tv The Presidency Ronald Reagan Readers Digest Interview CSPAN May 2, 2022 10:57am-11:45am EDT
digest. you have -- >> yes, yes. >> our editor in chief thought that it might be more effective just one on one. so, can referred to me. >> i remember an interview once i had there, have you ever seen their headquarters? it's kind of a beautiful country home out with spacious lawns. >> it is indeed. president absolutely captivated mick wallace, our founder, for about four and a half hours.
then you finally had to leave and go make the speech. it was a memorable lunch. what we would like to do here sir, is ask you some questions so that our readers here and abroad, about 100 million of them, can have a better idea of president reagan, the main. 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 so long observed from the outside? >> well, first of all i guess one surprise, rather unpleasant or pleasant, was at work how little i was surprised. the eight years as governor of california i realized when i came in here suddenly it wasn't a great shock, as becoming governor had been. the discovery of the routine, scheduling, all of that.
there was added the international situation i, 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. things of that kind. one part that shocked me a little bit was weeks after being here jackie o patrick invited us to a sunday launch. i helicopter picked us up here on the lawn. very shortly we landed there on his farm and he told me that they have been there for several days installing the phones i said, what do you mean installing the phones? that was then i found out i can't even go across town to a lunch or private dinner without phones being installed. it was explained to me, jack
had explained after jacket explained to him wherever i was i had to have the ability to communicate any place in the world. telling him this, they told him he could reach anyone for me. he challenged him on that again. they said, name someone! jack was telling me all this. he named a son of his who was on embassy guard in a country in africa. they caught him on the phone! he and his wife got to talk to their son. they asked him, anyone else? he had another son who was a quartermaster on the uss pratte, a destroyer out in the six fleet in the mediterranean. when he said, can you get him? they said, no. you said you can get anyone. we'll know, the fleet is on maneuvers. the only one who can get to flee when it's on maneuvers is the president. so i, jack was telling me all
this. we got there, we got in the house. i met the young man's wife. very sweet young lady, hadn't seen her husband in months. i excuse myself, i went back out. is this right? i could get someone on the uss pratte, from the sixth fleet. they said, oh yes, sir! we'll get quartermaster kill patrick. i went back and got her. she got to talk to her husband, whom she hadn't seen as i say for all those months. i didn't realize what i had done. it was a surprise to find out with just a few words from me, all have to think a little better because i got a letter from quartermaster kill patrick. he told me that i would be surprised about air traffic was like. i hadn't even thought it through. the last portion of that call would be by radio. he said that, that the air, the
admirals talking to admirals, ships talking to ships, constantly, all of this. and then a voice on the air said white house calling. another voice said, what's code is that. maybe it said, no code it's the white house. not even hollywood could have silenced the air as quickly as it was silent. then he said they came down and got a lowly quartermaster on a destroyer, came to the phone. he wrote this line which i will never forget. it was as if god had called the vatican and asked for an altar boy by name. >> that's great. making that call was obviously not the tough decision you've had to make. what has been the toughest decision? in your four and a half years. >> there are a lot of them. the tough decisions, the ones in which there's so much right on both sides. i make the cabinet over and over, these things in front of me there. i hear it when there's differences of opinion, because
of the split between right and wrong. whenever i make the decision, i have always used the cabinet, as i did as governor, as a 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, are you order our young men in uniform to go someplace where their lives will be endangered. that, is without doubt, the most difficult. >> when you became president, you didn't have any foreign policy experience. has your view of the world changed in the four and a half years? >> well, i have to tell you that the premise is wrong. not being a diplomat in any way, except being the governor of
california. well i did have a foreign policy, if california were a nation it would be the seventh ranked economic power in the world. so i had some interest. and it had the biggest percentage of trade, in and out, of our country, it's by way of california. it wasn't just 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 that if i didn't stop talking about international affairs i never become governor. but i did have that interest. and then, as governor, four times the president asked me to do some missions and aaron's
for him abroad. that took me to 18 different countries in the world. and 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 even many european intellectuals or elitists viewed you have an actor, cowboy with simplistic views of the world he's seen? if it did bother you, do you think that view has been altered during your term? >> well, it didn't 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 was, as you've described it, a -- no, it didn't bother me so much. i do think there has been a change now, now that we become personally acquainted. when i say we i mean heads of state, of a number of our allies. you are all on a very cordial, first name basis in, say, the economic summit. i don't think that prevails nato. >> what's books and what's thinkers most influenced you, before coming to the white house? >> that's a tough question. because i have been a voracious reader, whether it's books,
