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Ron Reagan calls Iraq war unnecessary and optional

Vows vote against Bush

Ron Reagan
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Ron Reagan shares memories of his late father with CNN's Larry King.

In a surprising twist, some Democrats are invoking President Reagan's name.
Ron Reagan
George W. Bush
Ronald Wilson Reagan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ron Reagan, the son of the late president and former first lady, Nancy Reagan, has never shied away from controversy.

Speaking from New York, he talked with CNN anchor Judy Woodruff about the Iraq war, President Bush and other subjects. He started by talking about the public reaction to his father's death. The following is an edited transcript.

REAGAN: Well, obviously, a lot of it was just affection for him. So I give some credit to my father. I think also that the funeral came at a moment where it sort of caught the crest of a wave of dissatisfaction and dismay in this country over where some of our government's policies are, particularly involving Iraq.

I mean, you've seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib. We've heard about the memos seeking to, you know, end-run the Geneva Convention around torture. And I think that the public was just hungry for somebody that they could feel, you know, unalloyed respect for, a good man. And that was my father. I think a lot of people don't feel so good about their government right now. And with some justification, I must say.

WOODRUFF: ... Is it the war that bothers you the most, or what?

REAGAN: Well, there are plenty of things to -- to bother anybody, I think. I don't think that any American feels sanguine about seeing their country trying to devise ways to torture enemy combatants. We may not like these people, they may be the enemy, but America is not supposed to be a torturing nation. So that .... bothers me. It shames this country.

And doing it -- and seeking to justify it -- endangers the lives of men and women who are over there in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. There are reasons we signed on to the Geneva Convention, and, you know, the treaties involving torture. We don't want our own people to be tortured. We want to hold the moral high ground that way. And so this has been very disturbing these last few weeks.

WOODRUFF: Was it hard for you to be around? I mean, you have been critical of president's policies, President Bush. Was it hard for you to be around him on the day of your father's funeral?

REAGAN: No, not in particular ... That week was, for me, about my father. It wasn't about anybody else. So, no, it's not hard for me to be around him. I may not agree with his policies. But I have no personal animus towards him. I don't know the man. He might have found it hard to be around me, I'm not sure.

WOODRUFF: Well ... the people around George W. Bush have compared him to your father. Many of them have said he's much closer to your father than he is to his own father in terms of his politics. What do you think about that?

REAGAN: Well, if you want to make political comparisons, I suppose that's fair enough. They both have an interest in cutting taxes. Although my father realized at a certain point his tax cuts weren't working, and he raised taxes again. I don't think my father would have gone into Iraq because it was an unnecessary and optional war.

We still haven't been told by this government why they were actually doing it, although I'm sure they do have their reasons. I bridle the comparisons between the two men as men, because from what I've seen, at least -- and again, I don't know Mr. Bush personally -- but from what I've seen, they're just two very different people.

WOODRUFF: The Reverend Jerry Falwell was quoted a couple of days ago, a few days ago, as saying your father ... served as, you know, as a mentor to George W. Bush, that George W. Bush was a protege.

REAGAN: No, that's not true. My father really didn't know George W. Bush from Adam. He met him, of course. He was the son of his vice president.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you something about what you said at your father's burial service in California at the library. You started out by saying, "Dad was also a deeply unabashedly religious man."

And then here's what you said: "But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage."

A lot of people thought you were referring to George W. Bush. Were you?

REAGAN: There was only one person I had on my mind when I delivered that eulogy, and that was my father ... A couple of days later, people told me that this, you know, little storm had erupted in Washington of people saying that I was talking about George W. Bush.

And I didn't really understand it at first. I hadn't mentioned him, of course, by name. I was talking about my father's faith, what it was, and what it was not, which was a political tool in his mind. Now, people close to Mr. Bush assumed that I must be talking about him. And since they know him better than I do, perhaps I was and I just didn't realize it. I thought that was all very telling, frankly.

WOODRUFF: Do you think they were upset about it? ... Did people let you know they were upset about it?

