortly after that the new opportunity to go into television and general
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electric theater comes along and before that would not even have considered. why would anybody pay if they can see it for free at home? so the show takes off and then he travels the country tens of thousands of general electric employees and that is where we discovered as a politician they are there exact same people who later become the reagan democrats. and then two small children dealing with two stepchildren
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and in the course of that of the's incredibly passionate orletters to become so important and if you don't mind some of them are hot. so this is one he writes in 1963. at this point they've been married for over a decade. do you know when you sleep you curl up your fist under your chin? and many mornings when b it's barely don i look at you until i finally have to touch you ever so lightly. you will not wake up but touch you i must. >> but not really because as i try to say what is in my heart
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so really we are not a part at all. because that means being without you. there are dozens and dozens of the passionate letters of telegrams she is saving every one of them that ronald reagan in many ways as the speaker on paper there were enough for these to be compiled into a book quick. >> that's right.
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and it's just lovely to go to them as well. some of them are funny and he does the right references to the characters. they're just absolutely wonderful, they really do speak to the devotion of the reagan's to each other, and by the way they speak a little bit to the stress that's going on at home, he also keeps promising her that the wrong separation on them that this won't last forever and at one point he writes i just wish we could go to the farm, that would be the ranch that he had then and put barbed wire behind the whole thing and neither of us would ever leave without the other. even though the reagan's had been in public life for many years, and nothing prepared them for washington life in the media scrutiny that followed. you spend a lot of time in the book on nancy reagan's
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relationship with the ups and downs of her approval rating and her frustration about be misunderstood, as you alluded to earlier, the portrait of a shadow socialite drawn by her critics and her husband's presidency would be replaced by a calculating power, imposing her will on matters of states both foreign and domestic, you concluded that one point america never quite figured out what to make of her, she was in a public relations tug-of-war was that she, i find a conundrum is how this woman who was so incredibly shrewd and incredibly sensitive about protecting her husband's image and almost always dead on the mark and becomes clueless
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about her own, she brings a lot of her problems on herself, not a great idea, in the middle of the worst recession in great depression for her to go out and spend a lot the donated money but nonetheless redecorating the white house or spending it on a thousand dollar place setting china on which they announce on the very day that the reagan a administration announces that they will classify kat timpf as of vegetable for lunch menus which by the way they withdrew. you can see it takes her a while to understand number one, how she is bringing all of this upon herself but also number two this is a problem she's never fixed and at some point she will become a threat to her husband success. p . . .
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and i was struck by how in some cases some of the harshest stuff that was written about her was by other women, younger women who again, this was a mid
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century housewife. it's really interesting because the iran contra chapter in many ways is the heart of the book. nancy reagan runs the rescue effort out of the white house as her husband's presidency is potentially i'm going to be up overturned by this scandal she engineers a shakeup of the white house staff that begins with the firing of the chief of staff and she also convinces her husband, her very stubborn husband that he's going to have to admit to the country and to himself that he traded arms for hostages and as she does this you see all of a sudden she is getting
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applauded by a lot of her feminist critics and suddenly the conservative guys are like wait this is in the nancy reagan we thought we were signing up for. neither of those things were true. first and foremost she saw herself as the protector of her husband's physical well-being and very close to that was keeping an eye on the people around him and she had a very sharp sense of who was serving the president and who was in it for himself and who was actually helping the president and promoting agendas for haps that ronald reagan might not have shared. one of the defining moments of the presidency and of their lives occurred on march 30th,
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1981 when a deranged gun man you'd almost took the life of president reagan. it's hard to believe that it's been 40 years since that day. that crisis changed everything especially for nancy. nothing can ever happen to my ronnie, she wrote. my life would be over. while the world didn't know at the time how close he came to death, ronald reagan was spared and believed there was a premise to his life. nancy on the other hand was haunted by the horror of all of it plagued with fear something like that could happen again. tell us about that moment and how she learned the news and carry that afterward. in that chapter i did try to take the reader at some point minute by minute of what that
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today reflects for her. the head of her secret service detail hears over the command center in the oval office that there's been a shooting and at that point they are told he's fine. he hasn't been hit. but he knows nancy reagan has got to get this news from him, she doesn't want to hear it any other way so he sprints up to the residence, doesn't even wait for the elevator. he gets there and as soon he senses that there's been a shooting, she starts heading for the elevator and says i've got to get to him. he says he's at the hospital. if he isn't hurt, why is he at the hospital. i don't know. to check on the wounded or something but please, stay here.
