President Ronald Reagan is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution
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President Ronald Reagan is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution

October 10, 2019

I Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I
Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I Gerald R. Ford do solemnly swear. I Jimmy Carter do solemnly swear. I
Ronald Reagan do solemnly swear. That I will faithfully execute the office of
President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve
protect and defend, the Constitution of the United States, so help me God. So
help me God. So help me God. So help me God. We the people of the United States, in
order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic
tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and
secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain
and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The presidency
is rooted in the Constitution, but its modern dimensions created by political
necessity were never imagined by the founding fathers. Understanding the
presidency is vitally important in a success of this great democracy. That is
what this program is about. I am Warren Burger, Chairman of the
Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. It is a rare occasion in history to have
four living former presidents. It has happened only once before, when Abraham
Lincoln took office. Our Commission decided to interview our four former
presidents, to record and preserve their views about the office of the presidency
and the interaction of the president with the other branches of government,
with the people, and with the media. Our interviewer and narrator is the
distinguished journalist, Hugh Sidey, who began covering presidents during the
administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, a sportscaster in Iowa, Hollywood actor, and governor of California, wanted to be
known as a president who made Americans believe in themselves. He use tax cuts to spur the economy and
he believed in military strength. The Reagan personality, reflecting
small-town American values, was also included in the presidential arsenal. I came into office with a belief that
the people of this country were hungering for a spiritual revival. In the
previous administration, they did told over and over again that things would
never be as good as they once were. That we would have to resign ourselves
to a lower standard and so forth. We were told that there was a malaise
affecting the country and all of these things. And it was apparent that the
people–the citizens of our country have lost some of that great feeling of Pride
and patriotism that they had in their government. And I set out–my goal was to
restore that, and I think we did. The Constitution has the President and
Congress working in tandem in running the government, each performing a task. One acting as a
check on the other. A fifth program that we avoided—I hate to interrupt Dave to say I think that program is going to save us money in the long haul. I, because starring that early, we’re
going to make taxpayers out of potential tax eaters. That is precisely right. I think it is a wise one.– Today the government is no longer so simple. In modern complex
affairs, the two branches engage in tugs of war
as they play their constitutional roles. For President Reagan, the struggle began
with the budget. Mr. President, the Constitution when
written of course never took into account this
huge job of managing economy. How much of–of your work was devoted to
that? How much of being president it was consumed by this task? Yes, we
tried in every way, but the way the Congress has taken the powers from the
presidency, eight times I submitted a budget which the
Constitution says I’m to do–to the Congress, and eight times they just told
me it was dead on arrival, and put it on a shelf. They couldn’t call it a budget. They sent
me back what they called a continuing resolution which was the whole program–
budget program in a stack of papers that high, and I did not have the right to go
through and veto out things. In that package I had to accept or veto the
whole thing. I couldn’t veto it because the whole government would come to a
halt. You couldn’t even write a paycheck or
anything if i vetoed that thing. Yet we–we label that era of economics as
Reaganomics. We did suggest that you would change the directions. What you’re suggesting I guess is you
didn’t get as much as you wanted. You could go as far as you wanted. Well, mainly the Reaganomics–the main thing that caused the increase in our prosperity, was the
tax program. The tax cuts–they actually enlarge the economy so that was more
taxes actually–more revenue came in at the lower rates then they’ve been
getting at those terrible higher rates. Why so large a tax cut, Mr. President, because some subsequently
have suggested that had you made a compromise, perhaps we wouldn’t have had
the deficits? No, because as I say, those deficits were
increasing and–and the Congress that was always calling my budgets dead, the Congress was responsible for the
spending. They automatically sent higher rates of
increase in spending then I had asked for. Well you’ve said
several times you thought basically your economic policy,
Reaganomics, was a success. That it gave this long period of prosperity even with
the deficits. It not only gave their own prosperity, but in eight years, never in our history, had the economy
