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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.
June 10, 2004
This is Ken Duberstein and it is great to be with you today. In Washington there is great sadness but there is also great celebration. Passing President Reagan's coffin sitting in the rotunda last night lying in state, I couldn't help but think as I reached out and touched the coffin of our beloved President, how fortunate we all were to have him as a leader who not only changed our country but wound up changing the world.
I look forward to taking your questions.
corwin, from eagle, Nebraska
Neal, from University of Southern Mississippi
And then we would be joined by the National Security Advisor, and during my time as Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor was General Colin Powell, now our wonderful Secretary of State.
We were also always joined, when he was in town, by then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush. My briefing as Chief of Staff was 30 minutes going over the events of the day, issues that had developed overnight, what the calendar looked like for that day, talking about some of the speeches and some of the issues of the day.
And then we were joined by General Powell to do a briefing on the national security items that had happened overnight and were thought to likely happen during that day.
The President then met during the day with various Cabinet officers of Members of Congress, business leaders, or ordinary American citizens.
He was known as the Great Communicator, he was also a terrific listener. He loved listening to people. He always started a meeting with a story or joke. That was his nature. But he quickly got into the specific issues of the day.
Many times he dined alone in the library adjacent to the Oval Office. But I would also tell you that he never took off his tie and jacket inside the Oval Office in deference to the Presidency of the United States.
Nor did anyone else walk into the Oval Office without a coat and tie on because we followed our leader in deference to the Presidency.
He used to say that the Oval Office was not his office, but he was the temporary custodian of the Oval Office.
He usually ended his day officially in the White House by 6pm. Then he went upstairs and he and Mrs. Reagan used to watch TV, the news programs and have their dinners on TV trays. He then did his reading and he used to bring up a satchel full of reading materials or decision memos during the evening and then turned in around 11 oclock at night.
Katie, from Indiana writes:
I returned to the White House in early 1987 when Howard Baker became Chief of Staff, I was Deputy Chief of Staff. And then in 1988 I became Chief of Staff through the end of the Reagan Presidency.
I will tell you very briefly that when I came back in early March of 87, I wasnt sure if I was going to come back to work again in the White House. And I walked into the Oval Office at the Presidents request and he said, I understand all the reasons why you might not want to come back, but I just want you to know one thing. Nancy and I want you to come home for the last two years of the Administration. And I said, on the spot, Yes sir.
And I had the great privilege of working with him in the last two years when Ronald Reagan fundamentally ended the Cold War. I stood with him at the Berlin Wall when he uttered what became the signature line of the Reagan Presidency, Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev.
And I departed with him on Marine One (the helicopter) from the inauguration of George Herbert Walker Bush and we went back to California for a final at that time farewell to the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Chris, from Hoboken, NJ writes:
But so is going with him to Moscow and to Washington for the summits with Mikhail Gorbachev and of course going to the Berlin Wall and being with him for the farewell address to the nation. And riding with him on the helicopter and then Air Force One back to California on January 20.
It is the memories of his victories on Capitol Hill and beating Tip ONeil and the democratic majority to cut taxes, and cut spending and cut down on over burdensome regulation and rebuild our national security.
And the wink of his eye and the smile on his face, and you knew that people would come around and be supportive of President Reagan.
Sly, from West Bloomfield, MI
If it were easy, if it were yes or no, if it were black or white, then it would probably have never reached the Presidents desk in the Oval Office.
But President Reagan during those eight years worked diligently for his goals. And I think the West Wing show certainly tries to portray that.
Rikki, from Orange County writes:
Thanks for your time.
I said to him that I wasnt writing a book, I wasnt taking notes, I wasnt going back to my office and dictating, that he had hired me obviously not for my good looks but for my judgment and to my loyalty and if he expected me to be a reality therapist and give him my best judgment and advice it would have to stay between him and me.
And I also was counting on him being able to level with me without any concern that I would share that in memoirs or a book that I would be writing.
And he told me how much he appreciated that. And I will tell you that I have stayed true to that because I think we were able to share the trust and confidence that you must have in order to be an effective Chief of Staff to the President.
Ted, from Dallas writes:
He came back to Washington to take personal charge of the situation. And youll recall that he spoke to the nation and had his representatives make presentations to the United Nations using intercepts that we had gotten as far as what the Russian pilots were doing.
