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New Yorker: Diaries of Ronald Reagan

Author: Nicholas Lemann
May 28, 2007



"While he was President, Ronald Reagan kept an almost daily diary. He was the only President during the last century to do so, and the result—in a form that is greatly reduced but still makes a very long book—“The Reagan Diaries”...takes its place next to an earlier volume, almost as large, of correspondence written in his own hand, another of speeches, and yet another of his radio talks. Presidents, including Reagan, usually write memoirs of their White House years afterward; Reagan wins the prize for copiousness of in-office Presidential writing.

Some great politicians have an eerie (Clintonian, one might say) talent for leaving admirers with wildly varied impressions of them. Reagan wasn’t like that. He presented a consistent persona, to which people’s reactions varied wildly. Reagan ran for office as the nominee of a major party four times—twice for governor of California and twice for President—and won all four races by big margins. But people who got close to him were often unable to feel the connection that voters did from a distance. Aide after aide, and Reagan’s official biographer, Edmund Morris, have testified to his remoteness and unknowability, and his children seem to have felt the same way. Intellectuals, journalists, and old Washington pros always saw him as a lightweight—Clark Clifford memorably called him “an amiable dunce.” He also generated consistent ideological opposition, mainly from the left but also from conservatives who thought he didn’t deliver on his assurances that he was one of them.

Reagan’s diaries will reinforce each of these reactions."

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