Happy 100th Birthday, President Reagan

Former President Ronald Reagan would have turned 100-years-old on February 6, and the Political Junkie is ready to celebrate. NPR's Ken Rudin and two Reagan biographers, Craig Shirley and Lou Cannon, talk about Reagan's enduring impact on politics.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The Illinois Supremes unanimously put Rahm back on the ballot, the Dems will convene in Dixie in 2012, and the Gipper turns 100, it's Wednesday and time for a...

President RONALD REAGAN: ...tear down this wall...

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

Pres. REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Where's the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. This week, some pre-presidential news as Mike Pence bowed out of the contest for the GOP nod, not that he ever officially bought in. Jon Huntsman appeared to ante-up, though, relocating from Beijing to Washington. Another moderate Democratic senator, Jon Tester this time, gets a well-known Republican challenger, while last January's GOP superstar Scott Brown draws a rival from the Tea Party.

And this month draws - marks the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. We'll talk about the legacy of our 40th president. Later in the program, why a wager on the winner of the Super Bowl is a bad bet.

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Good to have you back, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Thank you, Neal, and it's been a week.

CONAN: It's been a week.

RUDIN: And speaking of the Super Bowl, it's a Super Bowl trivia question. You know, in the football news yesterday, Tom Brady was named the offensive player of the year. I thought Ben Roethlisberger was the offensive player of the year.

CONAN: Moving right along.

RUDIN: Yes, but anyway, Sunday's Super Bowl features the Green Bay Packers, which won the first two Super Bowls, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, which have won more Super Bowls, six, than any other team. Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers won five each. Question - this has something to do with politics.

CONAN: Sure, but the Super Bowl of politics.

RUDIN: Exactly. Name the top three presidential candidates who received the most popular votes for president than anyone else, and you must have all three in the proper order.

CONAN: So if you think you know the three presidential candidates to collect more popular votes for president than anyone else in history, you must have them in the correct order, one, two and three, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

The winner, of course, gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. And Ken, the Democrats think they can win North Carolina again?

RUDIN: Well, that's - the theory that's out there is that the reason that the Democrats and President Obama chose Charlotte, North Carolina -over St. Louis, for example, which was the runner-up - for the 2012 Democratic Convention, is that: One, they won North Carolina in 2008, they did not win Missouri in 2008, and perhaps they think that with an energized African-American turnout, they could win the state again.

My feeling is that they really, what it really amounts to is Charlotte has recovered from the recession, and St. Louis has been in the headlines the last year or so as the most dangerous city in America.

It's a crime - I mean, just this, so many statistics. Here's one. The national average of violent crimes is 429.4 per 100,000 population. St. Louis's number is 2,070 per 100,000. I think a lot of it was fear, bad news about the comeback of St. Louis, the feeling about crime in St. Louis. But ultimately, North Carolina is a winnable state, I think more so than Missouri.

CONAN: Okay. The other losers were, I guess, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: But Minneapolis, of course, just had the Republican convention.

RUDIN: And that went very well. What's-her-name was nominated for vice president there.

CONAN: I remember reading about that on all the papers. In the meantime, let's get back to Chicago, which has been, well, first I guess to the top of the ballot, the favorite there is still Rahm Emanuel, though on again, off again, on again, off again. That's got to have damaged his standing.

RUDIN: No, it hasn't, actually. I kind of think that by putting him on for once and for all, by deciding that yes, he is qualified to run for mayor, yes, he is a resident, you had to be a resident of the city for a full year prior to the election, and yes, he deserves to be on the ballot.

Rahm Emanuel is now, once again, the frontrunner, the highest poll numbers, the most money by far. And the election is coming up February 22nd, very soon, and none of the other candidates seem to be mounting any kind of a threat to his candidacy.

CONAN: Well, number two, at least in the polls, is former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, and at a meeting with other mayoral candidates...

RUDIN: A debate.

CONAN: Not including Rahm Emanuel, the former ambassador and senator responded to Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, who accused Moseley Braun of, well, not being really Chicago enough, being away too long. In return, Moseley Braun took, well, a pretty vicious swipe.

Ms. CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (Former Senator, Democrat, Illinois; Mayoral Candidate, Chicago): Patricia, the reason you didn't know who I was for the last 20 years because you were strung out on crack. Now, you have admitted to that.

