tv The Presidency First Ladies in Their Own Words - Nancy Reagan CSPAN August 1, 2022 8:32pm-9:15pm EDT
on american history tv for this special. look at rosalyn 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 towards success and who humanized the devastating impact of alzheimer's disease with her care for the former president and his final years american history tvs first lady series is also available as a podcast you can find iton the telepromptu 'e
reading words. i hope we're rolling. and mine it's just fine with me. it appears to an observer that after 33 years of marriage you too are still absolutely nuts about each other mrs. reagan. how do you plead guilty? mr. president how good a politician is mrs. reagan? oh, absolutely don't you think so? the words right out of my mouth. i think she prompting you again. is reckon some people have
suggested that you have been the driving force in your husband's career and that you wanted the presidency more than he did. yeah. i know i've read that too. not true. i i thought i married an actor. and actually, he was asked he was asked to run for office. soon after we got married and turned it down by the democrats when he sold democrat. and then when the governorship came along i went along with it, but that wasn't something that i had carved out for for our future and certainly the presidency wasn't something that i said you've got to do this. no that that isn't true. i think what people get mixed up. as far as i'm concerned and this whole thing of my my pushing 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 yeah, that was my next point. my next point was that that actually as it's all turned out. he's given me the most. fascinating interesting wonderful frustrating at times frightening at times but a life i never ever thought i'd have. that was nancy reagan from a 1985 camp david interview conducted by then. nbc news chief white house correspondent chris wallace. the press and the public never tired of speculating about how political this former hollywood actress actually was and how much influence she had on the 40th president.
it wasn't until she left the white house that she felt fully free 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'll hear in her own voice how she experienced her white house years featuring footage from c-span's video library. first nancy reagan on how she tried to counter negative publicity part of an interview with journalist hedrick smith. she's talking about her 1982 surprise performance at the gridiron club pressed dinner in washington known for its political parodies. this is nancy reagan in her own words. second hand clothes secondhand closed they're all the rage at the spring fashion shows. even my two new trench coat with
for color ronnie bought for 10 cents on the dollar. secondhand gowns old hand-me-downs. the china is the the only thing that's new. even though they tell me i'm no longer queen. did ronnie have to buy me that new sewing machine. secondhand closed second-hand clothes, i sure sure hope ed me so i guess i came around. to thinking well, all right. we'll try. i mean it can't be worse than it was you know, and so she said originally they had thought that i would make fun of the press. and i said, no no that i'm not going to do that. the only the only way we could do this is if i make a fond of myself.
i make fun of myself. then maybe i have a 50/50 chance here. as you well know. that first year was not. nobody was really crazy about me and i don't think i'd have been crazy about me reading what i did. about me press was rough. press was rough. i and i i and i really don't know why because it started before i ever got here. they didn't me. and i never did quite figure out why but anyway. i didn't know until i read in your book that. that they were having meetings about me and over in the west wing that i was a liability and everything like that. well, i guess maybe i was i was pretty gun shy i mean it had
been rough. and your inclination is to run and hide in the closet and lock yourself in. you know you you tend to pull back when it's i do. anyway, what is that rough? which is the wrong thing to do you shouldn't do that, but i do. you're 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 of parents for drug-free youth anti-drug policies were her signature issues in the white house during the question and answer period a young boy stood to address her. let's watch after billy is going to be topper davis and that will be a questions to dr. carlton, dr. turner well, mrs. again,
just as a kid. i just like to thank you. and really have a whole bunch of questions, but i'm gonna try and hold it to just one. oh, go ahead. well, like the squeaky wheels the druggie seem to get most of your attention, what would you meant for parents and teachers for us kids for us many kids who are responsibility and drug-free. i know it's it's true. you're right. you're absolutely right. the bad news seems to get more attention than than good news. a matter of fact bill. can i tell this story? dell was going to bill was on a morning show with a couple of his children and who had had
drug problems? but he has another child who was had no drug problems at all. and the two children who had had drug problems were on the problem with him. i was pretty exciting to them to be on this big show. but the other one said dad you know, i haven't done anything. i've never 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'll go on if i can take his other child. i'm not through i've got more.
