Learning from a Master

Hugh Sidey has an interesting interview Learning from a Master — George H.W. Bush on his friend Ronald Reagan

Bush shapes a private picture of a man he learned to love and admire, and the one he finally felt comfortable calling Ron. But in the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, the two men sparred, with Bush landing a punch by labeling Reagan’s supply-side nostrums “voodoo economics.” And then the vagaries of high-level politics put them in harness for the big campaign. “I remember in Reagan’s debate with Carter, when Carter said about me, ‘Here’s your man, and he calls it voodoo economics, so what are you going to do?’ Reagan looks over at me and gives me this big wink and then gave Carter some kind of brush-off.”

The relationship held to the end. “I told him early on that you’re not going to have me out there doing my own thing, causing embarrassment, which is a great way to get news but a lousy way to be Vice President.” Bush adds, “What I thought was important was the personal chemistry, that he could know that anything we discussed would be in total privacy, and I would not be out plowing my own furrow at his expense. I was not a policymaker. I was to support whatever decision he made. And not to disagree with him in debate in the Cabinet Room.”

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Bush notes how Reagan’s warmth and humor could reshape his positions without creating the impression of inconsistency. “He sent me off to see [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev. I guess I was the first one of any authority to meet with him. I wrote out the cable of that meeting and sent it back saying this leader was different. When I got back, many people were disgusted.” Nevertheless, Reagan, who had famously called the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” was warming to a quiet thaw. “I don’t think the President ever changed his views to ‘I love communism,'” says Bush. “He had this way with people. He could say that ‘I understand where you are coming from,’ rather than say, ‘You are right, and I have been wrong all of these years.’ The next thing you know, he had a very good relationship with Gorbachev, a very personal one.” At the Iceland summit, says Bush, Reagan made the rather “romantic” proposal to Gorbachev that they “get rid of all nukes,” a wonderful but impossible dream then. Says Bush of his predecessor: “I never had any misgivings about his courage. I never had doubts that if push came to shove, he would do what was needed in the interest of the country.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.