June 7, 2007
By Mary Reed
The recently released "Reagan Diaries" reveal the importance of the president's religious faith and provide more evidence as to why Ronald Reagan was known as "The Great Communicator." So says an Ohio University historian who will use information in the diaries, published last month by HarperCollins, for a forthcoming book on the Reagan presidency.
"You learn from the diaries both significant and mundane things," says Chester Pach, associate professor of history, quoting Reagan's entry stating that "getting shot hurts" and noting that the 40th president hated Mondays.
Pach says that while the diaries -- currently at No. 2 on the New York Times Best Sellers list -- do not contain any major revelations, it is remarkable how often Reagan refers to God. "Religion and faith in God and the belief that the U.S. had a special destiny in the world really affected his outlook and the way he dealt with some public issues," Pach says. For example, he points to Reagan's diary entry after surviving a March 30, 1981, assassination attempt: "Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can."
Pach also notes that Reagan was a good writer who even wrote parts of his own speeches. "Reagan knew how to write to be heard -- how to make his ideas vivid and compelling to the American people," he says.
The entries also show that Reagan was very secure in his beliefs and did not become defensive or beleaguered in the face of criticism -- traits, Pach says, that helped him shape public policy and debate on his own terms.
Pach will begin a yearlong sabbatical this summer with a visit the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to complete research on the Reagan Papers. He will write a post-"Diaries" book titled "The Presidency of Ronald Reagan" as part of the American Presidency Series by the University Press of Kansas. The book will be published in 2009.
This won't be the historian's first trip to the presidential library. He has been doing research on Reagan there since the late 1990s and plans to revisit some old files and see what new material is available. "Things are being opened all the time," Pach says, referring to the Presidential Records Act of 1978 that mandated all presidential records are public property as well as establishing timetables for the records becoming available to the public.
Pach will use documents from the Reagan Library, television and radio sources as well as existing literature to write his book, which will be an overview of Reagan's presidency. "The goal is to deepen understanding of Ronald Reagan and to assess the consequences of his policies," he says, adding that it will be an academic book accessible to the lay public.
Pach has written a number of chapters and books on presidencies, including those of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson. He is now also finishing a book titled "The First Television War: TV News, the White House, and Vietnam."