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tv   The Presidency Ronald Reagan Readers Digest Interview  CSPAN  August 28, 2020 9:20pm-10:09pm EDT

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midway through his presidency in june of 1985, president reagan talked in the oval office with the readers digest
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washington's bureau chief. up next on the presidency, we will see that interview and hear president reagan talk about his hollywood days as the screen actors guild president. the challenges he faced including the 1983 bombing that killed u.s. marines in beirut lebanon. this video is courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library. >> we would be via her -- >> i will need that. >> ahead of you a was now the readers digest -- >> yes. >> and then the head of chief without it would be more effective one on one. so he deferred to me. >> i remember once -- have you ever seen them
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headquarters? it's kind of a beautiful country, how spacious -- >> the president absolutely captivated the founder for that four and a half hours, and he finally had to leave to go make a speech that was a memorable lunch. we would like to do here is to ask you some questions so that our readers here and abroad and a bottom million of them could have a better idea of president reagan, the man. i would like to start off by asking what has surprised you the most pleasantly and unpleasantly about being inside the government that you have had for so long observed from the outside? >> well, first of all, i guess one surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, was how little i was surprised, because the
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eight years as governor of california, i realized when i came in here, suddenly it wasn't the great shot that becoming governor had been. the discovery of the kind of the routine, the scheduling and all of that. while there was the international situation, the rest was, as i say, not too shocking. there was, however, there was a surprise having to do with being the commander-in-chief, and things of that kind. one part of it that shocked me a little bit was the first time -- weeks after we were here -- that killed patrick invited us down to a sunday lunch to his house. a helicopter picked us up in the line. shortly, we landed there at his farm and he told me that they had been there for several days and stalling the funds.
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i said what do you mean? installing the funds? that was when i found out that i cannot even go across town to a lunch or private dinner without bone -- phones being installed. it was explained to me -- jack explained it, as they had explained it to him, that wherever i was i had to have the ability to communicate any place in the world. and in telling him this, they told him that they could reach to inform me -- he challenged them on that. they said name someone. jack is telling you all this. he named a son who was on the embassy guard in a country in africa, and they got him on the phone, and his wife got to talk to his son. they asked him if you wanted anyone else, and they said they had another quartermaster on a destroyer out in the six fleet, the mediterranean. when he said do you get him?
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they said no. he said you could get anyone. they said no, the fleet is on maneuvers. the only one that could get the fleet when it is on maneuvers is the president. so jack was telling me all this, and we got there, and we got in the house. i met the young man's wife, a very sweet young lady. had not seen her husband for months. i excused myself, went back out and said, is this right, that i could get someone from the uss press in the sixth fleet? they said oh yes, sir. i said will get the quartermaster kill patrick. i went back in and got her. she got to talk to her husband when she had not seen for all those months. i did not realize what i had done. it was a surprise to find out what just a few words for me -- i had to think a little better, because i got a letter from quartermaster kill patrick, and he told me that i would be
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surprised what air traffic was like. i had not even thought it through, that the last portion of that call would be by radio. he said that the air was admiral's talking to admiral's, ships talking to ships constantly out of this, and then a voice on the air said, white house calling. another voice said, what court is that? another voice said maybe it's not a code, maybe it is a white house? he said even hollywood could not have silenced the areas it was silenced. then they said they came down and got the quartermaster on the destroyer to come to the phone. he wrote this line, which i will never forget. he said it was as if god had called the vatican and asked for an altar boy by name. >> that is great. making that call was obviously not the toughest decision you had to make. what has been the toughest decision you had to make and four and a half years?
