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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2003 / 29 Elul, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Reagan's life in letters


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | This will be a crazy week for Kiron Skinner.

For the second time in less than two years, the assistant professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University will ride the New York-D.C. media merry-go-round and set the historical record straight about Ronald Wilson Reagan, arguably our most under-appreciated president since Coolidge.

Along with co-authors and fellow Hoover Institution research fellows Martin and Annelise Anderson, Skinner will appear on national TV and radio shows to trumpet "Reagan: A Life in Letters," which hits bookstores this week. (To purchase, please click HERE. Sales help dund JWR)

Carefully researched and annotated, the book contains more than 1,000 of the estimated 10,000 personal letters Reagan wrote - in longhand - to everyone from Maggie Thatcher and Frank Sinatra to young pen pals he acquired late in his presidency.

Excerpted in the current Time magazine, it is a sequel of sorts to "Reagan, In His Own Hand," the 2001 best-seller by Skinner and the Andersons that reprinted hundreds of radio commentaries Reagan wrote in the late 1970s.

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That book, surprise, surprise, amazed Reagan's allies and enemies alike because it proved he was a smart, savvy writer and sophisticated political thinker, not an "empty suit."

Because of an exclusive deal her publisher Free Press made with Time, Skinner can't be interviewed formally about her book by the print media until later this week. But if you have a TV, it'll be hard to miss her (and the Andersons) over the next few days.

She will appear this morning on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." Tomorrow she's booked on "Good Morning America" and "Hannity and Colmes." Later stops include Wednesday visits with radio's G. Gordon Liddy and Jim Bohannon.

I know how nuts the next few days will be for Skinner, a registered Democrat. In 2001, as part of a feature story on their promotional tour for "In His Own Hand," I tagged along with her and the Andersons as they raced from studio to studio in Washington.

I also witnessed their appearance at a gala Ronald Reagan birthday tribute at the Ronald Reagan Building, a god-awful stone-and-marble temple to Egregious Government that I'd like to think "The Great Communicator" would want to tear down if he ever saw it.

Martin Anderson, a former Reagan adviser, immediately appreciated the irony of the Ronald Reagan Building, but I don't know if many of the Bush people in attendance did. They were too busy celebrating their rise to power to remember why they claimed to have sought it in the first place.

I never voted for Reagan, but I always liked his rhetoric. It had a nice, revolutionary, libertarian ring to it, though in the real world Reagan's administration could only disappoint me and all libertarians. The more I find out about Reagan's character and values, however, the more I appreciate him as a human being.

Skinner and the Andersons' earlier book showed Reagan, contrary to the caricatures of a lazy/biased mass media, had a brain and was no accidental president. "Reagan: A Life in Letters" shows he also had a good heart.

Reading through a lifetime of his private letters - whether he's explaining the roots of his anticommunism to Hugh Hefner in 1960 or announcing he has Alzheimer's in 1994 - tells you a lot.

It shouldn't matter whether you love or hate his politics or his record as president. Reagan's writings show he was an honest, decent, gracious, principled, intelligent and likable man -- a great American and an excellent role model for any politician.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald