I'm going to talk a little bit about the speech process that led to Westminster. Before that, though, I really do think there is a context that needs to be put around it both in terms of the political history of the United States and also just some broad observations about what the speech did.
Things were happening here in Washington in the early '80s. Ronald Reagan had come to town bringing Ed Meese and Dick Pipes with him. NCPAC had defeated a number of U.S. Senate fixtures that might otherwise have survived the Reagan landslide so Republicans now had a House of Congress. The Washington Times was about to be founded and Heritage was well on the way to being what it is today -- a munificent, heartening and providential center of gravity.
Episodes of creedal passion -- this is how Harvard professor Samuel Huntington has referred to certain outbursts in American politics of populism. True believers come into town riding a flood tide of that creedal passion, and they encounter a Capitol class that is manning the dykes of convention and trying to uphold, as it were, the old, established protocols of Washington thought and action. All through our history you can see this. It was the Jeffersonians in the 1800s, the Jacksonians in the 1830s, Lincoln Republicans in 1861, the Teddy Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson reformists, each in their own respective party at the turn of the century, and then the FDR New Dealers.
These were true believers who, after they had won the election, clashed with those who thought of themselves as the superintendents of compromise and process, people who made the city run and the system work. So Capitol elites versus heartland populists -- possibly the single most consistent dynamic in American politics -- and I think you can see where I'm going. This tension, this clash, provided the context, really, in the early '80s as Reagan conservatives were elbowing their way into power with the single events that I mentioned at the start and with the event that we're here to commemorate today.
Westminster was single. It was important. It represents a first and early and nearly decisive escape from that enormously powerful undertow of Washington talk and action that had been established. Indeed, with Westminster this new populism had established the internationalization, if you will, of its creed and it swept away perhaps the single most revered protocol of all, that any Cold War President's highest priority must be arranging an accommodation with the Soviets and that any persistent candor about what the Soviets were and what they were up to was an insurmountable obstacle to such diplomatic engagement.
So Westminster was populace, it was creedal, it was internationalist, and something else, by the way, something that makes it very appropriate that Heritage should post this occasion, that Ed Meese should introduce the subject, and that Lee Edwards should be the impresario of the moment. But before getting to that particular dimension of the Westminster event I think we have to talk about the event just a little more.
It has been elegantly addressed by our first two speakers but it came home to me when I heard a government official say that he had heard it, and this was some years afterwards, as a graduate student. And he said you have to understand the impact it had. For a decade there had been nothing but pessimism. And here suddenly was Reagan saying the Soviets were doomed, freedom was on the march -- a Western leader was offering hope.
Now, it's been said the Cold War strategies of containment or peace through strength worked and this is really nonsense and Westminster shows why. It was bracing, a clarion call. It demanded not just peace but freedom, indeed world liberation. Reagan often said we must go "beyond containment," and at Westminster he began it. No more playing on just our side of the 50-yard line. We were going to win.
And it could be seen in the speech's thrust at the Soviet's psyche and its imperial ethos. First it identified the twin threats in the post-war era of nuclear conflict and totalitarian rule and saw them both as equally catastrophic. This was a new and useful moral equivalent. Second, the speech established another moral equivalence, the Nazis and the Soviets, variations on Soviet rule. It was calculated to drive the USSR crazy. Reading a few days after the speech in Dick Pipes' office the indignant cables from Moscow, I can assure you we were giggling like schoolboys.
Third, the text had a careful exhumation of the corpse that was the Soviet economy. And finally Westminster turned back on the Marxist-Leninists a doctrinal point hitherto largely uncontested by the West, something that institutional evil because it senses its own ontological absurdity and short shelf life always tries to steal, a claim on the future.
The Soviets, not us, were the ones with the ash heap of history problem. This is what Reagan said. The reaction, well, for some of it, dark spot on the President's trip, said one prominent newspaper. The British Labour Party was simply appalled, completely rejected it, was the term. A triumph, said Mrs. Thatcher.
And Reagan only once formally (that I know of in a speech) did he defend Westminster, and it was here at Heritage at a dinner marking the beginning of the endowment drive -- as it happened, a speech that also previewed the foreign policy strategy that he was going to follow for the rest of the administration. Anyway, he meant to advance, Reagan said, a creed, a cause, a vision of a future time. The point of his Westminster address was that people of every land can enjoy the blessings of liberty and the right to self-government. The goal of the free world must no longer be stated in the negative, that is, resistance to Soviet expansions. The goal of the free world must instead be stated in the affirmative, he said. We must go on the offensive with a forward strategy for freedom.