um, i had i had a letter from a girl about age i think. i made the statement that i thought probably most. young kids had tried pot at one time or another and she misunderstood or or was anyway, there was a misunderstanding. he thought that i said all young people. and she wrote me indignantly and said mrs. reagan. i want you to know that i've 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 that i thought that was wonderful and i wrote her told her i hadn't really said what i'd said. but you know, it's it is a terrible. problem, isn't it in in the
whole not just with drugs, but with everything today we seem to be playing up the negative rather than the positive and there's 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 to elderly people the middle people who have done really marvelous things wonderful things that we never hear anything about but we hear always about the the ones who've done. the bad things the terrible things and we're dragged down by that i think. and all i would like to see is a little balance, you know find 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, but we never hear about them and i agree with you that it's wrong late in the 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 community to welcome among us today men do better relay, they representative of the united states of america nancy reagan mrs. nancy reagan one first lady of the united states and i invite her to make her statement. thank you, mr. chairman. i'm delighted to be here the member of the us 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 impact is having on families and especially 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 when we gathered at the united nations to discuss the drug issue. our message was this. as mothers were concerned. as first ladies were committed. and his citizens of the world we pledged to do all its possible to stop the scourge. last year mrs. perez de cueira and i prepared a video tape message for the first international conference on drug abuse and the illicit trafficking. at that conference held at the initiative of the secretary general 138 countries joined together and declaring that stopping drug abuse and illicit trafficking is a universal priority. i'm deeply heartened that the united nations is near completion. new anti-drug trafficking convention that will affirm what every mother every parent knows
that drug traffickers are international criminals who deserve no rest or sanctuary. the international efforts against drugs are a vital importance and must be expanded. and i would add that even though i have some harsh 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 the 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 home grown to find america's drug problem. we've had to look no. other than our own communities our neighbors our sons and daughters. to get serious about stopping
illegal drugs that can be no substitute for focusing on the user and that means confronting all those citizens who use drugs. now frankly it's far easier for the united states to focus on coco fields grown by 300,000 campesinas in peru than to shut down the dealer who can be found on the sheet corner of our cities. it's often easier to make strong speeches about foreign drug lords. or drug smugglers and 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 eradicate coco fields and interdict narcotics and transit. but we will not get anywhere. from place a greater burden of action on foreign governments than on america's mayors judges and legislators you see the cocaine cartel doesn't begin and
meadow lane it begins in the streets of new york miami los angeles. every american city or crack is bought and sold. it's the drug user who makes the cartel possible. who provides the market who funds the enterprise? and the drug user is an accomplished to every 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 step because we cannot stem the american demand for drugs. then there will be little hope of preventing foreign drug producers from fulfilling that demand. but if we can control that demand and curtail the drug consumption in our own. then our efforts can succeed and the international drug narcotics rings can and will be defeated.
now, let me stay clearly. not withstanding a few voices on the fringes. i don't believe the american people will ever allow the legalization of drugs in our country the consensus against drugs in the united states has never been stronger. we clearly understand the drugs must remain illegal at every step in the chain. if it's a legal to draw to grow cocoa in peru to process it into cocaine in colombia to ship it through the caribbean then it must be a little legal to buy or use cocaine in the united states. and that is the way it must and will remain. you're watching american history tv, and 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 a washington hotel speech nancy reagan would later say that the trauma of
that day never left her. she talked with c-span's brian lamb about rushing to her husband's side. we got downstairs and he kept saying you i said i'm going to the hospital and he said it it's not necessary. he hasn't been hurt. they're the it's not necessary. and i said george. you either get the car or i'm going to walk. and we got to the hospital. and my 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 chair. how was it? and i kept wanting.
