I came of age politically during the 1980’s. My first time voting in a presidential election was 1984 and I was proud to cast my vote for Ronald Reagan. Those were special years when patriotism and optimism ran high thanks to President Reagan. Since then I have read dozens of books about his life, several in his own hand.
So I was very excited to read Bret Baier’s new book about Reagan, titled “Three Days in Moscow – Ronald Reagan and the fall of the Soviet Empire”. This is a follow-up to his book on Eisenhower (which I also read and loved).
Bret begins in May 1988 with Reagan’s visit to Moscow and the speech he gave at Moscow State University on May 31. He then rewinds to give an overview of Reagan’s early life and how it prepared him for the Presidency. He covers Reagan’s time as governor of California (1964-1972), his loss to President Ford in the 1976 primaries and then his triumphant victories in 1980 and 84.
He details Reagan’s determination to win the cold war and rid the world of nuclear weapons (while fighting Democrats in his own country who refused to understand his “peace through strength” strategy or SDI). I had forgotten that Reagan and Gorbachev did not meet for the first time until 1985 (the other leaders of Russian had kept dying before Reagan had a chance to meet them!). The book chronicles the incredible amount of accomplishments between Reagan and Gorbachev in just over 2 years! Both considered each other a friend by 1988. One story that I did not know was that while Reagan’s tough negotiations put pressure on Gorbachev, the breaking point came with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in April 1986. Seeing the result of a possible nuclear war up close, Gorbachev became just as determined as Reagan to eliminate the threat.
Bret also covers a very sentimental story about Tip O’Neil visiting Reagan in the hospital after he was shot and the two men praying together and reciting Psalm 23.
Reading this book unleashed a lot of emotions that I had felt during Reagan’s Presidency in the 80’s – Patriotism, Hope, Peace, and Joy. Reagan just had a way of making American’s feel good about themselves and their country. This was sorely needed after the previous decade of Watergate and the Malaise Speech given my Jimmy Carter. And in addition to his “sunny optimism”, President Reagan was also a courageous and a tough negotiator (as Mikhail Gorbachev discovered).
The book also compares Reagan and Trump. They have many similarities- both were considered “outsiders” (even though Reagan had been a governor, he was ridiculed as just an actor). Both were severely underestimated to the detriment of their opponents. The election of both were tectonic shifts in both domestic and foreign politics. Probably the biggest difference between the two would be the fact that Reagan never let attacks bother him while Trump never lets one go without responding. Perhaps that is just his nature as a fighter. Finally, both have given soaring speeches about the greatness of American, it’s future and its people. I have read many transcripts of Trump’s speeches and hear Reagan’s voice in my head.
Bret closes the book with the twilight of Reagan’s life, quoting from Reagan’s letter announcing Alzheimer’s. Even today, over 20 years later, it still brings tears to my eyes:
In closing let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.
I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.
Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.
Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.
This is the Ronald Reagan that we remember and it is this Ronald Reagan that Bret Baier beautifully captures in “Three Days in Moscow”.