The Reagan I Knew

The Reagan I Knew
by William F. Buckley, Jr. – Publisher – Perseus Books Group – October 2008
Available in Paperback – Publisher Basic Books – 10-13-2009
 
It is fitting, perhaps, that when William F. Buckley Jr. was struck down at his desk in February 2008 he was putting the finishing touches on this memoir of Ronald Reagan. No two men were more important to the rise and triumph of conservatism in America than Buckley and Reagan; and though each was a titan in his own right, neither could have stood as tall without the other. Each, too, had a great capacity for humor, conversation, and most of all lasting and loyal friendship. The Reagan I Knew, then, is much more than a memoir, more than a political biography -- it is a highly personal, often hilarious, and finally deeply moving chronicle of the friendship between the two great figures of the modern American Right.

"This book is about Ronald Reagan," writes Buckley in his Prologue. "The public Reagan, obviously, but almost always, in this book, simply the Ronald Reagan I came to know. Except that he was a great public figure who moved mountains, there would be scant curiosity about him. But he became, for a while, the most prominent politician on earth. I would not, otherwise, be undertaking a book about him. However, this book is one in which the large scale of things is quite intentionally diminished or, better, maneuvered around, to make way for the cultivation of personal curiosity about someone who became a good friend."

Tracing the arc of Reagan's political career through the prism of Buckley's contacts with him, The Reagan I Knew reveals:
 
How Buckley and Reagan met while Reagan was still a Democrat, and Buckley an already-renowned conservative commentator, a phenomenon of the new right
 
How, in the years after this first encounter, as Reagan's own star rose, his political philosophy crystallized and his embrace of the conservative outlook became as complete as one can expect from a public leader
 
Why, although Reagan was never a theorist within the conservative movement, he did become the greatest expositor of the conservative cause in American politics
 
Reagan's political intuition: superior to the sophisticates', both liberal and conservative
How Reagan shied from drawing back the curtain on his private life -- the intimate glimpses we get here may surprise even his most knowledgeable admirers
 
Reproduced in full: Buckley's compelling speech, delivered in Reagan's presence, about confronting the Soviet Union in the nuclear age
 
If, in the end, it had come to that, would Reagan actually have launched missiles against the Soviets?
 
Buckley's fictional (but well-founded on actual knowledge) conversation between Clare Boothe Luce and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, intended to reveal Reagan's thinking on nuclear weapons
 
Buckley on Reaganomics: a reconstruction of some of the most significant debates over the taxes, spending, and the size and scope of government
 
Reagan promised to cut the size of government, yet the budget deficit nearly doubled during his tenure. Was this an overt submission to increased government, or a capitulation to forces he could not control? Buckley sorts out difficulties and criticisms
 
The drama over David Stockman, Reagan's young and controversial budget director -- and the advice Reagan received from Buckley himself on handling the situation
 
Excerpts from the 1967 Firing Line episode in which Buckley and Reagan carefully parse the vital issue of federalism in Great Society America -- and where Reagan displays his instinctive grasp of the American character and winning style of humor
 
"The nicest man who ever occupied the White House": how, whether he was charming his listeners with stories, coming up with a wisecrack, or gracefully recovering after the attempt on his life, the private Reagan was almost always sunny and positive
 
Reagan's unalterable confidence in the virtue of the American character -- big-hearted and open, hard-working and determined
 
Reagan's relations with his family: though he was invariably a loyal friend and loving husband, we also see an overwhelmed and, at times, aloof father
 
Buckley's own role as a close Reagan family friend and counselor -- as revealed in his correspondence with Patti while she was at boarding school, and from Ron Jr.'s visits with the Buckleys in Connecticut and New York
 
Buckley and Nancy Reagan: a selection of letters from their correspondence shows the immense enjoyment they both took from their friendship
 
"Mr. Reagan has accomplished a great deal, but perhaps he will be remembered by our great-grandchildren for two reasons.
. ."
The analysis of Reagan's basic positions and policies falls under three thematic headings: foreign policy (nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis the Soviet Union), the economy (and bloated federal government), and federalism (the issue of states' rights, or separation of powers, as Buckley often preferred to phrase it). Thus the leading issues of the day are limned through an account of the friendship of "Bill" and "Ron" over nearly three decades.
 
William F. Buckley Jr. knew Ronald Reagan perhaps better than anyone outside his family. The Reagan I Knew is the most personally and politically revealing portrait of Ronald Reagan the world is likely to have.
 

 

 
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