tv The Presidency First Ladies in Their Own Words - Nancy Reagan CSPAN August 1, 2022 9:42am-10:25am EDT
have things that she wants to do because women have changed in this time, what women do now has changed. i can be the secretary, school teacher, librarian, a few things, but now women, most women are active. so i just do what you want to do and don't worry about the criticisms. >> thank you for joining us on american history tv for this special look at rosalynn carter in her own words. next week, nancy reagan, the former hollywood actress and first lady of california, who deployed her keen political instincts in the white house to guide ronald reagan's presidency toward success and who humanized the devastating impact of alzheimer's disease with her care for the former president in his final years. american history tv's first lady series is also available as a podcast. you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
on the telepromptu while you're reading words. i hope we're rolling. and mine >> on the teleprompter, while you are reading the words. [laughter] i hope we are rolling. >> am i? [laugters] >> it's just fine with me. >> it appears to an observer that after 33 years of marriage, you two are still absolutely nuts about each other. mrs. reagan, how do you plead? >> guilty. >> mister president, how good a politician is mrs. reagan? >> absolutely sensational. don't you think so? >> took the words right out of my mouth. [laughter] >> mrs. reagan, some people have suggested that you have been the driving force in your husband's career. you want to the presidency more than he did. >> i know. i read that, too.
not true. i thought i married an actor. [laughter] actually, he was asked to run for office soon after we got married, and it turned it down, by the democrats whenhe was still ad democrat. and then, when the governorship came along, i went along with it, but that wasn't something that i had carved out for our future, and certainly the presidency wasn't something that i said, you've got to do this. no. that isn't true. i think that people get mixed up, as far as i'm concerned, in terms of my pushing him, that they don't understand that if he had decided to go into the shoe business, i'd be out pushing shoes! you know,
whatever. >> aren't you glad he didn't? >> yes, that was my next point. my next point was, that actually, as this all turned out, he has given me the most fascinating, interesting, wonderful, frustrating at times, frightening at times, but a life i never, ever, thought i would have. >> that was nancy reagan from a 1985 camp david interview conducted by then nbc news chief white house correspondent, chris wallace. that press and the public never tire about speculating how political this former hollywood actress was and how much influence she had on the 40th president. it wasn't until she left the white house that she felt fully freed to address all those questions in her memoir. her effort, as she said, to let nancy be
nancy. but, she left plenty of clues along the way. her public image in particular was a source of continuing frustration to her. you will hear, in her own voice, how she experienced her white house years, featuring footage from c-span video library. first, nancy reagan on how she tried to counter negative publicity, part of an interview with journalist hedrick smith. she is talking about her 1982 surprise performance for the gridiron club, known for its political parodies. this is nancy reagan in her own words. >> secondhand clothes, secondhand clothes. they are all the rage. at the spring fashion shows. even my new trench coat with for a caller ronnie bought for ten cents on the dollar. secondhand gowns, old hand me downs, that china is the only thing that's new.
even though they tell me i am no longer queen, did ronnie have to buy me that new showing machine? secondhand clothes, secondhand clothes. i sure hope ed miso is. i guess i came around to thinking, well, all right. we will try. i mean, it can't be worse than it was. so, she said, originally, they had thought that i would make fun of the press. and i said, no. no, no. i am not going to do that. the only -- the only way we couldn't do this, is if i make fun of myself. i make fun of myself. then, maybe i have a 50/50 chance here. as you well
know, that first year it was not -- nobody was really crazy about me. i don't think i would've been crazy about me reading what i did about me. press was rough. >> press was rough. >> i really don't know why because it started before i ever got here. they didn't know me. i never did quite figure out why. i didn't know until i read it in your book that they were having meetings about me in the west wing that i was a liability and everything like that. i guess, maybe i was, i was pretty neat gun-shy. it would've been rough. your
inclination is to run and hide in a closet and lock yourself in. you tend to pull back. i do, anyway, when it's that rough. which is the wrong thing to do, you shouldn't do that. but i do. >> you are watching american history tv and listening to nancy reagan in her own words. the same year of her 1982 gridiron club appearance, the first lady spoke to the national federation appearance for a drug free youth. antidrug policies were her signature issue in the white house. during the question and answer period, a young boy started to address her. let's watch. >> and actor billy is going to be topper davis, that will be a question to dr. carleton. >> hello, mrs. reagan. just as a kid, i'd just like to thank you. [applause] thank you. i
