Author James Rosebush, a former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, spoke Tuesday night at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library to a crowd of 150 about the character and principles of the 40th president that inspired his latest book, “True Reagan: What Made Ronald Reagan Great and Why It Matters.”
Rosebush, who was also chief of staff for former first lady Nancy Reagan, gave the talk as part of his nationwide book tour.
A native of Flint, Mich., Rosebush told the crowd he he imagined his depictions of President Reagan and President Gerald Ford had what he described as Midwestern values of loyalty, faith and commitment to family.
To illustrate this point, Rosebush referenced a letter that President Ford wrote to President Reagan in 1980, detailing how Ford wanted to help Reagan in his presidential bid in whatever capacity he could. Pointing to this as evidence of what he referred as a bygone era in American politics, Rosebush said men of character, such as Ford and Reagan, are no longer active in U.S. politics.
“If there are no more Washingtons, no more Lincolns, no more FDRs, Reagans or Fords — we are doomed,” Rosebush said. “We have less leadership today than we have ever had before.”
LSA junior Grant Strobl, who attended the event, said Rosebush’s commentary comes at a time when Americans should reflect back on former presidents for guidance in choosing their next one.
With the presidential election just weeks away, the current political climate has been marked by controversial remarks on both sides of the aisle.
“The values that President Reagan encompassed are values that are sorely needed in modern culture today,” Strobl said. “I thought it was important to have a refresher on what it means to be an inspirational leader.”
Rosebush, who cultivated an intimate relationship with Reagan over his eight years in the White House, highlighted several specific experiences in which he believed Reagan’s character and his commitment to his principles stood out during his lecture Tuesday.
He cited in particular a famous speech Reagan gave in 1987 in Berlin, while the city was celebrating its 750th anniversary. The West German government invited him to speak at the commemoration event. When the president and his team of speechwriters were crafting his remarks, they enlisted focus groups in Berlin and West Germany to determine what topics the speech should highlight. A recurring theme throughout their responses was a desire to hear Reagan tell Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Berline Wall. However, many in the U.S. government felt a statement that directly challenged the Soviet government to take action would be too inflammatory and provocative.
Despite the pleas of his staff and the political establishment, Reagan went on to say in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
For Rosebush, no other event exemplifies the extent to which Reagan’s principles never wavered.
“Reagan is saying that he is opposed to any walls, well, we talk about walls these days,” Rosebush said, to a laughing crowd. “He is opposed to any walls that would separate a man from freedom … and from his god.”
Ed Vincent, a Washtenaw County resident, said Rosebush’s assessment of Reagan provided thought-provoking material for the crowd.
“What I appreciated about this — and this is Ann Arbor — so I think there is a sense here with the library about presenting views that may not mesh with some of the people here,” Vincent said.
LSA freshman Jacob Chludzinski said the portrayal of Reagan as a man of authenticity and selflessness stood out to him, noting an anecdote Rosebush told about how Reagan, who was a Sunday school teacher in his youth, used to pray before his televised speeches.
“Reagan was less focused on himself as a president and more focused on the ideal and ideas,” Chludzinski said. “How his upbringing with biblical studies and his religious background compelled him into a life of helping others instead of himself was very inspiring, and I think it is a life we should all try to have.”