It was a sad day that brought us to the brink of lots of problems. But there was an understanding with the then Soviet Union that they had made a mistake and while it cost innocent lives, that Ronald Reagan was able to explain that to the country; to accept their word, but not accept the circumstances.
And I think he handled it the right, appropriate way.
Matthew, from Washington DC
He loved dealing with people. He loved being with people. He was not very good though on remembering names. But I will tell you that there is a famous quote by a very senior democratic lawmaker Senator who at the end of the Reagan Presidency was quoted as saying in a brief tribute to President Reagan, Ronald Reagan may not always remember your name, but he always remembered his goals. He stayed focused on those goals of cutting taxes, and cutting spending and increasing our national security and fundamentally ending the Cold War. Thats what he focused on.
As warm and engaging his personality was , he was occasionally a bit shy, but he always broke the ice by telling a story or a joke and also by being a very good listener.
Matt, from Bettendorf writes:
He wanted to rebuild our national security, He wanted to cut down on big government and youll recall years later that even President Bill Clinton said, The era of big government is over. Ronald Reagan would have loved that line.
But he always stayed focus on the big picture and the big goals that he had thought about before he ran for the Presidency and what he committed himself to do when he was elected President.
John, from Bowling Green, KY
President of the United States? How did he see himself in regard to the thirty-nine who came before him?
He was always very self-deprecating, he always thought, Well, aw shucks, did they really come to see me?
You know something, he was very proud that he was able to make the changes here in America and especially restore pride in America by all Americans.
A lot of people forget that in the late 1970s, a lot of commentators have written, there was malaise throughout the United States, we thought our best days had come and gone. And Ronald Reagan said, no Americas best days are yet to come.
And since the Reagan Administration, during and subsequently, I think everyone agrees that Ronald Reagan restored pride in America, here at home, and respect for America throughout the world.
Connie, from Kodiak Island, Alaska writes:
Ronald Reagan was a wonderful role model for my children as well. Not only young Jeff now 19 who he used to carry around the White House, but also Andy, my son Andy, who Mrs. Reagan used to carry around the White House when I brought him there. He was strong and true and of the highest integrity. He was warm and encouraging to people and as my son Jeff has said many, many times, Dad he has become my hero.
Dennis, from Jacksonville FL
Malinda, from Hazelgreen, Alabama 35750 writes:
Thank You So Much Malinda
You saw that in the procession route yesterday and in the Capitol last night and in Simi Valley a few days ago. He would have been overwhelmed by it.
I had the good fortune of riding in the Presidential limousine with the President many, many times, and I will tell you that as people lined the streets wherever we went whether it was in Washington, Michigan, California, Indiana or Pennsylvania or Texas, that Ronald Reagan always waved with both arms extended looking out both windows.
Because if people came to see me, I want to see them. If they took the time to come out and see their President, then I want to give something back.
And yesterday morning, many hours before the processional and the rider-less horse and the horse drawn caisson, I drove up Constitution Avenue as people were starting to line up and I was overwhelmed with the memories of driving up that street with President Reagan going to Capitol Hill in the limousine.
And I know his reaction would be, Do you think they all just came out to see me?
This was Ronald Reagan at his humble best. It was absolutely special.
James, from San Diego, Ca.
If thats possible, I think President Reagan belongs up there with the greats of America and certainly a giant of the 20th century.
Lynn, from Oklahoma writes:
Jurgen, from Halle, Germany writes:
The whole of Germany mourns his death. Thank you.
Some people thought it was too confrontational and provocative. But President Reagan knew that this was the right way to approach Mikhail Gorbachev and to fundamentally based on all the military buildup that we could in fact triumph and find peace and reduction in nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union that would lead to their ultimate demise and a triumph for democracy and America.
He always dreamed that America's best days were yet to come. He was ripe with that optimism and with that smile and that encouragement. He didn't often get down because he always knew that his policies would bring peace and prosperity to the world and that he was serving the will of the people.
I think he would be very proud these days that President George W. Bush is in the White House and George W. Bush is pursuing many of the same policies with the kind of leadership style of Ronald Reagan.
I am really grateful to all of you for remembering President Reagan as you did. Because he was one of the real giants of the American Presidency. From humble roots in Illinois and then California, he became a true American hero and we should all be eternally grateful. Thank you and God Bless.
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