How About a Reagan Gold Coin?
Jude Wanniski
June 8, 2004

 

Memo To: James Baker III
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Most Fitting Tribute

Dear Jim: I suppose you have heard the talk among conservatives of honoring President Reagan by pulling Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill and replacing his image with the Gipper's. Bloomberg Radio called me today to talk about the Reagan legacy in economics. [I'm told the segment will air tonight at 7:07 EDT.] Among other things, I was asked what I thought of the $10 idea, and said Reagan would be horrified by the idea. He loved Alexander Hamilton, who put the republic on a gold standard and thus contributed greatly to its success. Better, I said, to revive a Bretton Woods type gold standard of the kind that President Nixon abandoned in 1971, which created the crisis that Reagan faced when he was elected in November 1980. If we did, Jim, we could mint a gold coin with Reagan's image on it.

As his chief of staff in his first term and his Treasury Secretary in his second, how many times did you hear him say that he never knew a great nation that left gold and remained a great nation? It was the one dream he had when he came to the Oval Office that he could never achieve, mainly because so many people around him said it couldn't be done. I'm writing to you because you were the one man on his team who believed he was right... and tried to do something about it. Do you recall running into me in Florida a few years back? Practically the first thing you said was to remind me that you had proposed a gold-based reform to the International Monetary Fund at its Washington meeting in September 1987!! You were proud of that initiative, as you had told me some years earlier that your father had been a fervent advocate of a paper dollar as good as gold, and had told you so many times. Alas, the initiative went no place, as the stock market crashed a month later, a crash that would never have happened if the Federal Reserve was keyed to a fixed gold price.

Did you see Novak's column Monday? He recalled how President Reagan dreamt of a return to gold, but it proved "a bridge too far." It's only too far now because nobody is willing to step up and ask why the heck the Fed is talking about raising interest rates to fight inflation when the price of gold has fallen $40 since February. If Reagan was President today, he'd want to know why? But neither President Bush, Senator Kerry or Ralph Nader seem at all curious. You're the one fellow who has the standing and the grit to raise these questions, and I hope you find a way to do so. We at least need a discussion and debate on the topic, and at most we need that gold coin with Reagan's golden image.

 
For the Great Communicator, presidency was about big dreams
By Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times

WASHINGTON -- Ronald Reagan was the only big-time office-holder I covered who entered public life as a dreamer and never changed. He achieved an extraordinary number of those dreams. But he never stopped thinking about those visions that, as a practical politician, he conceded could not be realized.

In 1986 at the height of the Iran-Contra scandal, I was President Reagan's guest at lunch in the White House. Near its end, I asked him if he ever regretted not pressing for a gold standard. ''Oh, yes,'' he said. ''That would really have stabilized the economy, but --" ''Mr. President!'' his chief of staff, Donald Regan, interrupted sharply. ''Oh,'' said the president, with his characteristic shake of the head and half-smile, ''Don doesn't like me to talk about the gold standard.''

Don Regan, a lion of Wall Street before coming to Washington, was no dreamer. But Ronald Reagan was -- with practical limitations. He never stopped dreaming about the gold standard, but was practical enough to realize it was one bridge too far. He had fulfilled dreams that practical men like Don Regan thought unachievable: sharply reduced tax rates that revived the U.S. economy and victory in the Cold War, with the Soviet Union gone.

Grudging praise of Reagan, even in death, paints him as an intellectual midget who had one or two big ideas he relied on staffers to put into action. Reagan was not consumed by details, as no great leader should be. But he was more deeply involved than liberal critics admit, and more often than not he was fighting off senior aides.

The decision made early in Reagan's administration that made possible all future success was distinctively his own. When the air controllers (the only labor union that supported him for president) went on strike in violation of the law, Reagan was determined to break them. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis flinched after a while and advised a compromise. Some of Reagan's most conservative aides wanted to back down. But Reagan, who had begun his public life negotiating labor contracts as head of the Screen Actors Guild, would not budge.

The message conveyed by that obstinacy was that Ronald Reagan was no mere B-movie actor propelled into the Oval Office by a whim of fate. He was no man to be trifled with. That message traveled across the sea to Europe and into the very halls of the Kremlin. Nothing could have so strongly asserted Reagan's stature in foreign chancelleries than the air controllers dispute.

On the big issues, Reagan rejected the importuning of his senior aides. He refused to temporize on the 1981 tax cut that ended Jimmy Carter's stagflation. At Reykjavik in 1985, he turned down State Department advice for an arms deal and stood fast to open the way for the Soviet collapse.

That was not expected by the heads of government who met Reagan for the first time at the 1981 G-7 summit in Ottawa. Europe's socialist politicians were openly contemptuous of the ''cowboy'' American. Only Britain's Margaret Thatcher supported Reagan. But by the 1987 G-7 summit in Venice, the Europeans were treating Reagan with the utmost respect.

Reagan was the mirror image of Richard M. Nixon. Nixon really believed in very little and was nearly non-ideological, but he was engrossed in the minutiae of political maneuver. Reagan carried a heavy ideological load but was uninterested in political intrigue. That was why Nixon's presidency was a disaster and Reagan's one of the most successful in the nation's history.

Reagan was fortunate to come along midway through a national political realignment that had begun with Nixon's election a dozen years earlier. The Reagan Democrats, at odds with their ancestral party, were ready to cross the political divide. Reagan made it possible for them as Nixon would have made it impossible.

He was perhaps the nation's most ideological president. Oddly, he was one of the most intellectual presidents. He was a voracious reader (from right-wing publications to economic theory) and an industrious writer of his own letters all his life. To call him the Great Communicator does not do justice to this dreamer of great dreams.

Copyright The Sun-Times Company