nonfiction as well as fiction. but that and articles, publications and so forth. i had to try and pick out someone in particular, i just don't think i can. i've opened myself up to just about all the viewpoints there are in that sense. as i, say my greatest dread, my nightmare, is that sometimes 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 didn't read myself to sleep at night. >> you mentioned this before in passing, and i'd like to get back to it, your role as president of the screen actors guild. i've read that that period of your life, perhaps more than any other, shaped your attitudes and your policies. what did your experiences as a labor leader teach you? >> well, 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 that the guild would not be engaged in politics, nor will there be politics in the killed. we believe that our members are every kind of philosophy, so there is no way by majority vote we would be able to take a majority position that would be counter to the views of our members. we also, for two decades i was in charge, most of the time, of our negotiations of a re-institution of the basic contract with the producers. i discovered, i didn't institute it, i discovered it was already there. the screen actors guild had its own rule, which was --
the qualities i could be. and we stuck to those things. i had the pleasure, after some of those years of negotiating, to have the head of one of the studios, who is always very prominent in their negotiating committee, tell me one day that, when the guild was first proposed, the idea of an actor's guild, but he was the one who fought the hardest against it. but he said, i've 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 the communists? over control of the screen actors guild. >> yes. and, incidentally, i was a new deal democrat fresh out of the war, out of uniform. we got out and there had been the wave of el-sisi i have had
pledged, no strikes. yet, of the 40 guilds and the motion picture business, most of us were a of al cio unions. the strike was a jurisdictional strike. it was called over whether some 350 people in the whole picture industry should be members of a stagehands union or members of the trade unions. we had that mix. back from the days of a great strike on broadway, in the theater days. there had been a tradition in the picture business to reconcile the differences between stagehands. what had happened in the theaters, in the old days, was that a stage handed everything in the theater. not just backstage with the stage. so, if a c needed fixing out front, he came out like a carpenter in fixed the seat. this had led to the jurisdictional strike on broadway. and the settlement finally was
that everything behind the press any a march belong to the stagehands, everything in front of it belong to the craft unions, but plumbers and crafters and carpenters and so forth. in hollywood, they made the press any a march the sound staged or. anything in there was stagehands, but every studio had mills where they made, in sections, the sets. you see at the end of the day the sets for the next days shooting, being wheeled down on rollers down the studio streets. huge sections, like a whole wall of this room here. all of it. into the soundstage. in the soundstage, then, the stagehand union put these pieces together. they were then behind the proscenium arch. the issue that they picked for this jurisdictional strike was
that the set directors should be carpenters. carpenters worked in the middle and made those sections, these fellows only put them together. this led to the jurisdictional strike. but the then-star 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 cio unions. they had formed a rump group, called the hollywood conference of studio unions. that's was in contrast to the afl-cio labour council. they were on one, side we were on the other. now, i was not prepared, i was not a red bader with. as i, say i was a new deal
democrat. i had never gone for all of the stories. i've been told, after i got back by some, that there had been this kind of infiltration into the picture business. i wasn't prepared to believe it. i am 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, as long as there was this difficulty, that both sides giving a different reason as why there is a strike. why didn't we, the actors, who were involved in any way in that jurisdictional thing, why didn't we invite management and both factions to sit down at a table with us present, as a labor union, to kind of be the mediator there? and to protect against men who had nothing to do with the strike. to sit down and find out, because we had to tell our
members whether to go through those picket lines were not. how do you take sides, when a lot of the unions are in the studios and a lot of them are out on the street picketing? 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 didn't see any way that they could say no. we met twice a day, as it ended up, for almost seven months. trying to settle these things. but before long, there was no question about it and i was completely converted when i found out that, yes, this was not a legitimate strike. i learned it even better when we had made that decision and called a mask meeting of the screen actors for the hollywood legion fight stadium.
it was voted that i was going to report the results 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. and that was to be on a wednesday night, and on a monday afternoon i was on location for a picture we are making down on the beach. i was called to the phone at an oil station. some distance away, they came and got me. drove me down there. i was told, on the phone, that if i made that report to the guild membership there was a squad that would see that i never worked in pictures again. and so, i made the report to the guild. there are pickets outside the guild meeting and so far, i had
a three quarters of a block walk to where my car was parked afterwards. and i felt very comfortable when i found that eight of my teamsters union, all about the size of pro football players just walk to the car with me and before, that by the time i got back to the studio that day, after that call, i've never heard of this in a law enforcement before. but the burbank police, in which the studio is located, they had representatives at the studio. special police, which were the guards of the studio were assigned to my house for 24 hours a day, around the clock. they also gave me a permit hung a revolver under my arm in a shoulder holster.