expanded as much as it had in those eight years. We created almost
20 million new jobs. Now at the time I took office, unemployment was in double digits. And 20 million new jobs brought quite a bit of prosperity. The tax decreases that I had
in mind we’re also so that if local governments
were being starved in something or state governments–that they couldn’t do that
was necessary, now by reducing the rate of federal
taxation, they would have a chance maybe for a necessary investment. This kind of a new emphasis on federalism. We’ve talked about that actually, I guess going back
to Mr. Nixon, who called it a new federalism–let the local people do it
more. You have you had in mind. Yes, that’s what the Constitution called
for. Did you feel that you had adequate powers
for managing the economy. Yes, except that the Congress could
overrule anything that we came up with. The Congress refused to allow us to keep
any money in any program that was left over at the end of the year. Now if we were able to efficiently run a
program and still have money left over, well then that meant we could–that could
be added on for the coming–for the next year and you wouldn’t have to budget as
much to add to it. But the Congress wouldn’t let you do it. They had a flat order. You had to spend
the money–and they did–that have been appropriated yes. Is there anything as you look back on
now in a general way that you would change about the presidency–the office
itself, the job? I’m out of the mashed potato circuit now
preaching some things that should be done. I couldn’t get Congress to even listen
to them. One was the line-item veto. Now the
line-item veto–you know the ability to go through a packet of bills and
programs and pick things out that you think are extravagant and not in the
welfare of the people–and veto them. Forty three governors have that right. I had it when I was
Governor of California. The Congress will not allow the President of the United
States to do that. I think that–another thing that
Congress always oppose me on was the idea of another amendment to the
Constitution. It was first suggested by Thomas Jefferson, and that was a
provision in the Constitution that prevents the federal government from
going into debt. A balance budget amendment, I see. Mr. president what’s at the heart of this? Is that this
divided government we have in which Congress is essentially Democratic and
the White House Republican. Is that part of the problem in which this
partisanship sets in and they’re determined to –yes–overruled each other? Very much so. What do we do about that? What can be done? Well, I think it begins with the gerrymandering. What I’m talking about is the Legislature’s of the state
and the Congress are the ones who lay out the electoral districts every 10
years, based on the changes in population. And, that’s a conflict of interest. They’re
are laying out districts that will guarantee them their reelection. As a
matter of fact. in one of the last elections ninety-eight percent of the incumbents
were re-elected. The gerrymandering is the guarantee–its hard –majority in
the House of Representatives in the Congress. I think that what we should have is a
bipartisan commission, that every 10 years, lays out the districts based on the
interests and the welfare of the people in those districts. The only job where all the people voted
for him is the presidency. Now they must vote for a president on
the basis of what he said he do, the promises he made. And yet under this
system, the same people that by a great majority send a man to the presidency, then go back and vote in their districts,
and send a congress up that has pledged to keep him from keeping his promises.
You imply from your answers so far that there’s been a shift of power under
the Constitution, and that the Constitution did not envision a Congress doing so
much to inhibit the president. I think that we should change the terms for
congressman to four years instead of two. Because at two years, they’re constantly running for
reelection. They’re just elected and they start
running for the next election. And the reason it was two years, I believe if you
look at history, is because back in the beginning, Congress wasn’t a career. Prominent
citizens, successful people, business people at all, would volunteer to give up
two years of their life to help and serve in the government. And then they
wanted to come back home and say to somebody else, hey, you go up there for two years. But now over the years, they’ve built this to a career where someone
looks forward to bulk of his adult life being in the Congress. And, I think this
is one of the reasons why so many people no longer vote. I see. What about–and I think you’ve
talked about this before–the President himself, the limitation is two terms. Wouldn’t you? I’m opposed to the limitation of the number of terms. I see. Not only the presidency,
but the others. I think that that is an infringement on the democratic rights of
we the people. The people have a right to vote for whoever they want to vote for,
and for as many times as they want to vote for them. I think it’s an infringement on there
rights. My own party was responsible for the limitation of terms of the
presidency now. That was revenge on Franklin Delano Roosevelt running and
being elected four times. No other President had ever tried to be the president for more than two terms.
