Nevada's undercover Reagan-Bush PR man
Expanded from the Sunday, 6-6-2004, Daily
Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 6-10-2004 Comstock Chronicle
Longtime Barbwire readers know that I think we should be generous in death, especially to former adversaries. Let the journalists among us report the facts of a person's life and save criticism for another day. Ignoring the June 5 passing of Ronald Wilson Reagan would be an abdication of responsibility. Here's my solution: Ronald Reagan was blessed with a good sense of humor, so here's the Barbwire of August 2, 1992.
I can no longer keep my dirty little secret. For the past 18 years, I have been Ronald Reagan's and George Bush's undercover public relations man. My relationship with Ron began in California during the turbulent Sixties when I registered to vote just to oppose him for president.
ON JUNE 5 in 1884 "taking a Sherman" became part of the political lexicon when General William Tecumseh Sherman responded to talk of his candidacy for president by saying, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected"...In 1933, Bill Moyers (1) was born. He became President Lyndon Johnson's media maven, producing the chilling 1964 "Daisy Flower " atomic bomb commercial vs. Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz. Ronald Reagan's speech before the 1964 GOP national convention kicked off his political career...In 1968, five days after he said in a televised debate that the U.S. government had done nothing more to respond to the riots in the cities except "say a prayer and appoint a commission", Sen. Robert Kennedy, D-NY, was shot and President Johnson appointed another commission...In 1971, a special statewide election was held to let Nevada voters decide whether to lower the voting age to 18 before the year's regular primary and general elections; also in 1971, the worst air pollution in Las Vegas' recorded history began, continuing for six days...In 1973, Vice-President Spiro Agnew visited Reno and Lake Tahoe...In 1989, a day after Chinese troops brutally crushed the uprising in Tiananmen Square, the whole world was watching as one man stepped in front of a tank, which tried to go around him until he blocked it there, too, and it again tried to avoid him, whereupon he leaped on it and started calling to those inside, after which horrified protesters ran out and pulled him to safety. (His name may have been Wang Wei Lin. Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most-important people of the 20th Century, but he remains largely unknown to the Chinese people themselves)...In 2004, Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States, died in Bel Air, Calif. at 93.
Portions courtesy of
Poor Denny's Almanac
(1) Bill Moyers' PBS television program has been cut to a half-hour by Bush-appointed right-wingers on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board according to Common Cause 6-1-2004. See "Big Bird Flies Right" by Ken Auletta in the 6-7-2004 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
Although my first fling with Ron was bittersweet, I just couldn't wait for more punishment. (If you are one of the many who still love Ross Perot, you know what I mean.) A few years after I escaped the people's republic of California, Ron tracked me down.
A sales representative for KKKOH Radio came calling. He wanted me to listen to this new radio program available for sponsorship: Ronald Reagan's American Viewpoint. I knew a Nevada hit when I heard one and immediately sold it to a client.
"Reagan's a good snake oil peddler," I advised. "He'll sell lots of mobile homes for you."
Ron did not let us down. Soon, printed transcripts of Reagan radio commentaries were in demand. Ron was so hot by 1975 that my client paid for billboards all over northern Nevada promoting his show. A photo of my outdoor campaign made Newsweek magazine long about Nevada Day that year. (It was used to illustrate an article entitled "What Reagan Stands to Lose" should he run for president.)
All this good work got me a free invite to dinner with Ron, Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., and about 75 or so Reno Philharmonic supporters at Harrah's. After Ron spoke, the faithful were invited to the head table to shake hands with the ruddy-faced ex-gov. I had no desire to finally meet the man. Dinner had been prime rib or rubber chicken, but his speech was pure Chinese food. I was still hungry and didn't want cotton candy for dessert.
A few years ago, I finally realized why. I ran across several hundred of those old Reagan radio scripts. "Eureka!" said I. "I can get a whole series of columns out of these," or so I thought.
Reagan's commentaries were vacant. Ron had never said anything of substance, he just said it so well. Good snake oil peddler. Sold a lotta mobile homes.
