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Reagan diaries reveal a funny, driven No. 40

The former president reflected in spartan language on affairs public and personal.

Published May 6, 2007


WASHINGTON - Ronald Reagan thought Alexander Haig was "utterly paranoid, " considered former Sen. Lowell Weicker "a pompous, no good fathead" and was "surprised at how shy" Michael Jackson was.

Reagan also refused to talk to his son after Ron Reagan hung up on him, felt that daughter Patti had "a kind of yo-yo family relationship" and was invariably "lonesome" when his wife, Nancy, was out of town.

A self-portrait of the 40th president - determined, funny, wistful, at times clinging to his beliefs despite countervailing facts - emerges from diaries that he faithfully kept from 1981 to 1989, his eight years in the White House. Historian Douglas Brinkley had exclusive access to the five hardback books bound in maroon leather, each page filled to the bottom with Reagan's neat handwriting. Vanity Fair magazine, in its June issue, is publishing excerpts of the book The Reagan Diaries, edited by Brinkley and due out this month from publisher HarperCollins.

The earnest entries are marked by a spare writing style in which Reagan reduced complicated matters to their essence. In 1982, when he accepted Haig's resignation from the Cabinet and Haig said they had had disagreements over foreign policy, Reagan wrote: "Actually the only disagreement was over whether I made policy or the Sec. of State did."

The former actor was well aware of his public image, and tweaked the Fourth Estate after he deliberately reversed the order of the opening sentences of his welcome at the 1984 Olympics: "The press having a copy of the lines as written are gleefully tagging me with senility & inability to learn my lines."

The diaries, which have been stored at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., cover the gamut of his presidency, from arms-control negotiations to the Challenger disaster to his meetings with Hollywood figures. Reagan drew on the diaries in writing his 1990 autobiography.

In the excerpts released Tuesday, Reagan recounted his March 30, 1981, shooting by John Hinckley in a just-the-facts, Dragnet style: "I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I'd been shot and had a bullet in my lung.

"Getting shot hurts."

During the first-year negotiations over his tax cut plan, Reagan wrote that congressional Democrats had made a counterproposal: "They want to include a reduction of the inc. tax rate on unearned income from 70% to the 50% top rate on earned inc. We wanted that in the 1st place but were sure they'd attack us as favoring the rich. ... I'll hail it as a great bipartisan solution. H - l! It's more than I thought we could get." Reagan never spelled out even mild curse words.

Reagan passively recorded his reaction to a 1986 staff meeting in which he was told that White House aide Oliver North, national security adviser John Poindexter and other officials were involved in a scheme to divert money from U.S. arms sales to Iran to the Nicaraguan rebels backed by the administration.

"North didn't tell me about this. Worst of all John (Poindexter) found out about it & didn't tell me. This may call for resignations."

Reagan enjoyed meeting the "most likable" Prince Charles in 1981, but tea proved a disaster because the royal visitor refused to drink it: "Horror of horrors they served it our way with a tea bag in the cup. ... I didn't know what to do."

[Last modified May 6, 2007, 07:27:19]

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