Gipper Celebrates 93rd Birthday

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes", February 5, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Tomorrow is former President Ronald Reagan's 93rd birthday. Joining us now to tell us all about his new book, just out today -- It examines Ronald Reagan's faith -- is Paul Kengor. He's the author of "God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life."

He was a very religious man.

PAUL KENGOR, "GOD AND RONALD REAGAN" HOST: He was. He was very religious. He was very devout. And the really unfortunate thing is this is the aspect of his life that's been most neglected.


KENGOR: It's like he was sworn in, in 1981. It's been 23 years until a book really took a long, serious look at this.

HANNITY: It's interesting. You even quote this in the book, that Ronald Reagan made a decision to give the rest of his life to God.

KENGOR: Yes. And he ...

HANNITY: I was talking about this earlier with Michael Reagan. I mean, he wanted his son, wanted to know in a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev he hoped that his son Ron would find God.

KENGOR: That's right. In fact, it was the Moscow summit, which was the fourth summit during the Reagan presidency, late May of 1988, and the first one-on-one meeting that the president of the United States has with the leader of the Soviet Union. And the president of the United States expresses concern that his son, Ron Jr., had not -- was an atheist.

HANNITY: You know what's amazing? If you look back -- and you deal with this at length in your book, about the evil empire and the evil empire speech.

You know, I don't -- There's a certain confidence if you have a faith and an understanding that this is a struggle or a battle.

Here's a USSR, 20 to 30 million people slaughtered under that horrible regime, he calls it for what it is. Liberals, Alan's friends, you know, are aghast at such a characterization of that. But he does it with the faith and confidence that this has to be defeated.

Without that faith, he couldn't make a statement like that.

KENGOR: Yes, that's right. And there's really two aspects of that.

As early as the 1950's he was talking about two visions of the world. He said there's one view that believes that religion is the opiate of the masses, human beings ought to be slaves to the state. And he said Marx and Lenin spoke for that.

And then the other view believes that human beings were all created equal by God to be free, and that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson spoke to that.

The other thing he did in the evil empire speech that was critical and I think has lessons for today is a key component of the evil empire was to get rid of the idea of moral equivalency.

He said if we're going to confront the Soviet Union, we've got to get rid of what he called rubbish, the idea that the United States and Soviet Union are -- neither is morally superior to the other, both are equally responsible for the Cold War, neither can claim a moral high ground.

And he said, "I wanted to get rid of that in the evil empire speech."

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: That's all. By the way, I'm joining a group called Alan's friends and some of them will actually be conservatives in that group, too.

But you know, God, morality and spirituality is not the province just of conservatives and just of Republicans...

KENGOR: Sure, sure.

COLMES: ... which I think is sometimes a myth that's spread today, because it becomes a wedge issue in politics. I don't think Ronald Reagan ever used this as a political wedge issue.

KENGOR: No, he didn't. And there's a religious left as well as a religious right. And it's equally strident.

COLMES: Right.

KENGOR: It's just as politically active, and it doesn't get a lot of attention.

COLMES: That's true.

KENGOR: I mean, the nuclear freeze that was talked about earlier. The nuclear freeze was joined by a very strong religious left, made up of Catholic bishops and a number of others.

COLMES: But I don't think Ronald Reagan, although he was a man of faith and still is, he didn't use his faith to divide people as some in politics have.

KENGOR: Well, no, he didn't. And when he incorporated it into the Cold War atmosphere, it was in a sense, to divide what he saw as what the Soviet Union represented from what the free world represented, which I think is in that sense a good division, to draw that clarification.

HANNITY: This book just out today, right? In bookstores?


HANNITY: I put it up on my web site. You can get it at bookstores anywhere, or you can get it at my web site, We'll have it there.

COLMES: Paul Kengor, "God and Reagan." Fascinating concept for a book.

Reagan -- you point out Reagan did not attend church regularly as president.

KENGOR: That's right.

COLMES: And often presidents make a show of going to church.


COLMES: He didn't do that. Why?

KENGOR: He didn't. That's a good question. It's a fair question.

I fact, a really important point is that, among the biggest critics of Reagan's faith during his presidency were evangelical Christian supporters who agreed with his politics but said, "Wait a second. This guy doesn't go to church."

COLMES: You don't have to go to church to be religious.

KENGOR: And that's exactly right. Reagan himself said that. Now, the irony is that the presidency was the only time that Reagan didn't go to church.


KENGOR: He went to church all of his life.

COLMES: What was the reason for that?

KENGOR: It was security concerns, and a good question is, while security concerns in the age of terrorism didn't keep George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush...

COLMES: Right.

KENGOR: ... from going to church as president, but I would respond that none of them had a bullet fired into their chest like Reagan did in 1989.

COLMES: Fascinating piece, also, you wrote "At the End of the Long Goodbye," an op-ed piece. And you talked about Reagan's view of death as expressed earlier in his life.

KENGOR: That's right. That's right. He believed that -- he wrote a poem as 17-year-old where he said that death is just a step through an eternal window to something better.

And this was what his mom, Mel Reagan, who I dedicate the book to, had taught him, that bad things might happen, but it's all for the better in the end because it's all a part of God's plan. And Reagan believed that until -- until the very final lucid days.

HANNITY: One of the things you remind us here, Paul, is how the liberal media responded to Reagan and how liberal politicians, in the case of Anthony Lewis, "Primitive the only one word for" -- meaning on the evil empire speech.

Or Richard Cullen saying, "What do Ronald Reagan -- what does he have in common with my grandmother? They're both religious bigots."

And Tip O'Neill: "The evil is in the White House."

KENGOR: That's right.

HANNITY: " ... at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care, no concern for the working class of America or future generations in America. He's cold. He's mean. He's got ice water for blood."

He said that at the '84 convention.

KENGOR: He said that at the '84 convention. Yes. It's -- they were vicious, the way they treated Reagan.

HANNITY: Liberals still are. They haven't changed.

KENGOR: And -- and a similarity, I think, between Reagan and Bush both is that they draw -- they draw their strength from their faith, their self security and their confidence.

HANNITY: But they're hated in an almost compatible way. I see the animosity, antipathy that liberals had like Tip O'Neill had for Reagan. And the guys that are returning today for George Bush. You see similarities.

KENGOR: Absolutely. And it was...

HANNITY: Is it because of God, their relationship?

KENGOR: I think that's part of it. Also, both of them are in large global campaigns. Reagan against the last great "ism," which was totalitarian communism. And Bush against...

HANNITY: And they both have moral clarity.

KENGOR: Right. Strong confident positions.

HANNITY: That's right. That's right.

KENGOR: They're not moral equivalency at all. They -- they see good and evil and that bothers them.

COLMES: Thank you for appearing on Hannity & Vicious.


COLMES: Good luck with the book. Thank you for being here.

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