Forward strategy for freedom. President Bush, who also uses the word "evil" in public, likes that phrase, too, by the way, though some people grumbled. But back in the '80s it was more difficult to talk that way with the disapproval coming not just from the salons of Washington convention but even certain parts of the Reagan White House and this is where our story takes an interesting turn.
Pragmatists, the media had come to call them, Reagan officials who in hoping to be thought members of the capitol class, influential Washington insiders, shared most of the same viewpoints, including a belief, a very sincere belief, that candor about the Soviets was indiscreet, out, not a good or a wise idea. Some people wondered what they were doing in the Reagan White House.
And I always just thought the President believed it would be good to have a few around since, as he once put it, our right hand does not always know what our far-right hand is doing. Now, some of them were my West Wing superiors, and our relationship over Westminster and matters of another nature offered an intriguing variation on that two-century-old elitist versus populace dynamic and how it operates even in a new White House. So perhaps we can look at the speech process that produced Westminster and if some of the description of the palace intrigue starts to sound a little bit self-absorbed as we go along be assured we are on our way getting back to Reagan and Westminster and I will strive to keep up the Franciscan-like self-effacement for which I am or may not be justly renowned.
Anyway, its hard to do it because my superior on a particular day, this pragmatist, was telling me what a fine, fine person I was. I had been running speechwriting most of that first year, and things he thought were just going very, very well. The President was pleased, the West Wing was pleased, and so more of the Franciscan-like self-effacement. I lowered my head modestly and said we were successful because we were true to Ronald Reagan's idioms and ideas.
They understood him, I said, my colleagues did, as the author of his own success. Between Reagan and his writers there was a real synergy, and I used the word "synergy" because I had noticed this particular pragmatist sometimes said things like, I'd like to share this with you, and talk of feeling centered or of bonding with the President or intersecting with the President where he got psychic return.
But despite my best effort here, the synergy part didn't produce the effect I'd hoped. Indeed he looked troubled. Then suddenly he was business-like. Weren't there some weak links, though, speech writing? Now that things were going so well and we soon would be officially (be) appointing the next chief speechwriter didn't I want to make some staff changes?
Two writers were mentioned, both, by the way -- I'm sure it was happenstance -- conservatives, with particular emphasis on one. His name was Dana Rohrabacher. Anyway, think about it, I was told. So I did think about it, not for very long but I did think about it.
Since our early teens Dana and I had been fierce Reagan followers, and even if I didn't know him all that well, personally we had grown up in the conservative movement together and he had done wonderful work for President Reagan. So what was this about? Could the newly arrived pragmatist want a less-conservative, less-Reaganesque speechwriting department? Was I being told to fire Dana?
Yes, as a matter of fact, and I wasn't going to do it because, as you've guessed by now, there is a sense in which complaining to Mr. Dolan about the way Mr. Rohrabacher is writing your speeches is roughly equivalent to complaining to Mr. Hardy about the way Mr. Laurel is moving your piano. But I liked the chief speech writer's job so not wanting to defy my bosses and not being so dumb I stalled and danced and tried to get Dana, who lacked some of the Franciscan-like self-effacement for which I was so appreciative, to be slightly, slightly less outspoken.
Well, any of you who have had the Dana Rohrbacher experience will understand when I say in hindsight about that idea here was self-delusional. So Dana went on vacation and for a while, the West Wing forgot him, and then the rhythm of the speech schedule took over and Dana was back in the lineup and things continued to go well. That summer we had a tax-cut speech and in January the first State of the Union.
But sometimes the work doesn't count, especially in a palace. The Dana matter kept coming up again. I kept dodging it and then something happened in the West Wing that I can only describe as meteorological. Chilly winds earlier directed at Dana were now directed at me. In fact, pretty soon the chief speechwriter -- and I'd just gotten the title officially -- couldn't even get on the schedule. I couldn't get a speech draft to write, the sort of thing designed to cause demoralization. It's a routine bureaucratic maneuver. Some of you in government have seen it before with someone who is out of favor.
