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He took a quarter, a dime, and a penny out of his pocket -- he had gotten the change from his young personal assistant, Dave Fischer -- to illustrate the fact that a dollar was worth only 36 cents compared with the purchasing power of a dollar. Then he said: "It's time to try something different, and that's what we're going to do. On spending, Reagan used a tried-and-true line he had repeated a thousand times in after-dinner speeches: "Over the past decades we've talked of curtailing government spending so that we can lower the tax burden.

Sometimes we've even taken a run at doing that. But there were always those who told us that taxes couldn't be cut until spending was reduced. Well, you know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.

The public Reagan emerges in 'Triumph'

This is what Reagan had told them for years: "It is a myth that our graduated income tax has any resemblance to proportionate taxation. The entire structure was created by Karl Marx. It simply is a penalty on the individual who can improve his own lot; it takes his earnings from him and redistributes them to people who are incapable of earning as much as he can. He had hated that, and he promised this night to cut taxes 10 percent a year for three years. The fundamental question for more literal conservatives then was: How do you raise military spending, cut taxes, and reduce deficit spending and the federal deficit itself?

Bush, had called Reagan's numbers games when he was running against him in the primaries. That trick was new to the old conservative from California. Whether or not he actually believed in it was a subject of endless argument in conservative journals, but it worked rhetorically as a rationale for Reagan's four goals -- and it was at least as true as some of his stock of old anecdotes. Nice work if you can get it, The New York Times reported when the Reagan plan was proposed before the Senate Budget Committee: "Surprise swept over the Democrats when the new Treasury Secretary, Donald Regan, the former chairman of Merrill Lynch, acknowledged that the highly optimistic forecast was based on Administration economists' views of how Americans are likely to respond to the program and not on any existing model.

He often said he had always believed that economics, his major at Eureka College fifty years before, was at least 50 percent psychology. Times were good if you thought they were good. Or, in this case, the disastrous Carter inflation would go away if people thought it would, because lower inflation would affect, positively, people's attitudes about spending and investing. The new President laid out his old thinking in simple language in his first budget message to Congress, saying: "First, we must cut the growth of federal spending.

Second, we must cut tax rates so that once again work will be rewarded and savings encouraged. Third, we must carefully remove the tentacles of excessive government regulation Fourth, we must work with the Federal Reserve Board to develop a monetary policy that will rationally control the money supply. Fifth, we must move, surely and predictably, toward a balanced budget. During the campaign, Stockman had impressed Reagan and his men when he played his former boss, John Anderson of Illinois, in rehearsals for a September debate against Carter.

The young winner was shocked by the old man's mumbling confusion -- at least in those rehearsals. A month after election, Reagan had called him and said: "Dave, I've been thinking about how to get even with you for that thrashing you gave me in the debate rehearsals. So I'm going to send you to OMB. The kid from Michigan was quite suddenly the fourth or fifth most important man in the White House, behind the President and his "Troika," or as some called it, his triumvirate: chief of staff James A. Baker III, a smooth Houston lawyer who had been Vice President Bush's campaign manager during the Republican primaries; Edwin Meese, a former California prosecutor who served as Governor Reagan's ideological memory; and Deaver, a California public relations man who protected and burnished the governor's persona.

In the closing days of the presidential campaign, Deaver had turned to another old Reagan hand, Martin Anderson, and said, "You know, I am Ronald Reagan. Where do you think he got most of those ideas over the years?

President Reagan : The Triumph of Imagination

Every morning after I get up I make believe I am him and ask what should he do and where should he go. The old actor was staff-dependent but not staff-driven. He went where he was told to go -- taking direction they called it in his old business -- but possibly more than any politician of his time he said what he actually thought, often to a fault. Most of the staff also talked as if their man was wife-driven, but he was actually wife-dependent. He might never have become President without his Nancy, but there were many times he was heard saying, "That's enough, Nancy!

He signed on to "Supply Side," as he was supposed to, but he certainly never believed it. Young as he was, he was old-school, a cost-cutter and a low-tax man. Supply side was a useful if questionable political doctrine for him. I'm used to being attacked. That's what all these books are, people losing their benefits from government.

There's a lot of enemies in those pages Most of them have unjust claims. The new President was an old man set in his ways, seventy on February 6, post-ambition in his way, with the certainty of the self-educated. He was quite different from his recent predecessors -- John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and Carter -- not obsessed with what other people thought of him. He had been famous for most of his life outside politics and he felt no great need to know what the newspapers were saying about him or anything else each morning.

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He skimmed The New York Times and Washington Post each morning at breakfast -- fruit or juice, bran cereal, and decaffeinated coffee. He looked at the Post first because the Times had no comics page, and that was where Reagan had begun his reading since he was a kid. Part of Meese's job was shielding the President from most disagreement. When internal debate could not be avoided, Meese did what he had done when Reagan was governor: call a meeting and let the boss listen to the arguments of Cabinet members and senior officials.

When disagreement rose, so did Meese, taking the disputants outside as Reagan waved and said, "Right, fellas, you work that out and get back to me. Reagan's first chief of staff in Washington, Jim Baker, put it this way: "He treats us all the same, as hired help. Except for Nancy. He's the most warmly ruthless man I've ever seen.

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He didn't take any pleasure in hurting people, but you were gone if you were in his way. Baker, Meese, and Deaver handled smaller things, the day-to-day, week-to-week stuff.

Compilation of President Reagan's Humor from Selected Speeches, 1981-89

And he realizes that he is finally doing the things he's been talking about for years. When the boss did speak in private to the fellows, it was usually cryptic, often confusing. It was the job of everyone else, staff and Cabinet included, to figure out what to do about it. His typical Cabinet meeting exit lines were: "Maybe we should sleep on this," or "You fellas work it out. After a Cabinet meeting, he stopped by at a meeting of Latin American editors and commentators invited to the White House for a briefing after a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

As the participants were sitting down, the President suddenly popped his head in the door and said only a few pointed words: "Sorry I can't stay with you. But there is something I want you to know. We are going to turn Latin America into a beacon of freedom. An early memo from his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, a veteran of two White Houses, briefly mentioned Latin America and "steps being taken to implement your decisions. The "decisions" were Reagan's talking points on a single card dated in February: "Covert dimension to what must be a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Cuba throughout Central America Where will we get the money?


Cannot some of the items be funded by Defense? Can we not get some help from [other countries]? Come back with a refined proposal in a week. Talking among themselves, the conferees at the Wilson Center meeting decoded Reagan's "beacon of freedom" remark as: There will be a lot more military aid, a lot more covert action, and a lot more killing in Central America. That was rather dramatically confirmed a bit later during the same conference.


The President was a clean-desk man. He liked to draw a line through each appointment as it ended. Next to that were papers collected and compiled by Darman, most of them approved in advance by Baker.

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The documents, briefings, clippings, and memos were usually short and direct, light on numbers and other complexities. The papers and notes that Darman brought in late in the afternoon, usually at 5 P. Many of the pages waiting on Reagan's desk each morning were "Recommended Telephone Call" memos. Usually the calls were to members of Congress: "Thank Lloyd for his support," things like that, a dozen or so most days. Most days there was also morning and afternoon "staff time" -- usually reading and writing letters, sometimes taking a nap.

After supper, Darman would deliver a package of readings, placing them on a table upstairs. They were sorted in colored folders -- red for "Classified," green for "Action," gray for speech material, blue for general information. Darman nodded to the Reagans sitting at opposite ends of a long couch, watching television, or tapes of the evening newscasts, or an old film, often munching popcorn.