CONAN: And, well, it turned out she'd admitted being on drugs from the ages of 19 to 21, but that was 20 years ago, not 30, and in any case, it made an ugly contest already uglier.

RUDIN: Absolutely, and if you remember, Neal, in the beginning of the show, you introduced it, you said Ken Rudin on crack.

CONAN: I did, yeah, I mentioned it that way.

RUDIN: A lot of people called and congratulated me, actually.

CONAN: Because you moved up in the world.

RUDIN: They said it explained a lot of things.

CONAN: All right. Moving right along, that seems to be the phrase here, the - Jon Huntsman, we noted last time, a week ago, well, looked like he was going to resign his ambassadorship to possibly run for president of the United States. Well, now, he's done it and bought a townhouse here in D.C.

RUDIN: Yes. And, you know, again, Barack Obama - President Obama joked that I'm sure working for the Obama administration will really help you with Republican voters.

CONAN: In the primary, yeah.

RUDIN: In the primaries. And, but, you know, Huntsman actually may be the first member of an administration to quit and then run against the president since Henry Wallace against Harry Truman in 1948. How do you like that?

CONAN: Well, boy, that would've been a trivia question.

RUDIN: I would've gotten a T-shirt right away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, you need one. In any case, there is also the vote today in the United States Senate...

RUDIN: And Mike Pence.

CONAN: And Mike Pence, we mentioned, decided not to run. Of course, I guess, running from Indiana.

RUDIN: Indiana, probably going to run for governor there.

CONAN: Okay. In the meantime, there is the House, as we know, and no great surprise, voted to repeal the president's health care law. That vote is coming up today in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: In the Senate probably somewhere between 5 o'clock and 6 o'clock Eastern Time. As Mitch McConnell said, as the House Republicans said, they were elected in 2010 to...

CONAN: Well, as Mitch McConnell said.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): We promised the American people we would try to repeal this job-crushing Washington takeover of our health care, and we're keeping that commitment. The House has voted to repeal it, and we'll have that vote in the Senate today.

You know, it's not often that you get a second chance to correct a mistake.

CONAN: And, of course, a second chance to hold a debate in the United States Senate on this.

RUDIN: Exactly and I think Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, said: Look, you know, we might as well let them have the vote. It's basically an amendment to the FAA authorization bill. And it'll probably go down. The question - because I think basically all the Democrats - first of all, Democrats have a 53-47 majority in the Senate if you include the two independents, and it doesn't look like that any Democrat is going to defect from that vote.

So, but Mitch McConnell said this will not be the last time we'll have this vote.

CONAN: In any case, we think we have some people on the phone who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. And that is, let us remind you, the three presidential candidates to collect the most popular votes, in order. You've got to get all three. 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And Phil's(ph) on the line calling from Hollywood, Florida.

PHIL (Caller): Hi, guys, love the show, love the trivia question. Just using the reasoning there are more voters out there in recent times, I'm going to go with: number one, Barack Obama in 2008; number two, George W. Bush in 2004; and Bill Clinton in 1996.

RUDIN: Okay, Phil, let me explain why you're missing this question. This is in history, in other words, the total number of votes. Like for example, if John Quincy Adams had run for president 12 times, that might give him an advantage over somebody who ran for president one time.

So you were looking for one-year. We're looking for a total number of popular votes.

CONAN: Ooh, I misunderstood. I thought that was in one election.

RUDIN: Oh, no, total. So...

PHIL: Can I try again?

RUDIN: Sure.

CONAN: All right.

PHIL: All right, then let's go with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

RUDIN: Wrong.

CONAN: Nice try, though. I thought she was going to go for Harold Stassen if it's total number of votes over the years. Anyway, let's see if we can go next to...

RUDIN: We're talking about the general election.

CONAN: General election. Albert(ph), Albert with us from Lake Havasu in Arizona.

ALBERT (Caller): Yeah, I misunderstood or was not - the question was not phrased correctly. So I have to change my vote. I'll go with Roosevelt, Eisenhower - I'm sorry, Roosevelt, Reagan, Eisenhower.

CONAN: And which Roosevelt?

ALBERT: That would be Franklin.

