Ed Meese, who served as US Attorney General in President Reagan's second term, joined Dan & Amy this morning to discuss the impact of First Lady Nancy Reagan. Meese also suggested that The Reagans would be "totally shocked" by the tone and tenor of the 2016 POTUS campaign.
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Dan Proft: Good morning - Dan and Amy; the funeral service for First Lady Nancy Reagan is Friday. President Obama not attending. Amy Jacobson: No, he said he’d be at the South by Southwest film exhibit in Austin, Texas. Dan Proft: Sure, he’s got to have some fun. Amy Jacobson: Yeah, and Michelle Obama will be there; Hillary Clinton will be there; former First Ladies, so that’s good; and possibly Rosalynn Carter. Dan Proft: Well, we are now pleased and honored to be joined by someone who knew both President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan very well; he was Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General for a time in his second term, and actually dates back to serving Reagan administrations when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. He is former United State’s Attorney General Ed Meese, and he joins us now; Attorney General Meese, thanks so much for joining us. Ed Meese: Glad to be with you! Good morning. Dan Proft: Good morning! Are you making your way to the service for Nancy Reagan on Friday? Ed Meese: I am indeed, and I will be there tomorrow, in Los Angeles. Dan Proft: Tell us how we should remember or consider Nancy Reagan in the annals of American history, maybe in ways that are readily presented by the media. Ed Meese: I think we should be remembering Nancy Reagan as one of the great First Ladies in our country’s history; and the person who gave tremendous support and encouragement to Ronald Reagan and really, in many ways, was very helpful to him, so that he became such a successful president as he has been, such a successful Governor; but I think also we should remember Nancy – because she did a number of things herself, one of which, and perhaps most significant, was her joining Ronald Reagan in the campaign against illegal drugs; and I would say that she was responsible through that campaign for saving hundreds of thousands of lives, particularly the young people, because during the period that his strategies were in effect, from 1982 to 1992, we actually lowered drug abuse in the United States by over 50%. And a part of that was Nancy Reagan’s emphasis on the idea ‘Just say no’, which was the answer she gave to young lady, who when she was campaigning on the drug deal, just said ‘What should I do when people offer me drugs?’, so that’s when Nancy kind of spontaneously said ‘Just say no!’ Amy Jacobson: Yeah, and it was so direct and into the point, I loved it. What made her start this ‘Just say no’ campaign, and why was she involved with trying to convince young people to stay off drugs? Ed Meese: Well, I think it was Ronald Reagan felt this was one of the most important things he was dealing with, domestically; obviously he was working on the economic problems we faced, which were tremendous; we had the Cold War; but also, he recognized the strength of this country was being sapped by so many young people engaging in the illegal use of drugs; that this was a long term problem that he ought to be attacking, and that’s why having Nancy take that portfolio on was a very important part of his presidency. Dan Proft: Both Nancy and President Reagan seemed to have a sense of decorum and propriety, class and grace about them, even if you disagreed with their policy choices; I wonder how you think they would react to the tone and tenor of the presidential campaign that has unfolded before us. Ed Meese: I honestly believe they would be absolutely shocked. What we’ve seen here in what looks like a food fight on some low level college dorm is not something that they would countenance or be involved in; and it’s just totally different from the general climate that they created, which was one of respect and dignity; it wasn’t stuffy, but at the same time there was a certain decorum that just went with the job, went with the office. Amy Jacobson: Does it infuriate you when people like Donald Trump compare themselves to Ronald Reagan? ‘I was a democrat too; Ronald Reagan was’, and now I’m a Republican. Ed Meese: Well, Ronald Reagan changed from Democrat to Republican very early in his career, and when he was a Democrat, he was a far different democrat than what the democrats stand for today. It was pointed that John F. Kennedy couldn’t be elected today as a Democrat, with the policies that are being promulgated by the candidates that are in that party today. Dan Proft: Yeah, I don’t see Donald Trump ever giving a time for choosing type of speech for some reason; but Attorney General Meese, in terms of Reagan’s power as a communicator, because now as we’re reflecting on Nancy, you can’t help but reflect on Reagan and the 7 fat years that’s ‘Making America great again really’, during the 1980’ as president Reagan did confronting the Evil Empire and the like, and it seems to me what Reagan’s genius was in communicating was speaking with moral clarity on the saline issues of the day, and perhaps republicans have lost their way on emulating Ronald Reagan rather than just recalling him, and this has given way to the rise of a Donald Trump. Ed Meese: I think that that’s correct. I think, for one thing,Republicans have not been clear on what their objectives are and what they’re trying to do; instead there have been many situations, particularly in Congress, in both Houses, where over the past 7 years they’ve almost given up prematurely to what Obama wanted to do, and they’ve not carried through on their promises. Amy Jacobson: Now we know she was utterly devoted to her husband. I mean, it was just a beautiful true real romance that we got to be a part of. They having to be the President and the First Lady, but how did she shape Ronald Reagan politically; is it true that she talked him into dealing with Gorbachev? Ed Meese: I think it was the other way around. I think she followed his lead, and it was his lead – with Gorbachev, for example – he had talked with Margaret Thatcher and they both agreed that this was a person that they both thought they could do business with, and it turned out to be correct. Ronald Reagan had this respect for other people; even when they were opponents on policy, or on legislation, or in this case in international affairs; and it was this respect that he had that naturally then provided a basis on which to deal, and on which to try to reach some sort of consensus, and so that was he was able to work with Gorbachev, for example, to remove a whole class of nuclear weapons from Europe, because there was the feeling, on the part of Gorbachev, that Ronald Reagan would keep his word and he was dealing honestly with him. Dan Proft: We’re talking to former United States Attorney General Ed Meese, and Attorney General Meese, you’re a legal scholar in your own right, I know you’re on the board of directors on the Federal Society - it’s a great organization for young originalist lawyers; we’re mourning the passing of Nancy Reagan shortly after we’ve mourned the passing of Antonin Scalia; a report out yesterday that don – excuse me, jumping the gun - President Obama is meeting with prospective supreme court nominees, and I wonder, as you reflect back over the last 30 years, since you served as Attorney General, if you think that this country is getting away – on both sides of the aisle – getting away from the rule of law and succumbing to the rule of men, and if you see that as a real danger on the horizon. Ed Meese: I think this is a real danger, and I think it is important that we go back to the constitution; that we’ve had nominees for the Supreme Court who when they were undergoing hearings before the Senate promised that they would follow the Constitution, and yet, when they got into the Supreme Court Chambers themselves had been voting on cases exactly the opposite, in terms of following the Constitution; and I think we need to go back to the Declaration of Independence, with its promise of freedom, consent of the govern, those kinds of concepts, as well as the Constitution itself; if we’re going to have the kind of country that the founders gave us, and which it’s our job and each generation to preserve. Amy Jacobson: Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to see next as a Supreme Court Justice? Ed Meese: Well, I think there are a number of them, but I’d better not mention anybody; I’m sure that would jinx it. Dan Proft: Alright. He is former United State’s Attorney General Ed Meese, also involved in the Federal Society; also involved in the Constitution Project at the Heritage Foundation; Attorney General Meese, real pleasure; it’s a real honor to speak with you. Thanks so much for your time. Ed Meese: Thank you, good to have been with you.