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Remembering Ronald Reagan

Aired June 7, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: On this special edition of CROSSFIRE remembering Ronald Reagan. As the nation begins paying its respects to the 40th president of the United States, we share memories of the man, the politician and the leader.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a sad time for the nation and more especially for Mrs. Reagan, who has shown grace beyond compare.



ANNOUNCER: From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


Ronald Reagan was one of those unique figures in American history. You can agree with him or disagree with him, but, either way, you had to admire him. Today, Americans are getting their first chance to say goodbye and rest in peace to the Gipper. The president's body is lying in repose at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Before the public viewing, his family and friends attended a private service.

Today on CROSSFIRE, as keep watch on events in California, we are going to set political combat aside for a while and share memories of President Reagan with three distinguished guests, Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, Congressman Chris Cox, Republican of California who served in the Reagan White House, and former Congressman, former Republican vice presidential candidate, former Secretary of HUD Jack Kemp.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Thank you very much. Appreciate you being here. I do feel a little bit outnumbered, but we're all here to pay tribute to President Reagan.

Jack Kemp, let me start with you.

Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, recruited you into politics, I'm told, back in 1967. You were the quarterback for the San Diego Chargers.

JACK KEMP, CO-FOUNDER, EMPOWER AMERICA: No, Buffalo Bills at that time.

BEGALA: Buffalo Bills. I'm sorry.

KEMP: I had gone from San Diego to Buffalo.

BEGALA: What about him drew you to him and to his views?

KEMP: Well, I first met him in '62. I was playing for the Chargers. And somebody said, hey, you got to come here a great speaker. And I was giving a lot of speeches. And I went to hear Reagan, and I was just blown away by his affability, his intelligence, his wit, his wisdom, and then worked for him in '67, went to Congress in '70, became one of the co-authors of the Reagan tax cuts.

So it's a long road that I have traveled with Ronnie Reagan. And I hope some of these young people will get a chance to hear more about a truly great American, the last lion of the 20th century.

NOVAK: Chris Cox, what was it like to work for him? Was he hands-on or did he say, you do your job over there at the counsel's office?

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, of course, Ronald Reagan knew how to delegate. And I was the third ranking lawyer in the White House counsel's office. So we didn't have drinks after work every night and I didn't go in for my early morning breakfast with the president.

But what Ronald Reagan, both within his own administration and with the rest of the country, was communicate so clearly that everybody knew what they were supposed to do. He understood how to use global electronic communications, really, the phenomenon of the 20th century, in a way that caused people to be inspired as if they were speaking with him directly.

I never had any question about what the mission was. And when you did meet the president, it was as if his personal job was to make you happy, put you at ease and so on. The very first day on the job, I went in the Oval Office, shook hands with the president. He said, you're from Harvard Law School. And he had at the ready a joke demeaning Harvard.


COX: And -- and, you know, the same thing later on, you're on the Air Force One. He comes back and cheers up the staff and does a great joke in Irish brogue. But it wasn't the humor, it was the ideas that got us all involved and kept us going. And he wanted to translate those ideas into action. And we felt we had a part in that.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Lott, as thousands of Californians and other Americans are filing past that casket lying in repose now in California to pay their respects, I'm struck, as a Democrat, at President Reagan's insistence on civility and bipartisanship. Now, you were the chief deputy whip in the House of Representatives when Ronald Reagan was our president, not exactly the job for civility -- civility, yes, but bipartisanship, on.


NOVAK: I think he was the whip.


BEGALA: The whip, forgive me. The whip, the chief Republican in the House of Representatives.

LOTT: Well, first, I thank you for doing this, Paul and Bob. I think it's timely and appropriately.

And I look at these young people there today and I think about the impact that President Reagan had on my own son and daughter, because they were in high school and college during those years. And they loved him. And it made it acceptable to be optimistic and proud and patriotic.

And I see that in my two kids today. And I think he helped contribute to that. But, no, he was unfailingly civil and generous, even though we were out there trying to get the votes on bill after bill. One of the reasons why we were able to succeed was because what he was advocating reached beyond just the Republican Party. We couldn't win anything in the House of Representatives in those days without about 40 or 50 Democrats.

And he crossed the lines. We had a very active effort on the Democratic side of the aisle that you don't see much of now. And that's the power of his ideas, his persuasion. And, by the way, this is another thing that he did that I haven't seen as much of in recent years or presidents. He'd pick up the phone and call you. And it was very hard to say no to President Ronald Reagan.