That was it kind of a tradition set by Washington after his second term, because
he said he didn’t want anything to happen that would begin to make the
presidency looked like royalty or like a king. Well then every president after him, down
through the years, just automatically step down to terms. My feeling is, that we were wrong in then
getting an amendment to the Constitution that limits the president two terms. In
foreign affairs there are constitutional issues involved which define the powers
and limits of the presidency. Grenada is a case in point. During the
Reagan administration, a United States military forces invaded Grenada, which
was governed by Marxists. It was the first major armed intervention by the United
States in the Western Hemisphere since 1965. Mr. Reagan gives his
reason for the invasion, and for the secrecy that went with it. Four o’clock in the morning, I get a
telephone call, that the governments of some of the Caribbean Islands states, have
made a request of me for some support to their military, that they were going to
attack Grenada because–Grenada, a communist government has seized power–in Grenada–had taken over the power there. And they felt that they were next. But they said they didn’t believe that
they had enough military power, even though they make it available, but
would need our help. Well, I immediately, four o’clock in the
morning, got on the phone to our own people, and said, there’s no way we can
say no to this. You also had a lot of American students
over there. Eight hundred American students. Yes, medical students. But they also the thing was, and why
this had to be kept secret, was because Cuba was much closer than any of our
forces that we were going to send there, and Castro could have loaded that place
up with his people, and then you really would have had a war. How much consultation with Congress did
you do, or did you feel any was necessary or why wise? I couldn’t take the chance. I didn’t even tell our press secretary that–what we’re going to do. But, as of the night that our
forces–incidentally senior commanders of the military branches only at 48 hours
to put the operation together, and then when our forces were on their way down
there, then I called. I invited the leaders of Congress to the White House
and told the leaders of Congress what we were doing and why. I have always felt
wherever an American citizen in the world is being denied his constitutional
rights, I think that this government has a
responsibility to go to his aid. The critics who believe that Congress
was not sufficiently brought in on the grenade decisions, referred to the War
Powers Act. A resolution to give legislators more influence on military
action. In fact, a curb on the president’s war making powers. In your time, you had the Boland Amendments. Various versions of it– to contend with, the War Powers
Resolution that supposedly would require Congress
participation in the use of force. That has some parts in it to that are–we
understand that only Congress can declare war, but we understand also that
War Powers Act does have some unusual restraints– well–have never before been imposed on
presidents. Lincoln could not have done what he did with regard to the Civil War
had the War Powers Act been invoked. How do you define when you go to
Congress to get authority? Did you have any rules that you followed? How does a president do that, because
it certainly does spell it out in the Constitution, that the U.S. Congress should
declare war? Yes, but there are some things in which
the president–he doesn’t have as much now, but had power to use. He’s the commander-in-chief of the
military. He is personally responsible for national security. Now, there were instances in which, as
commander-in-chief, the president could do something that was not a declaration
of war, but was the actual use of military power. How does this apply to the bombing of
Libya, and as a matter of fact before that when you sent forces into the Gulf
of Sidra, and he shot down a couple of Libyan
planes, and then finally the bombing? Well, alright, you know that there was a
terrorist attack on an airport, and civilians were mowed down by the
terrorists, including the 11 year old American girl. Forces killed some of them
and captured some. And we found some passports from these people, all of whom would come from Libya. But some of the people had passports that had been taken
away from workers in Libya who had left Libya, and and been kicked out of Libya,
and their passports taken away from them. These terrorists were carrying those
passports. Well, this had to make this an official
act of Libya, not just a little group of terrorists. And, I decided there had to be
a retaliation, but it also had to be secret. I turned to an air strike with orders
that the targets picked out should be military. We didn’t want casualties among
civilians. There were some because of a misdirected missile, but that the attack
