The Reagan Cabinet

The Reagan Cabinet

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List of female United States Cabinet members

The Cabinet of the United States has had 38 female officers serving as secretaries of one or more of the United States federal executive departments and 29 women as Cabinet-level officials with three of them appointed at the helm of the different departments, while four served both as Cabinet and Cabinet-rank officeholders. The vice president historically is also part of the presidential cabinet, ready to assume the Presidency should the need arise one woman was elected to the position. No woman held a Cabinet position before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying any citizen the right to vote because of that citizen's sex. [1]

Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in the Cabinet she was appointed secretary of labor in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perkins remained in office briefly after Harry S. Truman assumed presidency upon Roosevelt's death, becoming the first female to held the same post under separate administrations. [2] [3] Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman and woman of color to serve in the Cabinet when appointed secretary of housing and urban development in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter. [4] [5] Two years later, Harris became the first female to hold two different Cabinet positions during the single administration serving as secretary of health, education, and welfare before the department split in 1979 she was the inaugural secretary of health and human services after that. [5] Elizabeth Dole was the first woman who have served in two different Cabinet posts for two different administrations. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as secretary of transportation in 1983 and was secretary of labor during the tenure of George H. W. Bush—Reagan's successor. [6] [7] Czechoslovakia-born Madeleine Albright became the first foreign-born woman to serve in the Cabinet she was appointed secretary of state in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. Albright was the highest-ranking woman in any U.S. presidential administration at that time. [8] [a] Elaine Chao was the first female naturalized as a U.S. citizen to attain two different Cabinet positions in two different administrations. She was appointed by President George W. Bush as secretary of labor in 2001 and later chosen secretary of transportation by President Donald Trump. Chao also the first Asian American woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. [7]

Condoleezza Rice was appointed secretary of state in 2005 and thus became the highest-ranking woman in the United States presidential line of succession in the contry's history. [9] [10] In 2007, Nancy Pelosi replaced Rice as the highest-ranking woman in line when she was elected speaker of the House. [11] [10] On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris overtook Pelosi and became the highest-ranking woman in the line of succession when she was inaugurated as vice president. [12] [13]

In 2021, President Joe Biden named five women as secretaries to his initial Cabinet—former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen as secretary of the treasury, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior, governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo as secretary of commerce, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development, and former governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm as secretary of energy, exceeding by one the record set by President Barack Obama. [14] However, Obama still holds record for most appointed women to Cabinet positions with eight, the most during any presidency, surpassing George W. Bush's previous number of six.

The Department of Labor has had the most female secretaries with seven. [15] The Department of Health and Human Services has had five the department of Commerce have had four the departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, and Transportation have had three the departments of Energy, Homeland Security, and Justice have had two the departments of Agriculture and Treasury have had one. [15] The defunct Department of Health, Education, and Welfare also had two female secretaries. [15] The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are the only existing Cabinet departments that have not had women secretaries yet. [16] [17]


Although many of his movie roles and the persona he created for himself seemed to represent traditional values, Reagan’s rise to the presidency was an unusual transition from pop cultural significance to political success. Born and raised in the Midwest, he moved to California in 1937 to become a Hollywood actor. He also became a reserve officer in the U.S. Army that same year, but when the country entered World War II, he was excluded from active duty overseas because of poor eyesight and spent the war in the army’s First Motion Picture Unit. After the war, he resumed his film career rose to leadership in the Screen Actors Guild, a Hollywood union and became a spokesman for General Electric and the host of a television series that the company sponsored. As a young man, he identified politically as a liberal Democrat, but his distaste for communism, along with the influence of the social conservative values of his second wife, actress Nancy Davis, edged him closer to conservative Republicanism ([link]). By 1962, he had formally switched political parties, and in 1964, he actively campaigned for the Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

Reagan launched his own political career in 1966 when he successfully ran for governor of California. His opponent was the incumbent Pat Brown, a liberal Democrat who had already served two terms. Reagan, quite undeservedly, blamed Brown for race riots in California and student protests at the University of California at Berkeley. He criticized the Democratic incumbent’s increases in taxes and state government, and denounced “big government” and the inequities of taxation in favor of free enterprise. As governor, however, he quickly learned that federal and state laws prohibited the elimination of certain programs and that many programs benefited his constituents. He ended up approving the largest budget in the state’s history and approved tax increases on a number of occasions. The contrast between Reagan’s rhetoric and practice made up his political skill: capturing the public mood and catering to it, but compromising when necessary.

How Great Was Ronald Reagan?

How will President Reagan be most remembered? How, if at all, has he changed American politics and government? Has he been one of America's great presidents? Has he been a conservative president? To what other presidencies might the Reagan administration be compared? These questions were put to seven leading political historians and presidential biographers.

A funny thing happened to Ronald Reagan on the way to his place in history. At the three-quarter point, he made a sharp left turn, then another, and ended his journey going in the opposite direction from his start. Initially, he was headed towards the title of the toughest Cold War president of all. His rhetoric was bellicose in the extreme, as "evil empire" replaced detente. When martial law descended on Poland, Reagan tried to organize an economic blockade of the Soviet Union. On the military front, he launched the greatest arms race in history, topped by the single most expensive weapons system ever undertaken.

But history will remember Reagan as the first Cold War president to preside over eight years of unbroken peace, the first to reach an arms reduction accord with the Soviets, and the American president who helped make it possible for Mikhail Gorbachev to begin the process of restructuring Soviet society.

Historians will also stress the gap between Reagan's domestic goals and his accomplishments. Most obvious is the deficit what he promised to eliminate he has allowed to swell beyond comprehension. On the social agenda, abortion remains legal, prayer in the schools illegal. Reagan's failure in the war against drugs and related crime activities is so great that drugs were the number one issue in the 1988 presidential campaign.

Nevertheless, Reagan will be remembered as the president who reversed the decades-old flow of power to Washington. By dismantling some federal programs, and reducing others, he forced the states and the cities to assume more responsibility for running their own shows. If he failed to break the Democratic hold on Congress, he did force the Democratic Party to move to the right.

When Reagan entered politics 22 years ago virtually every Democrat outside Dixie identified himself, proudly, as a liberal today, in large part because of Reagan, almost every Democrat in the nation tries to call himself a conservative.

Bid for Greatness: Tax Reform

These are important changes, but not of such a magnitude to earn Reagan a title of "great." The great presidents are the ones who bring permanent changes in society. Teddy Roosevelt and conservation and trust-busting, as one example, or Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve System, Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security, Harry Truman and the integration of the armed forces, Dwight Eisenhower and the interstate highway system, Lyndon Johnson and Medicare and civil rights.

Reagan's bid for greatness is tax reform, and on this one it is just too early to tell. If the doom sayers are right and we are dragged into a depression by the deficit and the trade imbalance, Reagan's tax policy will be reversed and forgotten. If the optimists are right and the economy continues to grow, the new tax rates will become permanent and Reagan will be blessed for his wisdom and courage.

Comparing Reagan to other presidents produces mixed results. He has been very like Jack Kennedy in a number of ways: cutting taxes to stimulate the economy, accepting large deficits in order to step up the pace of the arms race, indulging in Cold War rhetoric. He has been like Dwight Eisenhower in a number of ways: talking tough while maintaining the peace, using the CIA's covert capabilities rather than the Armed Forces' overt firepower to support his policies in the Third World, using a show of force rather than force itself in the Middle East while attempting to maintain an even-handed policy toward the antagonists. Reagan has also been very like Eisenhower in his tremendous personal popularity, as well as in his inability to use that popularity to promote the Republican Party.

Therein lies the biggest difference between Reagan and Nixon. Many people admired Nixon, almost no one ever liked him. Almost everyone likes Reagan, although not so many admire him. Every scandal in the Nixon administration came home to stick to the president the Reagan administration's scandals have been more numerous, and in the case of Iran/Contra, more serious, but none of them have stuck to the president.

Whether that was just plain dumb luck or brilliant politics Reagan's biographers will argue for a long time to come.

STEPHEN E. AMBROSEis a biographer of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon.