And so that civility, that generous attitude, his willingness to talk to people, made the difference in those legislative victories that Jack helped write, but President Reagan pushed through.

NOVAK: On that connection, Jack Kemp, you were the author -- very few people get their name on a piece of legislation that changes the whole country. And you were the author of the Kemp-Roth tax cut. But when that was endorsed by Ronald Reagan, that was a huge step. How does that happen? How did you get him on board?

KEMP: Well, not to tell a long story, but in '78, I was a congressman from Buffalo, New York. And the combination of the federal income tax code, coupled with the New York state income tax code, the top rate in New York was 14 and the top rate in the country was 70. Capital gains were being taxed almost at half.

And I told my staff, I want you guys -- and I'm a Protestant from Buffalo. And John F. Kennedy and the pope were on everybody's living room wall. I said, I want you to go back and find out what John F. Kennedy did to get us out of the recession of 1960. And remember when he said, I'm going to get America moving again? And not to make this too long, but the top tax rate in 1960 was 91 percent. Kennedy cut tax rates by 31 percent across the board. He took 90 down to 70, the 70 to 50, the 50 to 30, the 30 to 20, the 20 down to 14. And the arguments he used, Paul, were both Democratic and Republican. They were both Keynesian and also supply side.

He said, for instance, it's a paradoxical truth that high tax rates cause low tax revenues. And the best way to get more revenue was to cut tax rates.

NOVAK: How did you get the Gipper on board? That's what we...

KEMP: Well, I went to the AFL-CIO convention in Bal Harbour, Florida.

I was a pro-labor -- I was president of the Football Players Union. And I was welcomed at the AFL-CIO convention and I gave a speech to 14,000 longshoreman about John F. Kennedy. I mentioned Kennedy's name a lot more than I mentioned Ronnie Reagan's name, by the way. And I got endorsed by Teddy Gleason (ph), the head of building trades. I introduced them together.

Reagan read the speech in human events, called me on the phone in '78, and said he would endorse it, when every Republican was calling it voodoo economics and witch doctoring or dangerous riverboat gambling. Reagan said he wanted to go out and campaign on it. And that became the change I think in the Republican Party, Bob, that you watched over the years. So we went from a negative balance the budget at all costs party to a pro-growth, get America moving party.

BEGALA: You also -- President Reagan helped move the party away really from the Northeastern sort of elite that it had been traditionally, to the South, where Senator Lott is from, to the West, where you're from. But I think, even more than that, stylistically, Congressman Cox, he put a happy, silly face on conservatism, when in the past, a lot of Democrats saw conservative as very frightening people. How did he pull that off?

COX: Well, that's the kind of person that he was. And he projected it constantly.

And, of course, politics, not just conservatism, but politics as a mean of getting something accomplished can start either from that glass half empty or glass half full. There are problems. There are terrible problems. They need to be fixed. You can focus exclusively on that and get everybody down all in the mouth or you can tell people how wonderful it's going to be if we can solve those problems.

And the president never failed to point what is it that is there at the end. So it was an inspirational kind of leadership. Some of us like to talk about tax rates. We like to get into economics and tell you all about what is going to happen in the GDP if we do this. But President Reagan focused on what it is going to mean to people in their lives.

He was not just a child, but a young adult of the Great Depression. And he saw what government fiscal policy improperly administered could do to ruin millions of people's real lives. And I think that, as an economics major himself, he took that forward and he never forget what government was there for, is to help the people. People don't work for the government. It's the other way around.

LOTT: His message -- his message was great, but also the personal magnetism and his sense of timing was the best I've maybe ever seen.

When he came to my state that year, which we had lost, President Carter had won by 10,000 votes and Reagan wound up winning it by 10,000 votes, one of the things he did, they were concerned about the age issue. And we gave him a rocking chair made in the state. He walked over, sat down in the chair, grabbed Nancy Reagan by the hand, pulled her down in his lap. That was the picture that went out all across the country. The age issue was dead the minute he did that.

BEGALA: We're going to come back with more and I want to get more to the wit of Ronald Reagan, too, with Senator Trent Lott and former Cabinet member Secretary Jack Kemp, and Congressman Chris Cox in just a second.

We will share more memories of Ronald Reagan with some of these men who knew him best just ahead.

And we'll hear from you about your thoughts and memories about Ronald Reagan later on in CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.


