The Corner

What Steve Says Goes For Me

My criticism of Cannon’s work would be precisely the same as Steve’s: Broadly speaking, the Reagan White House was divided between the pragmatists (Baker, Deaver, Gergen, Darman) and the true believers (Meese, Clark, and, for what it was worth, the speechwriters), and Lou’s newspaper reporting, as also his early Reagan books, were heavliy colored by the pragmatists for the simple reason that they were the ones who were leaking to him.

Take a look, for example, at Cannon’s account of the Bitburg mess. What happened, basically, is that Mike Deaver got sloppy, making an advance trip to Germany during which he permitted himself to be shown around a graveyard by representatives of the German government while the graves were covered with snow, then, without checking up on just who happened to be buried there (quite a few members of the SS, as the world learned quickly enough), blithely agreeing to have the president visit the site on his upcoming visit. Once it became clear that Deaver had messed up, Helmut Kohl himself called Reagan, begging him to go through with the visit on the grounds that if he failed to do so the West German government would fall. Reagan complied, giving a moving speech (written, incidentally, by Josh Gilder). How does Cannon handle this? By putting the best possible construction on the behavior of Deaver, who caused the mess in the first place (Deaver wasworking long hours under intense pressure, don’t you know) and the worst possible construction on the behavior of Reagan, who, Cannon claims, all but laughably, was somehow oblivious to the meaning of the SS. What does Cannon handle the matter in this way? Because, transparently enough, his source was…Deaver.

In his more recent work, though, Cannon has been undergoing an impressive metamorphosis from reporter to true historian, double-checking his earlier judgements, immersing himself in the documents, and retaining enough of an open and honest mind to come to some new conclusions. I still think he hasn’t quite got the measure of Reagan or of his enormous place in history. But for a detailed, serious accounting of Reagan’s life, governorship, and presidency, Cannon’s work is nevertheless completely indispensable. And while I’m at it, let me add that he’s a kind and companionable man. We swapped a batch of emails while I was working on my own Reagan book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, and Cannon was always generous with his insights and his time.

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