- - Thursday, October 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Friday morning at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., there will be a memorial service for James S. Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary, who died on Aug. 4.

He will be honored by many from the media with whom he worked over many years, building friendships and — above all — respect and trust. When Brady spoke, you could count on what he said to be accurate and straight.

After a long career in various government posts and on Capitol Hill, Brady became press secretary to former Texas governor and Treasury Secretary John B. Connally, one of the contestants for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination.

I first met Brady at a 1980 candidates debate in Columbia, S.C. Reagan had just come out of a stunning come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire following a loss to George H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses.

At the time, I was senior foreign-policy adviser to Reagan, and the campaign was running on empty finances. On the day of the New Hampshire victory, Reagan fired campaign manager John Sears, and replaced him with William J. Casey, later CIA director. The press spokesman and a political adviser cast their lot with Sears, so longtime Reagan adviser Peter Hannaford moved temporarily into the spokesman slot.

Not long after the drama of New Hampshire and the start of the Reagan juggernaut in the remaining primaries, Brady showed up on the campaign plane. It took all of a day or so for the Reagan team to settle in comfortably with him, and at the end of the first week it was though he had been there with the Reaganauts from the very beginning.

As luck would have it, he and his wife Sarah lived just a few blocks from our South Arlington home, so we became well-acquainted. The proximity would prove to be a special pleasure once Reagan was elected, and we were White House colleagues, driving most days together to work.

What Brady brought to the campaign was a wide and deep friendship among the working press. I do not recall a single press comment about his easy transition from Connally staffer to chief Reagan spokesman, nor did he skip a beat with the inner circle of substantive policy advisers. He hit it off especially well with Reagan’s chief strategist, the brilliant and understated Richard Wirthlin, whose judgment and steady, unflappable demeanor the candidate valued highly.

But where credibility counted most — with the candidate himself — Brady simply excelled. Reagan quickly placed his trust in Brady’s counsel, and a warm relationship was created.

With the Reagan victory in November 1980, thoughts turned to who would be the press voice of the 40th president of the United States. Brady did not campaign actively for the job, and there were rumors that someone “Y and H” — “young and handsome” — would be the preferred candidate. Since a discussion had begun, internal lines began to form, and those of us who had worked closely with Brady and had come to know him well formed a phalanx to support him for the post. Edwin Meese, trusted counselor to Reagan; Mr. Hannaford; Martin Anderson, chief domestic policy adviser, and his influential wife, Annelise; and I were firmly in the Brady camp.

Wisely, Reagan chose Brady.

From the inauguration on Jan. 20 until March 30, 1981, Brady served brilliantly as the chief spokesman, until he was felled by a shot from would-be assassin John Hinckley’s 22-caliber pistol, which severely wounded the president as well as a Secret Service agent and a Washington policeman.

At the White House, I immediately activated crisis management procedures, which placed Vice President George H.W. Bush in charge, with the national security adviser and staff executing. Those procedures had luckily been finally approved by the president just six days prior to the shooting. Principal Cabinet members were summoned — the secretaries of defense, state and Treasury — as well as the CIA. White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III; his deputy, Michael Deaver; and Mr. Meese remained at the hospital with an open line to the Situation Room, and the Secret Service rushed Nancy Reagan to George Washington University Hospital. But Mr. Bush was still hours away.

Information was fragmentary at first, and key decisions had to be made quickly. I kept the group in the Situation Room small, and as news came in from the Secret Service about the shooter, it was relayed through Treasury Secretary Don Regan. Situation Room meetings are never recorded, but this was different — a national emergency, and so I recorded the entire session to ensure an accurate record. The international situation was tense — with the Soviet Union threatening Poland and Soviet submarines close in to the Atlantic Coast. National command authority was in the hands of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The possible transfer of authority from the president to the vice president under the 25th Amendment was discussed, and White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding handled the questions skillfully.

And then came the most devastating report: I received a slip of paper saying that Brady had died. Announcing this to the small group assembled brought indescribable grief to the room, and I called for a moment of silent prayer. Minutes later, word came that it was a false report, prompting a collective cheer.

That evening, after Mr. Bush’s return, my wife Pat and I went to George Washington University Hospital. There we met with Mrs. Brady, naturally distraught but gracious and calm, and she whispered into Brady’s heavily bandaged ear that we were there. I placed my right hand in his, and he squeezed with formidable pressure for about 20 seconds. My emotion at that memorable moment was deep and lasting. My friend and colleague knew that we and others were there to give our total support.

Brady served actively as press secretary for just 69 days of the Reagan presidency, but held the title for the duration of Reagan’s two terms. President Clinton awarded Brady the Medal of Freedom in 1996, and in 2000, the White House Press Briefing Room was formally named after Brady.

A great, good and wise man, Jim Brady will forever be enshrined as the exemplar of a great White House spokesman.

Richard V. Allen, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, served as President Reagan’s chief foreign-policy adviser and first national-security adviser.

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