Friday, September 25, 2009

Reagan and Buckley

Welcome to the unveiling of the latest selection of the Bill Buckley Book Club.

Unlike the volumes I reviewed here and here, this one, The Reagan I Knew, was written by William F. Buckley, Jr., himself.

There is very little original material in this book. When he was near death, Buckley wrote a handful of chapters to tie together a collection of his past writings and speeches about Reagan, along with correspondence between Buckley and both Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

But the correspondence is quite interesting, shedding light on both the witty personal relationship between them, and the exchange of political ideas.

Buckley excoriates Kitty Kelley for her allegations in an unauthorized biography (sorry, The unauthorized biography) of Nancy Reagan, including Kelley's tale of a supposed affair between Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra. But, in Buckley's book, we find out that he wanted to be in the place that Kelley's alleges Sinatra held. In letters reprinted in the book, Buckley repeatedly invites Mrs. Reagan to a tryst in Casablanca! She expresses interest, and her supposedly old-fashioned husband seems resigned to the idea, but the affair apparently never takes place. One supposes Buckley was (partly) kidding.

The correspondence shows that Reagan and Buckley's respect for each other did not wane when they experienced disagreements. One of their most public disagreements regarded the treaties by which the U.S. gave the canal and the Canal Zone back to Panama. Buckley favored the treaties, while Reagan opposed them. That was the subject of a formal debate between the two men, on Buckley's TV show, Firing Line.

Another point of contention was Reagan's enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament, which Buckley did not share. Buckley joined with many conservatives in a sigh of relief, when Reagan failed to bargain away most of the American nuclear arsenal, during his summit meeting with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1986 at Reykjavik, Iceland.

If you pass up this book, you'll never find out to which dangerous diplomatic posting Reagan secretly appointed Buckley, and the shocking way in which Reagan said he dealt with a photographer who accidentally found out the secret!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reagan and Buckley.

Let those names roll around for just a moment and realize how great we had it for awhile.

I know that I did not appreciate the greatness of Reagan when he was first elected. And, I had a problem with listening to Buckley talk and most certainly did not appreciate his televised presence - though a fan of his writing.

The point which I am blunting, is that we lived through a fantastic conservative re-birth at the hands of Thatcher, Reagan and Buckley. And I wonder how many of us truly appreciate the greatness to which we were witness.

Based on the actions of conservatives today, I would dare say that no one was even watching.