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Coverup - Behind the Iran-Contra Affair (1988)

Reagan Quotes

Was He Really that Dumb?


Reagan Years - Quotes


"I never knew anything above Cs."
--President Reagan, in a moment of truthfulness, describes his academic record to Barbara Walters, November 27, 1981

"They told stories about how inattentive and inept the President was....  They said he wouldn't come to work--all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence."
--Jim Cannon (an aide to Howard Baker) reporting what Reagan's underlings told him, Landslide: The Unmaking of the President: 1984-88

"Reagan's only contribution [to the subject of the MX missile] throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he'd watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from WarGames, the movie.  That was his only contribution."
--Lee Hamilton (Representative from Indiana) interviewed by Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking Through History:  America in the Reagan Years

"This President is treated by both the press and foreign leaders as if he were a child....  It is major news when he honors a political or economic discussion with a germane remark and not an anecdote about his Hollywood days."
--Columnist Richard Cohen

"What planet is he living on?"
--President Mitterand of France poses this question about Reagan to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

"During Mr. Reagan's trip to Europe...members of the traveling press corps watched him doze off so many times--during speeches by French President Francois Mitterrand and Italian President Alessandro Pertini, as well as during a one-on-one audience with the Pope--that they privately christened the trip 'The Big Sleep.'"
--Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency

"He demonstrated for all to see how far you can go in this life with a smile, a shoeshine and the nerve to put your own spin on the facts."
--David Nyhan, Boston Globe columnist

"an amiable dunce."
--Clark Clifford (former Defense Secretary), describing Reagan at a Georgetown party, 1981

"Poor dear, there's nothing between his ears."

--British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, speaking to one of her officials about Reagan, cited by Peter Jenkins, Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution


"...like reinventing the wheel."

--Larry Speakes (Reagan's former press secretary) describing what it was like preparing the President for a press conference, Speaking Out: The Reagan Presidency from Inside the White House


"The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan's ears is a challenging one for his aides."

--Columnist David Broder, "A Sorry Display of Ignorance", Washington Post, September 1, 1985


"What do you do when your President ignores all the palpable, relevant facts and wanders in circles?"

--David Stockman (Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan), The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed


"He has the ability to make statements that are so far outside the parameters of logic that they leave you speechless."
--Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan) talking about her father, The Way I See It


"This loathing for government, this eagerness to prove that any program to aid the disadvantaged is nothing but a boondoggle and a money gobbler, leads him to contrive statistics and stories with unmatched vigor."
--Mark Green, Reagan's Reign of Error


"President Reagan doesn't always check the facts before he makes statements, and the press accepts this as kind of amusing."
--President Jimmy Carter, March 6, 1984

"Ronald Reagan is the first modern President whose contempt for the facts is treated as a charming idiosyncrasy."
--James David Barber, presidential scholar, cited by Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency

"His errors glide past unchallenged.  At one point...he alleged that almost half the population gets a free meal from the government each day.  No one told him he was crazy.  The general message of the American press is that, yes, while it is perfectly true that the emperor has no clothes, nudity is actually very acceptable this year."
--Simon Hoggart, in The Observer (London), 1986


Uncommon Wisdom from "The Gipper"

"A tree's a tree.  How many more do you need to look at?"
--Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), cited in the Sacramento Bee, opposing expansion of Redwood National Park, March 3, 1966

"I don't believe a tree is a tree and if you've seen one you've seen them all."
--Governor Ronald Reagan, in the Sacramento Bee, September 14, 1966

"All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk."
--Ronald Reagan (Republican candidate for president), cited in the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, February 15, 1980.  (In reality, the average nuclear reactor generates 30 tons of radioactive waste per year.)

"I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens.  I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that one little mountain out there, in these last several months, has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in Time magazine, October 20, 1980.  (According to scientists, Mount St. Helens emitted about 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day at its peak activity, compared with 81,000 tons per day produced by cars.)

"Growing and decaying vegetation in this land are responsible for 93 percent of the oxides of nitrogen."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in the Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1980.  (According to Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund, industrial sources are responsible for at least 65 percent and possibly as much as 90 percent of the oxides of nitrogen in the U.S.)

"Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation.  So let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards for man-made sources."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in Sierra, September 10, 1980

"I've said it before and I'll say it again.  The U.S. Geological Survey has told me that the proven potential for oil in Alaska alone is greater than the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in the Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1980.  (According to the USGS, the Saudi reserves of 165.5 billion barrels are 17 times the proven reserves--9.2 billion barrels--in Alaska.)

"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?"
--Ronald Reagan, campaign speech, 1980

"Trains are not any more energy efficient than the average automobile, with both getting about 48 passenger miles to the gallon."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in the Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1980.  (The U.S. Department of Transportation calculates that a 14-car train traveling at 80 miles per hour gets 400 passenger miles to the gallon.  A 1980 auto carrying an average of 2.2 people gets 42.6 passenger miles to the gallon.)

"It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas."
--Ronald Reagan (candidate for Governor of California), interviewed in the Fresno Bee, October 10, 1965

"I have a feeling that we are doing better in the war [in Vietnam] than the people have been told."
--Ronald Reagan, in the Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1967

"...the moral equal of our Founding Fathers."
--President Reagan, describing the Nicaraguan contras, March 1, 1985

"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in Time, May 17, 1976

"I know all the bad things that happened in that war.  I was in uniform four years myself."
--President Reagan, in an interview with foreign journalists, April 19, 1985.  ("In costume" is more like it.  Reagan spent World War II making Army training films at Hal Roach Studios in Hollywood.)

"They've done away with those committees.  That shows the success of what the Soviets were able to do in this country."
--Ronald Reagan, cited in the Washington Times, September 30, 1987.  (Reagan longs for the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the HCUA witch hunts.)

"We think there is a parallel between federal involvement in education and the decline in profit over recent years."
--President Reagan, cited in USA Today, April 26, 1983

"What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."
--President Reagan, defending himself against charges of callousness on Good Morning America, January 31, 1984

"I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet,  if necessary."
--Ronald Reagan, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1965

"I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
--Ronald Reagan, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1966

"If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with."
--Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), cited in the San Francisco Chronicle, early morning edition, May 15, 1969.  (Reagan reveals how he intends to quell student protests in the city of Berkeley, California.  Protesters were teargassed and fired on with buckshot, killing one, blinding another, and wounding 128.  Reagan would later declare a state of emergency in the city and send in 2,700 National Guard troops.)

"Today a newcomer to the state is automatically eligible for our many aid programs the moment he crosses the border."
--Ronald Reagan, in a speech announcing his candidacy for Governor, January 3, 1966.  (In fact, immigrants to California had to wait five years before becoming eligible for benefits.  Reagan acknowledged his error, but nine months later said exactly the same thing.)

"...a faceless mass, waiting for handouts."
--Ronald Reagan, 1965.  (Description of Medicaid recipients.)

"Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders."
--California Governor Ronald Reagan, in the Sacramento Bee, April 28, 1966

"We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night.  Well, that was probably true.  They were all on a diet."
--Ronald Reagan, TV speech, October 27, 1964

"But I also happen to be someone who believes in tithing--the giving of a tenth [to charity]."
--Ronald Reagan, from The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, February 8, 1982.  (He may believe in tithing, but he doesn't practice it.  Reagan's total charitable giving of $5,965 did not approach 10% of total income.  It was more like 1.4%.)

"Until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together?  There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this."
--President Reagan revealing a disturbing view about the "coming of Armageddon," December 6, 1983

"History shows that when the taxes of a nation approach about 20 percent of the people's income, there begins to be a lack of respect for government....  When it reaches 25 percent, there comes an increase in lawlessness."
--Ronald Reagan, in Time, April 14, 1980.  (History shows no such thing.  Income tax rates in Europe have traditionally been far higher than U.S. rates, while European crime rates have been much lower.)

"Because Vietnam was not a declared war, the veterans are not even eligible for the G. I. Bill of Rights with respect to education or anything."
--Ronald Reagan, in Newsweek, April 21, 1980.  (Wrong again.)

"Politics is just like show business.  You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close."
--Ronald Reagan to aide Stuart Spencer, 1966

Quotes are from Reagan's Reign of Error by Mark Green & Gail MacColl, and The Clothes Have No Emperor by Paul Slansky

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