One political era most differs from another in the language used by those in power. We know that a watershed is coming when that language starts to change. We are now hearing a new idiom in the speech of public figures, one in sharp contrast to the language that originally defined the Reagan Revolution. That speech was a universe of discourse, a network of rhetorical questions, assumptions, normative terms, and modifiers that has given the last 10 years an identifiable momentum. Even though the sitting vice president was chosen to be president in November, this now-familiar political idiom will not long survive the changing of the guard. About the promise of individual liberty and responsibility, we will hear less and less about the benevolence of government, more. The thought of such subtraction makes us self-conscious about what we will lose. Thus, these remarks are openly valedictory of the rhetoric of the Reagan presidency, the eloquence by which we were so securely environed. And very soon this will be the attitude of most conservatives, however frequently we have lost patience with President Reagan while he has been in office.

For all things change when the expectations generated by political discourse shift. In recent months, conservatives have argued that tax reform and tax cuts have made it difficult for politicians coming after Reagan to Postulate the necessity for creative spending to insist that government, if properly concerned for the unfortunate, should throw money at social problems. For a time I shared that opinion. Now I doubt its validity. Leftism is a virus in the bloodstream of our body politic, present in authoritative appeals to tolerance and peace, fairness, charity, and a natural right to the property of others. It will not go away. It has a ground in envy and resentment, which are the fashionable modern responses to eminence and distinction of every kind.

Yet the political success of Ronald Reagan has forced the contemporary Left to disguise the intransigent emotional core of its world view behind talk of heart-rending circumstances and imminent disasters, which by reason of their severity cancel every consideration of means or ends. Assuredly, the task that President Reagan set for himself has not been completed. The practical consequences of his triumphs have been adumbrated by continuing Democratic power on Capitol Hill, by a press overwhelmingly on the left, and by the timidity of too many of his servants. We must remember that he was allowed to govern for only one term. The rest has been a holding action, undercut by concern for respectability and by a preoccupation with the 'Judgment of history." Nevertheless, because of Reagan, no serious national politician now wishes to be identified simply as a "liberal." Facing President Reagan, leftists prefer to be described as "competent" and "compassionate." Beyond such partial characterizations, they deal only in personalities, in the dark arts of vilification, or in the outrageous allegation that Democratic omnibus continuing appropriations prove Republican fiscal irresponsibility.

Reagan reaffirmed with eloquence the continuing validity and vitality of the American Dream. In this more than in any policies or decisions lie his legacy and enduring claim to greatness.

- George H. Nash

This president has taught those who share his politics how to conduct a national campaign-how to give limited government, strong national defense, and a check on inflation mass appeal. He has shown us how to do this with a high heart and good humor, making conservatism an optimistic creed. Moreover, he has put to rest forever the old axiom that no candidate for the presidency can run as a conservative and be elected. Finally, with the counsel of Attorney General Edwin Meese, he has compounded these achievements by choosing judges who will defend the Constitution as it has not been defended in over 50 years. These appointments are this president's greatest accomplishment.

I leave aside the effort of the Reagan administration in Central America, its role in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. They involve business that is far from complete. Along with much of the Reagan agenda, their disposition must wait upon his legitimate successors: those who will go forward with implacable determination regardless of the enmity that confronts them. Ronald Reagan will be remembered for the initiatives he set in motion with his anti-statist rhetoric, and for changing through such language the current of our politics almost as dramatically as that current was changed in 1932. The most popular of our modern presidents, he has in his virtues and personal style symbolized our national character, not necessarily as it is, but as we wish it to be.

M. E. BRADFORD is professor of English at the University of Dallas. He has written A Better Guide than Reason: Studies in the American Revolution A Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution and other books and essays on American history and southern conservatism.

After Ronald Reagan has endured the usual biographical cycle of bunk, debunk, and rebunk he likely will be remembered as an outstanding national cheerleader. If such an assertion sounds disparaging, it should not. In the Media Age, rhetorical leadership has become one of the presidency's most important functions. In part through hard policies but even more through his skills as a communicator, Reagan has successfully lifted the morale of a nation that in 1980 was wallowing in pessimism and uncertainty. Long accustomed to the spotlight and the microphone and understanding the way in which the media magnifies one's personality, Reagan has turned what was a liability for most of his predecessors into an asset of major proportions.

Scholars and others with a large view of the world will remember him also as a participant in a transnational movement against the excesses of the regulatory/welfare state, whether overtly socialist (as in much of the world) or marginally social-democratic (as in the United States). It seems doubtful, however, that they will consider him the outstanding political leader and conceptualizer of the return to free market capitalism. That honor will be reserved for Margaret Thatcher, a political captain of notably greater will and tenacity.

It is in the realm of the substantive rather than the symbolic that future generations will raise the greater number of questions about Reagan. Their ultimate judgment probably will be that like most American presidents he wore his ideology lightly and was more notable for his flexibility than for his dogmatism.

Was he conservative? Sure, but not a "hard" conservative. Clearly, he has done little about the social agenda of the Cultural Right other than make an occasional speech stating an opposition to abortion and/or affirming traditional Christian values.

Reagan has largely had his way on economics but with policies that do not fit well into traditional definitions of economic conservatism. Many observers, not all of them liberal, argue that in the long run we will pay for a prosperity set in motion by massive budget and international trade deficits. Reagan's defenders may confound (or simply infuriate) them by invoking Lord Keynes' dictum that in the long run we are all dead. It remains to be seen whether the American economy is capable of generating the output to cover our internal and international debts with little or no pain.

It is notable, moreover, that even in the realm of economics Reagan has taken the easy path rather than the hard one. For all his rhetoric in favor of a balanced budget, he has consistently refused to fight for one. Instead, he has rather easily acquiesced in one of the worst tendencies of democracy, its cupidity. Despite the incessant rhetorical handwringing about the plight of the poor, the vast bulk of federal "social programs" involve some sort of subsidy to the middling groups in American society. It is, no doubt, a realization of this situation and along with it a basic political survival instinct that has caused the administration to back away from programmatic hit lists.

Pandering to Popular Appetite

Reagan ran up against a popular appetite for federal benefits without parallel in our history. He and the people around him were able to deal with it only by pandering to it. The Ronald Reagan who announced that the elderly will receive an increase in Social Security benefits whether or not inflation runs high enough to trigger it is hardly the leader of a counterrevolution. One wonders what historians will make of all the talk of a conservative era in a decade when federal social spending actually increased.

Reagan has left the nation stronger, more prosperous, and more confident than he found it. Yet it will be difficult to argue that he has achieved greatness.

- Alonzo L. Hamby

It is even harder to determine how they may classify a man whose foreign policy has meandered all over the ideological spectrum and has run in qualitative terms from the steadfast defense of the American nuclear presence in Europe and the liberation of Grenada to the muddled Reykjavik summit and the shabby arms-for-hostages dealings in Iran. That said, it is a pretty sure thing that most historians will approve of the recent moves toward detente with the Soviet Union, in part because most historians are liberal but also because if present indicators hold up, Reagan will have done the right thing. (One wishes, however, that he could have found a better way to go about it than tinkering with the nuclear balance.)

Has he been a great president? Let us begin with the acknowledgment that at the very least in the short run, Reagan has left the nation stronger, more prosperous, and more confident than he found it. Unless sometime in the next several years we fall victim to a catastrophe that can be convincingly traced to his policies, it will be hard to rate him a subpar chief executive. Yet it will be difficult even for those in sympathy with him to argue that he has achieved greatness.

Disconnected Administrative Style

It is clear now that his administrative style has been not simply "detached" but virtually disconnected. It is well for presidents to avoid obsession with detail and to keep their eyes on the larger goals, but Reagan exemplified the opposite extreme to a fault. He too often appeared indifferent not simply to detail but to the personnel who managed his presidency, not just ill informed but positively removed from the world of policy execution.

He does not seem to have made much change in the large patterns of American politics. If he has temporarily changed the momentum of American foreign and domestic policy, he has not posed a frontal challenge to the assumptions of the Great Society, nor has he established a new majority. Public opinion surveys that record a widespread pessimism about the future may show that even his achievement as a morale booster has been superficial. He has sustained himself politically by taking the easy way out on the tough issues. Ideologues may call this cowardice political professionals will characterize it as prudence. In either case, it may have been the price of self-preservation in assuming the leadership of a people who want to avoid difficult choices. What it is not is an indicator of greatness.

