Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Reagan's son Ron has written a book that unfairly, and without any evidence, questions his father's mental capacity in the early to middle years of his presidency.

In what appears to be a self-serving decision on his part to insert a heavy dose of unfounded sensationalism to boost the sales of his book, Reagan suggests his father was already showing early signs of Alzheimer's in the White House, years before he was diagnosed with the disease in 1994.

"I've seen no evidence that my father (or anyone else) was aware of his medical condition while he was in the office," Reagan writes in his book, "My Father at 100," which is published in time to commemorate the 40th president's centennial birthday on Feb 6.

"Had the diagnosis been made in say, 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have," Reagan wrote in a purely hypothetical and deceitfully speculative observation.

Reagan has no medical credentials whatsoever, least of all on the signs of Alzheimer's. He was rarely in the White House at any length of time to personally observe his father, presidential aides say -- certainly not in the meetings that mattered.

So what evidence does he put forth to claim that his father was already showing signs of the disease long before he revealed his condition in a poignant public letter five years after leaving office?

Reagan says he recalled seeing his father on the phone in the Oval Office using prepared note cards during his conversation, a common "talking points" practice used by presidents in the past and since. The president used such cards, often written in his own hand, long before he ran for elective office when he made his living as a public speaker. And he sometimes used them to communicate his positions at high-level meetings and in telephone calls on complex legislative, foreign policy or national security issues.

To conclude that this practice was in any way a sign that he was "losing it" is preposterous and unfounded. If anything, his conclusions about the note cards reveal an abysmal ignorance about the tools Reagan used to be sure there was never any misunderstanding of what he conveyed in phone conversations and high-level strategy meetings.

There is considerable evidence to refute Reagan's observations about his father. Perhaps the best evidence was revealed by one of the president's top White House advisers, Martin Anderson, in his book, "Reagan's Secret War," which reveals how deeply Reagan was guiding national security negotiations with the Soviets to reach an historic nuclear arms treaty near the end of his presidency.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.