Robert Novak

"The Reagans" does not approach Oliver Stone's "JFK" and "Nixon" as pure fiction spinning outrageous conspiracy theories. But neither is it close to historical accuracy. Nancy Reagan is mistakenly shown pushing her husband into Republican politics and a race for governor. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon was stunned by all the factual mistakes.

The movie tries to give the impression Reagan did not even know his own national security adviser, Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane, in 1986 -- a harbinger of the Alzheimer's disease that afflicted the president after he left office. Even without this calumny, Reagan is shown drifting from one mishap to another as an addled president advised by rogues.

Longtime Reagan aide Mike Deaver, who fares slightly better than other Reagan associates in this movie, has no doubt about the production's intentions. "They have to destroy the legacy of Ronald Reagan," he told me. Deaver was not consulted in producing this film. Nor was anybody else who worked for or knew Reagan. The principal source was an obscure book called "First Ladies" written by an obscure writer named Carl Sferrazza Anthony, who became the movie's co-producer.

A better source would have been "Reagan: A Life in Letters," a remarkable book published this year containing 834 pages of mostly hand-written letters by Ronald Wilson Reagan. It reveals a literate and intelligent man who bears no resemblance to the fool portrayed in "The Reagans."

The book recently fell into the hands of one of the leading operatives in Democrat Howard Dean's campaign for president. "I had always had a low opinion of Reagan's intelligence," he told me, "until this book changed my mind." He would be advised to wonder whether his contempt for George W. Bush is as ill-considered as it formerly was against Reagan.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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