Reagan will be remembered as the president who reversed the decades-old flow of power to Washington.

- Stephen E. Ambrose

As for comparisons: Reagan has been an uplifter and rhetorician comparable to the two Roosevelts and Wilson a conservative exponent of capitalism in the tradition of Coolidge and Eisenhower a cold warrior and advocate of U.S. international leadership akin to Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon. These analogies demonstrate the skill and strength of a political leader able to draw on diverse themes and weave them together into a formidable personal coalition. Whether he has left something more durable remains for all of us, especially George Bush, to see.

ALONZO L. HAMBY is professor of history at Ohio University. His most recent book is Liberalism and Its Challengers: FDR to Reagan. He is now at work on a biography of Harry S. Truman.

Forecasting history's judgment of a presidency is a tricky business. In addition to lacking the perspective that time alone can provide, we are impaired by two features that inhere in the office. The first of these is that the presidency is dual in character: the president is head of government, which is an administrative and managerial function, and he is also head of state, which is a ceremonial, ritualistic, and symbolic function. Our tendency is to judge the president, while he is in office, largely in terms of the latter, and therefore personality weighs heavily. Scarcely a generation need pass, however, before personality is forgotten and other criteria come to bear. Accordingly, such presidents as Lincoln, Wilson, and Truman, whose personalities were far from charismatic and who were regarded as failures by most of their contemporaries, can come to be regarded as great and the likes of William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, immensely popular when in office (and for a brief time after their martyrdom), can subsequently come to be viewed as ciphers.

The second feature arises from the lame-duck syndrome. During his first term, the president and the members of his party in Congress, looking forward to the support they can provide one another when seeking reelection, tend to cooperate effectively. After the president is reelected, the bond of reciprocal dependency is dissolved and besides, the president, who is almost invariably returned to office by a greatly increased majority, tends to regard dealing with Congress as beneath his dignity. The president thus moves toward overseas adventuring, where his hands are relatively free, and congressmen of both parties are progressively estranged from him. At some point during his second term he becomes fair game for the most vicious attacks from politicians and press alike, and scandals (real and bogus) become commonplace. This is not something that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, or even with those of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. It is the fate suffered by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and almost every other two-term president. But as time passes, the attacks are forgotten and the achievements (or failures) in foreign policy tend to determine the president's niche in history.

Bearing these considerations in mind, one can rise above the provincialism of the present in appraising a presidency, but there is yet another difficulty. Whether history will regard Ronald Reagan favorably or otherwise will depend in large measure upon the course of history yet to come. This is not always the case. Presidencies that are devoid of significant achievement, such as those of Franklin Pierce and Jimmy Carter, are unlikely to be reevaluated later, and the same is true of calamitous presidencies such as those of James Buchanan and Warren G. Harding. But with active presidents, Reagan among them, the verdict of history is likely to be many years in the coming.

It seems entirely probable that the judgment on Reagan will turn mainly upon two pivots, his domestic economic policies and his negotiations regarding nuclear disarmament. Conservatives have been greatly disappointed in his economic policies, believing that deregulation and the cutting of income taxes have not gone nearly far enough and fearing that the budget deficits portend disaster. But if the economic systems of the world continue to move toward depoliticization and the primacy of the market, if prosperity continues to attend that trend, if the budget is brought under control without a new round of worldwide inflation, and if the time bomb that is Social Security does not explode, Reagan will be regarded as the man who led America out of the abyss of socialist stagnation. These are admittedly large ifs.

The returns on that aspect of his presidency will be in fairly soon-within a generation or so. Those having to do with nuclear disarmament might take longer, especially if Mikhail Gorbachev manages to stay in power. If the various reactionary elements in the Soviet Communist Party can oust Gorbachev, as they would love to do, Reagan will look a silly ass for having changed his mind about the evil empire. If Gorbachev by some miracle manages to pull off his perestroika, Reagan will be made to seem a prophet and a great force for world peace.

FORREST MCDONALD, Professor of history at the University of Alabama, is the author of Novus Ordo Seclorum. He was the Jefferson Lecturer for 1987. He and his wife Ellen Shapiro McDonald have written a forthcoming book, Requiem: Variations on 18th Century Themes.

It is not difficult to identify the principal initiatives for which Ronald Reagan will be remembered. After a decade of national defeatism and doubt, he strode into office in 1981-confident of America's ideals and promise, and of the ability of his countrymen to conquer their malaise. He instituted startling tax-rate reductions and other measures that have produced (his supporters argue) the longest peacetime economic expansion in the history of the United States. In foreign policy he initiated a massive rearmament program to contain Soviet imperialism and expounded America's democratic faith without shame. In doing so he broke, without fully dispelling, the debilitating grip of the "post-Vietnam syndrome" and the mentality of "blame America first." In the realm of social issues, he set out deliberately to curb the "imperial judiciary" and reorient a left-leaning Supreme Court.

Not all of his accomplishments were so programmatic.

Perhaps equally significant is the fact that during the Reagan years principled, articulate conservatives gained unprecedented access to executive power and to the nation's policy-making elite. The Reagan Revolution of 1981 was not a conventional shift in legislative priorities and personnel it was an intellectual challenge that undermined the sanctity of the status quo. It did not overthrow that status quo Reagan never had the votes-or perhaps the intent-to do so. But his administration for at least a time altered the terms of public debate and tarnished the intellectual pretensions of social democracy. In these subtle but influential ways Reagan altered American politics more than he did public policy.

Contemplating this substantial legacy, I am nonetheless struck by how tentative and contingent it remains. Is the economic boom of the 1980s, for example, a healthy phenomenon for which Reaganomics may take credit, or is it (as critics maintain) a false prosperity built upon the quicksands of debt? Events during the next few years will tell-and will thereby color our judgment of the Reagan record. Similarly, was the revival of American military strength and morale in the early '80s a lasting achievement or only a fleeting spasm in a dreary saga of declension? Here, as well, the post-Reagan era will inform us. So, too, for the Supreme Court all that Reagan has done to reshape it could quickly be undone in the next presidential term. And despite the entry of conservatives into the Washington mainstream, the Reagan Revolution is not yet institutionalized. To a considerable degree, then, Reagan's place in history will depend upon the deeds of his successor.

To those who grumble that he has not reconstituted the political economy of Herbert Spencer, one can only say welcome to politics and welcome to America.

If all this creates uncertainty about our 40th president's eventual niche in the history books, another factor is likely to embroil him in extended controversy. For Ronald Reagan, like Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln before him, has been guided in office by a compelling moral vision. Because he has been a principled (and not merely managerial) chief executive, Reagan has profoundly antagonized those who espouse competing social visions-notably the New Deal, Great Society, and New Left. He has threatened their intellectual hegemony and sense of superiority, much as FDR threatened those Republicans of his day who considered themselves America's natural aristocracy. As custodians of a regime under powerful ideological assault, Reagan's adversaries have a vested interest in disparaging his presidency. For this reason alone, his standing at the bar of history will long engender passion. Such is the fate of those who delegitimate (but do not overturn) the status quo.

How, then, will Ronald Reagan go down in history? As a conservative Roosevelt who redirected America's course for half a century? As a second Coolidge of liberal caricature who fiddled while the economy burned? As a benign, Ike-like grandfather who ruled for an insignificant interlude during America's inexorable march toward socialism? As a rejected prophet like Wilson whose vision triumphed only after his death?

My own hunch is that an Eisenhower analogy may be the closest one-although not the analogy dear to yesterday's liberals. A generation ago, when Eisenhower left office, he was widely disdained by "the best and the brightest" as an aging golfer whose presidency had brought little but stagnation. It was time, his youthful successor asserted, to "get America moving again." The sequel was the hubris and tragedies of the '60s. Only now, a generation later, have historians begun to perceive Eisenhower as an effective, "hidden-hand" executive who governed during what in retrospect appears an Augustan age.

One can't help wondering how much more he could have achieved had he been a more forceful, involved chief executive.

