Communicating With The Communicator

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There i was, standing outside a room in the White House, ready to have a one-on-one meeting with President Ronald Reagan.

This happened because I was running for Congress in 1988 and had come to Washington to attend a Republican, “school for candidates.” I had had no idea that this experience would include an introduction to the President.

Somehow, in the middle of the day, I was taken to the White House. Now there was just a door between me and the President. I was to have my picture taken with him; then someone would say “thank you,” and I was to leave quickly.

When I entered the room, there was President Reagan, wearing a brown sport jacket, giving me a warm hello. I can still recall his eyes as he looked me over and made a judgment. He opened the conversation by asking how my campaign was going. He noted how difficult it is to win a congressional seat from an incumbent.

The conversation then switched to the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution, which limits the President to no more than two 4-year terms. He was surprised that I did not favor this amendment and asked me why. I told him that there was nothing in the Constitution about term limits, and that “the people should be able to elect whomever they want and for as long as they want.” I thought I saw his eyes light up when I said these words.

He later used this quote to announce that he was going to go on the chicken circuit to oppose the amendment. Lou Cannon, in his fine book Ronald Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime , says that Mr. Reagan changed his opinion on only one important issue during his Presidency: the Twenty-second Amendment.

I was so nervous waiting for someone to end the meeting that finally I told the president I had to leave.

We next discussed a book I wrote on the Goldwater-Nichols military legislation that Mr. Reagan had signed in 1986. He asked me to send him a copy. Without thinking, I said, “No, it will never reach you.” He quickly told me how to address the package so that it would go straight to him. He also asked me to include anything I had written on the Twenty-second Amendment. I know he got the material; he sent me a handwritten thank-you note and said how sorry he was that I’d lost the election.

Finally, because I was so nervous waiting for someone to end our meeting by saying thank you, I told the President that I had to leave. Now, looking back on it, I believe he wanted to talk further. President Reagan was a gracious man who listened carefully and made me feel that he valued my opinions. I wish I could go back in time and reclaim those additional moments with him.