Dr. Martin Anderson works in an ivory tower — literally. From high above Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Anderson contemplates Ronald Reagan’s legacy as his centennial arrives on February 6.
Asked if he thinks Reagan’s stature has risen since he left office in 1989, Anderson says, “I don’t just think so. I know so.”
Reagan’s reputation has grown, largely thanks to the scholarship of Anderson and his wife, Annelise, both former Reagan aides and Hoover colleagues of mine. Like prospectors panning for flakes of gold, they routinely sift through boxes and boxes of Reagan’s papers. Their findings have surprised even the most stalwart Reaganites.
America’s 40th president succeeded, in part, by not challenging the widespread belief that he was a committed conservative who mainly sold free-market reforms while others fretted over their details and implementation. Reagan’s critics considered him gregarious, perhaps, but ultimately a mere actor who read whatever lines he was handed by such advisers as former White House counselor Ed Meese and the late media man Mike Deaver. The equally late Democratic eminence Clark Clifford famously dismissed Reagan as “an amiable dunce.”
President Reagan greets Annelise and Martin Anderson, February 25, 1982.
The Andersons’ book, Reagan, In His Own Hand,detonated this myth. They discovered 670 scripts for commentaries that the former California governor aired on 236 radio stations from 1975 to 1979. Reagan offered his specific prescriptions on taxes, regulation, peace through strength, and even oceanic mineral content as it concerned the Law of the Sea Treaty. These scripts consisted of sheets of yellow legal paper brimming with Reagan’s own cursive handwriting.
Rather than a mere mouthpiece for his staff, Reagan himself researched and addressed topical issues with philosophical consistency and concrete evidence to bolster his opinions.