Reagan’s “Dogged Support for Human Rights” Helped Advance Freedom and Peace

(p. C7) Reagan’s confidence that the Cold War could be won made him unusual. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats believed that America was in decline. Communism was on the march in Afghanistan, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter seemed hapless and ineffectual after he failed to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. The CIA mistakenly believed that the Soviet economy was growing. The policies of arms control and détente —or direct negotiations—were ascendant.

William Inboden’s masterly diplomatic history “The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink” reveals the qualities that made Reagan an extraordinary president who established the conditions for the collapse of Soviet communism. . . .

At almost every juncture, Reagan rejected the advice of former president Richard Nixon, whose realist worldview privileged China over Japan, geopolitics over economics, equilibrium over victory, and stability over human rights. Reagan envisioned a future where high technology, a universal commitment to freedom and dignity, and a willingness to risk confrontation with the enemy resulted in a global democratic revolution and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.

. . .

Reagan’s horror of nuclear war led him to envision a world where nuclear weapons would be obsolete. Woven into Mr. Inboden’s story are the many times that Reagan saw the potential for nuclear catastrophe. In 1979 the commander of the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, told him that the U.S. had no defense against a Soviet missile strike. In 1981 he took a flight on a special Air Force One called the “Doomsday Plane” that had been made to withstand nuclear fallout. In 1982 he became the first president to participate in a continuity-of-government exercise, codenamed “Ivy League.” Reagan watched helplessly as a simulated nuclear exchange destroyed his beloved country.

The following spring Reagan proposed the development of technology that could intercept nuclear missiles before they hit their targets. Both his secretaries of defense and state were against his plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative. They were not alone. The many critics of Reagan’s antiballistic missile shield followed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in calling it “Star Wars.”

Scientists said SDI wouldn’t work. Arms controllers said it would increase the chances of nuclear escalation. None of them understood that Reagan had redefined the arms race to America’s advantage. “It put the Soviets on the defensive,” writes Mr. Inboden, “fueling the Kremlin’s perennial fear of America’s technological prowess.”

. . .

Reagan’s opponents said that his dogged support for human rights and missile defense was both counterproductive and a distraction from good relations with the Soviets. Rather than conform to the accepted interpretation of reality, he sought to establish new facts on the ground that favored the expansion of freedom.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Continetti. “We Win and They Lose.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 25, 2022, and has the title “‘The Peacemaker’ Review: Ronald Reagan’s Cold War.”)

The book under review is:

Inboden, William. The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink. New York: Dutton, 2022.

James Watt Saw that “Environmental Extremists” Want “Centralized Planning and Control of the Society”

(p. A20) James G. Watt, who as President Ronald Reagan’s first Interior secretary tilted environmental policies sharply toward commercial exploitation, touching off a national debate over the development or preservation of America’s public lands and resources, died on May 27 [2023] in Arizona.

. . .

In one of his first official pronouncements, Mr. Watt declared that Interior Department policies over the years had swung too far toward conservation under the influence of “environmental extremists,” and away from the development of public resources that he said was needed for economic growth and national security.

He soon transferred control of many of the resources to private industry, restoring what he regarded as a proper balance to the nation’s patrimony. He opened most of the Outer Continental Shelf — nearly all of America’s coastal waters — to drilling leases by oil and gas companies. He widened access to coal on federal lands, and eased restrictions on strip-mining, which scarred landscapes and was cheaper than cutting deep mine shafts.

He increased industry access to wilderness areas for drilling, mineral mining and lumbering; gave private owners of hotels, restaurants and shops wider rights in national parks; curtailed the program to protect endangered species; cut funds to acquire land for national and state parks; and added money to build roads, bridges, hotels and other man-made structures in the parks.

. . .

He accused his critics of using sham environmental concerns to achieve “centralized planning and control of the society.” He told Business Week: “Look what happened to Germany in the 1930s. The dignity of man was subordinated to the powers of Nazism. The dignity of man was subordinated in Russia. Those are the forces that this thing can evolve into.”

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. McFadden. “James G. Watt, 85, Dies; Secretary Who Favored Developing Wilderness.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 10, 2023): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 8, 2023, and has the title “James G. Watt, Polarizing Interior Secretary Under Reagan, Dies at 85.”)

Milton Friedman Made the Case for Freedom to 15 Million Viewers

New York Times reviewer Szalai says that watching Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” documentary today is a surreal experience. To the contrary, I say that watching Milton Friedman’s documentary today is an exhilarating experience and watching the the evening news today is a surreal experience. (As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was in the audience for a couple of the episodes of Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” documentary.)