In this case, however, it was a mistake by the pragmatists because with the President's first major trip abroad coming up, I thought well, I have all this time. Why don't I do a draft for the British Parliament address? Now, since the first weeks in office President Reagan had been steadily sounding a doom of communism theme and then eventually Richard Pipes had done a brilliant paper -- a paper, though, I thought had been overlooked, maybe even ignored.
And so, as I say, I had time and I remembered it and I dug it out and I read it and I stole from it, and I had time, too, to look over what the State Department had sent in -- a fine initiative pushed by Mark Palmer to help democratic institutions, yet what it needed most was a context, an anti-communist context, a Cold War context, a Reagan context. That's what the time was really used for.
I don't want you to think there was a lot of original research going on. You see, in the early '60s in the attic of the Citizens Anti-Communist Committee of Connecticut run by Ed McCollum where I was a volunteer worker; I had come across a little pamphlet called "Losing Freedom on the Installment Plan," Reagan's GE speech. And that night in '64 I had watched with many others like Dana Reagan say we are in a war that must be won.
Then there had been the debate in 1967 on ABC with Bobby Kennedy where he asked the question: Wouldn't the map of Europe be very different if the Soviets, not the U.S., had enjoyed the nuclear monopoly after World War II?
So not hard to know what Reagan wanted to say. He'd been saying it for 30 years, the Westminster context and message. I just started putting it all together and then it was my turn in the palace back and forth to make the mistake of wanting to do the right thing, to be a team player. On Thursday I said to my superiors I had a draft; I was working on one, and hoped to have it in by next week. And that very weekend, several drafts way ahead of schedule were rushed into the President.
Well, this time it was their mistake because after Reagan read them he called columnist George Will and he asked, Are those drafts as bad as I think they are?
Yes, they were, said George Will. A day later when Reagan was telling National Security Advisor Bill Clark about this, Clark, not one of his pragmatists, by the way, happened to mention I was working on a draft. Reagan was irritated, even angry.
Why haven't I seen Tony's draft? Give me all the drafts this weekend, he instructed.
So Clark called me and I notified my superiors and sent it in through channels, more team play there, and I found out that it still had not gone in even after I'd sent it over to him. So I called Clark. He sent it in.
But you must understand the pragmatists were very confident at this point. They'd seen this happen in other White Houses. There were so many drafts around, there was not going to be any clear winning draft. And so quite confidently at the radio talk Saturday morning one of them said, "Mr. President, have you given any further thought to what you're going to do about your British Parliament address?"
"Yes, I have," said the President.
Here I have to interrupt to tell you that the teakwood floor in the Oval Office was pulled up during the Reagan presidency. Everyone wanted a piece that showed the marks made by Ike's golf spikes when he used to come in to answer the phone from the Rose Garden where he had been putting. But I had wanted the piece that had a different indentation, the one caused by the pragmatist's chin hitting the teakwood just after Reagan finished by saying, "Yes, I think I'm going to use Tony Dolan's draft."
Tony Dolan's draft, well, yes, it had my name on it, but what Reagan saw there, the context, the message, the lines themselves, like the one about the nuclear monopoly and the map of Europe way back in '68 or '67, he easily recognized and the newer stuff too, the doom of communism theme, that was there. No wonder he chose it, the Reagan idioms and ideas. As I had said to that unappreciative pragmatist, there's nothing like a little synergy.
But all this about the Reagan speeches being Reagan speeches, I need to tell you, used to be a tough sell. Back in the days when Reagan needed handlers and image-makers and writers people used to say, You're just being modest, when I say Reagan was the author of his own success. This is just more of that Franciscan-like self-effacement for which you are so justly renowned.
But since Marty Anderson's book recounting all the speeches, columns, and radio broadcasts that he wrote himself in the '70s and showing the actual transcripts this has gotten a lot easier. It never really bothered me, though, because the archives were there. People were going to see what he had done with the Evil Empire speech, that he had re-written it all, and they were going to see as well what had happened with that address to the people after Reykjavik, the yellow sheets that he had written himself.
So on the last point, that Reagan speeches were Reagan speeches, let me just add here another point that there is an anniversary this week of another important Reagan speech. And I said at that time, "Mr. President, it's early," in an Oval Office meeting months ahead of the trip. "No one has really thought about it yet."
