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"I had come to adore and respect the president like a second father. Reagan was once asked if he thought of me as another son. He thought a minute and said, 'Son, no. Brother, maybe.'"
A warm, personal portrait of Ronald Reagan, A Different Drummer brims with recollections from a relationship that has spanned more than three decades. Former aide and longtime family friend, Michael Deaver first met Ronald Reagan during his 1966 campaign for governor of California and later served him in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as the president's deputy chief of staff. Whether it was traveling with Reagan on endless campaign flights, discussing the day-to-day issues in the Oval Office, or surviving the harrowing assassination attempt, Deaver worked with the former chief executive for twenty consecutive years. Now he offers his memories of Ronald Reagan as governor, president, and friend.
In 1964, after Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful bid for the presidency, the Republican Party found itself in disarray, and Michael Deaver, a young party operative, a "red meat conservative," was looking for a new party leader he could believe in. He threw his hat in with a former actor and General Electric spokesperson, a man who would later prove himself capable of joining the disparate elements of the Party and securing the nomination. In what would be the first of many underestimations, the Democratic Party eagerly takes on Reagan. He would not only go on to win the governorship of California, but he would serve two terms. In 1976 he was unable to unseat President Gerald Ford for the presidential nomination but, undeterred, he returned in 1980 and won a landslide victory, leading America to remarkable heights of prosperity and confidence.
Yet as one of the most successful and popular presidents in American history, Reagan remains a mystery even to biographers with total access. In A Different Drummer, Deaver writes of the Reagan he has known: a man who was shy and deplored talking about himself, who would rather spend a party talking to a laborer than policy wonks; a man whose convictions remained unchanged over the course of his life, who never used pollsters to decide his position on issues; a man whose idea of relaxation was riding a horse, fixing fence posts, and chopping wood until his muscles ached and his hands blistered. Reagan emerges in this impressionistic portrait as charismatic and unwaveringly optimistic, a devoted husband and dedicated leader, disciplined and tough. As Deaver points out in his introduction, "He worked eight years doing the toughest job on earth; crisscrossed the world; and survived an assassin's bullet, a devastating riding accident, cancer, and brain surgery all after he turned seventy."
Writing not only of their dizzying highs, Deaver also shares the lows, including the tough times that would test the strength of their friendship. Finally, he shares a poignant look at Reagan today as he battles Alzheimer's disease. It is Nancy Reagan's "finest hour," Deaver writes, a validation of the greatest love story he has ever known.
With anecdotes that are insightful, entertaining, intimate, and surprising, A Different Drummer sheds remarkable new light on an American icon admired by many and understood by few.Michael Deaver, a longtime political advisor who served as deputy chief of staff in the Reagan White House, offers an approving, affectionate, and well-written portrait of the former president--but one that, for an insider's account, is surprisingly short on news.
The Ronald Reagan who emerges from Deaver's pages is far different from the popularly held view, fueled by the media, of the president as an amiable but limited man who napped, golfed, and left the business of running the government to his lieutenants. Far from it, Deaver insists: Reagan read widely, kept up with the issues, and "firmly believed that it was his job to set the priorities of his administrations and to make the big decisions." Thoughtful and utterly courteous, if sometimes distant, Deaver's Reagan is a man of unbending conservative principle; careful to cross party lines to secure support for his policy and to judge his opponents by character, not doctrine; stalwart in his devotion to country; and certain, in Deaver's words, "that he was the right guy at the right time." This Reagan can do no wrong, and when controversy arises in Deaver's account it is almost always because someone else has flubbed the play. Unlike Alexander Haig, David Stockman, and other former administration officials who have written about their time in the Reagan White House, Deaver is quick to fall on the sword whenever he must. He takes responsibility, for instance, for the president's controversial decision to lay a wreath at a German cemetery that contained the graves of fallen SS soldiers, and for Reagan's difficulties in convincing voters of the wisdom of an expensive military buildup in the closing years of the cold war. About the Iran-Contra affair, which blackened Reagan's second term, Deaver has little to say, and about his own departure from the administration and subsequent investigation by federal prosecutors he is even more close-mouthed.
Those seeking to learn more about Ronald Reagan as president may come away from Deaver's book disappointed. His admirers, however, will enjoy the anecdotes about "the traits that made him so successful as a leader and so peculiar--and wonderful--as a person." --Gregory McNamee
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