that was the beginning, i guess you didn't want the whole load on the strike but it did go on for a number of months. finally, there was no given at all. we kept the studios opened with the help of the unions, as well as a help from the cameras. finally it just was a case of, we said to the people all on strike, you can get into the studio the best ways you know how. in some of those meetings with the strike committee, they weren't all communists. i actually sat and heard union executives of some of the unions speaking to their chairman and saying, look! we know 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.
that was the history of it. it was in that that i learn something that set the stage for me as governor, and later on here. i, during all of those months, why couldn't help but be timed where i said to myself, who am i? who am i to make these decisions for hundreds of thousands of actors and actresses whose careers are at stake. i found out, when they recommended what i would do, then i finally decided the only way i could sleep at night was to make up my mind that, if i did what i honestly believed in my heart was right, i may make a mistake but if i honestly believed it was the right thing to do, 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. we would make the decision on that basis, not on any political basis. i found that i do sleep very well. >> if i could ask you one more hollywood question. as an actor you played many, many, rolls. is there anyone role you would have liked to have play but never got the opportunity to? >> oh, [laughs] i have to tell you, there were many such! once you're in that business and doing it you see a picture and think, oh boy. and then you find out the things you said, that he would've done differently, so forth. there was one! being under contract in morneau brothers, a picture called
santa fe trail, i played the second lead. i was not a star than, to errol flynn. it was a historical picture, and he played jeb stewart and i played george kuster. all the others were there. we just graduated west point, into the cavalry. it was really the story of the capture of john brown. i play that, i always loved -- these people who say, cowboy actor. good lord! my biggest fight with warner brothers after they wouldn't let me do pictures like that during 13 years. i was doing the drawing room comedies. then they made, they died with their boots on. the story of george kuster. having played him once, oh boy, i wanted to play that part! i went to the head of warner brothers and i begged and so forth. i said, i play customer once!
but, errol flynn played george foster. i didn't get to. >> commentators on some former presidents have talked of the loneliness of the presidency, of the burdens of the presidency. you seem to approach the job with great relish. do you find lonely or burdensome? how would you describe it? >> no, i don't. i surrounded myself with people that i had confidence in, who i believe in. i don't think i sat here all alone and decided everything about myself. as i say i want to hear everybody's viewpoint. i don't give any indication of where i lean while i hear those viewpoints. i have had people in our cabinet who were cabinet officers under other presidents tell me that they had never been in cabinet meetings that were as fruitful before. evidently a lot of presidents
just simply use their cabinet as kind of a, they would meet periodically indifferent members would report whatever departments we're doing. the word that i have gone from these others as they never found -- regardless of whether it affected their particular agency, they were all involved in the discussion. but no, maybe again it was the eight years experience, i have to believe for many years recently we have taken our presidents from the ranks of the legislators. i think the best training, the closest job to being president in the united states is being a governor. a legislator is used to being in a group, on a committee, making decisions on a voting basis, majority rule. only a governor has sat there and finally knows that the
final say has got to be his or her. maybe that's it, i attribute part of this to that. i don't say that it is easy a lot of decisions after i've heard all of that, as a say where there is so much right on both sides, that are very difficult. no, i don't have that feeling. >> every day you receive detailed intelligence briefings on the entire world. what information you've received most shocked or worried you? >> the, well, of course the greatest shaq was a telephone call on a weekend about 3:00 in the morning when a few of us, don regan, george schultz and us were down at augusta country
club. we had gone down at george schultz's invitation for a weekend of golf. it was the word about the bombing of the marines in lebanon. the, there is no way to describe the horror and the grief, as the word came in about that. in this other, my great concern stems from that same thing, the increased use of terrorism. we have to believe is backed by some governments. it is so hard to -- look because unless you can infiltrate and know in advanced what is being planned, there is no way to know where they will strike next.