(p. C1) The documentary series “Free to Choose,” which aired on public television in 1980 and was hosted by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman, makes for surreal watching nowadays. Even if Ronald Reagan would go on to win the presidential election later that year, it was still a time when capitalism’s most enthusiastic supporters evidently felt the need to win the public over to a vision of free markets and minimal government.  . . .

They had an enormous audience: The 15 million viewers who watched the first episode saw an avuncular Friedman (diminutive and smiling), leaning casually against a chair in a Chinatown sweatshop (noisy and crowded), surrounded by women pushing fabric through clattering sewing machines. “They are like my mother,” Friedman said, gesturing at the Asian women in the room. She had worked in a factory too, after immigrating as a 14-year-old from Austria-Hungary in the late 19th century. Friedman explained that these low-wage garment workers weren’t being exploited; they were gaining a foothold in the American land of plenty. The camera then cut to a tray of juicy steaks.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Sounding an Alarm Over America’s Values.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 18, 2023): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Feb. 17, 2023, and has the title “Is the Marriage Between Democracy and Capitalism on the Rocks?”)

The book based on Milton Friedman’s documentary is:

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980.

Milton Friedman Was a “Formative Intellectual Influence” to George Shultz

(p. A13) [George] Shultz, an unflamboyant personality once described by a college classmate as a “steady, plodding intellect,” reached the commanding heights of American government, holding four cabinet posts over his career from secretary of the Treasury to state. Shultz died in 2021 at the age of 100.

. . .

For a time Shultz was on track for a career in academia, working in the economics department at MIT and later the University of Chicago. “Chicago is what started me,” Shultz said. Milton Friedman, a formative intellectual influence and enduring friend, methodically deepened Shultz’s faith in free markets and his skepticism of government intervention in the economy. “Milton didn’t hit the tennis ball hard but it always came back,” Shultz once remarked, “which was reflective of the way he argued, too.”

. . .

. . . Shultz was hardly immune from being wrong. For example: Along with the rest of the State Department, he tried to talk Reagan out of using the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Shultz worried it was too provocative.

The cautionary tale is that many know Shultz from perhaps the biggest error in judgment he ever made, some 90 years into his life. That’s his association with Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley founder convicted of fraud in federal court. Shultz was one of Ms. Holmes’s first marks, and he helped her assemble a board for her blood-testing company from his Rolodex. Among the wreckage was Shultz’s relationship with his own grandson, Tyler, who early on discovered the company’s misrepresentations.

For the full review, see:

Kate Bachelder Odell. “BOOKSHELF; Subsume the Ego And Stay Loyal.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 7, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 6, 2023, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘In the Nation’s Service’ Review: George Shultz’s Quiet Strength.”)

The book under review is:

Taubman, Philip. In the Nation’s Service: The Life and Times of George P. Shultz. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2023.

Reagan Warned Europe Against Depending on Natural Gas From Russia

Today is Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

(p. B1)The language in the C.I.A. memo was unequivocal: The 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Siberia to Germany is a direct threat to the future of Western Europe, it said, creating “serious repercussions” from a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel.

The agency wasn’t briefing President Biden today. It was advising President Reagan more than four decades ago.

The memo was prescient. That Soviet-era pipeline, the subject of a bitter fight during the Reagan administration, marked the start of Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas to heat homes and fuel industry. However, those gas purchases now help fund Vladimir V. Putin’s war machine in Ukraine, despite worldwide condemnation of the attacks and global efforts to punish Russia financially.

In 1981, Reagan imposed sanctions to try to block the pipeline, a major Soviet initiative designed to carry huge amounts of fuel to America’s critical allies in Europe. But he swiftly faced stiff opposition — not just from the Kremlin and European nations eager for a cheap source of gas, but also from a powerful lobby close to home: oil and gas companies that stood to profit from access to Russia’s gargantuan gas reserves.

. . .

(p. B4) On a frigid Sunday morning in December 1981, millions of Poles woke up to find their country under a state of martial law. Global condemnation of the Polish authorities, and of their backers in the Kremlin, was swift.

Already wary of the Soviets’ plan to build a gas pipeline to Western Europe, the Reagan administration produced a list of economic sanctions that essentially banned American companies from helping to build it. “The fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance,” Reagan said in his Christmas address.

The measure drew immediate ire from America’s European allies, where the $25 billion pipeline promised a stable source of gas at a time nations were still reeling from the oil shocks of the 1970s. But within the United States, it was the oil and gas lobby that fought back.