was extremely successful. And you’ve noticed that there haven’t been any repeats
of that kind–Mr. Qaddafi has been rather quiet. Mr. President, there was
speculation at that time that you actually targeted Qaddafi. Is that right? Oh yes. Yeah, we knew the places where he
was supposed to be, and could be, and they became targets. President Reagan’s struggles with Congress over military policies and spending, had a direct bearing on ideologies. For him,
the cold war still raged. When you came into power, the confrontation with the Soviet Union
was full-blown still. You called the Soviet Union and evil empire. You had
some harsh things to say. You were called of cowboy, western cowboy, reckless. I said things like that it was an evil
empire on purpose. I wanted them to know that I was not
being fooled or anything by them. That I had a set feeling about them, and here we were with our Congress
cutting back all the time on defense spending, and at the same time to
the Soviet Union was going wild in its in its buildup of military–not only
nuclear weapons–they passed us. They didn’t have any to begin with, and they
passed us with them, but also in their conventional weapons. Tanks, artillery, and
so forth that they they outnumber us. So I wanted him to know that I wasn’t
fooled about them, but I knew what they were. I thought the only answer in that cold
war was peace through strength. Was that huge buildup necessary– that was a huge change in–in our
defensive structure? And it was a deliberate change. And you felt the
authority under the Constitution [yes] as commander-in-chief. No shooting war
this is a cold war now, but you had that authority? That was worth, it that was [oh yes] necessary as you look bad? Yes it absolutely was. When I took office, I
found that out and then on any given day not only fifty percent of our military
aircraft couldn’t fly for like a spare parts, but fifty percent of our naval
vessels couldn’t leave port either for that reason or for lack of crew. But the
president also considered another way to build up the nation’s defenses. The
Strategic Defense Initiative. A high-tech space aged system nickname star wars. We went to his joint chiefs of staff with the idea. I needed to know from them whether this
was a practical thing to do and whether they thought, in their judgment, that yes technology could produce such a weapon.
And they–they came back to me after consulting on it, and said yes, and then I
turned to the scientific field and they picked it up. Do you have any regrets about that [no]
as you look back? You thought it was a? Oh, I think it was the best chance we have yet of ridding the world of those
weapons, because the price for giving this to other countries would be their
willingness to eliminate their arsenal’s of nuclear weapons. Just as I’ve always thought that this is
what we should do. If we once got that and we know that we can defend ourselves
from nuclear attack, I’d be in favor of us eliminating
nuclear weapons. Let’s take Reykjavik, which was probably
the most controversial of your summit meetings. Your interpretation of that,
because you said you felt that was a very important moment in the–this matter
of reducing nuclear weapons, even though you couldn’t reach an agreement on that. Well the funny thing was, we were reaching
an agreement. The last day, it was only supposed to be a
morning meeting and then we were to come home. George Schultz and I, and Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, his foreign relations man–we met and just with our
interpreters. Well, as the day went on, we were coming
more and more to agreement to where we were agreeing on the reduction of
conventional weapons, on nuclear weapons, the elimination of battle weapons,
and we were agreeing on every one of these points. And then, he said to me–or to
us, he said, well of course all of this is dependent on doing away with that SDI. And I look, I couldn’t believe it. We
spent this whole day coming into this agreement, and I said I told you that
that wasn’t a bargaining chip, that–and that I was willing to share that once we
had developed it with the world, so that a madman could not come along down the line. We all know how to make those
weapons, and come along– make them secretly, and then black mail
the world. So I said, no. We’ve got to continue with
SDI. And, he did not give in, and that’s when I got up and said to George, let’s get out of here, and we walked out
on him. But it had some good effects though. You didn’t part as bitter enemies. No, but I know, but I didn’t get over being
mad, right then. He followed me all the way to the car, and he was trying to
be pleasant and–but let me know how I felt. And I have to be fair with this
about Gorbachev. When he came into office, he was as surprised at the
economic basket case he’d inherited. And– He told you that? Yes, and it was due to the buildup in