CONAN: Okay.

RUDIN: Well, I will tell you that you have one of the top three in your list, but two of them did not make it.

CONAN: Nice try, Albert.

ALBERT: Thanks so much.

RUDIN: I'm sorry about the....

CONAN: I misunderstood it, too.

RUDIN: Yeah, I'm sorry about the wording on the question. I don't mean to be anti-semantic, but I guess I just...

CONAN: Rick(ph) joins us from Jacksonville.

RICK (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

RICK: My guess is Andrew Jackson, which the city of Jacksonville was named after, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

RUDIN: Well, no, you have one of the three on there. But again, I'm looking for total votes. Of course, if they ran for president more than once, that does help your ability to have total votes.

CONAN: All right, nice try, Rick, and here's an email answer, this from Paul(ph). I'm not sure where he is, oh, Hudson, Wisconsin. He guesses: Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

RUDIN: Well, that happens to be the exact answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Of course, Richard Nixon ran for president three times, won in '68 and '72, lost in '60. George W. Bush only ran twice, but as the earlier caller said, more votes, a larger population than ever before. And FDR won four times, you know, FDR named after that highway in New York. FDR had four elections, elected in the 1930s and '40s.

CONAN: Well, we're going to save that email, and he's going to get a no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise of a digital picture of himself for us to post on our Wall of Shame.

RUDIN: And a promise of a completely clear question next week.

CONAN: A clear question next week. Okay, in any case, I guess it's no real surprise that Jon Tester will get a strong Republican challenge in 2012, but Scott Brown drawing a Tea Party challenge, this was the guy who was the hero of the Republican Party just a year ago.

RUDIN: Well, Scott Brown was a hero in that January 19th election that took Teddy Kennedy's seat, was a big shock, and the Republicans loved it. But for some conservatives, just winning is not enough, and Scott Brown has voted with the Democrats. He's been more eager than others to cross the line and vote with Democrats.

Of course, when you're coming from Massachusetts, that's a no-brainer. How do you get re-elected if you just stick with a conservative platform? But there are some people, like this group called the National Republic Trust, who said - they backed him financially last year, but they said that Scott Brown is too much of a RINO, and they'll look to oppose him in the primary next year.

CONAN: Republican in name only. And finally, Norm Coleman will not be running for re-election.

RUDIN: Well, he won't be running for the Senate seat that he lost to Al Franken.

CONAN: Oh, right.

RUDIN: Amy Klobuchar is up next year. He says he won't run against her. But he may run against Franken in 2014.

CONAN: Coming up, we're going to be talking more with political junkie Ken Rudin, and if that's not enough to celebrate, this coming Sunday marks the 100th birthday of President Ronald Reagan. His legacy and your calls about that. Stay with us, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll be talking with historians Craig Shirley and Lou Cannon. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

Ken Rudin is here, as he is every Wednesday, NPR political editor and our Political Junkie. You can check out his column, download his podcast, and try to solve that darn ScuttleButton puzzle all at npr.org/junkie.

This coming Sunday, President Ronald Reagan would turn 100 years old. A hero to conservatives, his legacy continues to influence politics in Washington today.

We'll talk about the 40th president and where he might fit in today's political climate. What is President Reagan's legacy to you? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And you can get into the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

With us here in Studio 3A is Craig Shirley, the author of "The Reagan Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All." He also worked for Reagan's re-election campaign. And Craig, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. CRAIG SHIRLEY (Author): You bet, thank you.

CONAN: And well, started it all, what do you mean by that?

Mr. SHIRLEY: Well, that was about the 1976 campaign, when he came out of California to take on incumbent Gerald Ford in the primaries, which was unprecedented. It hadn't happened since 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt took on Taft and almost beat him for the nomination as well.

In fact, Roosevelt won nearly all the Republican primaries that year. Because Taft controlled the levers of power, he was still able to be re-nominated.

Reagan actually in 1976 won more popular votes in the contested primaries than did Gerald Ford, but again, because Ford was the incumbent, he controlled the levers of power and was able to narrowly defeat Reagan in Kansas City in '76.

CONAN: And one of the phrases that then-candidate Ronald Reagan liked to use at that time was the prairie fire. That was something that really energized his grassroots movement.

