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Winning Others With Kindness

Ronald Reagan leaves behind many legacies, but his most significant may be a profound impact on American politics.

Through the force of his convictions, Mr. Reagan pushed a conservative agenda and helped reshape the Republican Party with his vision of a "shining city upon a hill."

Ed Rollins, who managed Mr. Reagan's re-election campaign in 1984 and acted as his deputy assistant for political affairs, remembers the president's positive spirit.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, "If Al Smith hadn't been the happy warrior, Ronald Reagan certainly would have been. He waged an aggressive campaign and had strong ideas and convictions. He engaged in partisan battles with the Democrats who controlled the House, but it was never personal. It was always about the idea and the good that would come from the idea. He created a whole generation of young activists who now see republicanism as their base political philosophy."

Politically, President Reagan had to work hard to get legislation passed. Remembering Mr. Reagan back when he was in California, Rollins notes, "Republicans were on the rope. Pat Brown was the governor, had been for a period of eight years. Democrats controlled the legislature. He came into office, did the same kinds of things, put fiscal controls in. Actually, he had to raise taxes in California to meet the balanced budget requirements the state had. And then moved forward in the national agenda. Made California a strong bastion for Republicans and moved on to the national scene."

Today, the Republican Party is the same he helped shaped, Rollins points out. "The young members of Congress today or legislators across the country talk about being a Reagan Republican: Lower taxes, strong national defense, smaller governments, control of federal spending or state spending. I think that's certainly what he advocated and believed in."

Referring to the reelection campaign in '84, Rollins says, "It was wonderful. To see Americans all of a sudden excited, the slogan of that campaign was 'prouder, better, stronger.' People were prouder. I never forget a train trip to Ohio, when fathers came out and held their 2- or 3-year-old sons on their shoulders to see a president again. And it just made us all very proud."

As for his policies, Rollins says Mr. Reagan had his core convictions. He points out, "You go back and look at his writings...over a 20-year period; these were his thoughts. He executed them. People like us came in and were honored to work for him. We tried to make them happen. At the end of the day, they were his thoughts, his long, thought-out thoughts. It was his policies."

Former senior adviser and speechwriter Ken Khachigian agrees: "He liked to make sure he put his imprint on everything that he did. But the collaboration was also personal, because he was never harsh. He was fun to be with. He always had great ideas, in terms of adding to the quality of the speeches."

But behind a great man is a great woman. Rollins gives credit to the support the president received from Nancy Reagan. He says, "Ronald Reagan probably would not have been president if it hadn't been for Mrs. Reagan. She encouraged him. She believed in him. She was the ultimate intimate insider. After '76, when he lost the presidencial nomination to Ford, he probably wouldn't have gone. He was an older man, was sort of satisfied with his life. He could get up every day saying here's the next president of the United States. She encouraged him. In 1984, after he'd been shot, I think she'd have liked to have gone back to the ranch, but she realized there was an unfinished task ahead and she encouraged him to hang in there."

And Anne Edwards, author of "The Reagans: Portrait of a Marriage," agrees. She says, "I knew Reagan very early, during the years of his Hollywood career and during the time that he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. I was very active in the Writers Guild and later became president of the Authors Guild. So we had a great deal of contact in terms of that.

"And I can see that this man was a genius at negotiating, handling all these things he did for the union and so forth. Whether you took a stand with or against him, it was an incredible thing to watch this man work. And I think he developed most of his skills during that particular period of his life. It's very important. He seemed to know not to push his opponents too far. To try to get 60 or 70 percent of what he wants, but leave the door open so you could come back. And I think Nancy really recognized a great many of these talents in him."

Looking back at the eight years during which they served together, former President George H.W. Bush considers ending the Cold War "without a shot being fired" Mr. Reagan's greatest triumph.

Mr. Bush tells co-anchor Harry Smith, "I think everybody saw this principled, strong American leader and I think the Russians realized they're not going to win any arms race with the United States. And I think that was a huge contribution to civilization and to peace. Peace in the Baltics, peace in the former Warsaw Pact nation, and it was wonderful."

And though not everybody always agreed with the late president, both friends and foes speak in glowing terms about President Reagan.

Former President Bush notes, "He was not a mean-spirited man in disagreement. When he'd disagree with someone, it was not in a mean-spirited way. He was a kind man."

Interestingly enough, former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush were once fierce political opponents. Hugh Sidey, a contributing editor for Time Magazine who recently spoke to George H.W. Bush about Mr. Reagan, points this out to co-anchor Rene Syler.

Sidey says, "When I was talking to him, we went back over the history. He went up to California. That was the first time (Mr. Bush) met (Mr. Reagan). There was Governor Reagan. He was a little put off, to be honest with you. He thought the pomp and circumstance surrounding the governor was a little too much. He met him. He didn't think much more about it. And then they got into presidential politics and both Bush and Reagan were running for the office, and then he began to know more. He never was close, really, till he became the vice president. And then he began to see the dimensions of this man."

Former President Bush corroborated the story and tells Smith, "When he got shot that day, our friendship had really started up. I worried about a fallen president in the hospital but I also felt that a friend -- a good friend -- was in trouble, was hurt. So it was that way all through his presidency. And he was so darn kind to me and also to Barbara."

Having shared lunch with him on a regular basis in the White House, former President Bush remembers their meetings with delight. He says, "Often, they were about the latest joke. This is long before the Internet kicked out, you know, disgorged a bunch of jokes so we'd relate jokes to each other.

"But then it was serious. We'd talk about what was going on Capitol Hill or in the world that day. I did a lot of traveling for him, went over to Germany for the deployment of the missiles, and so I'd come back and have the quiet time -- without staff, without advisers -- to tell him what I thought. And he would always make me feel, 'Please tell me what you really think from your heart, George. Please give me, you know, whatever it is, good news or bad.' I did that with him. There was never a leak about it."

Rollins also describes working for President Reagan as a wonderful experience. He says, "He was the most delightful man. I was his political director for five years. It was never like he micro-managed. You wanted to do well for him because he inspired you. He was such a wonderful man. I never saw him ever mistreat anybody and I was up close to him, traveled with him every day. He was just a lovely man to be around. He was exactly what he appeared to be on screen. Behind the scenes, he was the same gentleman."

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