military. And that’s why he was one of the first Soviet leaders who was willing
to actually negotiate a treaty where you destroy weapons you already had. And, but
he then set out and he knew what he had to do–to–well in other words, that
supporting the Cold War was what was keeping them economically starved. Well, my first words to him, just the two
of us, together in our first meeting in Geneva Switzerland– I told him that we could try to
eliminate the causes of mistrust between us, or the alternative would be to resume
an arms race, and then I looked him right in the eye and said that’s a race you can’t win. There is no way we’re
going to allow you to maintain a superiority of weaponry over us. Dangers of direct confrontation between
the United States and the Soviet Union diminished in the latter stages of the
Cold War. The competition became indirect. In what was called the Reagan Doctrine,
the United States supported anti communist forces in the third world. In
Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua. How justified was that–the operations… I
think I’m really justified, because there was a–there was a revolution against
Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua. The revolutionaries were–were in there fighting to get rid of him, and then they sent a message to the
Organization of American States, to which we all belong, that would they, the Organization, ask
Somoza to step down? To end the killing. And the Organization of American States
sent a message back and said, what are your revolutionary goals? Well back they
came, they were pure democracy. They were freedom of the press, they were
freedom of speech. They were everything that we have and
respected in our country. And so, we sent the message, and Somoza said it will save
lives? Yes, and he stepped down. When Somoza step down, and the revolution therefore was over, suddenly the Sandinista group, which was
a Communist organization, they started getting rid of the leaders
and high-ranking officers among their revolutionary forces, who were not
members of their group. Some of them are executed. Some of them
were exiled. Well, the Sandinista’s then publicly
declared that the revolution was not just limited to their boundaries, they
were going to carry it beyond their boundaries until the other countries
were, like they were, which was Communist. And–so the the people began forming a
group to defend themselves and these were called the Contras as against this
situation, and we thought as freedom fighters they deserved our help. What kind of help did you feel
that you could give? The help was providing them with money and weapons
and so forth so they could fight back. Do you feel today because you’re still
harshly criticized about our operation down there, do you feel that’s unfair? Oh yes, because its then all the things
like the Boland Amendment never did that was to curb any further help to these
other revolutionaries who really wanted what they thought was their goal–the
democracy. Not another dictator state. The Boland
Amendment passed by Congress, restricted spending for the overthrow of the
Communist Nicaraguan government. It was later alleged that millions of
dollars were earmarked for the Contras anyway, in a complex deal involving
Iranians and weapons. This raised suspicions that the
president was violating his own declared policy of not dealing with terrorists. But the president insisted that
Americans were not dealing with the terrorist leadership in Iran, but with a dissident, more moderate group
within that government. The things that were put in the press on the basis of
one little weekly paper in Lebanon, that was the one that published a story
that we were trading arms for hostages and so forth, and that the rest of the press picked it up and just–and still going with it. No, there was nothing of the kind. We had
a covert operation there because some people in Iran, with the death imminent
of Khomeini, and there were groups all over that we’re looking forward to the
day when they were to try to be in charge of government there. But I said a
word back down to our people that we had a policy of not doing business with
anyone who or any government that was protective of terrorism. Well back came a message from our people that these people prove to them that they were anti terrorist. So, I said a word back then and said–
remarked about the Hezbollah and our hostages that were held by them, and said
I knew that the Hezbollah had a kind of a kinship with the government of Iran.
And so I said, all right, we’ll make this one shipment to them if they will use
their influence as Iranian to try and get our hostages freed from Hezbollah. The hostages were really at the center of this is [yes] weren’t they? Now this was not a trade of arms
for hostages–this–I wasn’t dealing with any government or anything and all of a sudden we had a hostage
released by the Hezbollah. And a short time later we had a second one released.