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>> there are a lot of tough decisions. the ones which that are so much right on both sides -- i have made the cabinet go over and over these things in front of me there, because there are differences of opinion because of the split between right and wrong. when i have heard enough, i make the decision. i have always used the cabinet as i did as governor, as a kind of board of directors, except for one thing. they don't vote. i have to make the decision. but i think the hardest ones will always be those instances where you have to, or you order young men in a uniform to go someplace where their lives will be endangered. that is, without a doubt, the most difficult. >> when you became president, you did not have any foreign policy experience. has your view of the world
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changed in the foreign half years? >> i have to tell you that the premises is a little wrong. not that i had been a diplomat in any way except that again, having been governor of california, while it did not have a foreign policy, if california were a nation, it would be the seventh ranking economic power in the world. so it had some interest in -- and it is a guess, the biggest percentage of trade, in and out of our country is by way of california. but it was not that. i had always had an interest in international affairs, particularly because of the soviet union, and when i was president of the screen actors guild, the effort of the communists to move in on the motion picture industry. all i can tell you is that when i was running for governor, some of the press editorialized
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that if i did not stop talking about international affairs, i could never become governor. but i did have that interest. and then as governor, four times, the president asked me to do some missions, errands for him abroad that took me to 18 different countries in the world. some of them several times. more than once. so that has always been an interest of mine. there wasn't much that had to be changed in my opinion about the good guys and the bad guys, and what our responsibility was. >> did it bother you that when you came into office, some or maybe even many european intellectuals, or elitists viewed you as an actor, cowboy with simplistic views about the
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world you had seen? if it did bother you, do you think that view has been altered during your term? >> it did not really bother me so much, because i had gone through that same thing being governor. there were some people that thought to go straight from the acting profession to governor without having held any other political offices -- it was as you described. it did not bother me so much. i do think there has been a change now that we have become personally acquainted. when i say we, i mean heads of state of a number of our allies. we were on a very cordial first name basis, say the economic summit. i don't think that prevails. no what books and what thinkers
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most influenced you, before coming to the white house? but >> now that it's a tough question. because i have been a voracious reader, whether it's books, nonfiction as well as fiction. that and, articles publications and so forth, and i have to try to pick out if i had to try to pick one in particular i don't think i can. i have opened myself up to just about all the viewpoints that there are in that sense. as i say my greatest dread, my nightmare is that some time i might be caught in a hotel room someplace with nothing to read. because i don't think i could go to sleep or shut my eyes if i don't read myself to sleep at night. >> you mentioned before just in passing and i'd like to get back to it, your role as president of the screen actors
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guild, and i've read that that period in your life perhaps more than any other shape your attitude and policies. what did your experiences as a labor leader teach you? >> i was very proud of the screen actors guild at that time. when i went into the job i found that it existed on some very firm principles. for one thing, the screen actors guild said the guild would not be engaged in politics nor would there be politics in the guild. we believe that our members, with every kind of philosophy, and there was no way by even a majority vote, we have a right to take a position politically, that might be counter to the views of one of our members. we also, for two decades, i was in charge most of the time with our negotiations, and the
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reconstitution of the contract with the producers. and i discovered a it was already there. the screen actors guild has its own rule, which was all the qualities it could be. and we stuck to those things. and i had, the pleasure after some of those years of negotiating, to have the head of one of the studios, who was always very prominent in their negotiating committee, tell me one day that when the guild was first proposed, the idea of an actor skilled, he was one who fought who really fought the hardest against it. but i have come to believe, that the screen actors guild, is the most constructive force for good in the motion picture industry. >> could you describe briefly, the fight with communist over
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control of the screen actors guild? >> yes, and incidentally i was a new democrat freshly out of the war in uniform. and we came out, and there had been the aid of ac aisle, and of the 43 guilds in the union of the motion picture business, most of us were afn, ceo unions. and this was a jurisdiction strike it was called over whether some 350 people in the entire industry should be members of the state-run union, or members of the trade unions. we had that mix. and back from the days of the great strike on broadway in the cedar days, there had been a tradition in the picture business to reconcile the differences between, stagehands and what is happening theaters in the old days. you know in the old days stage