The sanctions would “aggravate further our international reputation for commercial reliability,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represented major oil and gas companies and pipeline manufacturers among numerous other industries, warned in a letter to the White House. The pipeline would, in fact, give Western Europe “a degree of leverage over the Soviets rather than vice versa,” Richard Lesher, the group’s president, later told The Washington Post.

Following intense lobbying, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to lift the sanctions, despite a letter from Secretary of State George P. Shultz warning that such legislation would “severely cripple” the administration’s ability to deal with the Polish crisis.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “How Europe Got Hooked On Russian Natural Gas.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 24, 2022): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2022, and has the title “How Europe Got Hooked on Russian Gas Despite Reagan’s Warnings.”)

Voice of America Taught, by Example, “The Norms and Practices of Western Discourse”

(p. A15) Mention the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to most Americans, and they will give you a blank look.

. . .

. . . it amuses Mark Pomar, an American scholar of Russia who between 1982 and 1986 was assistant director of Radio Liberty (the Russian service of RFE/RL) and director of VOA’s U.S.S.R. division.

In the preface to “Cold War Radio,” his insightful, absorbing account of the remarkable work of these services, Mr. Pomar recalls an incident from 1984, when he traveled to Cavendish, Vt., to interview the exiled author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Checking into his hotel, Mr. Pomar announced that he was from Voice of America, and the clerk asked if that was “a national singing group.”

Today it seems obvious that VOA would interview Solzhenitsyn. Yet in 1984 VOA was still keeping its distance from the famous dissident, because many in the American foreign policy establishment were still committed to détente, the policy that regarded open criticism of the Soviet leadership as a barrier to nuclear-arms control.

To President Ronald Reagan, détente was “a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to achieve its own aims.” So in that spirit, Mr. Pomar spent three days recording 20 hours of Solzhenitsyn reading from “August 1914,” the first in a cycle of novels about the travails of modern Russia. Despite being nine parts polemic to one part literature, the edited on-air reading was a success, and Solzhenitsyn joined the list of distinguished émigrés whose bonds with Russia, ruptured by repression, were partially mended by America’s “Cold War radios.”

. . .

These people had all been erased (we would say “canceled”) by the regime, so their commentary was implicitly political. But the radios also held explicitly political debates on extremely divisive topics. And no matter how heated these exchanges, the hosts insisted on maintaining “the norms and practices of Western discourse.” Mr. Pomar reminds us (lest we forget) that these norms and practices, so crucial to democracy, were an essential part of the message.

For the full review, see:

Martha Bayles. “BOOKSHELF; Listen and You Shall Hear.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, October 24, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 23, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Cold War Radio’ Review: Listen and You Shall Hear.”)

The book under review is:

Pomar, Mark G. Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2022.

Ronald Reagan, a Cuban, a Mormon, Me, and the Deauville

I recently ran across a front-page story in the New York Times about the disrepair, and likely demolition, of Miami’s famous Deauville Hotel. It brought back memories.

Toastmasters International was going to have its annual convention in Miami immediately following the Republican Convention there in 1968. My father was an officer of Toastmasters, eventually the international president. We went down early since a friend of my father was able to get us tickets to a day of the Republican Convention. We heard a speech by Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, a well-known orator.

My father was supporting Richard Nixon. In an act of minor rebellion, at age 16 I asked him if I could go to the Ronald Reagan headquarters at the Deauville Hotel and volunteer for a day. He said OK.

I reported to the head of Youth for Reagan, Dan Manion. My first job was to attend a rally to greet Reagan’s arrival at the Deauville. I remember Reagan smiling and waving as he exited his limo, while we chanted: “Give a yell, give a cheer, Ron-ald Rea-gan is here!”

For most of the day, Manion assigned me to work with a Cuban and a Mormon to haul cases of cheap wine from somewhere in Miami to the California delegation at the Deauville. (The Cuban had a pickup truck.) We were a diverse trio. I do not remember the details of our conversation, but I remember its warmth and camaraderie.

Reagan lost the nomination to Nixon, but he did not give up, and we did not give up either.

Over half a century later, I still smile when I remember that day. Dan Manion became a federal judge; I talked with him at my father’s funeral in April 2000. I never saw the Cuban or the Mormon again, and would not recognize them if I ran into them. But I hope that life has been good to them and that they remember that day as fondly as I do.

The article that I mentioned above on the decline of the Deauville Hotel is:

Patricia Mazzei. “A Historic Miami Beach Hotel Falls Prey to Neglect and Time.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 19, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “A Grand Miami Beach Hotel, and Its History, Might Be Torn Down.”)