Will historians someday gaze similarly on our own decade and its dominant public figure? No one can say. But I do venture to predict that our 40th president will be adjudged a singular statesman, and for a reason few of his critics understand. As the finest political orator of our era, Ronald Reagan reaffirmed with eloquence the continuing validity and vitality of the American Dream. In this more than in any policies or decisions lie his legacy and enduring claim to greatness.

GEORGE H. NASH, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945, is currently working on the third volume of his biography of Herbert Hoover.

It has been Ronald Reagan's extraordinary political gift to be at once a unifier and a constructive polarizer. Polls have registered his ability to make a substantial majority of Americans feel better about both themselves and their country. At the same time, he is no Eisenhower, bringing people together behind a genial moderation. Genial, yes moderate, not really at all. During the 1930s, conservatives hissed Franklin Roosevelt at the newsreels while liberals looked on him with something akin to worship. Fifty years later, Reagan has reversed those patterns of appraisal.

Those who question Reagan's conservatism or wonder whether he has made a genuine difference lack a sense of historical perspective. He has accomplished nothing less than a fundamental change in the terms of debate of American politics. The Democrats, it is true, presently show signs of revival-no political mood lasts foreverbut they have achieved recovery only by carefully distancing themselves from the liberalism that is their presumed reason for being. They have been reduced to responding to the president's agenda rather than setting their own.

Consider Reagan's accomplishments. He has restored the American economy (a president's single most important domestic responsibility) even as he has frustrated the Left's ambition to transform the welfare state into the redistributive state. More generally, he has revitalized faith in private enterprise, the work ethic, political freedom, and the dignity and responsibility of the individual he has, in short, reestablished a consensus on the basic principles of democratic capitalism that define the American experiment. On all the major social issues-abortion, quotas, gay rights, feminism, crime and punishment, the family, moral and religious values-the Reagan administration has been conservative and correct, even if reasonable people might quarrel over details of policy and political strategy.

In foreign affairs, the record is mixed, but it should not be forgotten that Reagan has kept the peace, rebuilt America's defenses, and exhibited, at least on occasion, a vigorous understanding of the national interest (no imaginable Democratic administration would have undertaken the Grenada operation). He has labeled the USSR for what it has been, an evil empire, at the same time that he has understood the need to establish sober terms of coexistence with it. His essential skepticism toward the Soviets has not blinded him to the possibility that in Mikhail Gorbachev we may be dealing with a genuine departure in Soviet leadership. There have been great blunders (Iran/Contra most notable among them) but many of the administration's perceived failures have had more to do with the intractabilities of international affairs (and the fecklessness of Congress on foreign policy) than with errors in vision or execution.

Reagan's leadership was, above all, a triumph of personality. His eloquence, charm, courage (recall his behavior after the assassination attempt), and remarkable sense of self revived Americans' pride in the presidential office and, by extension, in the nation itself. No president in memory has displayed so healthy an ego, and Reagan's most adamant political opponents concede his fundamental personal decency.

There was, it must be said, a considerable falling off since 1986. The loss of the Senate and the Iran/Contra fiasco have weakened the president and led to frustrations in both foreign and domestic policy. The administration has failed in Nicaragua (though that was by no means entirely its own doing) and faltered in Panama. The greatest domestic disappointment came in the defeat of the Bork nomination, where the administration stumbled tactically and failed to communicate adequately the essential principle at issue. (Americans must somehow be made to understand the necessity of judicial restraint to the preservation of our constitutional order.)

Still, except for those on the irreconcilable Right who dream of an American equivalent of the Bourbon restoration (dismantlement of the welfare state and reversion of Cold War attitudes to those prevailing circa 1953), Reagan's has been a record that conservatives can look to with no small feeling of approval and satisfaction. To those who grumble that he has not been everywhere successful and has not reconstituted the political economy of Herbert Spencer, one can only say welcome to politics and welcome to America. A great president? Probably not: there has been too much inattentiveness, too little intellectual grasp, some inadequacy of vision. (Reagan's celebrations of individualism too often leave the impression that it is not individualism-in-community to which conservatives should aspire but individualism as an end in itself.) But if not a great president, surely the most significant one since FDR. And perhaps the best-loved of all-which is not, ideologues to the contrary notwithstanding, a thing to be despised.

JAMES NUECHTERLEIN is Professor of American studies and political thought at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where he is also editor of The Cresset, the university's journal of ideas and opinion.

The achievement for which President Reagan will be most warmly remembered occurred the first year of his administration. It was the putting into place of fiscal policies, collectively known as "Reaganomics," that have produced the longest peacetime period of sustained economic strength in this century. The cornerstone of this policy was the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which Reagan championed during his 1980 campaign and fought like a tiger to get through Congress the following year. To whatever extent the credit for any successful major policy can be attributed to one man, the credit for ERTA belongs to Ronald Reagan.

Far more important than its present impact on the economy, Reaganomics may well have caused a fundamental shift in the political community's approach to fiscal policy. During the past eight years (and, one suspects, for some years to come) there has been little if any disposition among congressional Democrats to advocate, still less vote for, big new spending or taxation programs.

Apart from partisan bleats about the poor, elderly, homeless, minorities, handicapped (as if these categories of unfortunates were created by Reaganomics), the one dark shadow that falls across the economic record of this administration is the federal deficit. Among economists there is hardly any consensus as to what the long-term consequences will be of the soaring national debt. My own inexpert view is that all those foreigners who are said to be financing our deficit are doing so not out of the goodness of their hearts but because they see this economy-deficit and all-as a splendid opportunity for productive investment. And that worldwide belief among hard-headed investors is more likely to be accurate than the doomsday prophecies of our own pundits.

Unfortunately, I find little else in the record of this administration that posterity is likely to applaud. What started out as a strong-willed, unillusioned policy toward the Soviet Union became in President Reagan's second term a rush toward "give-peace-a-chance" accommodationism.

In a related area, this administration has been given too much credit and far too much blame for the defense buildup. Allowing Mr. Reagan full marks for the large increases in his first two defense budgets, we need to bear in mind that the buildup actually began under President Carter and his excellent Secretary of Defense Harold Brown in the final year of the Carter administration and in the budget he left behind for his successor. The Reagan budgets accelerated the Carter increases but by no means charted a new direction.

The one program of transcendent importance that might stand as a monument to the Reagan presidency is the Strategic Defense Initiative-if it survives Congress. If it does not, however, some portion of blame will have to be assessed against Mr. Reagan himself because of his insistence on portraying the program as an impenetrable space shield using madly exotic weaponry to protect our cities rather than as a quickly deployable defense of our retaliatory forces. This ill-judged emphasis gave rise to the ugly and dishonest anti-Star Wars campaign, which may well prove to be the undoing of SDI.

All told, in my judgment as a conservative Democrat, President Reagan will be remembered more for the opportunities that slipped from his grasp than for achievements that reshaped the American political landscape. I don't at all mean to discount the enormous difficulties Reagan confronted in the form of a largely hostile Congress and virulent news media. A great deal of what he did accomplish against these odds is attributable to his own extraordinary personality, eloquence, and moral commitment. But one can't help wondering how much more he could have achieved had he been a more forceful, involved chief executive. Reagan has indeed been as conservative a president as we could realistically hope to have but not a great one. Greatness requires more than heartfelt good intentions and an occasional success.

KARL O'LESSKER, a member of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, has written many articles on political history for The American Spectator

Who Is in Control?

On October 2, 2020, President Donald Trump exhibited potentially life-threatening symptoms from COVID-19 and abruptly entered Walter Reed Medical Center for urgent medical attention. He will spend multiple days in the hospital and is reportedly receiving experimental drugs from military doctors. If his symptoms worsen, the president might have periods in which he is unable to perform his constitutional duties. This raises a rare but recurring question in American history: who wields power during moments of presidential incapacity?

Secretary of State Alexander Haig spoke to the Press about President Reagan's condition in the White House Press room on March 30, 1981. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, public domain.

Our country has experienced similar moments in the recent past, moments of serious confusion and grave danger. Forty years ago, a hospitalized president left the White House without a clear line of authority in place. Secretary of State Alexander Haig infamously proclaimed that he was &ldquoin control.&rdquo He was not. Now our country faces a similar crisis. President Ronald Reagan&rsquos near assassination, and its immediate aftermath, offer a warning worth revisiting.

