EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the June 28, 2004, issue of National Review.
Ronald Reagan was a tough nut for his biographers to crack. While his public policies were rarely a mystery, except to those who made them so, he was among the most private of men: reserved almost to the point of shyness behind his amiable demeanor. To make matters more difficult for a biographer seeking an original story, Reagan had constructed a compelling and romantic version of his life from which he saw no need to deviate.
I learned this early. In 1968, when I was a young reporter in Sacramento for the San Jose Mercury News, I obtained a contract to do a dual biography of Reagan and his Democratic rival, the powerful Assembly Speaker, Jesse (Big Daddy) Unruh. Reagan was the bright, new conservative governor; Unruh one of the greatest of wheeler-dealers. I didn’t understand either of them, and my hope was that I could get below the surface by writing a book.
At this time, in the autumn of 1968, Reagan was campaigning across the country for Republican candidates in a private plane. It was explained to me by the governor’s aides that Reagan would have more time for me if I accompanied him on the plane than he would in Sacramento. These same aides later confessed that they liked the arrangement because Reagan was afraid of flying–his contract with General Electric had specified he travel by train–and they thought it would be desirable to keep him in conversation while airborne.
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