NOVAK: Welcome back to a special edition of CROSSFIRE.

We're watching people pay their final respects to President Ronald Reagan, his body lying in repose at the Reagan Library in California.

Our guests are Republican Congressman Chris Cox of California -- he served in the Reagan White House -- Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, and former Congressman, HUD Secretary and Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

Trent Lott, when you ran for president -- I mean not for president, for senator -- for the first time in 1988, I was down in Mississippi covering it. And there was a rally. A good old boy came up to me. And I asked him -- started to ask him questions, and he said, you know, I'm a supply-sider, a guy in bib overalls. He said, I'm for these tax cuts and that's why I vote Republican now.

What did Reagan mean to an old-fashioned Democratic state like Mississippi? And you were a Democrat, too, weren't you?

LOTT: Well, that's right, that I worked for a Democrat.

But there was a Reagan revolution. He did change the way people thought about a lot things. And, certainly, it was the beginning of the Republican majority, which relies an awful lot on the South.

But a lot of it was economic. But if you want to get rid of your bib overalls, you want to be able to get a better education, get a better job, you have got to think about things like tax policy and economic policy. And he -- but he had a unique ability to put it in a way that people understood. He demonstrated the cost of things by how many miles high it was, remember, or how many economists crossed the country. And that had a particular appeal to a lot of people that made the difference. And he started the revolution, I believe, and -- that still goes today.

BEGALA: Well, in fact, Jack Kemp, one of his great weapons in disarming his critics was his wit, his sense of humor.

KEMP: Yes.

BEGALA: Famously -- you could give hundreds of examples -- but when Democrats and others accused him of not working too hard in the White House, taking too many naps, which it turns out actually he did not do, his retort, instead of being defensive and saying, I don't take naps, or producing the log of the work that he produced, he said, well, you know, hard work never killed anyone, I figure, but why take a chance?

KEMP: Yes.

BEGALA: Just that charm, that wit.

KEMP: I love the one when he was running I think in '84, and he talked about Mondale's youth. But also said, a lot of people say I'm too old to run, but I'm going to prove them wrong. I'm going to campaign in all 13 of our states.


KEMP: It was that humor that gave him a chance to take an edge off of the enemy's attack.

LOTT: And it wasn't just public. He did it privately. We would go into these leadership meetings in the Cabinet Room there in the White House, and quite often, as Chris noted, he would have some joke he would tell, quite often with an Irish accent. It was interesting to watch him, by the way, Paul, deal with people like Tip O'Neill, Danny Rostenkowski. I saw Danny on TV a while ago.

He had a warm, personal relationship with them. And it allowed him to get more done. Even though they might not vote with him in the case of the speaker, he had a respect for him as a man and as a president. And it made a difference.

NOVAK: Everybody laughed about him, that he kept bankers hours. But did he demand more from the staff, then? Did you have to work pretty hard?

COX: Well, I've never seen a staff work any harder. I certainly wished that I could go back to my old days of writing down my time and billing somebody for it.

But there's no question that people were inspired by his leadership to get the job done. We knew that time was of the essence and the things that we were fighting, my gosh, we were trying to take care of the problem of totalitarianism that was left over from the great triad of communism, Nazism, and fascism. For President Reagan, when he showed up, communism was still there and he wanted to deal with it. And we knew that people's live depended on this. So time was of the essence.

NOVAK: It must have been stunning when he was shot just within a few weeks in office. That really must have changed the whole mood there.

COX: Well, he did seem superhuman. And, of course, as he came out of that, it was this same as with everything else. He put other people first.

He used humor to put everyone at ease. He said, I forget to duck. He had several jokes for the physicians that have been retold many times in recent days. That's the kind of person he was.


KEMP: I was saying as Chris was talking -- excuse me for interrupting, but one of the things that young people, particularly -- everybody said, no one could have foreseen the end of communism. After being shot, he went out to Notre Dame a few weeks later and gave that speech where he said, the West will not contain communism. We will transcend communism. We'll not denounce it. We'll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter of history that's now being written.

How many people can raise their hands and say, in 1981, they saw the collapse ultimately of the Soviet totalitarian evil empire?

BEGALA: And when he gave that speech, it was highly controversial.

KEMP: Pollyannish.

BEGALA: People thought that that was impolite or undiplomatic, not the way a president ought to speak.

LOTT: Just like I saw him talking the other night on television when he went to Berlin and say, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall, there was real debate about whether or not he should even have that in his speech.