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. fired six shots at President Reagan as he exited a luncheon at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The final bullet hit the 70-year-old president under his left arm, causing a lung to partially collapse. The bullet lodged itself less than an inch from Reagan&rsquos heart. The Secret Service rushed the president to George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent nearly two hours of emergency thoracic surgery, followed by extensive postoperative treatment. During the hours of his operation and the immediate postoperative recovery, the president did not have access to the nuclear codes and was unable to communicate with government officials or elected representatives. The United States was without a commander-in-chief.

The White House was unprepared for the moment. Vice President George H. W. Bush remained in Texas, not returning to Washington, DC, until hours after Reagan&rsquos surgery had begun. The cabinet secretaries, national security adviser, and executive staff were confused about how to proceed. Bombarded with questions from the press, state leaders, and foreign governments, the president&rsquos spokesperson Larry Speakes had few answers about the president&rsquos condition or how the government would function in his absence.

The White House was unprepared for the moment.

Secretary of State Alexander Haig ran to the White House, where he addressed the press: &ldquoConstitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so.&rdquo Haig was correct: the 25th Amendment allowed the president to transfer power to the vice president by sending a signed letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate. But Reagan had not done so, and Haig was incorrect on the order of succession. The speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate precede the secretary of state.

Haig wanted to bring order to chaos, and to warn foreign adversaries&mdashthe Soviet Union foremost among them&mdashagainst taking advantage of the confusion. He worried about a Soviet invasion of Poland, where the Solidarity workers&rsquo movement was striking against communist authority, and he had received a briefing about Soviet submarines operating unusually near the East Coast. To show strength and focus, Haig told reporters: &ldquoAs of now, I am in control here, in the White House.&rdquo

In fact, Haig did not have authority to use any presidential powers. This was immediately evident to the news media, members of Congress, and other figures in the administration, who uniformly rejected Haig&rsquos power grab. Some even alleged that he was staging a coup. Having acted impetuously in a moment of crisis, Haig&rsquos poor judgment was multiplied by the dangerous ambiguity of the situation.

The chaos in the White House turned Reagan&rsquos near death into a government-wide crisis.

In the wake of Haig&rsquos comments, the White House prepared a letter consistent with the procedures laid out in Section Four of the 25th Amendment, intended for the cabinet and vice president to sign, turning over power temporarily to the latter. The president recovered from surgery before the letter was signed. But for many hours, no one was in charge. The chaos in the White House turned Reagan&rsquos near death into a government-wide crisis. If a need for presidential decision-making on the use of military force or the distribution of aid had arisen, cabinet members likely would have fought one another. This pattern played out on nuclear matters: Haig told reporters that the United States did not need to go on nuclear alert after the shooting. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger disagreed, and raised the nuclear alert despite Haig&rsquos assertion. Ambiguity about authority created disunity, confusion, and additional dangers.

The crisis we are living through today is arguably more difficult. The president&rsquos health is uncertain and could change quickly. The United States confronts dangerous adversaries abroad and a domestic landscape rife with conflicts over racial justice, immigration, voting, and a viral pandemic that had already claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans before (it now seems) reaching the Rose Garden last Saturday. The White House might find itself pressed to respond quickly to an imminent threat when the president is not sentient. President Trump&rsquos advisers would do well to take heed of 1981, setting out a clear and transparent plan for the transfer of authority should he become unable, even temporarily, to fulfill his elected office.

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor in the department of history and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He tweets at @JeremiSuri.

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The Watt Controversy

James G. Watt became secretary of the interior just five months ago, a brisk, self-certain and acerbic westerner who pronounced almost immediately that his task was to "undo 50 years of bad government."

The words were not unlike the campaign rhetoric that also brought Watt's leader, Ronald Reagan, to the federal capital.

But no member of Reagan's Cabinet has taken the rhetoric so literally, moved so rapidly and abrasively to carry out what he considers the mandate of 1980 and rubbed so many wounds raw in trying to achieve his task, or, as the born-again custodian of one-fifth of the United States puts it his "crusade."

Five months later, after creating political stresses that rival the physical stresses wrenching at the San Andreas Fault, no member of the Reagan team with the possible exception of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has stirred quite so much unease among his allies and antagonism among his opponents.

Ironically, the Watt controversy appears to be causing Reagan the most trouble in the area where the heavy-handed interior secretary was expected to do the Republicans the most good -- the West.

The political trouble has led to increasing speculation that Watt, unless he pulls in his horns, might be the first top-level Reagan appointee to be on the skids. In the past month White House aides have begun passing the word that Watt's appeal there will wane when presidential thoughts begin turning to the 1984 elections.

In recent weeks Watt has been warned by the Republican chairman of California that his policies on off-shore oil drilling could be ruinous to the party's hopes of taking control of the president's home state in 1982.

A Harris Survey showed a startling turnaround in western political sentiment since the November elections. The poll, conducted in early June, showed Democrats with a 55-to-36 lead in the region they lost over-whelmingly last year.

The reason, according to Harris, was "dissatisfaction with the environmental and land policies" advocated by Watt and the new administration. eLouis Harris concluded the western dissatisfaction "could cost the Republicans dearly in the 1982 elections."

Western Democrats, decimated in 1980 by the very rhetoric Watt now is trying to put into practice, have become so emboldened by the belief he has gone too far that the party's western caucus has called for his resignation before "our region [is] spoiled and wasted."

Watt also is running into flak from more neutral western observers. The Los Angeles Times, the West's most powerful newspaper, has called editorially for Watt's replacement.

Environmentalists, who see Watt as almost a devil-figure antagonist bent on turning around decades of preservationist gains, have begun a mostly symbolic national recall move against the secretary.

A handful of pre-Reagan Republican activists from former Interior Department regimes also are beginning to sound off, giving Watt's opponents hope that this marks the final dissolution of the secretary's almost nonexistent political ties to traditional eastern establishment Republicans.

Nathaniel Reed, an assistant secretary of the interior under both Presidents Nixon and Ford, recently assaulted Watt as a "disaster" whose policies were "bankrupt and infantile."

On Capitol Hill, where Democrats are running for political cover on most of Reagan's efforts to "undo 50 years of bad government," opposition to the combative, provocative Watt is mounting quietly but so steadily some are speculating that he may be a point of vulnerability for an administration that is difficult to attack directly.

The Democrats, who have had trouble keeping their House majority intact against the administration's military and economic thrusts, are far from intimidated by Watt.

In House committees they have undercut Watt on his attempt to place a moratorium on parkland purchases, raised a storm over his plans to recognize the Office of Surface Mining, blocked his attempt to allow oil and gas exploration in a Montana wilderness area and refused to appropriate funds for controversial offshore oil drilling in northern California.

Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz), chairman of the House Interior Committee which stands between Watt and at least some of his revolutionary goals, says he is convinced "White House people are beginning to worry that this department is being run by a guy so far off the mainstream that he is going to get them into all kinds of trouble."

Udall and others speculate that the White House has told Watt to pull back, lie low and let the fires die down, much as Secretary Haig did after he became the lightning rod for early controversy in the Reagan administration.

Watt says he hasn't received any such word. Top White House aides also insist the president backs his interior secretary all the way. Asked recently whether Watt was accurately reflecting the president's views, White House chief of staff James A. Baker III answered with a flat and unequivocal: "Yes."

Watt clearly has strong supporters outside the White House, too. Many powerful western Republican senators (seven of the 15 committee chairmen in the new Senate are westerners) believe Watt is their savior in the Interior Department.

So does most of the resources industry, which has felt "locked out" of western coal fields and oil reserves throughout the energy crisis.

"We're deliriously happy," Carl E. Bagge, president of the National Coal Association, said at the beginning of the Watt revolution. And a joke quickly made the rounds of corporate suites: How much power does it take to stop a million environmentalists? One Wat.

Still, politics by showdown does not have a strong track record in political Washington. With many of his early and provocative policy thrusts faltering or under strong attack, even some of Watt's natural allies are beginning to wonder if can last long enough to implement the 1980 rhetoric that brought him back to Washington.

The confrontational nature of a man whose words, political approach and policies make one side deliriously happy and the other furious inevitably makes Watt a political lightning rod.