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handed everything in the theater, so if a seat needed fixing in front, he came up with the carpenter and fix the seat. and this had led to the jurisdictional strike on broadway. and the settlement finally was that everything behind the percentage of arch, belong to the stagehand. everything in front of it, belonged to the craft unions, you know the carpenters and so forth. in hollywood, they made the percent he march the sound staged or. so anything in their, was stagehands but every studio had mills, where they made in sections the sets. and you would see at the end of the day the set for the next day shooting, being wheeled down on rulers them the do you streets, huge sections like the whole wall of this room here, and all of it and into the soundstage. in the soundstage then the
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state-run union, set directors, put these pieces together. they were than behind the percentage of arch. the issue they picked, for this jurisdictional strike was, that the set erector's should be carpenters. now carpenters worked in the mill and made those sections. and these fellows only put them together. so this led to the strike. then the czar of the carpenters union, had always had a rivalry with the stagehands. so that was the cause of it. during the war, there had come subversion and infiltration of some of the unions, even some of the afn ceo unions. , they had formed a group called the hollywood conference of studio unions. and this was in contrast to the
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afl-cio labour council. so they were on one side we are on the other. i was not prepared, i'm not a red baiter. i was a democrat i was new deal democrat. i never got in front of the stories. and i've been told after i got back by some that there had been this kind of infiltration in the picture business. i was not prepared to leave it. i'm the one who made the motion on the board of the guild i was a board member at the time. not president. i made the motion, that is long as there was this difficulty that both sides, giving a different reason for why there was a strike, why didn't we the actors who were not involved in any way, in the jurisdictional thing, why didn't we invite management and will factions to sit down with us present. as a labor union. to kind of beat the mediator.
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and to protect against them the people who had nothing to do with the strike, and to sit down and find out because we had to tell our members, whether to go through those picket lines are not. and how do you take sides when a lot of unions are in the studios, and a lot of them were on the street picketing? and the board bought this idea. and we invited them. there was great reluctance on the part of the striking unions to join us. but they did not see any way that they can say no. we met, twice a day, it ended up for almost seven months. trying to settle these things. before long there is no question about, it and i was completely converted when i found out that yes, this was
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not a legitimate strike. and i learned it even better, one we had made that decision and called the mask meetings of the screen actors for the hollywood legion front fight stadium. and it was voted that i was going to report, the result of these meetings to the membership and give them the boards recommendation that we continue to go through the picket lines, and honor our contract with the studios. that was to be on a wednesday night. and on a monday afternoon, i was on location on a picture we are making on the beach, and i was called to the phone at an oil station some distance away. they came and got me. drove me down there, and i was told on the phone that if i made that report to the guild membership, there was a squad that would see i would never work again in pitchers.
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and so, i made the report to the guilt. and, there were pickets outside the guild meeting and so forth. i had about three quarters of a bloc walk to the parking lot, or my car was parked afterward. look i felt very comfortable when i found that about eight of the teamster's unions, all about the size of pro football players, decided to walk to the car with me. walk and before that weather, time i got back to the studio that day and after that call, and i've never heard of this law enforcement before but the burbank police, where the studio is located. and representatives there in the studio, and the special police, which were the guards of the studio. we are assigned to my house for
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24 hours a day, around the clock. they also gave me a permit, for a revolver under my arm on my on a shoulder holster. that was the beginning, i guess you didn't want the whole load on the strike, but it went on for a number of months until finally, there was no giving in at all. we kept the studios open, with the help of the unions and management. as long as we were in front of the cameras, there wasn't any way they could stop making pitchers, finally it was a case in which we said to the people who are out on strike, you can get back to the studio's the best way you know how. but in some of those meetings, with them the strike committee because they were not all communists, actually sat and heard studio executives, arguing with union executives
