WASHINGTON — Read the newly published "The Reagan Diaries" if you want a true insight into the mind of the nation’s 40th president.
The diaries — written daily from 1981 until President Ronald Reagan left office in 1989 — reveal him to be much more involved in the nitty gritty of national and world affairs than many White House reporters thought. He had often been portrayed as a detached "chairman of the board" kind of president.
The diaries show that Reagan had something to say about everything and everybody; his thoughts were often summarized in one handwritten sentence. His notations mixed the profound with the trivial.
Historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited the publication of the diaries, had to toss out chunks to boil the entries down to a 696-page memoir. But no one is short changed.
Reagan comes across as deeper, funnier, more religious and more humble than he seemed when he was striding across the world stage. He is true to his public persona — foe of Communism, tax increases and organized labor — and often the news media.
The diaries are replete with his devotion to his wife Nancy and his despair at being "lonely" when she was not around.
On July 6, 1983, Reagan said: "Nancy’s birthday! Life would be miserable if there wasn’t a Nancy’s birthday. What if she’d never been born? I don’t want to think about it."
Also revealing were his tensions with his children — Ronald Reagan Jr., who he said was anxious to shed his Secret Service protection, and Patti who Reagan said had a "yo-yo relationship" with the family, whatever that means.
A former Hollywood star, he was an avid movie fan. He chafed at having to wear a bullet-proof vest. And he resented as a "d..n gross violation of privacy" the fact that he had to make public every gift, even those from his personal friends.
There were many serious notes about the Middle East often followed by a reference to watching a movie or "watching the ‘Waltons on TV’ and so to bed."
Here’s how Reagan recalled his thoughts after he was shot in the lung by John Hinckley on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel as he walked toward his limousine. He was rushed to George Washington University Hospital and wrote:
“I was getting less and less air. I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn’t ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. Isn’t that the meaning of the lost sheep?"
Unlike President Richard M. Nixon, he did not have an "enemies list" of members of the press, but he was often outraged with the news media.
When Richard Allen, his first national security adviser, was accused of accepting gifts from the Japanese government, Reagan wrote: "The press has really been a lynch mob and I don’t think they will stop which is why he can’t be back in N.S.C. (National Security Council)."
In another entry, Reagan says: "Press Conference day. I think it was a good one but the ‘pack’ was blood thirsty."
"The press isn’t after news. They want to trap you in a goof," he said at another point.
On June 7, 1981, he wrote: "Got word on Israeli bombing of Iraq nuclear reactor. I swear I believe Armageddon is near."
He recorded his observations about friend and foe.
On Oct. 13, 1981 Reagan said he met with "J.C." — former President Jimmy Carter — adding: "I expected the worst, but he was cordial, friendly and just exchanged views on the Middle East, etc."
Reagan had a friendly relationship with House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O’Neill, D-Mass., but that did not stop him from getting angry.
"Just saw a fund-raising letter signed by Tip O’Neill for Dem. Cong. Committee," he said. "It is the most vicious pack of lies I’ve ever seen. It’s aimed at Sr. Citizens & has me out to destroy Medicare & Social Security. We can’t let him get away with this."
As a reporter having covered him for eight years in the White House, I am sure the press could have done a better job if we had known the real Ronald Reagan.
© 2007 Hearst Newspapers