Remembering Reagan-James A. Baker III

James A. Baker III, former Chief of Staff (And Assistant to the President)

“One particular side of President Reagan that I admired greatly was his gentlemanly way of maintaining friendships during those unfriendly occasions that inevitably arise in national and world affairs.

“Now, don’t get me wrong. President Reagan had a temper, and he did not mind taking people to the woodshed for a stern lecture. But more times than not, the President used his warm smile and timely sense of humor to prevent adversaries from becoming enemies.

“This special Reagan touch could not have been more evident than during his meetings with Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House. Speaker O’Neill and President Reagan agreed about virtually nothing. Their differences were apparent when the Speaker came from Capitol Hill to the White House for negotiations with the President. The two would engage in heated and even angry arguments for long stretches. But after business hours, those two Irishmen would share a laugh over a joke or a funny story.

“The other anecdote involves a meeting President Reagan had in 1984 with Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In their meeting, in which nothing positive was accomplished, Bishop Tutu used a photo opportunity to blast the president. Reagan remained quiet during Tutu’s tirade. The next day, White House reporters eager for a story, and smelling blood in the water, sought the president’s reaction. Rather than taking their bait, President Reagan simply looked down at his hands and said “Tutu? So-so.” And that was the end of that question on the subject.

“This is the side of President Reagan I saw so many times as his White House Chief of Staff and later as Secretary of the Treasury. President Reagan truly believed in, and practiced civility in politics.”