to see ronnie here and they keep saying what he he's all right, but you can't see him and i kept saying well if he's all right. why can't i see him? and finally they let me see him he was lying there with that thing on his. face to help him breathe and lifted it up and that's when he said honey. i forget. 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. think i just had little antennas that went up. and told me when somebody had their own agenda and not and not
ronnie's and and then i tell him. he didn't always agree with me, but i tell him. and usually worked out. what was the first thing that you would notice when somebody had their own agenda? i you just know you just you can't say there's something that you you just know if you're if you have those antennas. 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 and explain 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 mchale and raisa gorbachev. join me in a round of applause
television. your mother was a very strong democrat and your father a republican. yes. well, yes, my mother was a very strong democrat. my father really wasn't too interested in politics, but lent lean more to republicans when you were younger. what were your politics or was it something that even interested? you 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 and after we were married obviously, so were you were you first were you a democrat when you i was nothing? i don't say that with pride because that was wrong and i you know. but young people in those days
weren't as involved politically and and you should be but truth it was i wasn't. well 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. i i made a conscious decision and and ronnie never asked me to do this but i'd seen too many marriages in hollywood. fail because with people with both in the business you know when you're a woman. in this business in that business everything is done for you on the set and everybody is
telling you every minute how dear and darling you are how wonderful you are. and it's just i mean, it's pretty heady and then when you come home, you expect the same thing. and when it is given to you, then there's gonna be trouble and i didn't 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 just one or two. of the events and issues of of the reagan years now barbara bush has recently said that she was pro-choice while her husband wasn't was that a similar situation for you and president reagan agreeing to disagree but not public or why did i know this was going to come up? i just know was gonna come up. well i don't know where you'd
put me really. i'm against abortion. i don't 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. and also during the during the period united states and soviet union. well when gorbachev first came into power after chenango and and drop off and i don't know who else was everybody kept dying on us. you felt very strongly about the opportunity there. for friendship between your husband and gorbachev i'm
wondering if you could i mean you had an in a sense again a personal influence which may have resulted in a political effect. well, it just seemed to me. so silly to have these two huge countries. here and not we have them talking to each other and try to try to get together. but as i say everybody kept dying on us on the other side and so we had to wait till somebody would live long enough that we could. that we could talk and and but i did yes, i did feel strong about that. and one one last question for me, and then we're going to take some of the questions that the class submitted last week. and when i will read and people can. stand up. introduce themselves from their
seats one last question though october of 1987 the most difficult time probably for you. cancer surgery. you lost your mother. book came out i ran contra supposedly written from interviews with william casey while he was done in the hospital. and there you were you had just come out of surgery. how did you how did you cope with all of all of that and what lay ahead? as i look back on it. i don't know. i just don't know and i betty rollins wrote a book. i don't know whether you know or not but betty rollins wrote a book called first you cry. and i've had. ronnie and i had never made any secret about as a matter of fact we doctor's daughter talking
when he had his colon cancer when he was prostate cancer. when he was shot. we were very we were very open about. what happened and and we did they say encourage people to go in for for exams for their colon or the prostate in my case breast. now i didn't. i'd heard about betty rollins book, but i hadn't read it. i i didn't know any 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. and i hadn't had time to adjust to the surgery and i never had time to grieve for my mother. i had i got on a plane and i went right away to phoenix. and and did everything you do. and but then i had to come back because the garbage house were coming. and i'd like all those arrangements. and it's very very important and i would say to anybody up mine was a peculiar circumstance, but it is important to have a time to just cry. just let it all out.
otherwise you'll end up doing what i do and just almost did. the tears come when you least expect it and something will trigger it and and you start to cry. but if you'd had a chance. to really let it out. there would have been so much better. you think that's that's just because your own personal nature or was it because the again the expectations of the role of first lady that you had to come back and i had no chance carl there wasn't there wasn't i mean i came home from the hospital in three days later. mother was gone. i the gorbache chips came from the train. there was no. there was no chance. there was a 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. in that 1999 interview with c-span's brian lamb. she confided the depth of her loss as her husband slipped away. what have you learned about this disease? that is probably the worst disease you can ever have. because you lose contact. and you're not able to share. in our case, you're not able to share all those wonderful memories. that we have and we had we had a wonderful life. can you have a conversation that makes sense to with the president? not now.