Mr. SHIRLEY: Very much so. He was, in many ways, the first Tea Party candidate, at least of the 20th century. When he announced in November of 1975, he took on what he called the Washington buddy system. He went after big government, big labor, but he also went after big business, which was unusual for a Republican at the time.

CONAN: We remember his inauguration speech in 1981, I guess, Ken Rudin, that government is not the solution, government is the problem.

RUDIN: Yes, and it's true, and I'd like to talk to Craig about whether President Reagan satisfied conservatives in that way, because for all the talk about shrinking government, eliminating departments in the Cabinet, lowering taxes, some of his moves, some of his policies in the eight years as president was not completely conservative orthodoxy.

Mr. SHIRLEY: I agree. There were - 1982, he fought conservatives over (unintelligible) and actually worked with Speaker Tip O'Neill to pass a tax increase. So there were times when Reagan was not always a Reaganite, as far as his followers were concerned.

But if you look at the broad context of what he stood for and what he articulated, he is, I think from the standpoint of American history, the most important conservative leader in the standpoint of American history, and history has recorded, not just but by myself and other conservatives but by liberal historians, to be one of the four greatest presidents in American history.

CONAN: Well, bringing us up to date on that line is - from California and his home, is Lou Cannon, author of five books about President Reagan, among them "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime." And Lou Cannon, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. LOU CANNON (Author): Good to be back with you.

CONAN: And it was interesting. You wrote a piece today that I read on Politics Daily, where you said the thing that most characterized Ronald Reagan, you asked him once what had been most overlooked in his biography, and he said his role as a negotiator for the Screen Actors Guild.

Mr. CANNON: Yes. He said that, I was interviewing him. It was just about the time that he'd met with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, in Geneva. This was in 1985. And I said: What did you learn from all of this negotiation?

And I can - there are things, you know, you remember. I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but there are things you remember from years ago like they were yesterday. And what Ronald Reagan said to me was that the purpose of a negotiation is to get an agreement.

And he's looking at - he's saying this very clearly and spelling it out like this is something that I ought to know and probably don't...

CONAN: And this in the context of a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom the great anti-communist leader was about to make an agreement to reduce, to eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons.

Mr. CANNON: Well, it took a couple of years, and it took an awful lot of battles. But I think the thing that I most remember about this, Ronald Reagan came to the Washington Post, for which I worked, in 1980. He had secured the nomination. He hadn't actually been formally nominated.

We asked him - one of those things with editors and reporters, you ask 100 questions, and one of the questions was: Well, if you build up the U.S. military the way you're talking about, isn't it going to intensify the arms race?

Reagan in effect said yes, it would, but it would get the Soviets to the bargaining table. Reagan always had a purpose in what he did. He wasn't spending money on military defense for the heck of it, and he wanted to negotiate with the Soviets from a position of strength, which he did do, but he also wanted to negotiate, and he wanted to reach that agreement.

And in line with Craig, whose book is really good reading, and I commend it to anyone, but in line with what Craig said, the - Reagan wanted to get somewhere. He wanted he wanted to - he had a set of goals that he wanted to achieve, and sometimes that meant taking a step backward to achieve them.

He was both a very practical man and a person of conviction. And I think that is the combination of the two things that made him an effective president.

Mr. SHIRLEY: You know, Lou has hit on such an important point, and that is, is that people don't realize that he was he was radical in 1980. But the country was in such a state that people were ready for a radical change in policy, especially in taxing and spending issues, but also in our stance toward the Soviets.

We were losing the Cold War. The Soviets were in Afghanistan. Central America had fallen to communism. Southeast Asia had fallen to communism. American foreign policy had been governed since the time of Truman up through Ford, Nixon and Jimmy Carter by d�tente, which was - and some people thought was maybe the slow-motion surrender of the West to the East.

Reagan junked d�tente, and he institutes a new radical foreign policy, and he articulates it many times. He says we're not going to - we're going to transcend communism.

Mr. CANNON: Roll back...

Mr. SHIRLEY: We're going to roll it back. This is radical thinking to the Washington establishment and to the world establishment.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Craig Shirley, Lou Cannon was just talking about how Reagan loved to compromise on taxes, on d�tente and the Soviet Union - well, not love, but he believed in compromise to get something done. My question is: How would Reagan fare in this new Tea Party Republican way of thinking when compromise is really not thought of highly?

