President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview
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18
TURNING POINT

But I was to learn that I created some problems when I appointed [ Don Regan] to succeed Jim Baker as White House chief of staff.

RONALD REAGAN, DIARY ENTRY, JANUARY 17, 19861

DONALD T. REGAN WAS NOT among the disillusioned members of the Reagan team. By 1985, the onetime Marine officer and multimillionaire former stockbroker had spent four years as secretary of the treasury doing battle with his enemies within the cabinet and relentlessly cultivating Ronald Reagan's favor. While Regan's involvement in the reelection campaign had been largely limited to surrogate fund-raising speeches, he had not been idle during 1984.

In his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 25, 1984, the president had announced that he was "asking Secretary Regan for a plan of action to simplify the entire tax code so that all taxpayers, big and small, are treated more fairly." This was a tall order, but it was vastly diminished by the qualifier that Regan would not deliver "specific recommendations" for such a plan until December. The qualifier had been the brainchild of White House Chief of Staff James Baker, who wanted to take tax reform and the questions it would raise about the budget deficits out of the 1984 election campaign. The congressmen who had crowded into the House chambers to hear the president's speech understood the maneuver. Democrats erupted in a gale of cynical laughter in an unusual sign of disrespect for the president. Reagan did not become angry at the response because he did not understand what the laughter was about. He plowed on to the next passage of his speech--a call to build a permanent manned space station--as the laughter persisted. Finally, he noticed it. "I said something funny?" he said with a puzzled look. Since he was totally serious about tax reform, Reagan had not realized that the wording of the an

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