WASHINGTON – Curious members of the public gained access to 8,000 pages of former President Reagan's papers Thursday at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
The presidential papers had been kept under wraps since January 2001 and an additional 60,000 pages of Reagan records and tens of thousands of pages left behind by Reagan's vice president, George Bush, remain sealed.
The boxes opened Thursday included the office files of some of Reagan's lieutenants, including former chief of staff James A. Baker III and Baker's aides Richard Darman and James Cicconi.
In one newly released memo, adviser Elizabeth Dole says Reagan's image as a "man's man" was hurting him with women voters.
"While this characterization has been helpful with men, it may have worked to his detriment with regard to women," Dole, then special assistant to the president for public liaison, wrote in the handwritten draft of a 1982 memo to three Reagan advisers.
"An often-heard question is whether the president takes women seriously."
Dole went on to become Reagan's transportation secretary. She now is running for a Senate seat in North Carolina.
In another memo, adviser Lyn Nofziger complains the Reagan White House was too supportive of liberal AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. "When are we going to quit trying to be nice to Lane Kirkland?" Nofziger asks in his July 1, 1981, memo to Baker.
The Presidential Records Act allowed the 68,000 pages of records to remain closed for 12 years because they contained confidential internal advice and deliberations among government officials.
That wait ended in January 2001. Because there is no provision under the Freedom of Information Act to keep the records secret any longer, they were scheduled for release.
The Bush White House, however, delayed opening the files for a year so it could review them and work on an executive order Bush issued Nov. 1 that gives former presidents more authority to withhold certain papers.
The White House said Thursday it expects to finish reviewing all 68,000 records by the end of the month. Duke Blackwood, director of the Reagan library, said the rest of the records should be available to the public by spring.
"The key question is, how much of this material is the administration going to hold back. If they release 95 percent of the material, people will probably be very happy," said Bruce Craig, director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.
White House officials say Bush's action establishes an orderly process for implementing the Presidential Records Act. Bush's order gives former presidents more authority to claim executive privilege to withhold certain papers because they contain military, diplomatic or national security secrets, communications among the president and his advisers or legal advice.
Craig is one of the few historians nationwide who has taken a peak at the 8,000 Reagan pages just released.
"Conservatives would be looking at these records to confirm the nature of how President Reagan made his decisions and liberals, perhaps, would be looking at information about how he was manipulated by key advisors," he said.
"I think there is a re-evaluation of Reagan and his presidency because he used to be labeled as an actor/president, or not fully in control ... and I don't think that is the case," Blackwood said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.