My clandestine work for Ron continued after he lost the 1976 nomination to President Gerald Ford. The minute his radio show went back on the air, my clients picked up the tab. Ron pretty much didn't care about presidential politics for the rest of the bicentennial year, so when Jimmy Carter's people approached me to place some TV schedules for his campaign, I agreed. I knew Ron wouldn't care if I kept up my cover and made a free enterprise buck at the same time.
After he became president, communicating with Ron got difficult. When he came to town to speak at a 1982 University of Nevada,Reno rally, I had to find a way to let him know I still cared. It had to be done in such a way that no one would suspect I still worked for him. My solution was simplicity itself.
As I then chaired the None of the Above for Governor Political Action Committee, I arranged for NAGPAC billboards along his motorcade route. Ron would know it was me because I had done the same thing with the KKKOH boards the night of the Philharmonic dinner.
But how could I be sure of his route up to the college? They don't publish that stuff in the Kazoo-Journal. It took one phone call. Every cop plus his wife and dog knew Reagan's route, which was lined with people by the appointed hour. I placed a portable billboard at US 395 and Villanova. Since I was busy at the time cutting some TV spots for a Democrat, I sent my wife, Betty, to babysit the display and take pictures when Ron and then-Gov. Robert List drove by. The Secret Service apparently concluded that anyone near such a sign had to be of questionable character. When my wife went to her purse to draw her Lifesavers, the G-Men almost drew their guns. She offered them some candy just as Ron's limo passed. Pictures taken. Message delivered. (I still don't know what Gov. List said when Ron asked him about this None of the Above thing.)
NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET
Mike on the road with Crackers the Corporate Crime-Fighting Chicken.
Ron and I kind of lost touch after that. Just as well, but I missed the Secret Service. They were all gentlemen, notwithstanding the dirty looks they gave my wife near the airport. In the finest western movie tradition of their employer, they would check their machine guns at the door of Delmar Station Saloon and Body Exchange before dancing or chasing women.
One night, a half-dozen of them drew down on a drunk throwing rocks at the building after being kicked out of the bar. The lush was very impressed. Even the Reno cops called to the scene were scared by all that firepower. "Gee, I just got backed up by the Secret Service," one officer remarked when he turned to see all the heavy artillery as he busted one suddenly docile drunk in the dark alley.
I thought I was permanently out of Republican politics till Vice-President Bush came to speak at Reno High in 1986. A Sparks pizza client of mine had tickets and asked if I wanted to go. I acted like a disinterested Democrat, but in my heart I knew it was a message from Ron to go take care of his assistant.
I never go politicking unprepared. I grabbed every newspaper I could find the morning of the veep's visit, feverishly thumbing for Bush items. Lo and behold, the Wall Street Journal carried a front page article about Bush's speaking tour. The paper said the VP was receiving heavy criticism in Republican circles for giving speeches loaded with tired cliches and old bromides unbefitting Ron's heir-apparent. George was fuzzy on the vision thing even then.
Standing in line at the Reno High gym, I ran into a couple of Kazoo-Journal reporters. They didn't know I worked for Ron and asked me what I was doing at the Bush thing. I replied that since I couldn't make the posh dinner at Rollan Melton's mansion that evening, this was the least I could do. (Actually, I was committed to going to a protest wiener roast at Democratic chairman Jack Schroeder's house a few blocks away.)
"By the way, guys," said I, "before you write your stories, read the front page of today's Wall Street Journal." Spin control trap set. Bush walked right in. He spring-loaded his speech with many of the pithy phrases the Wall Street Journal had warned of. Newspaper and wire stories the next day did not drip praise. They liberally quoted the WSJ about George's vacuous vision. That's what's beautiful about Nevada. The state is still small enough that a lone undercover Reagan PR man can personally zap the vice-president of the United States.
President Bush comes to town this week amid conflicting reports about his agenda. (What else is new?) I would hate to be his front man when he tries to explain his treatment of veterans, especially women, before the Disabled American Veterans convention at the Reno Hilton.
George will say nothing and say it badly. I long for the good old days when Ron would say nothing but say it well and when the Secret Service knew how to party.
My condolences to Mrs. Reagan and her family. May Ronald Reagan rest in peace. Thanks for all the material.
Pray for peace.
Be well. Raise hell.
Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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