the letter itself, what were the circumstances and which he wrote the letter were you with him when he was with him? we were in the library and he was sitting at the table in the library. and he sat down and wrote it and that was it first draft first draft. he crossed out one word there or two or two or i think it's one one or two words. i don't know what the what that was. but only ronnie could write. a letter like that. as we close our look at nancy reagan, you'll hear first how she thought her white house life looked from the outside and how she actually experienced it and then you'll 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 your role was
so what you did was so glamorous your life was so glamorous. and all they saw were. the parties and the meeting people and you know, and i've got to tell you i never worked harder in my life. here, thank you. thank you. thank you very much. one of the things i soon realized after i moved to the white house. was it the first lady has a tremendous platform? which you can use to speak out in various issues and i chose the drug issue. but ironically in some ways a first lady loses your freedom of speech. there were things i long to say
over those eight years. but i couldn't. at times it wasn't appropriate at other times it would have been it would have further complicated. my husband's life. and i don't mind telling you it was very frustrating. i i was reminded when i was thinking about this the first role that i ever played on the stage. i played a character who've been kidnapped and and kept up in the attic. then in the second act i they i escaped. and i came down on the stage, and i said my one line i had a big part as you can see and i had my one line and then they took me back. upstairs to the attic again and there were times that i felt. that i was in the attic. but writing the book was a great release for me.
so in the memoirs i do talk about the renovation of the white house the china. about the influence. i was said to have had on my husband's decision astrology my relationship with don reagan and rice a gorbachev. i talk about my own family and his troubles and all the things i didn't think i could comment on at the time. and i could say what i wanted because my husband didn't have to face any more elections. at first i'd never thought about writing a book, but the longer we were in the white house and the more books that seem to be popping up. i decided that after eight years of silence i should. and we'll have to see what the reviewers and the people think about that but there is a certain dignity in silence, which is very appealing to me. but i felt that personally and for my children and without sounding to grandiose.
for history that i wanted to present my side of those eight years as first lady. i'll tell you the hardest part in writing this book, which is called my turn. there's a fine line you have to walk. you step on one side and you sound defensive you step on the other side and you sound like you're trying to get even. i hope i've avoided those pitfalls. i just being honest with myself and thus the reader. i've tried just to let nancy be nancy for a change. and doing the book. i found that the life of a first lady sometimes difficult to explain to those who haven't been through it. one thing most people don't realize and i certainly didn't realize it until i'd gotten a few bumps and scrapes is this you just don't move into the white house. you have to learn how to live there. life in that mansion is different. and i don't mean simply because
it's the only house in the country that comes equipped with surface to air missiles. and i don't mean because when your husband leaves the house you often wears a bulletproof vest. it's not just the knowledge that the military officer with a black briefcase containing a nuclear codes is day or night always only seconds away from the man you married. those things are a price you pay for the honor of living there and it is an honor. without a moment's hesitation. i can tell you i wouldn't trade our time in the white house for even. extra years added on to my life. the remarkable thing is how magnified life is there that the mansion? the highs are higher the lows are lower. and the highs and lows are exaggerated even further by the tremendous scrutiny of the media. i was very naive when i arrived and that sounds strange. i know. particularly after listening to jim and the his recitation of
the fact that our life had been a public life really all of our adult lives, but i was naive i remember during the 1980 campaign telling helen thomas. the reporter for upis i'm sure you know. that there would always be a part of my life. that would be private. and she said you have no idea what it's like until you get there and 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 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 amusing some are maddening and some hurt. what i finally learned is that you never stopped being hurt by such stories, but you do stop being surprised. one of the areas where i got a lot of criticism of course was in the close attention to my husband's health and welfare. but i believe that this is the first lady's primary concern. she is first of all a wife. that's why she's there. and the book offers no apologies in this regard. a president has advises to counsel him on foreign affairs on defense on an economy on politics on any number of matters. but no one among all those experts is there to look after him as an individual with human needs. as a flesh and blood person whom was dealed with the pressures 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 and nancy reagan in her own words next week hillary