Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dutch considered

Wish I could remember which member of the Volokh conspiracy recommended Dutch on tape. His comments were on the mark - by abridging the book, most of the awkward annoying fake autobiography of the authour were taken out & Reagan's actual speaking could be inserted. I wish the authour actually gave Reagan more uninterrupted speaking time, as one speech he kept inserting himself in between Reagan's talk so it destroyed the flow.

The end was sad & arguable intrusive as Morris detailed Dutch's descent into dementia all too well. One episode that I had never heard was a luncheon for Margaret Thatcher at the Reagan Library - Dutch gives 2 idential toasts to her & everyone has to stand and applaud so as not to embarrass the ex-president. Also Dutch maintained some office in Century City for several years after his mental health was obviously declining - the authour visits him there. Very sad hearing the semi-intimate details of his end.

The focus of the book is on Dutch's character, so avoids much talk about tax cuts or Reaganomics, but Morris beliefs that Reagan's assessment "the evil empire" was the push the ultimately shattered the evil empire, though he also gives credit to Gorbachev for suckering Reagan into a mini-summit in Reykjavik which eventually led to the INF.

Iran-Contra: there's not too much doubt that Reagan knew about trading arms-for-hostages, though he was given to denial e.g. polyp cancer). For the contra portion, Morris believes Reagan knew about the transfer of funds but neither knew nor cared that it was illegal. One telling incident was when Morris asks Pat Buchanan about the contras & Pat responds with a query whether Morris knows Ollie North. Since Morris does not, Buchanan views Morris as a light weight. Given that Buchanan knew about North & the contras, it sounds believable the Reagan knew, but the plausible deniability was always too strong to ever impeach. The other item of note is that Reagan was basically in shell-shock for 3 months after the scandal broke. Finally in March 1987 he comes out of it in time for a key cabinet meeting - his cabinet considered invoking the 25th amendment at that time.

Overall Morris's view of Reagan's second term is that Reagan knew he had to pace himself, so only put energy into the '86 tax reform & meetings with Gorbachev, but otherwise just tuned out everything else as a nuisance. Also he gives strong emphasis to the accumulative toll of being shot, and the polyp surgery, and one other surgery eventually drained too much of Dutch's energy.

Listening the book did increase my admiration for Reagan, but my feelings about him will also be tempered by what the Reagan revolution wrought - while there was a humanist side to Dutch despite his policies, I can't say the same of his political progeny: Santorum, DeLay et al.

At the end when Morris talks about reading Dutch's white house diaries, I thought of father when Morris mentioned how Dutch would note how many applauses each speech received in his diary. It was not vanity, but more a professional actor grading himself. How well was that speech delivered? Did that one work? A craftsman working on keeping his skills well honed. Brought back memories of father noting his various hotels & how he "charmed" his way into hotel discounts via his employment at the Sheraton. Both were part of the "greatest generation" so I can see how there would be a similarity - surviving the great depression & WWII, you don't need introspection, you need survival skills.

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