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Book Review: The Reagan I Knew by William F. Buckley

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Reviewed by: Amy McMahon (J 07), 2009 TFAS Leadership Fellow

Heritage Foundation Fellow Dr. Lee Edwards lead the book discussion for the Fellows.
Heritage Foundation Fellow Dr. Lee Edwards lead the book discussion for the Fellows.

Because TFAS strives to cultivate in its students a deepening appreciation and unwavering dedication to the principles of a free society, it is fitting that the 2009 Fellows class would read a story capturing the relationship between two men who doggedly and enthusiastically subscribed to the core tenets of an unfettered free market, limited government and the power of ideas.

The Fellows read one of William F. Buckley’s final published book, The Reagan I Knew, courtesy of a generous donation from TFAS supporter and Board of Regents co-chair Bob Meissner of Capitol Resources, Washington, D.C.

At the foundation of their relationship, President Reagan and Buckley shared intellectual interests, firm principles and a certain zeal in the way they communicated and lived. The book provides insight into both men through snapshots of various points of Reagan’s career. In interceding chapters, the book also chronicles correspondence between the two men from the time of Reagan’s first term as California governor through his later years in life, showcasing the depth in which they engaged particular policy issues and, at times, where they vigorously debated differences in opinion on certain issues.

In particular, a rather public difference of opinion over the Panama Canal culminated in a live, televised debate on Buckley’s Firing Line. However, a consistent thread throughout the book is the mutual regard the two men show for one another, serving to demonstrate that true freedom involves a fluid exchange of ideas and that friendship is not threatened by this exchange.

The Reagan I Knew, was generously donated to the 2009 Fellows class by TFAS Board of Regents co-chair Bob Meissner of Capitol Resources, Washington, D.C. He is pictured here with his wife Denise at the TFAS Annual Conference.
The Reagan I Knew, was generously donated to the 2009 Fellows class by TFAS Board of Regents co-chair Bob Meissner of Capitol Resources, Washington, D.C. He is pictured here with his wife Denise at the TFAS Annual Conference.

In the discussion, led by Heritage Foundation Fellow Dr. Lee Edwards, a renowned historian and Reagan biographer himself, Fellows indicated they were interested in reflecting on how President Reagan might have responded to some of today’s pressing issues: economy, security, healthcare.

In considering these weighty issues, it might be helpful to consider Bob Meissner’s own words that “the freedoms we enjoy in this country are regularly under assault from both internal and external forces. The very tenets of our freedoms, so eloquently crafted by our Founding Fathers, can easily be corrupted in the absence of an informed and involved populace.”

Neither Reagan nor Buckley, for all of their ambition, ever conveyed any sense of power-hunger. Their engagement with and belief in the principles of freedoms and the issues of the day appeared sincere through the eyes of Buckley’s reflections. In fact, both maturely recognized that, as Buckley said, “It is part of the conservative philosophy to be grateful that no single person will ever achieve sufficient power to transcribe into public policy all the prescriptions of his own voice.”

Buckley also told us that not only are there reasons why a culture of liberty is a good idea but a culture of liberty, as TFAS so earnestly develops, deserves to survive.

 

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