- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009


William F. Buckley Jr. knew Ronald Reagan was his kind of man when they met. Mr. Buckley was to give a speech to a group called Citizens for Better Education in a Beverly Hills school auditorium one evening in 1961. Mr. Reagan was to introduce him.

The microphone, however, was dead. The student in charge couldn’t be found. Mr. Reagan tried to telephone the principal to get a key to the adjacent control room. No answer. He then went to a window (they were on the second story), noticed a parapet running the length of the building, stepped onto it, edged his way to the control room, opened a window, went in and flipped the switch to activate the microphone.

With that dash of gallantry began a long friendship between the two. Mr. Buckley’s posthumously published book, “The Reagan I Knew,” includes other engaging anecdotes that will reinforce the belief of both Reagan and Buckley fans that they were remarkable men.

In a coda, the author writes, “I cannot do better, in summing up the Reagan (presidential) years, than to repeat what I said in my first speech of the 1990s.”In that speech he said, “I have come to the conclusion that the 1980s was a triumphant decade. The 1980s are most certainly the decade in which Communism ceased to be a creed, surviving only as a threat. And Ronald Reagan had more to do with this than any other statesman in the world.”

Between the opening anecdote and the coda, Mr. Buckley treats us to a chronologically organized collection of correspondence along with many observations and memories.

Ronald Reagan, for all his affability and genuine liking of people, both singly and in large groups, was at heart a very private man. His friendship with Bill Buckley was probably one of the closest he had, one in which each shared concepts, reflections and confidences with the other. The first WFB-RR letters here were written in 1965; the last in 1994.

Interspersed with these is a lively correspondence between the author and Nancy Reagan. This exchange involved good-humored teasing and some witty exchanges. After Mr. Reagan’s letter writing was ended by Alzheimer’s disease, the correspondence with Mrs. Reagan continued. The last letter to her carries a 2005 date.

Over the decades covered by the book, we find the author interacting with and commenting on the Reagan governorship, the Reagan effort to gain the 1976 Republican nomination for president, their 1978 debate over the Panama Canal and the Reagan presidency.

The author, famed for his joie de vivre, can be breezily informal in his letters but all the while respectful of the position of his friend. For example, he announces that as soon as Mr. Reagan becomes President Reagan, he will longer address him as “Ron,” but as “Mr. President.” An example from Nov. 15, 1981: “Dear Mr. President, Well, I’ll be damned. I didn’t know that I last wrote from only a few miles away from the famous launching pad of your career (Des Moines). If I had, I’d have dropped everything I was doing and put in for a position as a sports announcer.”

The book concludes with several Buckley columns and a speech about Mr. Reagan. In his foreword, the author’s son, Christopher, notes that this is his father’s 55th book, that he was writing it when he died in early 2008 but that it likely would not be his final one. He tells us that a publisher might well bring out a new collection of his father’s columns and that at the time of his death, his book “Cancel Your Own Damned Subscription” had just come out, as had “Flying High,” about Barry Goldwater.

Their many admirers will find this book a pleasure to read from cover to cover, for two great conservatives live again in its pages.

• Peter Hannaford was closely associated with President Reagan for a number of years. He is the author of five books about the 40th president, including “Recollections of Reagan” (imagesfromthepast.com).

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