Revisionist history buffs

Posted: Aug 10, 2001 12:00 AM
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Summers are often boring in Washington, and August usually proves to be the summer's most boring month. Since Boy Clinton left town, all his successor has been able to give us has been tax cuts and progress toward a patients' bill of rights, education reform of a sort, an energy policy and faith-based social programs. To beat August's impending tedium, George W. Bush wasted little time to beat a path to his ranch deep in the Texas outback. I have beaten a path to Palo Alto, home of the Hoover Institution -- the famed think tank that recently has donated so many luminous minds to the Bush II administration -- just to see what is going on out here. I found that there are many empty desks, for half a dozen Hoover scholars have left Palo Alto for the Bush administration, among them National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and John Robson, chairman of the Export-Import Bank. A frequent adviser to the Bush White House is another Hoover fellow, former secretary of state George Shultz. There is also some revisionist history being written by another occasional Bush adviser, the former Reagan administration domestic adviser, Martin Anderson. He has come across a hidden treasure -- to wit, crates of early hand-written memos, speeches, radio scripts and other manuscripts by his old boss Ronald Reagan. The historical revisionism that those manuscripts are necessitating will be of interest to presidential scholars and to our vacationing president, down on the ranch. Bush II like Reagan has, according to the liberal intelligentsia, been an amiable dimwit, helped along through his public life by the kind of brainy types the Hoover Institution provides supposedly to keep Republican presidents from blowing the world up. Now Anderson's research indicates that 1) Reagan was not all that dim, and 2) in fact he was setting policy with hand-written memos that historians have hitherto had no knowledge of. The documents are in Anderson's office. Some are already available for us to read in "Reagan in His Own Hand," a book edited by Anderson and two colleagues, and available in bookstores everywhere. If you doubt that Reagan was the dominant figure in his government that Anderson claims he was, turn to page 496. There you will see complete with Reagan's emendations a 1984 memo that the president composed independent of and unbeknownst to his advisers. Since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, high-level contact between Washington and Moscow had ceased. Reagan agreed to see Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko for the first time on Sept. 28, 1984, but on the morning of the meeting he surprised Secretary of State Shultz by pulling out a yellow sheet of paper on which he had written his own talking points for the meeting -- talking points at variance with those given him by the State Department and containing four fundamental elements of Reagan's subsequent foreign policy. The memo also contains Reagan's rationale for treating the Soviets as he did -- a rationale Anderson traces to earlier Reagan manuscripts written in the 1970s. In fine, Reagan viewed the Soviets as imperialists, and the Cold War as the consequence of their imperialism. The original hand-written document for the Gromyko meeting was found by Anderson less than a year ago in the ailing President's desk, after Mrs. Reagan asked Anderson to examine it. A copy of the document is framed on the wall here at the Hoover Institution next to Shultz's office. For any historian, it is a thrilling find, making it very clear that Reagan authored much of his own foreign policy. "Reagan in His Own Hand" reprints other hand-written Reagan documents that show him deciding arms-control policy and policies for dealing with other aspects of the government. Anderson publishes all these documents from the Reagan presidency, along with materials written in Reagan's hand that show the evolution of his thought since the 1970s. Reagan's thought? Did someone say "Reagan's thought"? All good liberals doubt that Reagan ever had a thought. But here at the Hoover Institution are documents that prove the Old Cowboy thought for himself and imposed some of those thoughts on his presidency. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Bush ranch, is it possible that George W. has amassed evidence that he had some thoughts on tax cuts, medical and education policy, and faith-based social programs? All he has to do is write memos and leave them around for historians to find. I shall not be surprised to hear some day that George W. is the man behind the Bush presidency, but his opponents will need convincing. Their idea of an intelligent president is one who gets into stupid scrapes, such as Bill Clinton, Rep. Gary Condit's role model.