There weren't any drafts. But I said, "The Berlin trip is coming up in June and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about it for all of us." And he did the Ronald Reagan for a minute and then he said, "Well, tear down the wall." And the signature line of the Reagan presidency was his own, and in any case, he had first started calling for tearing down the wall in the '60s.
In any case, besides the populace credo, the Westminster even was also Reaganesque and that point permits us now to go to one last characteristic I want to talk about with regard to Westminster, a point that I think Ronald Reagan would make, if he could, about the speech, or at least he would have wanted to have heard and why I think he spoke at Heritage so often or why he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference routinely or had Dana Rohrbacher around or Ed Meese, who, long after the pragmatist press notices have failed history, will be seen as the truly important figure in the West Wing in those early years.
Because I think that Reagan -- and you have to give this some attention now because, remember, I was his mind reader for eight years -- would have said that Westminster was also about a moment in American politics, a moment of anti-communist consensus and the movement that came out of it. He would have mentioned many of the things that Ed Meese mentioned a few moments ago: the committee members, the investigations, the FBI agents, a few journalists, the actors who helped him fight the Stalinists in Hollywood, those who saw the menace and wondered if America would wake to it, the church groups, the veterans groups, who had the awareness programs and the study groups. He would have mentioned all that and then I think he would have mentioned the movement that had formed him even as he helped form it, the conservative movement that grew out of that anti-communist movement.
The National Review, Human Events, Bill Buckley, who seemed at one point to be challenging Mohammed Ali for the title for the most popular and prominent disrupter of the rating protocols, the people who walked those precincts for Barry Goldwater in '64 in Orange County, the people who went to the Victory in Vietnam rally that Lee Edwards organized, Dana Rohrbacher, who came to work for him on that first gubernatorial race.
I'll leave you with the story about Dana that summarizes all this. During the years he was at the White House he went to the Israeli embassy to hear Nytal Sherensky, who had just escaped terrible captivity in Soviet prisons. Afterwards Dana went up and introduced himself and he mentioned to Sherensky, I'm President Reagan's speechwriter. Sherensky seemed pleased and he asked Dana what he had said and Dana repeated, I'm President Reagan's speechwriter. After a moment Sherensky took Dana's arm, looked at him with great emotion, and then the former prisoner of the gulag said, "I always wondered who you were."
Dana's colleagues shared in that, and we had our own stories. By the way, I'll tell you what, I will leave you with this one. Up in Ed McCollum's attic at the Citizen's Anti-Communist Committee of Connecticut, there were besides that GE speech transcripts of things, congressional hearings like enforced famine in the Ukraine and books entitled I Saw Poland Betrayed or Maya Istoria. And now where I work for that great American Don Rumsfeld in the Department of Defense, I sometimes see the military delegations from nations that are now US allies -- free countries -- and I see these strange uniforms and I know that as they pass me in the Pentagon they cannot know what it means to read the arm patches that say Ukraine, Poland, Estonia. I think Ronald Reagan would have wanted the people of Eastern Europe to know that there was a tribe of Americans, the people of Russia, the people of Asia as well, who in his time shared an ache they had for their own freedom and were resolved to do something about it. Americans who know they had all the usual personal infirmities also had urgent hearts that were resolved to see freedom triumph.
So besides populace credo, internationalists and Reaganists, the Westminster event was tribal, part of a tribal story I hope some day will be told, but a story as a matter of fact that we surely add to today as we meet to celebrate our chieftain who 20 years ago, just as everyone said he was about to give up his savage ways and turn truly civilized, after all on the way to London Town, let out a war whoop instead when he got there, and soon all the nations and tribes were united and the frontiers were ablaze with freedom -- a war whoop still heard today, taken up gravely, ably, resourcefully by a President of the United States who pretty routinely gives us some of the greatest speeches in the history of the office and is someone who seems to believe in that creed, that vision, of a future time -- that cause, those blessings of liberty for every people everywhere.
So a little unfinished business, a few places left to liberate. We need to get at it as in the old days. I will do what I can. I'm sure Dana up there in Congress is causing as much trouble as possible. Ed Meese, time perhaps for you to head back to the West Wing? And, Lee Edwards, how about another rally, this time a victory everywhere rally?
Note: The preceding remarks were part of a panel discussion held in The Heritage Foundation.