Ronald Reagan kept a diary nearly every day that he was president of the United States. The Reagan Diaries Unabridged goes on sale nationwide Tuesday.
But some of the late president's most devoted fans were able to get an early start on the two-volume extravaganza by purchasing them at the only place they're available this week: the gift shop of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Everyone waiting patiently in line outside the library gift shop looked old enough to have voted for the Republican icon when he ran for president in 1980 — or even when he ran for governor of California in 1966.
"We're great admirers of President Reagan," said Jan Grossenbacher, who was visiting the library. She and her husband, Gale, already own the abridged version of the late president's diaries that came out a few years ago.
"So this makes it complete," Gale Grossenbacher said. He said he expects "more detail" in the unabridged version.
Reagan's Unvarnished Look At World Leaders
Historian Douglas Brinkley, the editor of both the abridged and unabridged editions, said the diaries "show Reagan much more engaged and hands-on than previously supposed." In the unabridged version, Brinkley said, Reagan also offers his unvarnished look at people ranging from Pope John Paul to Mother Teresa to Mikhail Gorbachev.
Reagan "thought [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon of Israel was a thug. He didn't like him, which surprises a lot of people. He was terrified to meet Mother Teresa, and really had a special relationship with the pope," Brinkley said.
Domestically, Brinkley said, one of Reagan's "guiding lights" was his vice president, George H.W. Bush. He provided "much more policy advice than previously thought," Brinkley says. "What comes out of this is that Reagan was a conservative, but a pragmatic conservative — not an ideologue."
And Reagan was something else that has been rare in Republican circles these days: successful and widely beloved. That's why recent Republican candidates have invoked his name at every opportunity.
Lessons For Current Republicans?
As Douglas Brinkley sat behind an ornate wooden desk signing the Reagan diaries, the people waiting their turn said today's Republicans could learn a lot from Ronald Reagan. There was less unanimity on exactly what that was.
According to Ed Woodson, Republicans should focus on a "strong national defense and values."
"That's what we need in the country today," Woodson said.
Lisa Tyson said Reagan would tell current office holders to "step up to the plate and think of the broader future" of the country. She complains that there is a lot of nitpicking in politics nowadays.
"I don't think we get things done," Tyson said.
And Randy Schell wants the Republican Party to "get back to basics." He criticized the current party leaders who talk about reinventing the party.
"Just get back to core beliefs," Schell advised.
Everyone at the book signing seemed to be looking for the key to success that has lately eluded Republicans — and hoping that somewhere in his two-volume diary, Reagan reveals the secret.