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December 11, 2015

Killing O’Reilly

Filed under: Ronald Reagan — Peter Arnold

(Note: This blog originally appeared on the Dawson & Associates website.)

A storm of controversy has erupted over Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Reagan. The controversy has engulfed almost every aspect of O’Reilly’s book – the lack of research, dubious use of unnamed sources, and a thesis at odds with extensive eyewitness documentation.

In November, George Will used his syndicated column twice to eviscerate O’Reilly – see here and here.

The book’s theme is that Reagan’s injuries from the March 1981 assassination attempt hastened his mental degradation. Those injuries led to a situation in which, O’Reilly claims, Reagan was increasingly befuddled and detached from reality.

O’Reilly’s thesis about Ronald Reagan simply isn’t supported by the facts and it’s certainly not supported by what I saw firsthand at the White House. From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Peter Robinson, the speechwriter who wrote Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”) helped me land this position as he was a former Bush speechwriter who had recently been promoted to the President’s team.

My office was in 2013 Eisenhower (at the time, it was simply the OEOB) and during my years at the White House, I often went downstairs to Peter’s first-floor office. Invariably, he would show me examples of Reagan’s edits to the latest speech drafts. These edits were in the President’s distinctive and unmistakeable handwriting style. Some drafts contained mild edits. But usually, the President’s handwritten changes were extensive and detailed.

When I emailed Peter recently, he confirmed the former President’s intent focus on his speeches as a medium through which to wield influence:

Reagan edited his speeches all the time! And he was the best editor I’ve ever had – superb edits. Take a look at Reagan in His Own Hand, the book by Martin and Annelise Anderson…. There are examples of Reagan’s markups on speeches all over the place.

In short, O’Reilly’s book is flat wrong in his contention. The disengaged, confused President that O’Reilly disparages could not have produced the continuous stream of detailed, handwritten edits and improvements that I saw constantly during my White House years.

January 20, 2013

Recalling “Dictatorships & Double Standards”

Filed under: Jeane Kirkpatrick,Ronald Reagan,White House — Peter Arnold

Jeane KirkpatrickSorry for the long drought in blogs.  Chalk it up to global warming.

Former Slate and New Republic editor Michael Kinsley has this delightful review of Lawrence Wright’s new book on Scientology in Sunday’s New York Times.  Describing Scientology, Kinsley writes:

The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday [including] the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick)….

As the Scientologists have a legal budget on par with the GDP of a developing country, they can respond to Kinsley and The Times.  But Kinsley’s remark about Kirkpatrick deserves a comment since the sway of history during the past few decades puts her once-derided thesis in an increasingly vindicated light.

First a disclosure: During much of 1985, I worked with Amb. Kirkpatrick, helping her prepare her UN speeches and papers into a book, Legitimacy & Force.

Kirkpatrick’s distinction about authoritarian and communist dictatorships came to public attention in a November 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards.”  It was a critique of American policies that sought to undercut authoritarian pro-Western regimes (Somoza, the Shah, Lon Nol) while minimizing the destruction of human freedom in totalitarian regimes and movements (Soviet satellites and funded insurgencies).

Her article was often called a criticism of a “human rights” foreign policy – ironic because the phrase “human rights” never appears in the text.

What she did posit was that America’s foreign policy would be better focused on undercutting through trade, food aid, and yes, even foreign aid those governments that were trying to shut down all aspects of unsanctioned behavior (read: Jaruzelski’s Poland, other Soviet satellites).

With 30 years of hindsight, the insight of Amb. Kirkpatrick’s distinction has become blindingly obvious. Precisely as she and like-minded Reagan Administration colleagues (especially CIA director William Casey) predicted, once the aura of “invincibility” came off the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s due in no small part to aggressive American efforts, its empire crumbled with stunning swiftness.  In turn, once the Kremlin was no longer able to maintain an empire, those “wars of liberation” in El Salvador, Colombia, and Africa suddenly came to ignominious (for the rebels) conclusions.

A blog is not nearly long enough for a full discussion of issues that could easily consume tomes.  But suffice it to say from this member of a group occasionally labeled “the Kirkpatrick Mafia,” it is pleasing beyond belief to know that Amb. Kirkpatrick was able to see her views vindicated prior to her passing in 2006.

Incidentally, for the trivia minded, Prof. Kirkpatrick also holds the distinction of being the first Cabinet-level female appointee whose duties focused on international policy.

November 9, 2009

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

Filed under: Asides,Ronald Reagan — Peter Arnold


(Washington) The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago today. I was a White House speechwriter for Vice President Bush when Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Tear down this wall” speech in 1987. Presidential speechwriter Peter Robinson, a fellow Dartmouth mafioso, wrote the speech that became the hallmark of the President’s second term. Ironically, though, that signature line came remarkably close to going in the ash bin of history. If anyone’s interested in the internal tong fight, here’s a good summary.