It raises the question whether Reagan misread his 1980 mandate in appointing an idelogue to head the Interior Department. Reagan, both as governor and president, has had the most political trouble when yielding to the ideological edge that brought him to political prominence.

The Interior Department, despite its low profile over the years, is ready-made for controversy.

At Interior, Watt has jurisdiction over more than 350 million acres of federal land, including much of the West's land area and most of some states such as Alaska and Nevada. It is out of federal land policies that the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion boiled up and helped Reagan sweep all the western states in 1980.

Watt has jurisdiction over national parks and wilderness areas as well as oil leases and strip mining. He deals with fish and wildlife, as well as reclamation, Indians and cattle-grazers, endangered species and dam-builders.

Watt's department, by definition, is schizophrenic, suffering a constant tug between preservation and exploitation of America's natural resources.

But many believe Watt is making a serious error in wagering that the success of 1980 campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the West's back means westerners also are willing to give up environmental gains made in recent years.

Until 20 years ago the Interior Department was mostly a sleepy overseer of resource development, a not-always benignly neglectful headmaster for the nation's Indians and a quiet caretaker for a collection of romantic national parks.

Barring a major scandal, such as the Teapot Dome episode during the Harding administration, the department generally stayed comfortably out of the limelight, especially in the East. It also stayed comfortabaly out of the second part of its schizophrenic job description -- environmental protection.

All that began to change in the '60s, with the rise of the environmental movement and the emergence of a string of conservation-minded secretaries beginning with Rep. Mo Udall's brother, Stewart. Udall was a Kennedy Democrat, but the environmental consciousness that he began remained through following administrations and, in fact, got some of its strongest propulsion under Richard M. Nixon.

When Reagan told angry western cattlemen and miners that he, too, was a "sagebrush rebel" who would get the Interior Department off their backs, few expected the environmental side of the department's dual personality to remain dominant. Even so, the appointment of Watt took both environmentalists and developers by surprise.

"When a new administration comes in, you expect change," says Mo Udall. "But you didn't expect them to go out and pick the most controversial, bombastic person they could find and put him in."

Watt does not deny that he is controversial and bombastic and predicts, a thin smile betraying the stuble sarcasm, that soon "the credibility of the critics will fall out and within a short time I'll be bland and uncontroversial."

But he seems to be closer to his view of the truth when he repeats the story about the meeting at which Reagan offered him the Cabinet job. Watt says he told the president-elect he planned to be so controversial Reagan eventually might find it necessary to fire him.

Reagan said that was the way he wanted it, assured him he would be fired if necessary and then added: "Sic 'em."

Watt was an ideological choice -- a man who was directing the pro-development Mountain States Legal Foundation at the time of his appointment, who had lawsuits pending against the department he was about to head, a man who had gone so far as to question the patriotism of the environmentalists in the Interior Department during the '60s and '70s.

And Watt, just as he took Reagan's campaign rhetoric more literally than others in the Cabinet, sought to move faster than other Reagan secretaries. He quickly moved to open up federal lands to resource development, pushed for a moratorium on park expansion, fired 50 Interior Department attorneys involved in enforcement of environmental standards, cleaned out all the old Carter hands so he could get "good men" in with him.

But it took more than that to put Watt in the hot seat. Many find Watt's words and methods just as troubling.

In an early congressional appearance after his 83-to-12 Senate confirmation, Watt, a religious fundamentalist, sent buzzes through Capitol Hill hallways with his answer to a philosophical question about his views on preserving natural resources for future generations.

"I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns," the tall, angular westerner said, his eyes piercing through the thick lenses of his glasses. Watt later explained that he didn't know when the Millenium might be: "It's been 2,000 years since the last coming of Christ and it might be another 2,000 before the second coming." l

He set off other alarms with a speech before national-park concessionaries who were concerned about the possible banning of horses and motorized rafts from some parts of the Grand Canyon. He told of a four day raft trip he had taken through the canyon late last year. By the third day, he said, he was "praying" for the helicopters to come in and get him.

"I don't like to paddle and I don't like to walk," the custodian of the nation's great outdoors said in what he later conceded was an ill-advised attempt at humor.

The flamboyant words go on and on -- questions about whether evolution is the only possible explanation after hearing a geologisths rhapsodic description of the Colorado River taking millions of years to carve out the Grand Canyon, his statement that "my responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns."

Watt sometimes gets angry when his words are played back at him. But he rarely denies them, insisting that he was misunderstood or the words were taken out of context.

After the controversy over the speech to the concessionaries, he explained away the paddling and walking line this way:

"I, man, I tell you it was a good speech. My timing was down fast. I said, 'Don't worry about that, the horses are a legitimate recreation experience I don't like to walk or paddle,' and everybody laughs and laughs. So one phrase is taken out of context and then Dan Rather says we have a secretary that doesn't like the outdoors. It's an unfair charge, and I resent it. Do you sense that I resent it?"

Watt concedes that he became even more controversial than he had hoped in his first months at Interior. Looking back over the first months, Watt says, "Hindsight may prove that I didn't handle myself quite right in it and we'll see about that."

But he gives no sign of backing away from the powder keg he has created and that now makes him probably the most vulnerable of Reagan's Cabinet members. One potentially explosive action is his opening up oil leases off the northern coast of California.

This set of leases in four tracts ruled off-limits by the Carter administration caused the GOP chairman in the president's home state to warn that following Watt's lead could destroy the party's hopes of "recapturing the state senate and assembly as well as regaining the governor's office for the first time since President Reagan left that office in 1974."

In a blunt letter to Watt, the chairman Tirso del Junco, warned "the progress we are making can be severely hampered should our candidates be forced into supporting the decisions you have made" tentatively to reopen the four northern California tracts. Other leading California Republicans, including Sen. S.I. Hayakawa and Rep. Barry Goldwater, also have spoken out against the oil leasing.

Udall half-jokingly kidded Watt recently, saying the new interior secretary's idea of a wilderness area "is a parking lot without the yellow lines."

Watt and Udall both are westerners who grew up where the bleak land barely covers the greates coal reserves in the world, where eons ago the collision of huge land masses buried the last of the American oil pools three miles deep, where a storehouse of minerals needed to nourish a technological civilization remains just a prospector and a bulldozer away from the factories of the East.

Those two westerners now are powerful men in a far-distant town and they view the heritage they left through different prisms.

The showdown has not quite reached the point of the Shootout at the OK Corral, a battle which took place on Udall's Arizona home ground. But the conflict is approaching that kind of pitch, the kind that still could leave political blood in the streets of Washington with the fate of the West at stake.

Election of 1980

Reagan dominated the Republican primary elections in 1980. Although his strongest opponent, George Bush, won an upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, Reagan bounced back after a notable performance in a debate with other Republican candidates in Nashua, New Hampshire. The debate, initially sponsored by a newspaper, was first extended to only Reagan and Bush, but Reagan decided to pay for the debate and invite the rest of the candidates. When all the candidates took the stage that evening, the Bush team appeared surprised, and, as Reagan began to explain the situation, the moderator from the newspaper instructed that Reagan’s microphone be turned off. Reagan responded memorably with an angry line he remembered from a Spencer Tracy movie: “I am paying for this microphone!” Reagan went on to win New Hampshire and most of the other major primaries and entered the convention with a commanding lead he won the nomination on the first ballot with 1,939 votes to 37 for John Anderson and 13 for Bush, who had withdrawn from the contest before the vote. After some tense and ultimately fruitless negotiations with representatives of Ford, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, and the two men campaigned against Democratic incumbents Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale on a platform promising steep tax cuts, increased defense spending, a balanced budget, and a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Reagan Aides Once Raised the Possibility of Invoking the 25th Amendment

The president was acting strangely. In the wake of a scandal about his illegal dealings with foreign powers, White House aides felt he was so “inattentive and inept” that a memo sent to the chief of staff raised the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

The president was Ronald Reagan, who was dealing with fallout from the Iran-Contra scandal. His chief of staff ultimately dismissed the possibility of using the 25th Amendment to remove him, but the incident is one of the few cases in American history in which White House staff seriously suggested it as an option for removing a presidentਏrom office, based on his ability to perform the job.

