Reagan Was Neither ‘Amiable Dunce’ Nor Political Saint, Former Canadian Prime Minister Says

By Christopher Goins | February 16, 2011 | 4:45am EST

The Mulroneys with President and Mrs. Reagan in Quebec, Canada, March 18, 1985.

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told CNSNews.com last week that his friend Ronald Reagan was neither the “amiable dunce” that his detractors called him nor the political saint that some of his supporters still see.

“I think there’s probably some mistakes on both sides of the ledger,” Mulroney told CNSNews.com.

CNSNews.com asked the former prime minister whether there were any revisionist distortions of Reagan’s legacy that he found frustrating – or any mythologizing from the right that he found unhelpful.

“The Reagan supporters will tell you that Ronald Reagan never made a mistake in his life. And his denigrators would tell you he is an ‘amiable dunce,’ as I’ve said. Well, neither of course is in any way true. Neither. And Reagan would be the first to say ‘God, don’t accuse me of perfection’ kind of thing,” Mulroney told CNSNews.com.

Mulroney was in Washington at the National Press Club last Thursday to honor the former U.S. president at the 100th anniversary of his birth. He praised Reagan for his unique leadership.

“(Philosopher Thomas) Carlyle was right when he observed that the right man in the right place at the right time can completely change the course of history,” Mulroney said. “I believe this to be true, because I was there to see it happen.”

He recalled Reagan as having a “generous detachment of attitude in politics” -- one he jokingly said “would probably be unconstitutional” in some countries.

Mulroney, who was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party while Canadian prime minister during the ‘80s, described Reagan as always choosing the non-confrontational route to solving problems.

“He never sought to get even with anybody, except with the triumph of his ideas,” Mulroney said. “He struck me as a leader more interested in healing all wounds, than in settling all scores” he said.

Mulroney said even Reagan’s detractors at least respected him in at least one respect.

“Even those who didn’t agree with him, and they were legion, respected Ronald Reagan because he was unwavering in what he believed was right for America,” Mulroney said.  “No ambiguity. No deception. No cynicism. What you saw or heard was precisely what Ronald Reagan meant.”

Halfway through the speech, the Canadian leader recalled a conservation he had with then-President Reagan about Reagan’s approach to taxation and deficits.

“The president said he planned to take his deficit fighting plans directly to the American people. ‘What about Congress? I said.’ ‘It’s not necessary’ Reagan replied ‘to make Congress see the light. Just to feel the heat.”  

Mulroney said Reagan was a transformational leader. 

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

“If today you ask the American people if they think Ronald Reagan was a transforming president or a transactional one, what do you think they will reply?” he posed the audience.

“‘Look around you’ they would say. The Reagan revolution and its positive and powerful effects on freedom and economic prosperity in the private sector and the public good are clearly visible both in contemporary America and in world history.”

At different times he described Reagan as well-read, good-natured, and “solicitous of others and very much in command.” Reagan was a “powerful friend to Canada,” Mulroney said, and possessed a “youthful manner” and very developed ideas.

A transcript of the exchange between CNSNews.com and the Hon Brian Mulroney follows below:

CNSNews.com: "Are there any revisionist attempts or distortions of his legacy that frustrate you, and, on the right, is there any mythologizing that you find unhelpful?"

The Hon. Brian Mulroney, former prime minister of Canada: “Well nothing is 100 percent the way you remember it or yourself. I think there’s probably some mistakes on both sides of the ledger. The Reagan supporters will tell you that Ronald Reagan never made a mistake in his life. And his denigrators would tell you he is an amiable dunce as I’ve said. Well, neither of course is in any way true. Neither. And Reagan would be the first to say ‘God, don’t accuse me of perfection’ kind of thing. Not at all. But I think if you look at the manner in which history tends to judge presidents and prime ministers, they judge them by the large big initiatives that they had for their country. And Reagan had some very big dreams. And he executed not all of em.’ Failed in some. But everybody does."

Mulroney: "In history, you don’t get any knocks for trying and failing. You get knocks for not trying because you are afraid to fail. And if you are afraid to fail you aren’t going to get anything big done. Reagan understood that better than most."

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