The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened an initial batch of more than 6 million pages of White House documents on Tuesday, but scholars looking for bombshells about the Iran-Contra scandal or other titillating revelations about the Reagan era will likely have to wait until the 21st Century.
“Unless it is fairly routine, it will remained closed for some time,” said Rod Soubers, supervisory archivist at the library, which opened to the public last week. “The more substantive material . . . is not presently available.”
Yet mixed with the arcane and mundane are some fascinating tidbits, including a letter from Reagan to the wife of an arch-conservative newspaper publisher bemoaning the unstoppable power of big government.
“As you can see, ‘big brother’ is watching and he ain’t us,” Reagan, then at the pinnacle of his power, wrote in his own hand. The 1985 letter, focusing on a shared disdain for compulsory seat belts laws, was addressed to Nackey Loeb, wife of the late Manchester, N.H., Union Leader publisher William Loeb.
Some correspondence was directed to members of Reagan’s staff.
In 1983, California Court of Appeal Justice Robert K. Puglia asked then-presidential counselor Edwin Meese III “to put in a good word” that might help his elevation to the state Supreme Court.
In the letter, Puglia, who is still on the appeals court but never made it to the state’s highest court, applauded the Reagan Administration’s successes and took a gratuitous swipe at former House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil Jr. (D-Mass). “If you could just do something to keep Tip O’Neil’s blowsy, bibulous kisser off TV, it would improve the quality of life out here in the hinterlands.”
The Reagan library stores 47 million pages of presidential papers in its basement--the largest collection of White House documents ever assembled. Within a few years, the number is expected to swell to more than 55 million.
The papers unveiled Tuesday, hailed by library officials as the largest initial opening of any presidential library, were mainly letters from citizens and staff memorandums on topics ranging from highway safety to the quickly aborted classification of ketchup as a vegetable on school-lunch programs.
Reagan’s papers are the first to fall under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The law makes White House documents public property, but encumbers their release with a variety of restrictions to protect privacy, national defense, foreign policy and confidential advice.
Of the newly released portion, 1.5 million pages cover 10 topics from the White House subject files, including agriculture, education, highways, recreation and natural resources.
Most memos between the president and his top aides were yanked from these files under a restriction protecting confidential advice. They will be available in a decade.
The largest batch of documents classified as “open” on Tuesday, an estimated 4.8 million pages, consists of an alphabetized file of unsolicited letters and White House responses. However, before the public can view any of this correspondence, each request is subject to a 30-day review by the Bush Administration, under the Presidential Records Act.
The subject file also contains memos between Reagan’s associates. In 1985, White House political director Ed Rollins sent several of his colleagues a memo summarizing a political “white paper” written by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica).
“Tom Hayden has gone a long way from member of the Chicago Seven to member of the California State Senate (sic),” Rollins wrote. “Hayden’s strategic thoughts are fascinating (the tactical ones less so).”