really have a whole bunch of questions, but i am going to try to hold it to just one. >> oh, go ahead. [laughter] >> well, like the squeaky wheels, the druggies seem to get most of your attention. what would you recommend for parents and teachers, for us kids, for us many kids, who are responsible and drug free? >> yes. i know, it's true. you are absolutely right. bad news seems to get more attention than good news. as a matter of fact, bill, can i tell this story? bill was -- bill was on a morning show with a couple of his children, and, who had drug problems, but he has another child who has had no drug problems at all. and the two
children that hadn't had drug problems were on the program with him. and it was pretty exciting for them to be on this big show. but the other one i said, dad, you know, i haven't done anything. i've never smoked pot. i've never taken anything, and i don't get to go on national television, and that doesn't seem fair. so, they asked me if i would go on the program, and i said, yes, i will go on, if i can take his other child on. [applause] i'm not through. i've got more. i had a letter from a girl about your age, i think. i made this statement that i thought
probably, most young kids had tried pot at one time or another. and she misunderstood. anyway, there was a misunderstanding. she thought that i said all young people. and she wrote me, indignantly, and said, mrs. reagan, i want you to know that i have never tried drugs. i've never been on drugs. my friends have never been on drugs. and we have no intention of going on drugs, and it's dumb. and i wish you wouldn't say that anymore. i was very happy to get her letter. i thought that was told her that i hadn't really said what she thought i had said. but, you know, it is a terrible problem, isn't it? the whole, not just with drugs, but with everything today. we seem to be
playing up the negative rather than the positive. you have so many positive things that we can talk about, and so many positive things that people do. at the white house, my husband gives awards to people, to young people, two elderly people, too little people who have done really marvelous things, wonderful things that we never hear anything about. but, we hear always about the ones who have done the bad things, the terrible things. we are dragged down by that, i think. oh i would like to see is a little balance. you know? fine to talk about the things that are going on that are wrong, and shouldn't be going on, but for heaven's sakes, let's give a little pat on the back to the people who are out there doing these great things every single day. because, they are out there, and we never
hear about them. i agree with you. it's wrong. [applause] >> late in that reagan's second term, the first lady went to the united nations, where she delivered a blunt warning about the dangers of drug use in the united states and throughout the world. this is nancy reagan in her own words at the united nations. >> it gives me pleasure, on behalf of the third committee to welcome among us today the representative of the united states of america, mrs. nancy reagan, first lady of the united states. and i invite her to make her statements. >> thank you, mister chairman. i am delighted to be here as a member of the u.s. delegation to speak before the third committee of the united nations general assembly on a matter of urgent importance to all of us.
the third committee is now considering agenda items on youth, families, and crime prevention. i want to talk to you about the illegal use of drugs and the direct impacts it's having on families and children. i come before the united nations today as a wife and a mother, and one who has had a unique opportunity to see the impact of the drug problem, not only in the united states, but in many areas of the world. i worked on this problem with many distinguished people represented on this committee. i've had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world, and have seen the problem firsthand. i've also been privileged to work on two occasions with mrs. perez de cuellar. in 1985, she joined me and 29 other first ladies from around the world, and we gathered at the united nations
to discuss the drug issue. our message was this. as mothers, we are concerned. as first ladies, we are committed. and as citizens of the world, we pledge to do all that is possible to stop this scourge. last year, perez de cuellar and i prepared a videotape message for the first international conference on a drug abuse and trafficking. the general. 138 countries join together in declaring and stopping drug abuse and illicit trafficking as a universal priority. i am deeply heartened that the united nations is near completion on a new anti drug trafficking convention that will affirm whatever mother, every parent knows, that drug traffickers are international criminals who deserve no rest or sanctuary. the international efforts against drugs are of vital importance and must be