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we don't know what's going on. she doesn't listen to him. she says i will walk into that hospital if i have to. at that point they bring a car and by the time she gets there, michael meets them outside and the president has been shot. she goes in and sees her husband lying naked under a sheet with a bunch of doctors around him and she's the daughter of a neurosurgeon. she immediately knows how serious this is. her husband says honey i forgot to duck. he's trying to calm her down but she immediately understands what happened. it really does for sort of for the rest of her life actually
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she's never sure whenever he steps outside the white house or the home that there isn't some other treachery waiting for him and it's important to understand what that left her with because she didn't have the same kind of religious grounding that the president did and so will when you come to the most sensational chapter of her time, when it is revealed that she has been relying on an astrologer that she's barely met in person to help determine the president's schedule it doesn't make sense that you understand this is a woman that is desperate, grasping on to anything she can
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find she can give any kind of feeling of control. by the way she becomes a very good friend to the secret service from there out. they want the people to be out there touching people and making people connect with their president. whenever we were concerned about something, all we had to do is go to missus reagan. first ladies have done, nancy reagan chooses to embrace and for her it was the anti-drug cost she knew she had a platform as first lady and became central to her life.
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she knew the simple phrase, just say no wasn't the solution. it was easy for people to remember and it caught on but it was complicated and she often felt left out that she could tackle such an issue. tell us what you learned about the effort and receptiveness of the country's message and how she in the end reflected by saying those years provided me with the most fulfilling years of my life. >> the slogan just say no was a double-edged sword. if you look at the hundreds and hundreds of appearances she made while she was first lady you really cannot doubt her own
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demotion to the cause that i think goes back to the 60s. it's a fact that really was. but i looked at the evidence and there's a project called monitoring the future which is the longest and best long-term tracking of people's attitudes towards drugs. if you follow the data it
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changes in the 80s and then it starts to shift back a little more once nancy reagan is at the scene so i think there is evidence that it was effective. joe califano was the hhs secretary under jimmy carter who runs the project at columbia university, so i interviewed him and he agreed with me as well he put nancy reagan on his board but also would do things that caused no small amount of heartburn within her husband's administration. one of the things she does near the end of his presidency, and george schultz tells me about this, she gives a speech at the united nations where at that point the reagan administration was trying to talk about the
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people overseas supplying drugs to this country. nancy reagan gets up there and against the wishes of many in the bureaucracy of her own husband's administration says wait a minute, that's only part of it. if we are going to be cracking down on the casino in the field in south america, we also have to look at the investment banker that goes out on his lunch hour and scores cocaine. scholz told me that afterwards a lot of people from other countries came up and thanked her for delivering a message that some people even in her own husband's administration didn't want to hear. part of the blame here is the demand. it's not just a law enforcement
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issue that we need to change social attitudes towards drug use. >> you mentioned when you talk about george schultz, but i would love to just go back for one more minute before we move on. of all of the things nancy wanted to see her husband achieve you also write in proving the relations became the special cause reagan as we know despised everything that communism and poised to do business with a new leader and gorbachev. you've spoken about the role of george schultz and could you touch a little bit on how both men, ronald reagan and mikhail gorbachev were the right man for the moment and how nancy reagan worked behind the scenes to pave the way for peace? >> i don't think that it was any
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strategic sense on her part that she felt this. there were a number of things. she also made a political sense that even people that liked ronald reagan were afraid that perhaps he was a little too close on the trigger which she also understood as something is somethingthat many people dit ronald reagan which sent along with his harsh cold war anti-communist rhetoric that there was a real idealism that he was a believer in the biblical prophecy and he was enough of an idealist to
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envision a world without nuclear weapons. that is something she understood about him that not a lot of people did at that time. and again, this is truly a marriage. the two of them would have the arguments where they would want to tone down his rhetoric and especially disturbed when he referred to the century union as an evil empire. i have a pretty hilarious scene of the two of them arguing about it over dinner. but she does understand that with gorbachev he potentially has a partner who could work with him on this and was absolutely relentless and pushing for this cabinet. over the reservations with these