Howard H. Baker Jr. was just starting his job as Reagan’s chief of staff in 1987 when he asked two aides to investigate how the Iran-Contra scandal was affecting the White House. James Cannon, the aide who wrote the memo about the investigation, reported back that the place was in chaos.

The staff “told stories about how inattentive and inept the president was,” Cannon recalled to journalists Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus in Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984-1988. “He was lazy he wasn&apost interested in the job. They said he wouldn&apost read the papers they gave him𠅎ven short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn&apost come over to work𠅊ll he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.”

At the time, Reagan was the oldest president the country had ever had. “President Reagan was an older man in his 70s, and he showed it,” writes Stephen F. Knott, a professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College, in an email. He “was never a detail person fell asleep at cabinet meetings in the midst of briefings from droning bureaucrats was horrible at remembering names… This was a man who required lots of rest and recreation.”

Cannon suggested that Baker consider whether the fourth section of the 25th Amendment could apply to this situation. That section gives the vice president and the cabinet the ability to remove the president if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Baker took Cannon’s memo seriously and observed the president afterwards. But because he personally didn’t observe the behavior detailed in the memo, he dismissed the idea of using the amendment.

White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. (left) and his aide James Cannon.

Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Ever since Reagan revealed he𠆝 developed Alzheimer’s in 1994, people have speculated about whether the disease began during his presidency and caused these behaviors. Doctors who treated him have disputed this, as does Knott, who is also a previous co-chair of the presidential oral history program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.

“I&aposll just say right off the bat that I&aposm not of the school of thought that believes Reagan was suffering from ‘mental health issues,’” Knott writes. Looking at his final years as president, “I don&apost see mental illness, nor do I see Alzheimer&aposs.” But that’s not to say Reagan didn’t have other health issues as well.

Reagan had developed hearing problems as a young actor in the 1930s when someone fired a gun too close to his right ear on set. He had multiple surgeries to remove polyps and precancerous growth. And just a couple months into his presidency, he nearly died from a gunshot wound.

Knott says that when John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate Reagan in 1981, the president �me closer to dying than we were led to believe at the time.” In fact, Knott actually believes this was an instance in which officials should have invoked the 25th Amendment, but didn’t “out of fear of upsetting the public, the markets, along with allies and adversaries.” 


They had been with Ronald Reagan from the start. They urged him to run for Governor of California, they helped finance his campaign and they oversaw the selection of his advisers. Then, when Mr. Reagan ran and was elected President, they did it again.

But now, with Mr. Reagan in the White House and with the top Government jobs filled, the Kitchen Cabinet that saw him through so much has faded from the Washington scene as quickly as it appeared. The last time its members met as a group was more than seven months ago, at a surprise 70th birthday party that Nancy Reagan staged for her husband.

''The Kitchen Cabinet is out of business,'' said Justin Dart, the Dart & Kraft Inc. executive committee chairman who was the informal head of the group. ''We never have a meeting. We haven't any business to perform. He's got a full staff out East, and he sure doesn't want the Kitchen Cabinet meeting next to the Cabinet Room.''

The Reagan Kitchen Cabinet, like earlier versions dating to the group assembled by Andrew Jackson a century and a half ago, consists of old, trusted friends who share the President's philosophy. In Mr. Reagan's case, they are men much like the President himself - selfmade millionaires who had gone West to earn their fortunes and who, along the way, became interested in politics. Involvement in Fund Raising

After the 1980 election, they filled the ranks of Mr. Reagan's Transition Appointments Committee and helped select members of the Cabinet. After the Inauguration, many of them joined in an ill-fated fund-raising project called the Coalition for a New Beginning, which was disbanded at White House urging after some companies complained that they were being pressured to join the effort to promote the Reagan economic plan.

A handful of them did win Government jobs. One, William French Smith, went from the Kitchen Cabinet to the real Cabinet as Attorney General.

Other Kitchen Cabinet members sprinkled through the Government include Charles Z. Wick, a lawyer, producer and entrepreneur who now heads the International Communications Agency William A. Wilson, an investor who is emissary to the Vatican, and Theodore Cummings, an immigrant from Austria, who has returned as United States Ambassador to Austria.

Otherwise, Administration officials and group members alike agree, members of the Kitchen Cabinet have little if any political influence in the White House. They still have the President's ear, but they are more likely to discuss their recent foreign trips than new initiatives in foreign policy. Today the group is more of a Kitchen Klatch than Kitchen Cabinet. 'It's Not the Same'

''It's a social thing at this point,'' said Helene von Damm, a deputy Presidential assistant who until this month was Mr. Reagan's personal secretary. ''Things are so busy that it's not the same. There isn't the time.''

No single group has developed to replace the Kitchen Cabinet in the heart and mind of the President. Socially, Mr. Reagan sees members of Congress and other Government and political figures at the White House or, occasionally, at the theater. Politically, he relies on the so-called 'ɻig Three.''

The Presidential counselor, Edwin Meese 3d the White House chief of staff, James A. Baker 3d, and the deputy chief of staff, Michael K. Deaver, see the President with the greatest regularity. Both Mr. Meese and Mr. Deaver have been longtime associates of Mr. Reagan, but they have a different relationship with him than did members of the Kitchen Cabinet. They are aides first, friends second.

Not that members of the Kitchen Cabinet feel slighted. Mrs. Reagan speaks often with Betsy Bloomingdale, whose husband, Alfred, is a member of the Kitchen Cabinet. The Bloomingdales took an apartment at the Watergate to remain close to the Reagans. The California Connection

The Reagans also socialize with their old friends when they are in California. Often, according to Reagan intimates, Mrs. Reagan will telephone old friends in California and then hand the receiver to Mr. Reagan.

''We're in close touch, but we're not as close as before,'' said Mr. Tuttle. ''He's the President now and has 50 states to worry about.''

They are more selective about calling Mr. Reagan now. Each of them, however, spoke with the President shortly after he was shot. ''I'm the kind of guy who doesn't want to trespass on a fellow as busy as that, so I don't call him unless I have something worthwhile to say,'' said Mr. Dart. ''I find him the same Ronald Reagan I knew 35 years ago. He's just as homey as he ever was.''

The Reagan Cabinet - History

Robert Carleson
Stemming the Welfare Tide. 1986, 107 pp.

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President, California Medical Association, 1970-1971. 1984, 42 pp.

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California's Social Welfare Program: An Administrator's Views, 1937-1970.
1988, 183 pp.

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California State Assemblyman, 1935-1946 Member, Republican State Central Committee, 1934-1946, 1950-1982 Republican National Committeman, 1964-1970. 1983, 239 pp.

Norman B. Livermore, Jr.
Man in the Middle: High Sierra Packer, Timberman, Conservationist, and California Resources Secretary. 1983, 285 pp.

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Appointments, Cabinet Management, and Policy Research for Governor Ronald Reagan, 1967-1974. 1983, 261 pp.
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The Art of Corrections Management, California 1967-1974. 1984, 146 pp.
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Rodda, Albert. "Sacramento Senator: State Leadership in Education and Finance."

California State Department of Finance and Governor Ronald Reagan. 1986, 125 pp.
Beach, Edwin W. "Some Technical and Political Aspects of State Budgeting."
Bell, Roy M. "Revenue Policies and Political Realities."
Dwight, James S. "Early Reagan Administration Perspectives on State Finance, 1966-1967."

Citizen Advocacy Organizations, 1960-1975. 1987, 210 pp.
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Miller, Anita. "`The Tide of the Times Was With Us': Women's Issues and the California Commission on the Status of Women."

Democratic Party Politics and Environmental Issues in California, 1962-1976. 1986, 101 pp.
Boas, Roger. "Democratic State Central Committee Chairman, 1968-1970."
Warren, Charles. "From the California Assembly to the Council on Environmental Quality, 1962-1979: The Evolution of an Environmentalist."

Governor Reagan and His Cabinet: An Introduction. 1986, 224 pp.
Luce, Gordon. "A Banker's View of State Administration and Republican Politics."
Orr, Verne. "Business Leadership in the Department of Motor Vehicles and State Finance."
Reagan, Ronald. "On Becoming Governor."