expanded. i would add, that even though i have some things to say about illegal drug consumption in the united states, i also intend to speak very plainly about the countries that supply this demand. however, let me say at outset that it's the united states alone, which bears responsibility for its own drug problem. i'm not blaming other nations for america's drug problem. while most of the illegal drugs are imported, the drug users are homegrown. to find americas drug problem, we've had to look no further than our own communities, our neighbors, our sons and daughters. to get serious about stopping illegal drugs, there can be no substitute for focusing on that user, and that means confronting all of those citizens who use drugs. now
frankly, it's far easier for the united states to focus on cocoa fields grown by 3000 campesinos in peru, then to shut down the dealer that can be found on the street corner of our cities. it's also easier to make strong speeches about foreign drug lords or drug smugglers, and it to arrest a pair of wall street investment bankers buying cocaine on their lunch break. yes, we need to break the back of the drug cartels. we need to interdict coca fields and narcotics and transit, but we will not get anywhere if we place a greater burden of action on foreign governments than on america's own mayors, judges, and legislators. you, see the cocaine cartel doesn't begin in medellin, it begins in new york, miami, los angeles, every american city where crack is bought and sold. it is the drug
user who makes the cartel possible, who provides the market, who funds the enterprise. and the drug user is on accomplice to every a criminal act, every murder, every terrorist attack carried out by the narcotics syndicate. if we lack the will to fully mobilize the forces of law in our country to arrest and punish drug users, if we can't, if we cannot stem the american demand for drugs, then there will be little hope for preventing foreign drug producers from fulfilling that demand. but if we can control that demand, and curtail the drug consumption in our own country, then our efforts can succeed and the international drug narcotics rings can and will be defeated. now let me state clearly notwithstanding a few voices on the fringe as, i
don't believe the american people will ever allow the legalization of drugs in our country. the consensus again drugs in the united states has never been stronger. we clearly understand the drugs rest may remain illegal in every step of the chain. if it's illegal to grow coca in peru, to process it and do cocaine in columbia, to ship it through the caribbean, then it must be illegal to buy, or use cocaine in the united states. and that is the way that it must and will remain. >> you're watching american history tv, we're listening to nancy reagan in her own words. early in ronald reagan's presidency, he was shot in an assassination attempt as he left washington hotel speech. nancy reagan would later say that the trauma of that day never left her. she talked with c-span's bryan lam about rushing to her husband side. >> we went downstairs, we kept saying i'm going to the
hospital, and he said it's not necessary, he hasn't been heard it's not necessary. and i said, george, you ever get the car or i'm gonna walk. and we got to the hospital, mike deaver met me at the hospital, and said, he has been shot. and there were police all around, and a lot of noise, and they put me in a little small room, there was one desk and one share, that was it. my kept wanting to see ronnie, and they kept saying, he's all right but you
can't see him. and i kept saying, if he's all right why can't i see him. finally they let me see him, he was lying there with that thing on his face to help him breathe. he lifted up, and he said honey, i forgot to duck. >> the first lady was as guarded about the president's political well-being as she was about his physical safety. in that same interview she talked about her political antenna. >> i think i just had little antennas that went up [laughs] and told me when someone had their own agenda and not ronnie's. and then i tell him, he didn't always agree with me,
but i tell him, usually worked out. >> what's the first thing you noticed when somebody had their own agenda? >> you just know, you just -- you can't say, you just know, if you have those antennas [laughs] >> you're watching american history tv and listening to nancy reagan in her own words. in 1994, the former first lady sat down with historian carl anthony before an audience of hundreds at washington's mayflower hotel. she revealed that she had no interest in politics as a young woman, explained why she left her hollywood career behind. she talked about the tumult surrounding her cancer surgery when she lost her mother and prepared for the arrival of the soviet power couple, mikhail and raisa gorbachev. >> join me in a round of applause for nancy reagan. [applause] >> want some water? >> thank you. well, here we are
>> yes. well yes. my mother was a strong democrat, my father really wasn't to interested in politics, he leaned more toward republicans. >> when you were younger what were your politics was it something that you are interested in? >> i didn't know one thing about it. not a thing. and when we got married, i didn't know anything about it, everything i learned, i learned during our courtship and after we were married. [laughs] obviously. >> were you first a democrat? >> i was nothing. [laughs] i don't say that with pride. because that was wrong, and you know, young people in those days weren't as involved politically, and you should be, but truth was i wasn't.