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hardliners and her husband's own administration as caspar weinberger says one of the world histories she really had a lot more willingness to trust the soviets and a lot more because she had a lot of faith in her husband's ability as a negotiator. revealing the diagnosis with alzheimer's you talk about nancy and barking on the final chapter of their story and write even her harshest critics would acknowledge the grace and determination she would show when her devotion was put to its greatest test. she would gain a new appreciation never again would anyone doubt that she had fixed on her ronnie for all those years was anything but genuine. she would become one of the most
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admired women in the country. i think a lot of us watched the way she cared for him as the sort of ultimate expression of their marriage vows and devotion. share a little bit more about that chapter and how difficult it was for her. >> it is the cruelest disease you could imagine. both of them assumed he leaves office closing in on a vigorous fit he is the only living president to complete two terms in office and leave office with high approval ratings. it looks like their golden years is going to be reminiscing on all the things that they have done together and shortly
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afterwards, he becomes incapacitated or begins to become incapacitated. first she's in a little bit of denial. she doesn't realize that she's going down a long road that she's not going to be able to follow him on. but ultimately she comes to accept it and it becomes as a physical caretaker she becomes concerned because she has had breast cancer. she becomes concerned about finances. she's afraid he's going to outlive her and she wants to make sure the resources are there for him to be taken care of and his dignity maintained in the way that it must be. a. >> what is also interesting, and
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this is why this library becomes so important to her she becomes the caretaker of the legacy. other presidents survived decades after they are out of office. they have the chance to see what history is going to think of them. ronald reagan is denying that so it is it becomes nancy reagan's job. it's important to her in doing that. she wants to make sure that it has the resources that it needs and she also finds other ways to make sure history remembers
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ronald reagan in a way that is true to ronald reagan. she does something that i found fascinating which is while on the one hand, conservatives ronald reagan becomes this icon. but she also knows that there is still this perception among the liberal scholars and historians that he was just an actor reading lines other people wrote for him.
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his value and belief in his own handwriting so you see he begins to publish his diaries, something very few presidents have ever done in keeping real-time diaries so people can see in his own hand at the crucial juncture. he publishes his letters and all the speeches that he was writing as he was getting ready to run for president and you can see in his own hand that these were his thoughts and values she didn't
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want it to be a monument just to the past but also to point to the future which is why you see that it's become a site for so many important events where george w. bush comes to lay out his vision and afford policy. i can't even count how many republican presidential debates have been held at the library and the kind of programs it puts out. thank you for saying that. >> i hope that you will indulge me for a moment if i read some of their words that were so
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poignant. >> my parents were two halves of the circle closed tight around the world in which their love for each other is the only substance they needed. while they might venture out and include others and their orbit, no one crossed the boundary into the space that they held as theirs. and then ron spoke and followed with this. if our mother had one great talent i think it is that she knew how to love and she loved one man more than the world. they would watch the sun dropped over the hills in the west. the moon and stars turn overhead and here they will stay as they always wished it to be. resting in each other's arms, only each other's arms till the
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end of time. her legacy and love for her husband and fascinating life. please do. >> i would really encourage to read the book and come to it to the way that i came into it when i was researching it and writing it which is to sort of set aside what you think you know about later nancy davis and later nancy reagan. hers is a complicated and often very painful story but i think that ronald reagan shows well and the country owes him a debt
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for that. >> what do you say about someone who gives your life meaning and support and understanding, someone who makes sacrifices so that your life will be easier and more successful but what you say is you love that person and treasure her i simply can't imagine the last eight years without nancy. the presidency wouldn't have been the joy without her there beside me and that second floor living quarters in the white house would have seemed a lonely spot without her waiting for me every day. they had all kinds of advisors
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and experts who look after his interests when it comes to foreign policy or the economy but no one looks after their needs for a human being nancy has done that for me through recuperation's and crisis. every president should be so lucky. [applause] i think it is all too common in marriages that no matter how much partners love each other they don't think each other enough. so, nancy in front of all of your friends here today let me say thank you for all you do. thank you for your love and for just being you.
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