And we’re told there would be two more within 48 hours. The next two never came because, in the interim, that newspaper
over there blew that false story out. And there it
was, that false story. And we had already gotten our check from these people for the
tow missiles. We didn’t give them. They– they wanted to buy them. We had gotten our check, but when our
attorney general started looking to see– with all this now in the press and going
on, if there was anything that was could be
a smoking gun, in this. And came to me and said he’d found one paper, one memorandum, that suggested that there was extra money over and above our–the check that
we got, in a Swiss bank account. And that was a Swiss bank account that had been
used for funneling money to the Contras over here here in Central America. Well, I said, we’ll see what you can find
out about this. And you still feel at this point you are unjustly accused and
still are? Oh yes because I told the truth as I say to the press, to the Congress
leaders, to the people of what it was we were doing and none of that has ever
been accepted by the press. They went on with their story that I was
trading arms for hostages, and I was doing business with Khomeini. And here–
to this day, you know I don’t know whether the people
we were dealing with– once that came out–I don’t know whether
they’re still alive or not. Would you take that risk again, looking
back? Was it worth it, because it hurts your
presidency a good deal? Yes. When I went well. No, I’d I had never
anticipated any such distortion of truth as was taking place, but now that I know
what the truth could be distorted, I’d would be a little more careful. Could
you be a little more specific? What are some of the things that you might have
changed? Well, the– the people on the committee, Ollie North and the Admiral Poindexter. I wish now they immediately resign when
this whole thing blew. I wish now that before letting them go I had called them in and pump them on
some of the things that I still don’t know. As for example, who–who then delivered
those missiles from Israel, where we couldn’t fly them into Iran because that
would blow the covertness of this, and expose the people we were dealing with? But I had never knew that, and see if I
could find out why was there extra money? All we ever asked for was the actual
cost of those weapons, which was 12.2 million dollars. And a–the–then turning up
that there were several million dollars more in a another bank account, that had come
from the sale of those, who raised that price? And–and I could have found out
more perhaps if I had asked. Well do you feel
a system let you down, I mean I’m talking about the National
Security Council structure, the CIA, these people who are involved in various ways.
The– was that a failure there? Well, well no because as I say this was held down to the most minimum of people to know about it,
because of the need for secrecy–in that. And the, it wasn’t secrecy because we’re doing anything wrong. It was secrecy to save people’s lives. One of the things, Mr. President, you
raised in this of course is once again the power of the President to conduct
foreign policy as he would like. In this you imply the media had an extraordinary
role, and I think that’s the old founding fathers didn’t understand that when they
will the Constitution. Do you feel media is too powerful? Well, they’re too irresponsible. They’ve got a responsibility, of truth,
that they must stick to. I once back in my school days took a
course in journalism, and learned that one of the most important things was
supposed to be that you could guarantee that what you said was true. Well that has gone out the window long
ago. Why? Well, I think just in the competition of
the press with each other, somebody gets a story and–that he knows
will make headline news and everybody have talked about it, never mind whether it is responsible
whether it is is true. Look at the war in Vietnam, and the
stories from out of there that were actually stories that were revealing to
the enemy military secrets that were destructive to our forces are our
purpose. And the same was true in other incidents. I can’t tell you how many
times I had to get on the phone to the head of another state while I was president, and on the basis
of a story that has been told and the usual thing– sources unknown–you know that couldn’t
be named. I had to get on the air and say to this
other head of state, listen this is another one of those leaked so called secrets. Well now the press, Mr. President, would say wait. The First
Amendment guarantees this absolute freedom. Do you feel they’ve–they’ve gone
too far invoking the First Amendment on all of
these issues? Well yes because the very fact that there are some things
that our national security [and should take this incident] take all the people should take precedent over [that freedom], yes [that’s guaranteed]. Mr. President, you had a few press conferences, but they were quite major affairs. Would you handle it that way again if
you could go back? Did you have enough do you think or–? Yes,
I got a good deal of criticism as you know for not seeing the press formerly
enough. Well I know. But–again, the a–the
press conferences were, I thought, did not serve the purpose they were created for. Actually there was an adversarial
relationship, and I wasn’t asked legitimate public relations things or
