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Diaries Offer Candid View Of Reagan's World

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Diaries Offer Candid View Of Reagan's World

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Diaries Offer Candid View Of Reagan's World

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary nearly every day he served as president. And next week the unabridged, two-volume set of diaries goes on sale nationwide. It includes new details from the Reagan years. And for those who cannot wait, the diaries are on sale this week in just one location, the gift shop of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

That's where NPR's Ina Jaffe found a steady stream of the late president's most devoted fans.

(Soundbite of crowd)

INA JAFFE: Everyone waiting patiently in line outside the Reagan 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.

Ms. JAN GROSSENBACHER(ph) (Visitor, Reagan Library): And we're great admirers of President Reagan.

JAFFE: Said Jan Grossenbacher who was there with her husband, Gale(ph). They already own the abridged version of the late president's diaries that came out a few years ago.

Mr. GALE GROSSENBACHER (Visitor, Reagan Library): So this makes it complete.

JAFFE: And what do you hope to learn about the president that you didn't find out from the abridged version?

Mr. GROSSENBACHER: Well, you get a lot more detail, of course. And...

Ms. GROSSENBACHER: And you never know what you don't know.

JAFFE: Here's some of what they'll find out, according to historian Douglas Brinkley, the editor of both the abridged and unabridged editions.

Mr. DOUGLAS BRINKLEY (Editor, The Reagan Diaries): The Reagan Diaries show Reagan much more engaged and hands-on than previously supposed. It also offers his unvarnished look at people ranging from Pope John Paul to, you know, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev...

JAFFE: For example, says Brinkley, he thought former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a thug.

Mr. BRINKLEY: 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. On the domestic front in America, the guiding lights that shine through are his vice president, George Bush, giving much more policy advice than previously thought. What comes out of this is that Reagan was a conservative, but he was a pragmatic conservative, not an ideologue.

JAFFE: And he was something else that's been rare in Republican circles these days: successful and widely beloved. That's why recent Republican candidates have invoked his name at every opportunity.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Presidential Candidate): Ronald Reagan would say, as I do, that Washington is broken. And like Ronald Reagan, I go to Washington as an outsider.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Ronald Reagan would not approve of someone who changes their positions depending on what the...

Mr. MICHAEL D. HUCKABEE (Republican, Former Governor of Arkansas): It was that he loved America and saw it as a good nation and a great nation because of the greatness of his people...

Senator MCCAIN: Ronald Reagan came with an unshakable set of principles.

Mr. ROMNEY: Ronald Reagan would say lower taxes. Ronald Reagan would say lower spending.

JAFFE: Those were just a few of the Reagan references made by Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee, at a presidential candidates' debate at the Reagan Library last year.

Mr. BRINKLEY: Hi. How are you doing?

Unidentified Woman: I'm fine. How are you?

Mr. BRINKLEY: Fine, thanks. To Jack?

JAFFE: As Douglas Brinkley sat behind an ornate wooden desk, signing the Reagan Diaries, people waiting their turn said that today's Republicans could learn a lot from Ronald Reagan. There was less unanimity on exactly what that was.

Here's Ed Woodson(ph).

Mr. ED WOODSON: Strong national defense and values, that's what we need in the country today.

JAFFE: Lisa Tyson(ph) said Reagan would tell current office holders to step up to the plate.

Ms. LISA TYSON: And think of the broader future of what's going on with America and not just nitpicking. It's a lot of back and forth that we used to not have as much in politics. And I don't think we get things done.

Mr. RANDY SCHELL(ph): Get back to basics. Get back to core beliefs of the party.

JAFFE: Says Randy Schell.

Mr. SCHELL: Don't try to re-invent, like Governor Romney and Governor Bush are saying, re-invent the party. Get back to basics.

JAFFE: Everyone was looking for the key to success that's eluded Republicans lately, and hoping that somewhere in his two-volume diary, Ronald Reagan reveals the secret.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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