Behind the Scenes During the Reagan Years

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This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, August, 25 2003 that has been edited for clarity.




ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Well, during his time as president, Ronald Reagan (search) influenced leaders around the world with powerful speeches like that but how did the man influence those around him?

Joining us now is the speechwriter who wrote those famous lines and author of the new book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, Peter Robinson.

Peter, good to have you on HANNITY & COLMES. Thanks for being here.


COLMES: Whether you agree or not with Ronald Reagan and people know where I stand, but it's a fascinating read. You were unemployed in 1982 and from there, within minutes, became a speechwriter for the president. How did that happen?

ROBINSON: Well, I had studied at Oxford, Alan and stayed on for an additional year. Don't ask me why. I wanted to write a novel. By the end of the year I was out of money. I'd produced half a novel that was so bad, I couldn't stand to read it. So desperate, I sent out letters to everybody I thought might give me a lead for a job.

And William F. Buckley Jr. replied. He scarcely knew me. He'd encouraged me when I was a student journalist up at Dartmouth College.

He told me to get in touch with his son Christopher, who was then writing speeches for George Bush. I flew to Washington, hoping that maybe Christopher could get me a job writing for a Congressman, maybe for the postmaster general.

And instead Christopher Buckley said he was leaving his job writing for the vice president in a couple of weeks and his replacement had just fallen through and there I was.

COLMES: Now, you...

ROBINSON: On a fluke like, Alan, by the way, this is a lesson for liberals, you should not want more of the federal government because it does things like that. But on a fluke I found myself writing speeches in the Reagan White House.

COLMES: Your famous line that we just showed, people now you're seeing the man, I'm saying to our viewers, who wrote, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

You were at a dinner party and someone said something that sparked that idea in you and that's where you came up with that idea?

ROBINSON: That's exactly right. I went to Berlin to research the speech and in the morning I met the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, who was full of ideas about what the president shouldn't say, and in fact he said, "Don't have him mention the wall. They've all gotten used to it. Don't make him sound like an anticommunist cowboy."

That evening I broke away from the American party and joined some west Berliners, told them what I'd, asked if it could be true that they had gotten used to the wall. There was a silence. And at first I thought I'd made just the gaffe that the diplomat was afraid the president would make.

Then, one man pointed and said his sister lived just a few kilometers away but hadn't seen her in more than 20 years. How could they get used to that wall? They went around the room, told stories about the wall.

Our hostess, a lovely, gracious woman but she grew angry and said if this man, Gorbachev, is serious with his talk of glasnost (search) and perestroika (search), he can prove it by coming here and getting rid of this wall.

I went back to Washington, adapted the line into, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," met with the president, who singled out the passage and said he particularly wanted to deliver it.

Then, when the speech went out to staffing the State Department and National Security Council fought it for three weeks. The president said, "Let's leave it in and in the limousine on the way to deliver the speech in Berlin, on the way to the Berlin wall he leaned across and slapped his deputy staff on the knee and said, 'The boys at State aren't going to like it very much but it's the right thing to do.'"

That was Ronald Reagan.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Peter, I'm glad you told the rest of the story. I've known that and actually have told that in speeches about how they wanted him to pull it out and every time he'd get another copy of it, it was taken out and he'd put it back in.

I understand he even went as far as writing it back in himself when he saw that they took it out. Is that all true?

ROBINSON: All true. All true, Sean.

HANNITY: But it shows…it's funny, because I'm just getting into your book and I'm really enjoying it, Peter, because I wrote a chapter for an upcoming book that I'm doing on Reagan and I've gone back and I was reading that speech, and I was reading the evil empire remarks of Reagan as well...

ROBINSON: Which the staff also fought, by the way.

HANNITY: Which is a similar story, but what that shows to me…and you know this better than I do because you worked with him, is he was a man not governed by polls or focus groups but real core principles. And that's...

ROBINSON: That was...

HANNITY: Go ahead.

ROBINSON: That was one of the fundamental lessons, Sean. I wrote the book because in some sense Ronald Reagan belongs to all of us now. I wanted particularly the younger generation, the kids who don't have any direct memory of him, to be able the grasp something from his life that they can incorporate into their own life.

But if there is a central lesson it's the power of conviction. The power of belief.

HANNITY: You know, I've got to tell you something. When I went back and re- read those speeches, Peter, now that I know that you're in part responsible for them, it was so refreshing for me to hear this. He was so far ahead of his time.

I told you, I'm working on a book Deliver us from Evil, and his evil empire speech, that tear down the wall speech that you worked on, Reagan just had a fundamental understanding.

And the Democrats, they still mock him, they still laugh at SDI, they still didn't want to build up our defenses. I don't know if we would be winning this war on terror had he not led the way.

ROBINSON: I often get asked, was Reagan or was he not an amiable dunce? That's what Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford (search) called him.

Listen to this, Sean. In 1981, Ronald regular goes before the houses of parliament and says that we're seeing a revolution, a revolution of the kind Karl Marks (search) predicted but not in the free world, the soviet world and then he said the long march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism (search) and Leninism (search) on the ashes of history. That's 1981.

In 1981, Arthur Schlessinger Jr., quote, "Those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic or social collapse are only kidding themselves."

Let me ask you, who was the dunce?

COLMES: David, I think liberals make a mistake when they either do that to Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush and downplay their intelligence. I think it's a big mistake.

It must drive you crazy, though, having known Ronald Reagan, the comparisons now being made to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, Ronald Reagan…by the time Ronald Reagan put his hat in the ring for governor in 1966...

COLMES: Right.

ROBINSON: ... he had already spent some two decades in public life, working out his positions in speeches, radio talk shows, newspaper columns, which at this point in career, he wrote entirely himself.

COLMES: He was president of a union?

ROBINSON: President of the Screen Actors Guild. Exactly. In fact, he served five consecutive terms. There was a space of two or three years, and then served another term.

And Charlton Heston told me this story. Why did they go back to him for that other term? Because they were in trouble. His fellow actors went back to Ronald Reagan when it began to look like as though they might actually have to go out on strike. People who knew Ronald Reagan well understood him as a man of substance from the very beginning.

HANNITY: This is a great book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, by Peter Robinson. Now in bookstores or I'm sure you can get it.

And you know, it reminds me of Reagan and his own hand, which was great, too. But listen. Congratulations; it's a great book. We wish you all the success in the world with it.

Thank you very much.

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