Permalink to Tear Down This Wall:  “A Mediocre Speech and a Missed Opportunity”

Tear Down This Wall: “A Mediocre Speech and a Missed Opportunity”

 

In delivering his Berlin Wall address, President Reagan overruled the objections of the National Security Council and the State Department. Here, a couple of documents from the Reagan library. One, an NSC memorandum to Colin Powell, then Deputy National Security Advisor, calls the address “a mediocre speech and a missed opportunity.” The other shows the NSC edits. Note what the NSC deleted.

NSC-edits.jpgWhat Ronald Reagan was up against.

(For more detailed views, click here and here.)

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Members have made 39 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Valin Inactive
    AmishDude: It’s amazing how stupid that smart people are.

    Even more amazing how sure and insistent they are. · 4 hours ago

    There is a line from the greatest TV show ever, I speak of course of Babylon 5.

    Bad Guy #1

    “They Can’t Be That Stupid, Can They?”

    Bad Guy #2

    “Always Bet On Stupidity.”

    I have found this quote to be extremely useful, in my wanderings down the service road of life.

    • #1
    • June 12, 2012 at 4:18 am
  2. Profile photo of Instugator Thatcher
    Valin

    … the greatest TV show ever, I speak of course of Babylon 5.

    Concur

    • #2
    • June 12, 2012 at 5:23 am
  3. Profile photo of iWe Member
    iWe

    Thank you for sharing. Fascinating!

    • #3
    • June 12, 2012 at 5:55 am
  4. Profile photo of Songwriter Member

    Peter, thanks for sharing this. It is further evidence that the wisdom of committees is often very flawed.

    • #4
    • June 12, 2012 at 6:03 am
  5. Profile photo of EJHill Member

    Peggy Noonan’s highlight as a speech writer was the Challenger disaster. That speech, because of the quick turnaround, wasn’t as vetted by staff as usual. The one staffer that saw it wanted to change the line from “High Flight” from “…touch the face of God” to “reach out and touch someone.” From poetry to an AT&T ad!

    • #5
    • June 12, 2012 at 6:35 am
  6. Profile photo of Bill McGurn Contributor

    I think Peter would tell you that this kind of thing is not the exception, it’s the rule. Too often, alas, presidents go with these kind of recommendations. It was Reagan’s gift to rhetoric that he did not. 

    I’ve always believed that is in part what helped Ted Sorensen. He had had a relationship with Kennedy for a long time before JFK became president, and he had sufficient clout that he could ignore these kind of change requests from very senior people.

    • #6
    • June 12, 2012 at 7:09 am
  7. Profile photo of Goldgeller Member

    Thanks for sharing Peter! I heard you mention once or twice before that some high-level people didn’t want the “tear down this wall” included.

    Funny enough, that line was one of the few things I knew about Ronald Reagan. Or rather, it was one of the few things I knew about Reagan that was true.

    • #7
    • June 12, 2012 at 7:29 am
  8. Profile photo of dogsbody Inactive

    The hilarious irony is that the recommendations would truly have made for a missed opportunity. It is the character of bureaucrats that they never want to disturb the status quo; and the character of Ronald Reagan was very different.

    Thanks for writing that, Peter, and showing us what Rob Long would call “the notes”. 

    • #8
    • June 12, 2012 at 8:20 am
  9. Profile photo of Tom Lindholtz Inactive

    Dogsbody nails one irony. The other irony is that what was mediocre was not the speech….but the critics.

    God bless Peter and God bless Ronaldus Magnus for that speech and its results. (And pity the others with the poor sense to criticize such eloquence in such a permanent form that their foolishness is a matter of historical record.)

    • #9
    • June 12, 2012 at 8:33 am
  10. Profile photo of paulebe Member

    Is it too broad a brush to take this kind of small-mindedness to paint all the State Department, the bureaucracy that surrounds the DoD, and intelligence agencies as elitists that do MUCH more harm than good? I would assume so, but there are so many of these stories I can’t help but wonder.

    • #10
    • June 12, 2012 at 9:21 am
  11. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    That’s gotta feel good. 

    • #11
    • June 12, 2012 at 9:57 am
  12. Profile photo of Jimmy Carter Member

    A “mediocre speech” that sent shock waves the world over.

    Don’t forget Powell voted for Obama.

    • #12
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:00 am
  13. Profile photo of James Delingpole Contributor

    Gotta agree with Peter Rodman. It’s a lousy speech. Do we have any idea which loser wrote it?

    • #13
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:12 am
  14. Profile photo of Johnny Dubya Member

    Presidential behavior and rhetoric have consequences. Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers was subsequently cited by senior Kremlin officials as a sign that the president was not “all talk, no action”. Here was a case where a domestic matter had international consequences, and we didn’t even appreciate it at the time.