you can retaliate with just outright revenge with just outright -- with as much horror as you could hold. i never believe that we have the right to go into the area of people of the same general background to slaughter them in revenge. it is one of the most frustrating and, one causing the greatest concern because you know that you can't abandon your positions in the world. you cannot withdraw ambassadors or diplomatic staff because the terrorists have won. you can't allow them to do that. but you know that those people out there are risk every minute. >> if i could ask you for your reaction to two other moments of crisis in your administration, what was your
feeling when you decided, finally, to send american troops to grenada? >> this, again, you knew that there were going to be a hazard. that you are endangering their lives. on that same weekend as the blow up in lebanon, beirut. of all things this also woke us before dawn with a phone call. it seemed that several small island states, those that had been in the commonwealth of the united kingdom, they had this word of what was going on in grenada. they felt that it was of such importance that action had to be taken. they were all in a union
together with grenada. they knew, some of them don't even have an army. they knew that they did not have the military strength to do it. they made an out request to us. i did not feel that there was any way, in the face of the evidence that we presented, that we could turn down that request and ever be trusted or believed any place in the free world. sitting there in those before dawn hours on the phone, george bush on this end of the emergency group assembled, we made the decision we were going to do what they asked. we were going to join. it was an international thing although we provided the bulk of the force. when the chiefs of staff or interested with putting the
mission together i made only one suggestion. i said, when you decide how many you think it will take, then double it. this one we managed to keep a complete secret. it worked, there were some death, but i've never been so proud of anything in my life as i have been of those young men in uniform of the four branches of service involved. when -- i leftists how i should not have left this out. this is a great consideration of ours. we had 800 young medical students, americans, on that island. the thought of another hostage situation with 800 young americans, there was no way we could tolerate that. and so, that was the big deciding factor, in addition to the other thing that i said.
about 400 of them came here said thanks on the south lawn. we had about 40 of the returned serviceman. back from the four, ten each from the force services to see these young people, they were all young people. people in uniform and the medical students, those medical students could not keep their hand off of them! i never really thought much about the people in uniform before, they were that rebellious type, but not anymore! they said, they saved our lives! i heard a story of some in their dormitory had been under the bed for 24 hours, bullets coming through the building. they said from downstairs they heard a voice, it was an american sergeant, ranger. identified himself and called out for them to come down. they told him, these students told me, he said the rangers were there to take them to the
helicopters. they told us, when they went to the helicopters those young men in uniform put themselves between the students and where any fire would come from from the hills in the opposition. literally shielded them with their own lives in getting them to the helicopters. so, i had a great pride when it was over. it made me realize what other presidents who have had to ask for a declaration of war what it meant. >> one other reaction question. what was your reaction when you heard about k al flight 007 being shot down? and how did you hear about it? >> i'm trying to think now, where i was.
you know, i can't remember exactly where i was. as you'll remember, there was some, it had disappeared from the radars, so there was still some question before final verification of what had actually happened to it. that it was gone in the people were dead. of course it was shock, even though i thought that it was -- and verified what i believe about the lack of respect for human life that is felt by those in charge of the soviet union. it was following that that i made a statement about an evil empire. >> i wanted to ask you, you did call the soviet union the evil empire. you've seen the soviets
shootdown o of seven and murder and american major. at other times you've suggested that you and mr. gorbachev can work together to achieve piece. are those contradictory positions? >> no, not at all. i felt, from the beginning of this administration, when questions were asked of me and press conferences and so forth about the soviet union, i spoke bluntly about what i felt that i knew about them. and the fact that that they are expansionist, they are aggressive, i have never withdrawn or retracted the lenín statement that their mission is a one world communist state. but, at the same time, we have to live in the world together. and i have to, you i believe, the only way there will be world war iii's if the soviet union want 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 of a war in my lifetime that we started. so, i think it is necessary that we face each other. we know that they don't like our system or us, and we don't like their system. but we have to see if we can't get along in the world. and as i say, they're the only ones who can cause a war. >> do you expect to be meeting with mr. gorbachev? >> i'm hopeful that will come about. we've had expressions that yes, they are willing. the ball is in their court. we've invited them, it's our turn to invite. we are ready when they are. it's necessary for them to know that we don't have any illusions about them.
