- - Monday, October 19, 2015


By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Henry Holt and Company, $30, 306 pages

“Killing Reagan” is a brief look at the times and life of Ronald Reagan from the filming of “Brother Rat” with Jane Wyman in 1938, to his death in 2004.

In its 283 pages of text, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have provided a series of snapshots of Ronald Reagan from his Hollywood days to his last days, but they have missed the crowning achievements of his presidency. Instead, they have produced a rambling assembly of events such as the Chappaquiddick incident (complete with a detailed map of the route Teddy Kennedy took leading to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne) and the 1982 Falklands War, also with a detailed map. But the connection of these events to their story, “Killing Reagan,” is never made clear.

The lead-up to the assassination attempt starts with Chapter Six (one page), date line, May 29, 1955. They write, “As a twenty-eight-year-old mother of two is about to give birth to her third child, she and her husband are hoping that it will be a boy. They are affluent people, with a strong belief in the American dream.” The next reference to John Hinckley is in Chapter 10. The year is 1974, and the authors make the point that Richard Nixon is flying into “self imposed exile just a few hundred miles north of Dallas where Hinckley, now nineteen, is living.” Tension rises; Chapter 15 (four pages) describes Hinckley’s problems in Nashville as he stalks President Carter, who is campaigning in Tennessee. Hinckley is arrested as he tries to board a plane with three guns inside his luggage. The authors say that losing the election may have saved Jimmy Carter’s life. Hinckley pays a fine, loses his guns and walks out of the courtroom a free man. In the view of the authors his compulsion to kill a president to win the attention and love of Jodie Foster has now overwhelmed him.

Chapter 17 (three pages) is the final one about Hinckley’s disposition and activities prior to the attack. Chapter 19, the attempted assassination (20 pages) includes a map with Hinckley’s hotel, The George Washington University Hospital, Washington Hilton Hotel and the White House. At this point one might ask, what is the point of a book about a senseless, bloody assault? Mr. O’Reilly contends, “It was John Hinckley Jr.’s. attack on him that precipitated President Reagan’s most heroic actions.” This is absolute hogwash.

The book is a patchwork of minutiae interlaced with a few remarkable occasions such as Reagan’s completely unprepared speech at the 1976 Republican Convention when Gerald Ford became the nominee. Ford called the defeated Reagan to the podium. He spoke for three minutes, but the applause breaks stretched it to eight. In one of their more thoughtful sentences the authors write, “As Ronald Reagan waves goodbye to the crowd, it is quite clear to many across America that the Republican Party has nominated the wrong man for president.”

The authors seem to be anxious to disclose intimate details that Mr. O’Reilly claims to be “simply the facts.” Unfortunately, the book is full of very personal information which is just that, personal. The fact that Nancy Davis was pregnant when she married Reagan has no place in a serious account about a public figure unless, of course, it is part of a scandal story you would find in a supermarket tabloid. Their tale about Reagan and Piper Laurie is actually pornographic.

Even more disturbing are the sly insinuations, suggesting Gov. Reagan had intimate relations with an 18-year-old woman at a Studio City party, or that Reagan, now a former governor, was alone with Margaret Thatcher sitting on a small cloth-upholstered sofa with his left knee just inches away from touching the 49-year-old Thatcher, who Reagan considered “warm, feminine, gracious, and intelligent.”

But what is most disappointing in this book is that the authors fail to understand the mettle and substance of Reagan or give little credit, or even acknowledge, his historic victory over a truly evil empire without even firing a shot. In his book, “Arsenals of Folly,” Richard Rhodes covered the private meeting of Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986. Mr. Rhodes’ account cannot be read without amazement at the energy and scope of the discussions of the two principals. It also belies the theme of “Killing Reagan” that Reagan may not have been be fit to serve as president in 1987. However, the meeting in Iceland was crucial. Kenneth Adelman recalls Reagan responding to a comment that Reykjavik would be only a warm-up, saying, “Hell, this isn’t a meeting to prepare for a summit. It’s a summit.”

But the essence of Reykjavik was uncovered when Mr. Gorbachev started to read his proposals that “a nuclear war could not be won and must never be fought.” This, of course, came right from Reagan’s 1984 State of the Union Address. Reagan then added, “the only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.”

In 1992, Mr. Gorbachev visited George Shultz at Stanford University and was asked what he thought was the turning point in the Cold War. He didn’t hesitate one second and said, “Reykjavik,” and then added, “For the first time, the real leaders got together and really talked about the important subjects.”

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Dugard do not even have Reykjavik in their index.

Thomas Schaaf Sr. is a retired naval Aviator living in Fairfax, Va. He was a member of the Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters team in Arlington, Va.

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