Mundell and Laffer Agreed High Taxes Hurt Poor

(p. A12) Robert A. Mundell began to make his name in the 1960s as a maverick economist eager to challenge his more orthodox colleagues. He ended up influencing mainstream economic policy in the U.S. and Europe in profound ways that few of his peers could have imagined.

. . .

Dr. Mundell’s influence on U.S. economic policy also dates to the 1960s. He was teaching at the University of Chicago when he met Arthur Laffer in 1967. Dr. Laffer, a Stanford-educated economist, later recalled their first meeting as a shock. “In walked a sallow, tousle-headed, pipe-smoking figure wearing a faded trench coat belted with a clothesline cord,” Dr. Laffer wrote.

The disheveled Dr. Mundell and the buttoned-down Dr. Laffer agreed that steeply progressive taxes were deterring investment and employment in ways that hurt the poor.

In the 1970s, Dr. Mundell argued that the U.S. should defy conventional economic wisdom by raising interest rates to protect the dollar’s value while reducing taxes to stimulate the economy. “I knew I was in the minority,” he said in an 1988 interview. “But I thought my vote should count much more than the others because I understood the subject.”

Dr. Laffer introduced Dr. Mundell and his ideas to Jude Wanniski and Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, whose work influenced Republican politicians including Jack Kemp and Mr. Reagan.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Canadian Economist Inspired U.S. Tax Cuts.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 6, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Robert Mundell Helped Inspire U.S. Tax Cuts and the Euro.” In the last paragraph quoted above, the online version mentions Jack Kemp. The print version did not.)

Reagan’s Tribute to the Loyalty of Man’s Best Friend

The above clip is Ronald Reagan in an episode of Death Valley Days. (Today is Ronald Reagan’s birthday.)

(p. A15) George Graham Vest, a 39-year-old lawyer, . . . [on] Sept. 23, 1870, . . . delivered one of the most enduring arguments ever performed in a courtroom.

. . .

He told jurors that “the one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground . . . if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer.”

. . .

Ronald Reagan portrayed George Vest in a 1964 episode of “Death Valley Days” and delivered his famous summation. You’ll find it. Have a tissue ready. Vest’s oration, referred to as “Tribute to a Dog,” is revered by judges and lawyers.

. . .

Vest, . . ., concluded his speech by reminding the jurors that a dog remains loyal to the end. Even after his master’s funeral, and all others have left the cemetery, Vest said, “There by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness.”

For the full commentary, see:

Randy Maniloff. “Stand on Precedent. That’s a Good Boy!” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 23, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 22, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Still a Beacon, Still a Magnet for All Who Must Have Freedom”

(p. A23) . . . Ronald Reagan believed in the possibilities of a country that was forever reinventing itself. He knew, too, that the nation had grown stronger the more widely it had opened its arms and the more generously it had interpreted Thomas Jefferson’s assertion of equality in the Declaration of Independence.

He was about hope, not fear. And that is another reason his farewell address should be more widely appreciated: It’s a kind of final testament of an American president who had a genuine faith in the future. Mr. Reagan was a practical man, and he knew, as he put it, that “because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will be ours.”

Or so we can hope. His last words on that long-ago Wednesday bear hearing, and pondering. “And how stands the city on this winter night?” Mr. Reagan asked. “More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. She’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

They hurtle through that darkness even now. Mr. Reagan would have us light the lamp and open our arms — for that’s what cities on a hill do.

For the full commentary, see:

Jon Meacham. “Ronald Reagan’s Hopeful Farewell.” The New York Times (Friday, Jan. 10, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 10, 2019, and has the title “Warren Buffett’s Case for Capitalism.”)

“The Key Is Freedom”

(p. A17) . . . Ronald Reagan, in the last year of his presidency, delivered one of his most magnificent speeches . . . before a packed auditorium of students at Moscow State University.
. . .
Reagan’s ultimate aim was to plant the seed of freedom in the newly receptive furrows of a cracking totalitarianism.
. . .
Reagan delivered his Moscow speech standing before a gigantic scowling bust of Lenin and a mural of the Russian Revolution. He incorporated them as props in his address. “Standing here before a mural of your revolution,” he said, “I want to talk about a very different revolution,” a technological and “information revolution” that was transforming the world. How much progress had already been realized! But progress was not foreordained. “The key,” Reagan said, “is freedom–freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of communication.”

For the full commentary, see:
Roger Kimball. “‘When Reagan Met Lenin.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 31, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 30, 2018.)