>> if your husband had not continued in politics after the governorship years, do you think you would have gone back to your film career? >> oh, i doubt it, i doubt it. made a conscious decision and ronnie never asked me to do this, i'd seen too many marriages in hollywood fail, with people both in the business. you know, when you are a woman in this business, in that business, everything is done for you on the set and everybody is telling you every minute how deer and darling you are, how wonderful you are. and it's just, i mean it's pretty heady, and when you come home
you expect the same thing. [laughs] and when it isn't given to you, then it's going to be trouble, and i didn't want that to happen. so, i made the choice no, i enjoyed it, i loved it when i was doing it. >> just to touch on one or two of the events and issues of the reagan years. barbara bush has recently said that she was pro-choice, while her husband wasn't. was that similar situation for you and president reagan, agreeing to disagree but not in public? >> why did i know this was going to come up. [laughter] i just knew it was going to come up. well, i don't know where you put me really, i'm against abortion, i don't believe in abortion. on the other hand i
believe in a woman's choice. so, it puts me somewhere in the middle but i don't know what you call that. that's the best way i can answer it. [laughs]. >> also during the period the united states and the soviet union -- gorbachev first came to power after chernenko and andropov, and i don't know -- >> everybody kept dying on us [laughter] >> you felt very strongly about the opportunity there for friendship between your husband and gorbachev, i'm wondering if you could --, you had in a sense of personal influence may have resulted in a political effect?
>> well, it seemed to me so silly, to have these two huge countries here added not have them talking to each other, trying to get together as they say, everybody kept eyeing on us on the other side. so, we needed to wait for somebody to live long enough that we could talk. but, yes, i did feel strongly about that. >> one last question from me, then we're going to take some of the questions that the class had submitted last week. i will read those and if people could stand up and introduce themselves from their seats. one last question though, in october of 1987, the most difficult time probably for you -- cancer surgery, you lost your mother, book came out, written from interviews with
william casey while he was dying in the hospital. and there you were, you had just come out of surgery, how did you cope with all of that and what lay ahead? >> as i look back on it, i don't know, i just don't know. betty rollins wrote a book, i don't know if you know or not, betty rollins wrote a book called,''first you cry'', and i'd had, ronnie and i had never made any secret about as a matter of fact -- doctor's daughter talking. when he had his colon cancer, when he had his his prostate cancer, when he was shot, we were very open
about what happened. and we did, they say, encourage people to go in for exams for their colon or prostate, and in my case breast. now i had heard about betty rollins's book, but i hadn't read it, i didn't have any reason, i didn't think, to read it. but when i had my surgery and i came home, and three days later my mother died. and my mother and i were very close. it was very hard, i hadn't had time to adjust to
the surgery. i never had time to grieve for my mother. i got on a plane and i went right away to phoenix, and did everything you do. but then i had to come back because the gorbachevs were coming. and i had to make all those arrangements. and it'very, very, important -- and i would say to anybody -- mine was a peculiar circumstance -- but it is important to have time to just cry, just let it all out. otherwise, you will end up doing what i do and just almost did, the tears come when you
least expect it and something will trigger it -- you will start to cry. if you had had a chance to really let it out, it would've been so much better. >> do you think that's just because of your own personal nature? or was it because, again, the expectations aofnd the role of first lady, that you had to come back? >> i had no chance, carl. i mean, i came home from the hospital, and three days later, mother was gone. >> theen the gorbachevs came -- >> there was no chance. it was a terrible time. >> first ladies in their own words continues now on american history tv. ronald and nancy reagan's final chapter together was overshadowed by his alzheimer's disease. their long
partnership ended with his death in 2004 at the age of 93. her devoted care led to a shift in her own public image, as americans watched with admiration. and, that 1999 interview with c-span's bryan lam, she confided the death of her loss, as her husband slipped away. >> what did you learn about this disease? >> that it's probably the worst disease you can ever have. >> why? >> because, you lose contact, and you are not able to share. in our case, you are not able to share all those wonderful memories that we have. and we had a wonderful life. >> can you have a conversation that makes sense to you with the president? >> not now. no. >> the letter itself, what were the circumstances in which he wrote the letter? were you with him?