Mr. SHIRLEY: Well, he would compromise at the end, but he would also articulate his positions and stick to his guns until he got to the end. You know, Lou was there in Sacramento when Reagan was governor, and he would say that I would be satisfied in Sacramento getting 80 percent of what I wanted. And that's what he did as president.

The tax bill in '81 was not entirely what he wanted, but he got, you know, instead of a 30 percent tax reduction, it was a 25 percent tax reduction. It was phased in over three years instead of one year, as he wanted. But it got most of what he wanted.

So he was skilful in that way of not getting everything he wanted but getting most of what he wanted.

RUDIN: But compared to...

Mr. CANNON: Two points on taxes. As governor of California, he compromised at the beginning.

Mr. SHIRLEY: Raised taxes.

Mr. CANNON: Yeah, he had been left, because of an accounting gimmick by his predecessor, he'd been left with nine months of revenue for 12 months of state services, and he in the very first week, which really, this is a novice governor by his own admission, he'd never been in office before, he said - he agreed to a tax increase.

So he said let's do it while people remember who's responsible for it, by which he meant his predecessor. And the tax bill that he signed into law was the largest tax bill ever signed by any governor. It was a billion dollars. But it would be $6 billion in today's dollars.

And on the federal level, yes, he agreed to a tax increase in 1982 and to several other tax increases.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get...

Mr. CANNON: But at the end of the day, at the end of the day, he started with the marginal tax rate of 70 percent when he came in office, and when he left office the marginal tax rate was 28 percent. That's quite an achievement.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 100 this coming Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday - 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Mike is on the line, Mike calling from Lawrence, Kansas.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah, the point I wanted to make, and this is kind of lost on a lot of modern(ph) Republicans, Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, into effect in 1988, and it's not really that great a bill, but it provided a path for indigenous nations to be able to raise money for themselves.

I benefit from it because the tribe I work with has language, because of gaming, they're able to fund their language and cultural programs because of gaming. I've learned Choctaw because the Choctaw Nation has money probably from gaming for language. So it allowed - what he did, allowed tribes to earn money to diversify and be able to support themselves, even though the Republicans now have amnesia and fight it all the time after he signed it.

CONAN: All right. Mike, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. It's not something we think of prominently in the Ronald Reagan record, but there it is. Let's see if we go next to - this is John. John with us from Tucson.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. Thank you. This is John from Tucson.

CONAN: Yes. You're on the air. Go ahead.

JOHN: The biggest legacy that we have was that Ronald Reagan dealt with Mikhail Gorbachev. I give probably Mr. Gorbachev at least as much credit, if not more, because it's just a miracle that he got the power -the reins of power in the Soviet Union.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: But they were bankrupt. I give Reagan credit for doing a game-changer, as your - the person - your interviewee was said, that he went on the biggest peacetime war buildup for America, and that definitely contributed to the bankruptcy for the Soviet Union.

CONAN: And Lou Cannon, Craig Shirley said earlier that even liberal historians think of Ronald Reagan as one of the top four presidents and put that accomplishment - the agreements with the Soviet Union - at the top of the list. Would you agree with that?

Mr. CANNON: Yes.

JOHN: I agree with that. I think Ronald Reagan is one of our top presidents, even though I voted for Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey. I think I've - I don't think I've ever voted for a Republican in any presidential race. I just give great credit to Ronald Reagan, and I -even though he - you could say he was radical in some ways, tremendously pragmatic, and he didn't have the mean face of many conservatives. He wasn't adversarial, and he was a master of communicating and making you feel good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I...

Mr. SHIRLEY: Well, let me just address that, and Lou knows far more than anybody. And by the way, all of his books are just terrific. He is the official Reagan biographer, and he's an old friend and - but you know, we're looking now through the gauze of history and looking at Reagan finally. But you know, back in the '60s and '70s, he was a polarizing figure as well. There are a lot of people inside the Republican Party who couldn't stand Ronald Reagan. There were certainly a lot of people on the left who couldn't stand Ronald Reagan. He himself was not considered in that context the way he is considered today.