things that the people should know. They were adversarial questions. They
were that they were putting me on–in a position of self-defense. A number of
times, we would send out around the country, and bring in news editors from
all over the country, not the Washington press corps. Well, I have to tell you the difference
between their questions and the Washington press corps was just
unbelievable. They were asking legitimate questions
for news and of interest that would be of interest to their people. Not this hostel type of thing. And I
enjoyed those press conferences very much. What about the idea of a single subject
press conference? Is that a possibility? I think it could be done if it was some, you know, very controversial issue, or
some problem that had to be met, and required something of an unusual
decision. Yes, I could I could see that. When the nation’s air controllers walked
off their airport jobs, President Reagan showed that he could be
a tough boss. It is for this reason that I must tell
those who failed to report for duty this morning, they are in violation of the law, and if
they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will
be terminated. Let’s go to jail. For 13,000 members of a
union were also federal government employees. One of the acts very
earlier in your presidency that startled everybody was your firing of the air
controllers. I wonder if you tell us a little of why
you did that because it was such a departure from the normal commission to
study the problem. These are public servants. They served
well. Then suddenly they decide to go on strike, and you fired them. Yeah, and I’m a lifetime member of the
American Federation of Labor. And, I have a gold card– solid gold card for six years as
president of the Screen Actors Guild, and so forth. So it was strange of me wasn’t it? Well, I have always thought that an
unappreciated president was Calvin Coolidge. And Coolidge is a man who laid
down a law. The public employees– government employees could not strike,
because it wasn’t a case of arguing about the division of money between an
employer in an industry a private industry, or what is a fair salary for a
worker. You are striking against the people of the United States, if you are a government employee. And
he’d taken that position once, and I admired
him for it. But also, the air controllers had all signed a personal agreement that
they would never strike. And then they turned around and violated their own
pledge, and I thought they had it coming. One afternoon after President Reagan
made a speech at a Washington hotel, a young man named John Hinckley Jr.,
standing on the sidewalk fired six shots from a handgun. President Reagan was among the four who
were wounded. The question arose. Who had temporary
custody of the office? Let’s go to the matter of disability.
Twice in your presidency, when you were shot, taken to the hospital, this matter of turning over power came
up. Also when you had your operation– cancer operation. Now the first time
there wasn’t time to sign an agreement with George Bush. Were you satisfied the
way that worked out? Yes, but you must understand that that
whole thing during disabilities and so forth, that is actually related to
whether you’re going to be knocked out and unconscious, [yes] with the–while an operation takes
place. And once you’re back out of the either again, you’re in charge. So that’s where that comes in–that if
you know you’re now going to be put to sleep for an operation or something, during that period, you know, anything can
happen and a few hours. You officially declare him in charge. Well, were you disturbed at all in
the shooting episode? I think it was a Al Haig that startled people again when he
came up before the cameras and said I’m in command. As of now, I am in control
here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president, and in close touch
with him. If something came up, I would check with him of course. He said that
because a–the vice president happened to be out of town. But when the vice
president came back to town, Haig still insisted that he was in charge.
Well I have to tell you something, I may not have been in the office, but I
was in charge. I was in that hospital, I knew what was going on. Thank you very much. The NRA believe that America’s laws were
made to be obeyed, and that our constitutional liberties are just as
important today as 200 years ago. And by the way, the Constitution does not
say that government shall decree the right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution says the right of the
people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. It has been observed with
somber irony, that the president who was hit by a would-be assassin’s bullet
belongs to the National Rifle Association, which strongly opposes most
forms of gun control laws. Yet, President Reagan backs one law that is quite
stringent. Well, what I would like to see in gun control is what we have in
California. And that is, you go down and you buy the gun and you lay down the
money and the man says come back next week– a week from now and get your gun. And in
that week, he has to submit your name and the
gun that you’re going to have–to a board, that goes into every bit of your
background to find out if you’re a citizen that and that can be trusted
with a gun, to see whether have you ever had any criminal problems or anything of
that kind. And I think that that is the most effect.
