Nancy’s Detractors Take Another Turn
“I really tried not to be vindictive or mean.”
The former First Lady’s recently published account of her White House years, “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan,” was written, she says, “to tell my side of the story.”
Yet, far from winning friends to her side, “My Turn” has produced some virulent reactions and a clutch of more record-correcting.
On the book’s dust jacket, the author acknowledges that “while Ronald Reagan was an extremely popular President, some people didn’t like (me) very much.”
Response to Nancy Reagan’s book appears to be bearing out that evaluation. “The reaction has been violent,” concedes Joni Evans, publisher of Random House, which reportedly paid Reagan $3 million for the book.
Los Angeles Times’ Washington correspondent David Lauter called the book “a relentless settling of scores”; Sally Quinn wrote in the Washington Post, “the book is a rush of venom, fury and revenge”; and the New York Times’ political writer, R. W. Apple Jr., observed, “Mrs. Reagan’s self-satisfaction and self-righteousness shine out from page after page.”
But the review most eagerly awaited is the one written by the former First Lady’s archfoe, ex-White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan, which will appear in the December issue of the Washingtonian.
“We felt we’d get a combination of heat and light,” says the magazine’s editor, Jack Limpert, of the choice of reviewers. “It’s like setting off some firecrackers.”
In her book, the ex-First Lady chronicles the growing opposition to Regan leading to his removal from office and accuses him of bad judgments ranging from presumptuous use of the presidential helicopter to poor counsel to her husband during the Iran-Contra revelations.
In his review, Regan rebuts her contention that former President Richard Nixon offered his services in the Regan ouster, her account of his now-infamous office patio allegedly built to one-up the President’s, and elements concerning her use of astrology, revealed in his 1988 book, “For the Record.”
The Washingtonian’s book editor, Howard Means, says Regan finds the former First Lady “to be lacking gratitude for those who created and sustained the Reagan revolution and lacking any larger sense of herself. He genuinely regrets the lack of insight Mrs. Reagan shows on the eight years in which she was First Lady.”
Adds Regan’s executive assistant, Kathy Reid, he also feels “she doesn’t understand the damage she’s doing to her husband.”
Other characters in the author’s Regan-ouster scenario are following her own stated advice that “there’s dignity in silence.”
President George Bush, who as vice president is said to have told Mrs. Reagan that Regan should resign, sidestepped the question at a press conference earlier this month.
“I don’t want to get into this one,” he said. When a journalist shouted, “Why?” he replied to chuckles, “Never mind.”
Former President Nixon also declines to comment.
Means denies a Newsweek report that the Regan review says Nixon was so upset by Mrs. Reagan’s claim that he sent Regan phone logs showing that she called him, not vice versa.
But the most poignant silence comes from the Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, chastised in her mother’s book for her childhood tantrums that disturbed her parents’ dinner parties. “It makes me feel better about myself just to keep my mouth shut,” says Davis ironically now.
This is not the case with Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer Joan Quigley. “Nancy’s book reads like fiction,” she says. “I think her memory failed her.”
Heedless of her client’s final instructions to “lie” if asked about sensitive issues, Quigley will state in her book to be published in March that it was she who convinced the former First Lady that a meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and a historical policy shift toward the Soviet Union were astrologically propitious.
In “My Turn,” Mrs. Reagan says her professional relationship with Quigley began after the 1981 assassination attempt on her husband, but the Quigley book claims it began in the early ‘70s when Reagan was serving his second term as California governor.
Even Mrs. Reagan’s account of the White House china caper is being disputed.
In a letter to Newsweek, Bess Abell, former White House social secretary during the Johnson Administration, writes that in 1968, a new set of china, consisting of 216 place settings, was delivered to the White House, and when the Reagans arrived in 1980, more than 200 settings remained.
According to Mrs. Reagan, she had to use a mixture of designs at their first state dinner, which honored Margaret Thatcher, “because there simply wasn’t enough china from any one pattern to go around. Nobody had ordered a complete set since the Truman Administration.”
Meanwhile, ordinary people have responded negatively to Newsweek’s book excerpt at a rate of 9 to 1, according to the magazine.
The problem, says Random House’s Evans, is that people are reacting to the person and not the book. “I don’t think anybody’s read the book,” she says.
But that doesn’t answer the question, why do so many people seem to dislike Nancy Reagan?
In her Washington Post review, Quinn, who has interviewed the former First Lady on several occasions, portrays her as a very angry person. In an effort to explain her anger, Quinn consulted a psychiatrist who offered the opinion that the Reagans represented an extreme case of a “projective identification” syndrome.
According to this theory (Quinn quotes from Maggie Scarf’s book, “Intimate Partners”), an ever-smiling Ronald Reagan would transfer his latent anger to his spouse.
Says Quinn in an admitted bit of amateur psychology: “She ended her book by saying all I wanted to do was let Nancy be Nancy. In a way what she’s doing is letting Nancy be Ronnie.”
Although Mrs. Reagan has appeared perplexed at her lack of popularity, she predicted that her book would be poorly reviewed.
“She said this would happen,” says Evans. “She always said, you don’t understand, the press is going to come down on me.”
Still Evans adds brightly, “The reaction has been negative, but the sales are fantastic!”