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Her Turn : Books: Nancy Reagan loads her memoirs with jabs at former White House staffers, but is equally tough on her own failings as a wife, mother and public figure.

October 22, 1989|BETTY CUNIBERTI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"That's exactly your role," I replied.

Did Reagan consider shrinking from including that scene in which she dresses down the man who is now President? "I wasn't dressing him down," she said.

Told that the book clearly portrays Bush as being afraid to go in and tell President Reagan his views, she answers back, "That's your interpretation. That might not be his interpretation. He may have legitimately seen that it was not his job."

Reagan also wrote that when her husband was choosing his running mate, "I didn't like George Bush. Ronnie would have preferred (Nevada Republican Sen.) Paul Laxalt."

Asked if she now likes Bush, who once labeled her husband's philosophy "voodoo economics," Nancy Reagan says only, "Sure."

Even as she tried to explain that she did not have as much influence as many believed, she conceded that she and her husband argued about Regan; she described her campaign to get him fired in unabashed detail, defending her actions by noting that "a stream of high government officials and Congressional leaders" pleaded with her to get Regan ousted.

But she wrote conflicting statements about her role.

On the one hand: "I had to get in there because nobody else would tell Ronnie what was going on."

On the other hand: "I did not mastermind a plot to get rid of Don Regan. There was no cabal. I wasn't in cahoots with anybody to bring about his downfall."

Reagan wrote that she found former First Lady Rosalynn Carter's attendance at Cabinet meetings "embarrassing."

But she related how she attended a meeting with the President, former Secretary of State William Rogers and Democratic chairman Robert Strauss, discussing how to handle the then-budding Iran-Contra scandal.

Nancy Reagan called Strauss afterwards to thank him for speaking frankly about the need to oust Regan. A short time later she fumed at the President, "I was right about David Stockman. I was right about Bill Clark. Why won't you listen to me about Don Regan?"

In an innocent tone, she added that she tried to talk her husband out of his Bitburg visit in May, 1985, which caused an uproar in the Jewish community because of the presence of SS soldiers' graves in the German cemetery where the President was to appear. She wrote that she "was furious at (West German Prime Minister) Helmut Kohl for not getting us out" of the ceremonies.

"I was somewhat more successful," she wrote, "in encouraging Ronnie to consider a more conciliatory relationship with the Soviet Union."

Much of her book carries more detailed explanations of things Nancy Reagan has said before. But there is new material on her children and her dependence on astrology.

For the first time, Reagan has admitted that daughter Patti "was born--go ahead and count--a bit precipitously but very joyfully Oct. 22, 1952," after their marriage the previous March, two weeks after they announced their engagement.

In her memoirs, she wrote that she disapproved when Patti and Ron lived with lovers before they were married; in her 1981 autobiography, "Nancy," she had railed against "premarital sex."

But in the interview, Reagan sees no conflict in her views. In the case of Patti's conception, "Uh, if you're asking if I ever lived with Ronnie, 'No, I did not.' Um, but you're also talking about a man in his 40s and a woman--what? (she paused to compute her age, another subject of dispute)--in her late 20s. We're not talking about teen-agers. And we knew we were going to get married."

Critics have often accused the Reagans of hypocrisy for espousing "family values" while having a tangled set of personal relationships themselves.

"It's true that we weren't always able to live up to the things we believed in," Reagan wrote, "but that doesn't mean we didn't believe in them."

She admitted that she was a "nervous" new mother with Patti and made numerous mistakes with all the children. She said that she and her husband both were too lenient and she resented that he forced her to be "the heavy" in matters of discipline.

Her estrangement from her first-born child remains one of her greatest disappointments, especially since "what I wanted most in the world was to be a good wife and mother."

Reagan, in her book, admitted for the first time that Patti's thinly disguised novel "Homefront," which depicted a shallow and cruel mother, was "unpleasant (and) critical."

But in the interview, the former First Lady said that she did not think her own book performed the same deed of publicly airing private family difficulties in a most unflattering way.

"No, not at all," she said. "I leave the door very open for Patti, with the red carpet down. I say that nothing would please me more than to have a reconciliation."

Many of her family travails occured because theirs was "a blended family," she wrote; she blames many of the problems, implicitly and explicitly, on Jane Wyman, her husband's former wife.

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