But he had a feel that was beyond what many of us recognized at the time for what needed to be said, what needed to be done. He also had a way of putting it in simple terms, just like when he ran for president. His message was quite simple. We're going to restore pride to the country. We're going to rebuild our military and we're going to get the economy growing. It had a nice simple appeal. And it made all the difference.

NOVAK: OK, America is remembering Ronald Reagan. Next, our studio audience asks our guests to recall a favorite memory.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a steady stream of visitors arriving at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, the body of the former president now lying in repose.

A new terror threat, a warning attributed to al Qaeda predicting attacks on U.S. interests, including airliners and other transportation targets.

And the mystery of Ronald Reagan. Why was such a public man such a private riddle?

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Instead of arguing today, we are remembering the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. His body lies in repose at the Reagan Library in California, as thousands of his fellow Americans file by to pay their final respects.

Still with us are Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, California Republican Congressman Chris Cox, who served President Reagan on his White House staff, and former Congressman, former HUD Secretary and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

NOVAK: Paul.

BEGALA: Our first question from the audience.

Yes, ma'am, tell us your name and where you're from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Sarah (ph) from Ohio.

My question is for Representative Cox.

I wondered if you had a personal favorite memory of President Reagan.

COX: Well, probably the most fun that I had was, after I ran for Congress, which was in his last year of office, I left the White House, went out to California, and against all odds won a 14-person Republican primary, and came back with my friend from the White House staff, Dana Rohrabacher, who was then a speechwriter.

And we got to have a celebration in the Oval Office that June exactly 16 years ago today. I have a photo in my office of the three of us holding our arms up in that victory salute. It was a great memory and it stays with me to this day. BEGALA: That's wonderful.

NOVAK: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Lynn (ph) and I'm from Georgia. And my question is for Secretary Kemp.

Many people have commented on the special relationship between Nancy Reagan and her husband. How was their relationship different than many other presidential couples?

KEMP: Wow, I don't know that I could compare it with other presidential couples, but I think it was so special. It was his second marriage. It was her first. Nancy was so loyal to Ronnie Reagan and called him Ronnie. I saw them in Sacramento and saw them in Washington.

And, frankly, having been married myself 45 years, I can't imagine a more beautiful partnership and marriage and friendship than Ronnie and Nancy Reagan.


NOVAK: And, Trent, any memories you want to give?

LOTT: It was just obvious the feeling they had for each other. He -- his whole personality seemed to change when she came into a room.

But, also, I think she deserves a lot of credit for how she has stayed close with him and has worked on issues like Alzheimer's to try to make people aware of how tough it is and that there are cures out there. It was a beautiful marriage.

BEGALA: And our heart goes out to her now.


BEGALA: Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi, thank you for joining us. Former Cabinet member, Secretary Jack Kemp.

KEMP: Thank you, Paul.

BEGALA: Congressman Chris Cox from California. Three Reagan revolutionaries remembering President Ronald Reagan.

Now, we want to hear from you, your thoughts and memories of former President Reagan. We will share them with you next.

Stay with us.


NOVAK: E-mails from the audience.

From Matthew Sunderland of Oceanside, California: "Ronald Reagan appealed to our greatest aspirations and reminded Americans of our common humanity. How puny politics feels with the loss of this giant."

BEGALA: And from Petaluma, California, Maria Davidow writes: "While I did not agree with President Reagan's policies, I have shed a tear with news of his passing, because I came to know he was a good and decent man."

NOVAK: And Harry Thompson from Tucson, Arizona: "I served in the U.S. Air Force under President Reagan while stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. He stopped over and made a speech to our troops. He was a great leader. I hope our future leaders will be as great as he was. He will be greatly missed."

BEGALA: And, finally, Ann Ratchford in Moscow, Pennsylvania, writes: "I think Reagan was genuine in his belief that he was doing things to better America, even if I didn't always agree with him. My father died close to three years ago after a battle with Alzheimer's. My thoughts and prayers go out to Nancy Reagan and her family." Good for you, Ann.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, a defining event that we don't talk about much that was very controversial was his position on the air controllers strike, which sent a message around the world that this was a -- he was a smart -- he was an amiable guy, but he was a very tough guy.

BEGALA: His secretary of state, George Shultz, said that that was one of his most important foreign policy moves, was firing the air traffic controllers here at home to show the Soviets that he meant business. Fascinating.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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