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speaking to their chairman and saying look, we know the communists have got control of the strike and we've got to get it back in our hands. they were legitimately fooled, they did not realize. and that was a history of it. and it was in that that i learned something that set the stage for me as governor, later on here. during all this months, i couldn't there can help will be times when i said to myself, oh my to be making these decisions for thousands of actors and actresses whose careers are at stake. and i found out that what i recommended they would do. and then, i finally decided the only way to go back to sleep at night, was to make up my mind that if i did what i honestly believed in my heart was right, and i may make a mistake, but i
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could honestly believe that that was the right thing to do, that is what we did that's what we would do. when i became governor, i told the cabinet that on any issue that would confront us, i did not want to hear any of the political ramifications of the issue. i only wanted to hear what was right or wrong, for the people and we would make the decision on that basis. not on a political basis. and i found i do sleep variable. what >> if i can ask you one more hollywood question, as an actor you played many roles. is there anyone role, you would have liked to have played but didn't have the opportunity to do so. >> oh, i have to tell you, there were many such roles. once you're in that business and doing, yet you see a
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pitcher in and oh boy, and you find out the things you would do different but. yes there was one. being under contract with warner, brothers in a picture called santa fe trail, which i was the second lead. i was not the star than. to errol flynn. and, it was a historical picture. he played jed stewart, and i played george kuster. and all of the others were there and we were just graduated from west pointed in the cavalry, it is the cab out the story about the capture of john brown. and i played that. and these people would say cowboy actor, but good lord my biggest fight with warner brothers, was that they wouldn't let me do pictures like that. i was doing drawing room comedies, and then they made no
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they dug with their boots on. the story of george kuster. i played him once, and i really wanted to play that part, the and i begged and so forth, and said i played kuster one step parts why now. but errol flynn played george kuster. i don't get. to >> commentators and some formal presidents have talked about the loneliness of the presidency and the burden of the presidency. you seem to approach the job with great relish. do you find lonelier burdensome? how would you describe it? some >> no i don't. i surround myself with people that i have confidence in and i believe in. i don't think that i sit here all alone in decide everything by myself as i say some, i want to hear everybody's viewpoint i don't give any indication of where i lean while i hear those
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viewpoints. i have had cabinet members who were under other presidents who tell me they had not been in meetings that were as fruitful before. many presidents use their cabinet as a now basically periodically go and different members would report with their departments for doing. the word i have gotten from these others the is they never found members where everybody regardless of where it affected them they were all involved in a discussion. the what no, and maybe again maybe it was the eight years experience. >> for many years recently we've taken our presidents from the ranks of the legislators. i think the best training, the closest job to being president of the united states, is being the governor.
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a legislator is used to being in a group and on a committee and making decisions on a rolling basis, majority rule. only a governor has sat there and knows that the final decision has to be his or hers. i attribute part of this to that. i don't say it is easy, there have been a lot of decisions where after i have heard all of that, the ones where there is so much right on both sides, it is very difficult. but no, i don't have that feeling. every day you receive intelligence briefings >> on the entire world. what information have you received the most shocked were you? >> >> well, of course, the
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greatest shock was the telephone call on a weekend, about 3:00 in the morning, a few of us were at augusta country club, i had never been before, we were down there for a weekend of golf. it was the word about the bombing of the marines in lebanon. there is no way to describe the horror and grief as the word came in about that. my great concern stems from the same thing, the increased use of terrorism, which we have to believe is backed by some governments.
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it is so hard to fight because unless you could infiltrate and know in advance, there is no way to know where they will strike next. you could retaliate with outright revenge if you did not care how much terrorism you caused, until you know who those individuals are and where they could be reached, i've never believed we have a right to simply go into an area of people who might be of the same general background and slaughter some of them in revenge. it is one of the most frustrating and causing the greatest concern because you know you cannot abandon your positions in the world, you cannot withdraw ambassadors and diplomatic staff and so forth, or the terrorists have won.