I happen to believe the Constitution says that our people have the right to
bear arms. I happen to believe in that, but I happen
to believe also that we’ve got a right to determine the people that are unfit
to carry arms. And this has been resisted so much, but I find no objection with it. The constitutional power to fill vacant
seats on the Supreme Court gives the president long-standing influence on our
system of government. President Reagan appointed William
Rehnquist as Chief Justice, and three others as associate justices, including
Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever. I’ve made up my mind before I got there
that I was going to appoint the first woman. Was it right? Yes. And you managed to find her. Yes. It wasn’t that hard at all. And she’s a
darn good justice. What you want–what was your objective in the court though, surely you had a strategy? What I wanted were judges on the Supreme
Court who interpreted the law. Who did not write new laws. And–this is–this is
quite important. Many times I thought that the court was
really kind of making political decisions, and I wanted a court that
would be bound by the Constitution in interpreting it. And I think we’ve been
successful in that. Why appoint a woman? Why did you make up your mind before? Was it
the temperament of a woman? Was it just the different texture that perhaps comes
from a woman’s reasoning, what? Well, I thought with the whole change
today of women as a part of society–of– and being elected to elective offices
and so forth, as well. I thought that they were serving as judges, they had a
right to be considered. Now you had one other episode on the
court, Mr. Bork, Robert Bork, who was turned down. Did you feel that your power to appoint
a justice was usurped by the Congress? Did they go beyond their what you would
judge the constitutional right to advise and consent? They very much did go beyond that. You can ask almost any judge that knows, and he will tell you that Bork was
probably one of the best qualified men to be on the Supreme Court of any
justices in America. And it was sure–or pure politics that
kept him from that position. Mr. President, you emphasize your cabinet a good deal. You delegated authority. This is one of the hallmarks of your
presidency–delegation. Did you have any guide rules that you
followed on that? I just had one rule. I told them that we were going to be a
little bit like of board of directors with one great difference, and that is
that I wouldn’t take a vote. I would realize that I had to make the
decision. But I wanted them to speak frankly on their views on any issue that
came before us, and not just leave it to the one cabinet secretary under whose
jurisdiction this particular problem came. But that I wanted the opinion of
all of the cabinet members, and I wanted to speak frankly. If they objected to
something, I wanted them to speak out and explain why they objected. And then I
said, at the end of when I’ve heard all that I need to hear, I will go off on my
own and make the decision based on what i have heard, pro and con. What did you look for in cabinet
officers when you appointed them? What qualifications? Well I don’t laugh
when I tell you. I wanted people who I thought were capable and successful in
all of that, but I also wanted people that didn’t want a job in government. I didn’t want these people that were
just looking and saying hey give me a point when doing this or that. I wanted
people that had to be talked into it as something they would do for the service
of their country. President Reagan left an indelible stamp
on the nation. During his eight years in office, the economy bounced back. And the
cold war with the Soviet Union began to thaw. He made Americans more aware of
those old-fashioned virtues and traditions which stated back to Ronald
Reagan’s youth in Illinois. His years as an actor gave him the ability to
communicate, an important trait for a president. And that sense, Franklin
Roosevelt was a great actor. Herbert Hoover was not. Was Ronald Reagan’s professional acting
experience helpful to the Reagan presidency? Your whole strength in acting
is the reaction of the people. Your whole job in being in a picture and
so forth is to please the people that are going to spend their money to come
in and see that picture. And I think that that was a large part of it. I ran into an awful lot of people in
in politics and in public office who kind of resented the people. They didn’t
like the idea of having to please someone, and those people having some
control over what they did. As you know, when I took office, I discovered some
quite unusual things there. The double-digit inflation, double-digit
interest rates, the double-digit unemployment and so forth. I would hope that we can get back to
where we realize that this system of ours established two centuries ago, is
one in which the people in public office are really the servants of the people. Ours is one of the only constitutions
and all the constitution’s of the world, in which it is not a document with the
government telling the people what their privilege to do. It’s a document in which we the people
tell the government what it can do. That belief how so firmly by Ronald Reagan from the
start of his political career, is undoubtedly one reason that the
American people kept him in the White House for two terms.

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