- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

On Feb. 6, Ronald Reagan will get a wonderful 90th birthday present. Tragically he will be unable to appreciate it because he is in the final stages of Alzheimer's. The birthday gift is a book titled, "Reagan, In His Own Hand" and is being published by one of the biggest publishing houses in the United States in a first edition of 100,000.

The book is a collection of the originals of radio commentaries and newspaper columns on major issues labor policy, the future of Asia and Africa, communist imperialism, arms limitation composed in Mr. Reagan's own handwriting (including his misspellings the occasional "i'ts" for "it's" and again "it's" for "its") long before he became, in 1980, the 40th president of the United States. These several thousand pages, uncatalogued until a few months ago at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, reveal a Reagan far different from the idiot savant phantasm still current among American liberal intellectuals.

Hendrik Hertzberg, formerly a speech writer for President Jimmy Carter and now a senior editor at the New Yorker, called Mr. Reagan just that an "idiot savant" in a 10-page essay in the New Republic Sept. 9, 1991. For documentation he used Lou Cannon's biography, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" which quotes Clark Clifford as describing the president as "an amiable dunce" at a fashionable Georgetown party. Mr. Cannon's source is the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 1981. One of Mr. Reagan's biographers titled a chapter, "The Amiable Dunce."

This deceptive image was of course the creation of American liberalism mainstream intellectuals, academics and historians, journalists, TV anchors, magazine editors who are mostly left-liberal Democrats. Strangely enough this image received a good deal of its putative documentation from the treacherous memoirs of Mr. Reagan's staff and even some Cabinet members, with notable exceptions: Secretary of State George Shultz who has written the introduction to the new Reagan book and Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

Robert C. McFarlane, Mr. Reagan's national security adviser, has been quoted as saying in a tone of bewilderment: "Why is Ronald Reagan so successful? He knows so little and accomplishes so much?" It turns out, as "Reagan, In His Own Hand" clearly shows, that Mr. Reagan knew a lot more than he let on.

Martin Anderson, the economist who worked for Mr. Reagan as domestic policy adviser, described in "Revolution," his still unrivaled history of the Reagan administration, this liberal fiction:

"Since 1986 a torrent of books and articles on his presidency has painted a portrait of a dumb but likable man, a man who either deliberately abdicated his responsibility to make major decisions or worse simply didn't know what was going on most of the time."

It rarely occurred to these opinion makers to inquire as to how this bumbler managed to get elected and re-elected governor of California, managed decisively to oust an incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, in 1980, an event which was followed by a second-term landslide victory. Mr. Reagan's re-election in 1984 allowed him to initiate a foreign policy which allowed him to preside over the beginning of the bloodless end of the Soviet empire and the Cold War. And when he left office he was accorded in public opinion polls one of the highest popularity ratings of any president in modern times.

What was not fully realized at the time was that he was one of the best-prepared candidates for the presidency. Twice governor of California (1966-1974) and a widely acclaimed public speaker, he had done an enormous amount of reading and writing about domestic and foreign policy issues.

At the Reagan Library, dozens and dozens of once sealed cartons have been found holding several thousand pages in Mr. Reagan's own very legible handwriting, with the original editing. A young professor, Kiron K. Skinner, of Carnegie Mellon University who was writing a book on Mr. Reagan's foreign policy was given access by the Reagan library to these cartons and it was then she made her breathtaking discovery. She took copies of the pages to Martin and Annelise Anderson, both Hoover fellows, who with Ms. Skinner realized their value as history and became the editors.

It is these writings which should compel the most rabid anti-Reagan historians to rethink their failed scholarship. In doing so, they might recall the words of Leopold von Ranke, the great 19th-century German historian, who said it was the historian's duty to tell us wie es eigentlich gewesen ist "what really happened." In the case of Mr. Reagan these historians have clearly failed in their duty.

George Shultz in his introduction says that the book is important because it "provides a key to unlocking the mystery of Reagan that has baffled so many so long."

The question before American historians today is whether they will use the key. The American people who chose Mr. Reagan twice as their president, of course, didn't need a key.


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