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but you know those people are at risk every minute. if i can ask you >> yes if i can ask for your reactions to moments of two other crisis in your administration, what was your feeling when you start finally decided to send troops to grenada? >> well again, you knew there was going to be a hazard, and you were endangering their lives but on that same weekend, is the blow up in beirut of all things, this also woke us before dawn with a phone call. it seems that several small island states, those that had been or are in the commonwealth, of the united kingdom, they had
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this word of what was going on in grenade. and they felt it was of such importance, that action had to be taken. they were all in a union together, with grenada but they knew that you know some of them don't even have an army. they knew they don't have to military strength to do it. and they made an outright request to us. i didn't feel there was any way that in the face of the evidence they presented, that we could turn down that request and ever be trusted or believed in any place in the free world. so sitting there, before dawn hours on the phone with george bush at this and, and the emergency group assembled, we made the decision that we were going to do what they had asked.
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we are going to join. it wasn't international thing, but we provided the bulk of the force when the chief of staff are entrusted with putting the mission team together, i made only one suggestion. when you decide how many you think it will take, double it. this one we managed to keep a complete secret. and it worked. there were some deaths, but i have never been so proud of anything in my life. even more so when about 400 -- i should not have left this out. this was a great consideration of ours. we had 800 young medical students, americans, on that island. and the thought of another
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hostage situation with 800 young americans, there was no way we can tolerate that. that was the big deciding factor in addition to the other thing i said. then about 400 of them came here to say thanks on the south lawn, and we had about 40 of the returned servicemen by that time back, about 10 each from the four services, and to see tse young people, people in uniform and medical students, those medical students would come back to me and say, i never thought much about the people in uniform before. they were kind of that rebellious type. but not anymore. they said they saved our lives and i heard a story of someone in their dormitory had been under the bed for 24 hours.
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they said from downstairs, they heard a voice, it was an american sergeant, a ranger. and identified himself, and called up for them to come down. the students said he was there, the rangers, to take them to the helicopters, and they told us that when they went to the helicopters, those young men in uniform put themselves between the students and where any fire was coming from, from the hills, from the opposition. literally shielded them with their own bodies getting them to the helicopters. so i had great pride when it was over. it made me realize what other presidents who have had to ask for a declaration of war, what
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it meant. -- >> >> so what was your reaction when you heard about the cale doubles 007 flight. what do you think about that? but >> i'm not sure where i was. i know some had disappeared from the radar squeak screen. there was some question before final than decoration and it was gone and people were dead. then it was just, john, and it verified what i believed about the lack of human life.
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and a lack of respect for human life fell by those in the soviet union. it was following that that i made a statement about and evil empire. >> i want to ask you did call the soviet union the evil empire, and you did see them shoot down the plane. but other times you suggested that you and mr. gorbachev could work together to achieve peace. are those contradictory positions? >> no not at all, i thought from the beginning of this, demonstration when questions were asked of me at the press conference at about in i spoke bluntly about what i felt i knew about them, and the fact that they are expansionist, they are aggressive and they have never withdrawn or retracted the lenin statement that their mission is a one world communist state. but at the same time, we have to live in the world together.
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and i believe, that the only way there will be world war three, is if the soviet union wants a war. if they want peace, there will be peace because no one else wants a war. we certainly don't. i've never known a war in my lifetime, that we started. and so i think, that it is necessary that we face each other. we know they don't like our system, and we don't like their system. but we have to see if we can't manage to get along in the world. and they are the only ones who can cause a war. >> do you expect to have a meeting with mr. gorbachev? >> i'm hoping that that will come about. we have had expressions, that yes they are willing. the ball is in their court.
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we've invited them. and we are ready when they are. but it is necessary for them to know, that we don't have any illusions about them. at the same time we are willing to exist in the world with them. and it is time that we sat down and found out where the parameters are. >> you noted the other day that the soviets spent 500 million dollars, to prop up the marxist regime and nicaragua. the house has refused to commit even 40 million dollars, to help freedom fighters. why have you not been able to convince the people, that the cause of the contrasts and eating the contra's is the right cause? >> i think part of it is the sophisticated disinformation campaign apparatus that the communist bloc has worldwide.