but, at the same time, were willing to exist in the world with them. it's time that we sat down and found out where the parameters are. >> you noted the other day that the soviets have spent $500 million to prop up a marxist regime and nicaragua. but the house has refused to commit even $14 million to help freedom fighters. why have you not been able to convince the people that the cause of the contras and aiding the contras is the right cause? >> i think part of it is the sophisticated disinformation campaign apparatus that the communist bloc has, worldwide. to where they have been able to confuse a great many of our people. even the terms we use, i wish we hadn't, i wish we started doing something i'm going to do from here on. if we head referred not to the
sand in east does but to the communist. not to the contras but to the freedom fighters. these are nicaraguans, fighting for freedom in their own country against a 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. hearing these term, sandinista government, contra and so far. most people aren't sure what side were, on what's at stake. after vietnam, there is a holdover of the vietnam syndrome. there's a feeling that this is the united states taking our nose and something that's not of our business. yet, when you ask them in polls questions about, do you want another cuba on the mainland of the americas? a communist. then, the people will say no, they don't want that.
so, i think part of it of the disinformation, and we haven't been able to overcome it. but also our lack of outright explanation to them. we found, after i made that one speech on nicaragua, on the air, there was a great turnaround. but that was one speech. the disinformation kept on and on and on. just like advertising constantly, it wore it away and gradually back to the people. thinking, oh, maybe we're doing the wrong thing and nicaragua. >> what is the significance of -- >> last question? >> well -- >> two questions, make them good. >> i'll make them good. mister president, if we could do what we did when we interviewed you in 81, if there's still more questions could i leave them with path and he could get them to you in the next couple of days to do those? that would be fine.
>> i'd be happy to. being a reader of readers digest. >> well, thank you. your first accomplishment in 1981 with a push through a huge tax cut. now you're fighting for revamping of the entire tax code. when did you first start thinking about what you call the disgraceful inequities of the tax system? >> well, i've always believed in those. i always, well for a lot of years. i think it has gotten so out of line, so complicated. i have thought but most of our people, many of our people, they discussed with the tax system wasn't based on the size of the tax, but on the complication. the confusion of it. in 81, we were faced with the emergency, we felt, of the recession then and what had to be done. so, we couldn't think reform. but if you'll remember, in
talking about our first tax program, many times, we said this is only the first stage. this isn't the end, we want to come back. and what we wanted to come back with was a reform that could make it more fair, more simple. so, that's been on our minds from the very beginning. >> okay, one last question and then i will leave the extra questions with pat. it's been four years since you were shot. how is that attempt on your life changed your life, the way you look at things? >> i don't know whether it's changed my life or not. i always was a pretty good boy about minding the security people when they told me not to go, they're not to go there. it has changed my life physically in a number of ways. now, that coupled with the whole terrorist thing. it wasn't just that. with the whole terrorist thing,
there are things that i can't do anymore and i recognize it. for example, we can't go to church and i miss that. and i recognize, it's not just me, i am a threat to other people. if i go to some place like that, with the various terrorist practices, car bonds and everything else, i could be responsible for the lives of a lot of other people. so, i'm reconciled to that. the whole thing of that shooting, though, i went all the way to the hospital and walked into the emergency room on my own, not knowing i had been shot. i was shot in mid air, when the secret service were behind me. i thought it was firecrackers. i had just finished saying what's the was that, when i was grabbed and thrown into the limousine. the door was open. and, as it turns out, i was
shot on the way in, the bullet careened off the side of the car, came through the gap between the door, the hinge gap between the door in the side of the car. the reason, is they showed me the bullet after they got it out and it was flattened and covered with black paint from the car. because then he did what is secret service practice, he dived into the car on top of me to shield me. it was then, for the first time, that i felt pain. i always assumed, after all those movies where if your shot you grab yourself and looked agonized and fell down, i always thought you felt it when you hit when it hits you. i didn't. it was after he landed on me. so, i thought that he'd done it. i thought would happen, the only thing i could reconcile with the paralyzing pain, was that he must broken my ribs. i told him, get off. and he did very quickly, got up. by that, time the door was closed and we are moving. he said, sit back.
i said, i can't, it hurts too much. by this, time i had sat up. and suddenly, i coughed and i had a handful of blood. once again, i still said, i must have punctured my long. by this time he was saying george washington hospital. i used my handkerchief and then i used up his, and continued coughing. i've got a little scared, because it seemed to me i was having, i was getting less air every time i breathed in. but it wasn't until they peeled me, because there was no great flow of blood or anything on the outside. and then it was explained. because, when they found it back, here it was just a narrow slit and the flattened bullet had gone in edgewise and it hit a rib and that it tumbled down through the long and stopped short of the heart.