Our correspondent, longtime Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist Robert Scheer, has spent several hours over the years questioning President Reagan on a variety of subjects and in a variety of venues, yielding, among other things, hours of videotape and newspaper interviews. His anecdotes are thus verifiably factual, whereas many of biographer Edmund Morris’s are of course rather notoriously fictional. But aside from this deviation from Morris’s technique, Scheer has attempted to remain faithful to the biographer’s style.
It was the spring of 1980, and the sun disappearing into the cold gray Iowa landscape as we circled for a landing could have been taken as a signal of departing optimism echoing the omnipresent doom that at that moment defined the Ronald Reagan for President campaign. A gloom that would not for long sit well with a man who had forsaken Dixon for Hollywood. A gloom that this man Dutch would himself forsake, as was his style, upon disembarking to greet an awaiting audience, pompadour and smile frozen tightly in time for his entry onstage–scripted, confident, ever alive onstage, only alive onstage, but let’s not suggest that this is the whole story or there would be no reason to read on. There is a man beyond the actor, and I will find him, or there is no justification whatsoever for this enormous waste of an opportunity. (Dutch is that man, this is his story, and we continue quite marvelously without the faintest sense of obligation to indicate where we are headed, because the restraints of traditional biography would obscure that which is most interesting about Dutch and his world: his officially authorized biographer, or AB as we shall from time to time refer to him.)
–Notes of AB scribbled hastily
eight years later in bathroom of Air Force One
as it was preparing for a landing
* * *
Back to 1980. Bush up in polls, Reagan judged too old, headlines couldn’t be worse, NR is bowling apples down the aisle of the campaign plane, [Mike] Deaver and [Stu] Spencer and [Ed] Meese are permanently stuck in a goopy huddle, and the comely blond volunteer smiles at AB. AB will not actually be present for another ten years, but even in his fictional incarnation he is clearly more interesting, sexually and in every other which way, even to her uncultivated mind, than that boy/man called Dutch. Although no one ever refers to him as Dutch, preferring Old Ron or Governor or later Mr. President, except AB, for whom the common moniker of Dutch clearly connotes the status of a subject unworthy of AB’s attentions. What a relief, if AB would only forget all about Reagan and play exclusively with himself as the book’s subject, which is all that really seems to interest him.
—Notes of RS on Post-it note stuck
in Dutch while force-reading
for overdue Nation review
* * *
Still the despair saturated the very air of that campaign plane circling the Iowa airport and was so compelling in its ability to detract from the larger purpose at hand that the candidate’s handlers, even so dreadfully early in the primary season, had surrendered the prime seat next to their man on the plane, shiny cheek to scraggly jowl as it were, to an unruly leftist left over from the sixties. This was not a sixties leftist that AB needed to invent but, in a surprising discovery made by the reviewer rather than the author, was an interlocutor who had actually existed and sat in that very seat next to Dutch. Improbably, as are all things connected with California, the scraggly fellow, a cross between beatnik and hippie with equally unappealing elements of both, had edited a magazine called Ramparts, located in San Francisco, and was long known to Dutch. Although never referring to him as such, this very editor had first interviewed Old Ron, as he called him, when he was a candidate for governor, up in the lake country in a motel; the editor had fallen asleep in a chair, only to awaken and find the campaigner in his skivvies, unaware that a reporter was in the room. Shock, the hint of scandal–what if the Ramparts editor had been wearing a thong or the would-be governor was so dressed? Being by then a Californian for more years than the typical native, Dutch had shaken off his prudish Midwestern roots sufficiently to handle the interruption with aplomb, which may or may not tell you all you need to know about this man. But an open and otherwise straightforward Reagan would not have provided the mystery of a subconscious soul justifying the thirteen-year attention of an official AB. (“Can there ever be such a legitimate character as an official AB if AB is either paranoid or objectively not trusted by his subject or his handlers, or so stupid an interviewer that no conversation of import between him and his subject ever transpires?”)
–AB, in a rare moment of honest
introspection, writing by candlelight
in the very White House bathroom
where Teddy Roosevelt once urinated