REAGAN: Oh, I heard from other people that there were folks that were saying some -- some things that weren't terribly flattering. But I don't really worry about that. Again, my only concern was doing right by my father. And I hope I did that ... The last thing I had on my mind, believe me, was George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: You have said, Ron Reagan, that you are not a Republican. Were you ever a Republican?

REAGAN: No, I've never joined any political party and have no plans to do so. I'm fully independent.

WOODRUFF: Why not? Why not be a Republican?

REAGAN: Well, I couldn't join a party that, frankly, tolerates members who are bigots for one thing. Homophobes, racists. You know, there's no way I could be a part of a party like that. Just no way.

WOODRUFF: You've also said, I think, that you did not vote for George W. Bush in 2000. You haven't made secret of that. What are you going to do this year?

REAGAN: I'll vote for the viable candidate who is capable of unseating George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: And presumably, that's John Kerry.

REAGAN: That's how it looks right now, yes.

WOODRUFF: So John Kerry? I mean...

REAGAN: Well, he would be the viable candidate, yes.

WOODRUFF: What -- what do you think -- I mean, have you talked to your mother about this? Does she -- what does she say about it?

REAGAN: Well, we don't talk about politics all that much, particularly electoral politics. We talk about stem cell research, for instance, embryonic stem cell research, which she's very involved in and I think will continue to be very involved in.

This is something she takes very seriously, something I take very seriously, too. And it's shameful this administration has played politics with an issue that ... could be the biggest medical breakthrough in history. This could be bigger than antibiotics. This administration is pandering to the most ignorant segment of our society for votes and throwing up roadblocks to this sort of research. It's absolutely shameful.

WOODRUFF: Recently Reagan administration national security adviser William Clark wrote in The New York Times that there is no doubt Ronald Reagan would be urging the country not to move ahead with this kind of research because he said the former president felt so strongly about the sanctity of life.

REAGAN: No, he's wrong. William Clark has no right to speak for my father. My father is not here to speak for himself. I'm not going it speak for him. I can speak for my mother, who knew his mind pretty well.

I showed my mother that article when it came out and I asked her what she thought about it. She thought that William Clark was absolutely wrong. She thought that her husband, my father, would be all behind embryonic stem cell research.

He was a man of some nuance and depth and could distinguish between, let's say, aborting a late-term fetus and conducting research on a collection of cells in a petri dish. There is a big difference there.

I would remind people, too, William Clark among them, that if they're going to be intellectually and morally consistent with this issue, then they need to come out against in vitro fertilization. And you'll notice that the administration hasn't done that. Thousands of embryos are discarded every year in vitro fertilization clinics. Why aren't they complaining about that? Because it's a political nonstarter so that's, you know, moral inexactitude, to say the least.

WOODRUFF: .. The White House has made it clear since your father's death, the president does not plan to change his position on embryonic stem cell research. Is your mother going to keep at this issue?

REAGAN: Oh, you bet. You bet she will. She takes this very seriously. This wasn't just something to do while she was taking care of my father. She knows that this is a good thing, an unalloyed good thing. It's the right thing to do. And I tell you, these people want to stand in her way, that's fine, but they're going to have her cleat marks running right up their chest.

WOODRUFF: Do you think she's going to make speeches?

REAGAN: I'm not sure what she'll do exactly. She's going to think about it for a little while. She's very effective, sort of quiet, behind the scenes. I'm sure she'll continue to do that. Whether she makes speeches or not, goes around the country, I'm just not sure.

WOODRUFF: ... How is your mother doing right now?

REAGAN: She's doing pretty well. You know, it's been a long haul for her. It's ten years or so since he was diagnosed .. They were together for 53 years and it's just not easy to lose somebody after all that time. But she realized that the time had come. He wouldn't have wanted to stay like he was.

And so I think she'll be fine. There are going to be some lonely moments, I'm sure. The house is very quiet, very still now. She'll rebound. She's got another chapter left in her.

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