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to where they have been able to confuse a great many of our people. even in terms who use, and i wish we had started doing something that i'm going to do from here on. if we had referred not to the stand in east as, but to the communists, not to the congress which is the freedom fighters, that these are nicaraguans, fighting for freedom in their own country against the communist takeover. when you say those terms polls have revealed, that a lot of our people out there, most people are not fully aware of the countries in central america, who they are what they are and so forth. and hearing these terms descended east a government, the congress and so forth. most people are not sure what side we are on and what is at stake. and after vietnam, there is a holdover of the vietnam syndrome. and people are saying this is the united states picking their
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nose and something has not their business. but when you ask questions, about do you want another cuba on the mainland of the americas here. then the people will say no. they don't want that. so i think part of it is the disinformation that we have not been able to overcome, but also are lack of outright explanation to them. we found a friendly that one speech on nicaragua, in the air, that there was a great turnaround. but that was one speech. the disinformation kept on and on. just like advertising, constantly, it worried away and it gradually went back again to the people. thinking that maybe we're doing the wrong thing and nicaragua. >> what is significance, >>
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okay there's just two questions so left. >> making. good >> ok. >> so if i could leave a couple questions also and you could do those questions that would be great. >> a yes i'd be very happy to. >> your first accomplishment, in 1981 was to push through, a huge text. but now you are fighting for revamping the entire tax code, when did you for start thinking about what you call the disgraceful inequities of the tax system. >> i have always believed in those all the years, it has gotten so complicated i thought that most of our people are many of our people, walk are discuss with the tax system there discussed wasn't based on the size of the tax, but on the
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complication. the confusion of it. and, in 1981 we are faced with the emergency, we felt of the recession back then on what had to be done, so we could not think reform. if you remember in talking about our first tax program, many times we said this is only the first stage. this is not the end. we want to come back. and what we wanted to come back with what is reform, a reform that could make it more fair, more simple and that has been on our minds from the very beginning. >> one last question, then i will leave extra questions with pat. it has been four years since you were shot. how has that attempt on your life changed your life, the way
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you look at things? >> i don't know whether it has changed my life or not. i always was a pretty good boy about minding my security people when they tell me to go somewhere not to go somewhere. it has changed my life physically in a number of ways. now, coupled with the terrorist thing. with the whole terrorist thing, there are things i cannot do anymore, and i recognize it. we cannot go to church, and i miss that. but i recognize, it is not just me. i am a threat to other people. if i go someplace like that with the various terrorist practices, car bombs and everything else, i could be responsible for the lives of other people.
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i am reconciled to that. the whole thing of that shooting, you know, i went all the way to the hospital, i walked into the emergency room on my own not knowing i had been shot. i was shot in midair. secret service behind me -- i thought it was firecrackers. i just finished saying what was that when i was grabbed and thrown into the limousine. the door was open. as it turns out, i was shot on the way in. the bullet careened off the side of the car, came from the gap in the door, the hinge gap. they showed me the bullet. it was flattened and covered with paint from the car. i thought because -- then he did what the secret service practice does. he dived on top of me to shield me. it was then for the first time i felt pain.
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i assumed after all those movies if you were shot, you grab yourself and fell down, i always thought you felt it when it hit you. it was after healing that on me. so i thought he had done it, and feeling thing i can reconcile, the paralyzing pain, was he must have broken my ribs. i told him, get off. and he did, very quickly. by that time, the door was closed and we were moving. he said, sit back. i said, i can't, it hurts too much. by this time i had sat up. suddenly i coughed and i had a handful of blood. i still said i must have punctured my lung. by this time he was saying george washington hospital. i used my handkerchief, then i used up his. it seemed to me i was having -- i was getting less air every time i breathed in. but it was not until they
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peeled me -- because there was no great flow of blood on the outside. it was explained because when they found it back here, it was just a narrow slit. the flattened bullet had gone in edgewise and hit a rib, tumbled down through the lungs, and stopped just short of the heart. afterward, with time of recovery also, i feel self-conscious saying this, i had a feeling that whatever was left in time to me belonged to someone else. >> thank you, mr. president. >> thank you, sir, very much. good to see you again. thank you.
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