Governor Reagan's Cabinet and Agency Administration. 1986, 213 pp.
Brian, Earl W. "Health and Welfare Policy, 1970-1974: A Narrow Spectrum of Debate."
Stearns, James G. "Joining Reagan's Campaign in Sacramento: Conservation, Agriculture, and Employee Relations."
Thomas, Edwin W., Jr. "The Governor's Cabinet as Policy Forum."
Walton, Frank J. "Transportation Policies and the Politics of Conservation, 1964-1974."

The Governor's Office: Access and Outreach, 1967-1974. 1987, 132 pp.
Bradley, Melvin. "Facilitating Minority Input on State Policy, 1970-1974."
Habecker, Jackie. "A View from the Reception Desk."
Magyar, Roger. "Governor Reagan's Task Forces on Tax Reduction and Local Government."

The Governor's Office and Public Information, Education, and Planning, 1967-1974. 1984, 335 pp.
Beck, Paul. "From the Los Angeles Times to the Executive Press Office, 1967-1972."
Hannaford, Peter. "Expanding Political Horizons."
Sherriffs, Alex C. "Education Advisor to Ronald Reagan and State University Administrator, 1969-1982."
Tooker, John S. "Director of the Office of Planning and Research, and Legislative Assistant, 1967-1974."

Internal and External Operations of the California Governor's Office, 1966-1974. 1985, 235 pp.
Gillenwaters, Edgar. "Washington Office Troubleshooter and Advocate for Commerce in California, 1967-1973."
Jenkins, James. "Public Affairs, Welfare Concerns in Washington and Sacramento."
Procunier, Florence Randolph. "Working with Edwin Meese."
Walker, Robert. "Political Advising and Advocacy for Ronald Reagan, 1965-1980."
Walton, Rus. "Turning Political Ideas into Government Program."

Issues and Innovations in the 1966 Republican Gubernatorial Campaign. 1980, 209 pp.
Nofziger, Franklyn C. "Press Secretary for Ronald Reagan, 1966."
Parkinson, Gaylord B. "California Republican Party Official, 1962-1967."
Roberts, William E. "Professional Campaign Management and the Candidate, 1960-1966."
Spencer, Stuart K. "Developing a Campaign Management Organization."

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice in California, 1966-1974. 1985, 350 pp.
Ellingwood, Herbert. "Law Enforcement Planning and Coordination, 1969-1974."
Gunterman, Joseph F. "Sacramento Advocate for the Friends Committee on Legislation of California."
Houghton, Robert A. "Law Enforcement Planning in the Reagan Administration, 1971-1974."
Marinissen, Jan. "`To Let the Legislature Know': Prison Advocacy and the American Friends Service Committee in California, 1960-1983."
Palumbo, Anthony L. "Law Enforcement, Emergency Planning, and the California National Guard, 1965-1974."

Legislative Issue Management and Advocacy, 1961-1974. 1983, 315 pp.
Cory, Ken. "Education Consultant and Assemblyman, 1961-1974."
Hall, Kenneth. "`Playing Devil's Advocate': The Governor's Office and the Department of Finance in California, 1966-1974."
Kehoe, John. "Issues of Criminal Justice and Black Politics in California, 1966-1974."
Miller, John. "Issues of Criminal Justice and Black Politics in California, 1966-1974."
Sturgeon, Vernon. "State Senator, Reagan Advisor, and PUC Commissioner, 1960-1974."

Organizational and Fiscal Views of the Reagan Administration. 1984, 183 pp.
King, Warren. "Governor Reagan's Use of Task Forces and Loaned Executives, 1966-1968."
Lucas, Harry. "New Approaches to Vocational Rehabilitation."
Post, A. Alan. "Public Aims and Expenditure: A Divergent View."
Volk, Robert, Jr. "Government Reform and the Maturity of the Political Process."

Republican Campaigns and Party Issues, 1964-1976. 1986, 201 pp.
Cristina, Vernon J. "A Northern Californian Views Conservative Politics and Policies, 1963-1970."
McDowell, Jack S. "Press Work and Political Campaigns, 1966-1970."
Todd, A. Ruric. "Experience and Advice for the Reagan Administration, 1966-1968."
Watts, Skip (Norman). "Observations of a Youthful Political Pro."

Republican Philosophy and Party Activism. 1984, 206 pp.
Hume, Jaquelin. "Basic Economics and the Body Politic: Views of a Northern California Reagan Loyalist."
del Junco, Tirso. "California Republican Party Leadership and Success, 1966-1982."
Storrs, Eleanor Ring. "Parties, Politics, and Principles: `It's at the Local Level.'"
Wrather, Jack. "On Friendship, Politics, and Government."

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, 1964-1973. 1986, 98 pp.
Bodovitz, Joseph E. "Management and Policy Directions."
Lane, Melvin B. "The Role of the Chairman in Setting and Maintaining Goals."
Shute, E. Clement, Jr. "The Place of the Courts in the Solution of Controversial Policy Issues."

San Francisco Republicans.
1980, 200 pp.
Christopher, George. "Mayor of San Francisco and Republican Party Candidate."
Weinberger, Caspar. "California Assembly, Republican State Central Committee, and Elections, 1953-1966."

Services for Californians: Executive Department Issues in the Reagan Administration, 1967-1974. 1986, 240 pp.
Camilli, Richard L. "Health Care Reform and Staff Development, 1969-1974."
Carter, Louis. "Piloting Assistance to Small and Minority Businesses, 1969-1975."
Lowry, James V. "State Mental Health Services, 1967-1971."
Mott, William Penn, Jr. "Managing the California State Park System, 1967-1974."
Swoap, David. "The Continuing Story of Welfare Reform, 1965-1983."

California State University at Fullerton

Robert H. Finch
Views From the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
1983, 107 pp.

Donald Wright
A View of Reagan and the California Courts.
1984, 87 pp.

The "Kitchen Cabinet": Four California Citizen Advisors of Ronald Reagan. 1983, 157 pp.
Dart, Justin Mills, Edward Salvatori, Henry Tuttle, Holmes

Legislative-Governor Relations in the Reagan Years: Five Views. 1983, 277 pp.
Beverly, Robert. "Reflections of a Republican Assemblyman."
Carpenter, Dennis E. "Republican State Committee Chair and Senator."
Cologne, Gordon. "Water Policy in the Reagan Years."
Moretti, Robert. "Recollections of an Assembly Speaker."
Zenovich, George. "Senate Democrat in the Reagan Government."

Claremont Graduate University

John A. Busterud
The California Constitution Revision Commission. 1982, 37 pp.

Houston I. Flournoy
California Assemblyman and Controller.
1982, 235 pp.

The History of Proposition #1: Precursor of California Tax Limitation Measures. 1982, 102 pp.
Stubblebine, William Craig. "The Development of Proposition #1."
Uhler, Lewis K. "Chairman of Task Force in Tax Reduction."

University of California at Davis

J. Earl. Coke
Reminiscences of People and Change in California Agriculture, 1900-1975. 1976, 265 pp.

University of California at Los Angeles

Anthony C. Beilenson
Securing Liberal Legislation During the Reagan Administration. 1982, 81 pp.

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke
New Arenas of Black Influence. 1982, 46 pp.

Jack Dales
Pragmatic Leadership: Ronald Reagan as President of the Screen Actors Guild. 1982, 49 pp.

Dick Darling
Republican Activism: The California Republican Assembly and Ronald Reagan.
1981, 56 pp.

George H. Dunne
Christian Advocacy and Labor Strife in Hollywood. 1981, 67 pp.

Stanley Plog
More than Just an Actor: The Early Campaigns of Ronald Reagan. 1981, 29 pp.

Neil Reagan
Private Dimensions and Public Images: The Early Political Campaigns of Ronald Reagan.
1981, 58 pp.

Evelle J. Younger
A Lifetime in Law Enforcement.
1982, 60 pp.

Philip E. Watson
Tax Reform and Professionalizing the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office.
1989, 443 pp.

To Order: Non-UCB Sources


California State University, Fullerton
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Fullerton, CA 92834 - 6846
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657 278-3580
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Claremont Graduate University
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University of California, Davis
Oral History Office, Department of Special Collections
Library, University of California
Davis, CA 95616

University of California, Los Angeles
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University of California
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1575

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Roseville, California, 95661
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