    As far as the speech is concerned, its effect on dissidents and the communist populace as a whole should not be underestimated. As Jay Nordlinger says, it is important to think how rhetoric might be received by “the boys in the camps”. I would rather have our president speak meaningfully to them–those in the gulag and the laogai–than speak the diluted words of the cowards and pragmatists of State, the NSC, etc.

    • #14
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:12 am
  15. Profile photo of Tom Lindholtz Inactive
    James Delingpole: Gotta agree with Peter Rodman. It’s a lousy speech. Do we have any idea which loser wrote it? · 1 minute ago

    Crass.

    • #15
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:15 am
  16. Profile photo of Underground Conservative Coolidge

    I do have to say that I appreciate the suggestion made in the NSC edit, i.e. “Even in the Communist world, the economic and moral bankruptcy of centralized state control is beginning to be understood.”

    • #16
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:20 am
  17. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    It happens to every writer:

    Image94.jpg

    • #17
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:22 am
  18. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Mel Foil, you are a genius!

    • #18
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:23 am
  19. Profile photo of AmishDude Member

    It’s amazing how stupid that smart people are.

    Even more amazing how sure and insistent they are.

    • #19
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:23 am
  20. Profile photo of FeliciaB Inactive
    Tom Lindholtz
    James Delingpole: Gotta agree with Peter Rodman. It’s a lousy speech. Do we have any idea which loser wrote it? · 1 minute ago

    Crass. · 8 minutes ago

    Joke.

    • #20
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:24 am
  21. Profile photo of AmishDude Member
    Peter Robinson: Mel Foil, you are a genius! · 2 minutes ago

    Agreed. That’s an instant winner!

    • #21
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:28 am
  22. Profile photo of DocStu Inactive

    It is also important to note how difficult it is to hold one man responsible for everything his government does. It is their ideas, philospophy and associations which inform everything a president does, not the specifics of each issue. Ronald Reagan was a great man and the effect he had on our government is best seen in these small issues, he did not let the little government men stop him from saying what he knew to be true.

    • #22
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:33 am
  23. Profile photo of drlorentz Member
    AmishDude: It’s amazing how stupid that smart people are.

    Even more amazing how sure and insistent they are. · 26 minutes ago

    Not as smart as they thought they were.

    Mr Robinson, you are a prince among men. Thanks for sharing the details.

    • #23
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:51 am
  24. Profile photo of Eric Rasmusen Inactive

    It’s good to name names in cases like this. And I don’t believe in nil nisi bonum. I see Peter Rodman was the boss who wrote the memo. Any idea who the unanimous staff were?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Rodman

    • #24
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:58 am
  25. Profile photo of Tennessee Patriot Member

    I know two others who would definitely have been for major edits: Bush the First and Jeb. This speech is too immoderate.

    • #25
    • June 12, 2012 at 10:59 am
  26. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    “Tommy, baby! Great line about ‘these are the times that try mens’ souls!’ But you ought to lose the part about ‘the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot.’ We don’t want to lose the moderates.”

    –Historical nonentity, passing notes to Thomas Paine.

    • #26
    • June 12, 2012 at 11:10 am
  27. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    I could not agree more, Jimmy Carter: Don’t forget Powell voted for Obama.

    However, do not approve of a previous assistant to the President ‘spilling the beans’ in so public a manner.

    • #27
    • June 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm
  28. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    Eric Rasmusen: It’s good to name names in cases like this. And I don’t believe in nil nisi bonum. I see Peter Rodman was the boss who wrote the memo. Any idea who the unanimous staff were?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Rodman · 2 hours ago

    To be fair, Eric, Peter Rodman was actually a very good guy–brilliant, decent, a patriot. And he was gracious enough to grant just as soon as the President delivered the speech that his judgement on this one had been mistaken. On your larger point, though, I completely agree: History is history. People did what they did. And the naming of names is important.

    • #28
    • June 13, 2012 at 1:21 am
  29. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    FeliciaB
    Tom Lindholtz
    James Delingpole: Gotta agree with Peter Rodman. It’s a lousy speech. Do we have any idea which loser wrote it? · 1 minute ago

    Crass. · 8 minutes ago

    Joke. · 3 hours ago

    Oh, yes, just to be explicit, James is joking here. (For the record, I adore the man–and I make bold to suggest that James, in turn, is fond of me.)

    • #29
    • June 13, 2012 at 1:23 am
  30. Profile photo of James Delingpole Contributor

    You do not make too bold Peter. We’re talking Brokeback Mountain here. Nay, we’re talking Cameron and Obama, that’s how special our relationship is…..

    • #30
    • June 13, 2012 at 1:28 am
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