JOHN: Well, that's because he became very good, you know, kind of like Bill Clinton. He mold(ph) himself - he would show up a roast, like a Ronald Reagan roast or a Bob Hope roast, and I know of no president that you get up and have everybody laughing and being a bit like a standup comedian without ruining his persona as president of the United States too.

CONAN: He may have had enemies, but very few who ever met him.

Mr. SHIRLEY: The secret...

JOHN: That's right. That's what - several people told me - I actually got to shake to his hand at the Ambassador Hotel, the ill-fated hotel where Robert Kennedy was shot and killed, but he came there just before his victory in the New Hampshire primary. And when he was still - people didn't know whether he was going to be the big-time candidate. And so there was a small group of people in the room, and I just thought he had tremendous presence. You just couldn't help liking him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

JOHN: Thank you very much. Bye.

CONAN: Bye.

Mr. CANNON: The caller made some terrific points, but Reagan was opposed - first of all, as Craig's book points out, the entire Republican establishment tried to stop him from being the nominee. And at the end of his presidency, when he got the INF Treaty signed with Gorbachev, a lot of conservatives opposed it. Bill Buckley came to the White House and asked him not to sign the treaty he had negotiated. George Will called it moral disarmament. So Ronald Reagan was a person who -although - through the through - with 20 years of, you know, in a kind of nostalgic glow here...

CONAN: And...

Mr. CANNON: ...is iconic. When he was actually in office, he was - he had to - he was opposed by people who - on the right, as well as people on the left.

CONAN: We're talking with Lou Cannon and Craig Shirley, both authors of books about Ronald Reagan. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an email we have from Mike in Charlotte, North Carolina: I'm sorry, I do not consider Ronald Reagan a hero. I feel that a lot of the malicious talk we deal with today is rooted in his campaigns. He also established a common belief that you can get all you want from government but do not have to pay for it, that you can stigmatize the poor for their lot in life. So that's a negative view there.

Let's go to Jim. Jim with us in Eagle River in Alaska.

JIM (Caller): I think the most memorable thing is his outrageously debunked trickle-down economics, also supply-side economics, which has become now the basis of - philosophical basis for the Republican Party, where the more money that you give to the rich, it can stimulate the economy by trickling down to the little people. It's become embedded in the minds of the Republican Party as their cast-in-stone economic philosophy, even though it's been debunked now.

CONAN: Craig Shirley?

Mr. SHIRLEY: I don't think it's been debunked. And if you look at the historical record, his tax cuts, like John Kennedy's, actually increased revenue for the federal government. Reagan's tax cuts were, as he said at a speech in CPAC in 1981, weren't so much about stimulating the economy. It was, as he said, it was about reordering man's relationship to the state. You know, that part of high school physics that I didn't sleep through - I remember our teacher saying that power can neither be destroyed nor created, it can only be moved around.

Since time of the New Deal, power had been moving away from the people toward the national government. What Reagan wanted to do was reverse that tide and move power back to the American people. And so in embracing tax cuts, it was about moving power back to them. But he also said, look, here's the deal: America is a do-it-yourself enterprise. We're going to cut your taxes, but we also want you to look to Washington less and less for aid and comfort.

CONAN: In his piece in politicsdaily.com, Lou Cannon wrote today that in fact the Reagan recovery was more due to his deal with Paul Volcker to continue to fight interest rates...

Mr. SHIRLEY: Inflation.

CONAN: ...and inflation. So you can get different arguments about that. In any case...

Mr. CANNON: Well - but the point is, is that the - that when Reagan backed Volcker, it wasn't just the Democrats who were after - who were critical of Volcker. Republicans were - you know, Howard Baker said -the Republican Senate leader - says Volcker has his foot on our neck and we want to get it off. Carter had appointed Volcker. He was Carter's Wall Street banker. Volcker said later that Ronald Reagan gave him more backing than Carter ever did.

CONAN: Lou Cannon, thanks very much for being with us. One of his books about Ronald Reagan, "President Reagan: The Role of Lifetime." Craig Shirley also with us. "Reagan Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All." We thank them for their time. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin will back with us next Wednesday. And thanks to everybody who wrote to tell me the 2008 Republican Convention was in Saint Paul, not Minneapolis. How could I? This is NPR News.

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