>> i was with him. we were in the library, and we were sitting at the table in the library, and he sat down and wrote it. that was it. >> first draft? >> first draft. he crossed out one word there, or two words. i think it's one. one or two words. i don't know what that was. but only ronnie could write a letter like that. >> as we close our look at nancy reagan, you will hear first how she thought her white house life looked from the outside, and how she actually experienced it. and then, you will hear her talk about why she wrote her memoirs. from a 1989 speech she gave as part of a library of congress symposium. >> i think they thought that the white house was so glamorous, and the role was so -- what you did was so glamorous. your life was so glamorous. always at the
parties, and you are meeting people. you know, i've got to tell you. i've never worked harder in my life. [applause] thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you very much. one of the things i soon realized after i moved to the white house was that the first lady has a tremendous platform which she can use to speak out on various issues, and i chose the drug issue. but ironically, in some ways, a first lady loses her freedom of speech. there were things i longed to say over those eight years. [applause] i couldn't. at times,
it wasn't appropriate. at other times, it would have further complicated my husband's life. i don't mind telling you. it was very frustrating. i was reminded, when i was thinking about this, the first role i ever played on the stage, i played a character who kidnapped and kept up in the attic. then, in the second act, i escaped. i came down on the stage. i said my one line. i had a big part, as you can see. i had my one line, and then they took me back upstairs to the attic again. there were times that i felt that i was in the attic. writing a book was a great relief for me, so in the memoirs, i do talk about the renovation of the white house, the china, about the influence i had on my husband's decision,
astrology, my relationship with reagan and gorbachev. i talk about my own family and my struggles, and the -- i could say what i wanted because my husband didn't have to face any more elections. at first, i had never thought about writing a book. but, the longer we were in the white house, and the more books that seemed to be popping up, i decided that after eight years of silence, i should. we will have to see what the reviewers and the media will think about that. there is a certain dignity in silence which is very appealing to me. i felt that personally, and for my children, and without something too grandiose for history, that i wanted to present my side as those years as first lady. i will tell, you
the hardest part of writing this book, which is called my turn, there is a fine line you have to walk. if you step on one side, you sound defensive. he stepped on the other side, and he sounds like -- i have avoided those pitfalls. i've just been honest with myself and the reader. i've tried to just let nancy be nancy for change. in doing the book, i found that the life of a first lady sometimes it's difficult to explain to those that haven't been through it. one thing most people don't realize, and i certainly didn't realize it until i had gotten a few bumps and scrapes is this law -- you just don't move into the white house. you have to learn how to live there. life in that mansion is different. i don't mean simply because it's the
only house in the country that comes equipped with access to air missiles. i don't mean, when your husband leaves the, house he often was a followed fruit vest. it's not just the knowledge that a military officer with a black briefcase's day or, night always only seconds away from the many married. those things are a price you pay for the honor of living there, and it is an honor. without a moment hesitation, i can tell you, i wouldn't trade our time in the white house for even extra years added onto my life. the remarkable thing is, how magnified life is there at the mansion. the highs are higher. the lows are lower. and, the highs and lows are exaggerated even further by the tremendous power of the media. i was very naive when i arrived, and that sounds strange. i know. simply, after listening to jim and his recitation of the fact that our life had been -- really, all of our adult lives. i was naive. i
remember, during that 1980 campaign, telling howard thomas -- i'm sure you know. there would always be a part of my life that i wouldn't be fine private. she said, you have no idea what it's like until you get there. she was so right. i was completely unprepared for the intense scrutiny. now, i fully realized that in writing my memoirs, i've stripped away even more privacy, privacy that was already tattered following all of the various kiss and tell books. but oddly enough, i felt that i could start rebuilding some private life by being public about some things. and so, that's what i've done. but, no matter what you do, the stories will continue. some are amazing. some are maddening. and some hurt. when i finally
learned is, you don't stop being hurt by some stories, but you do stopping surprise. one area i got a lot of criticism for it was in the close attention to my husband's health and welfare. i believe that this is a first ladies primary concern. she is, first of all, a wife. that's why she is there. and, the book offers no apologies in this regard. a president has advised the council on foreign affairs, on the fence, on economy, on politics, on any number of matters, and no one among all those experts is there to look after him like an individual, with human needs, as a flesh and blood person, who deals with a precious of holding the most powerful position on earth, and that was my job. >> thank you for joining us on american history tv for this special look at nancy reagan in her own words. next week, hillary clinton, and apparently political first lady who successfully ran for the united states senate, service secretary of state, and then