When Things Went Right
The Dawn of the Reagan-Bush Administration
Publication Year: 2013
When Things Went Right is a colorful and insightful portrait of Washington at the beginning of the Reagan-Bush era (November 1980–March 1983) as lived and recorded by an insider in his personal journal.
Chase Untermeyer was a Texas state legislator and former journalist when called to national service by his friend and mentor George H. W. Bush after the 1980 election. In his journal entries and subsequent annotations he describes how the Reagan Administration began to grapple with the major national and international challenges it inherited.
He also reveals specifically how then–Vice President Bush, Reagan’s former rival, became a valued participant in this effort, in the process solidifying the vice presidency as a significant position in modern American government.
As executive assistant to the Vice President, Untermeyer saw how Bush, Reagan, and their top associates began asserting conservative principles on domestic, political, and foreign affairs. He captured in his journal not just the events of each day but also the atmosphere, the key personalities, and the witty, trenchant, and revealing things they said.
The book’s long-lasting value will be in providing historians of the period with telling anecdotes and quotations that were caught and preserved with a reporter’s eye and ear. In addition to perceptive portraits of Reagan and Bush, When Things Went Right also features numerous cameo appearances by such diverse characters as Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Clare Boothe Luce, and jazz great Lionel Hampton.
For those who look back on the presidencies of Reagan and Bush with nostalgia and respect, and also for those interested in the inner workings of the administration during its earliest days, this is the story of the time “when things went right.”
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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In the genre of coming- to- Washington literature, no one wrote better than the late lawyer- lobbyist Harry McPherson. In his memoir, A Political Education, Harry lyrically described the night in 1956 that he and his wife arrived in the nation’s capital after a long journey from Texas...
Chapter 1 Dream Job Come True
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Today, Election Day 1980 and perhaps one of the most historic days in American political history, I was picked up by Sandy Ellis [Nancy’s husband, Alexander] on Boylston Street opposite the Kennedy School of Government. Sandy said he had talked with son John, a political analyst at NBC, who forecast a Reagan landslide—something impossible to contemplate realistically at that hour. But John had...
Chapter 2 Transition
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The final leg of the great semitranscontinental journey that began a week ago was rather easy. I left Roanoke and ambled north on I- 81, paralleling the Shenandoah River. To my right was the ridge of mountains crowned with Skyline Drive. Near Strasburg, I turned east, straight toward DC. The road sign saying “Washington 74” was a splendid sight, and the descending numbers on each successive sign...
Chapter 3 Our Little Offi ce Building
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Today, a great one for the United States and in my life, began early. The weather was unseasonably warm (in the fifties) after weeks of severe cold for DC. My job at the transition oﬃce as sole staﬀer was to answer the phones. (Correct till the last, I answered with, “Ambassador Bush’s Oﬃce.”) The TV was on; coverage of the inauguration was punctuated with bulletins on the ...
Chapter 4 The Rumor
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This evening we crossed the causeway into Palm Beach, an island devoid of neon and weighted down with mammoth mansions whose outlines we could barely make out behind tall white walls. On the sea side, the Atlantic could be detected only as a continuously swishing sound. We pulled up at the magnificent Breakers, our home for the next three nights. It is a gigantic Italianate...
Chapter 5 “The President Has Been Hit!”
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Today’s media were full of a story how SecState Haig felt humiliated by the President’s decision (announced last night) to put GB in charge of “crisis management” in foreign aﬀairs. Some rumors today even had Haig resigning in protest. GB is grateful to have the assignment and doesn’t view his getting it as the result of some great intramural battle. In fact, he thinks ...
Chapter 6 Springtime in Washington
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Because GB was standing in for President Reagan today at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, we got to fly in the “Presidential Aircraft.” It was the two- tone blue- and- white 707 with tail number 26000 that took President Kennedy to Dallas and brought President Johnson back. Its elegant appointments make the 707 we took to Texas look like something oﬀ the back lot. It has a large ...
Chapter 7Lindbergh’s Bed
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Under a system that combined seniority and chivalry, I was the last to get lavatory privileges in the forward cabin of Air Force 2, entering as we descended to land at Orly. I threw on a white shirt just as the plane drew up to a wide, thick red carpet bracketed by two long lines of sword- wielding soldiers. It was quite impressive...
Chapter 8 A Dinner at Number 10 [Image Plates]
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Air Force 2 took oﬀ at 10:00 for the hour long fight across the Channel. GB was concerned over the release of a statement by Washington on the inclusion of communists in the French government. Not only was it tougher than what he was telling the French, it was uncharitably released during and not after his visit—just as I had predicted Haig might do. Cheysson told GB in the ...
Chapter 9 A Rigadón in Manila
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Air Force 2 took off about 3:45 p.m. on the fi nal leg of today’s journey. Joining us were part of our offi cial delegation: Gov. Bob Ray (R- Iowa) and his wife, Billie, plus actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and his wife, Stephanie. The VIP lounge is already quite crowded, and we haven’t boarded our Hawaii- based delegate yet. Pianist Van Cliburn...
Chapter 10 Travels with the Vishnu
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Today I embarked on a ninety- minute journey into the Maryland countryside due south of Washington. The weather was murky, but the landscape provided some green relief. Outside the hamlet of Bel Alton is the 2,000- acre working (gentleman’s) farm of Paul Nitze, one of the last great “cold warriors” and father- in- law of Scott Thompson. True to its name, White Hall Farm has...
Chapter 11 Goose- stepping Nurses, Soapless in Grand
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Today was El Dieciséis,Mexican Independence Day. Our group arrived at the presidential hangar for some breakfast prior to the 9:30 arrival of President López Portillo’s 727, Quetzalcoátal 1. The Bushes were on board with him. The President was rendered brief military honors, after which a police escort took us all at high speed into El Centro. We went down a narrow street empty of people except for a double...
Chapter 12 The Air Force 2 Coup
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We landed at San Francisco International Airport at 11:00 and were driven into the heart of the city to the elegant old St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. At noon, GB addressed the Commonwealth Club, perhaps the most prestigious forum in the state. I sat next to Ron Smith, a political consultant handling the reelection campaign of Sen. S. I. (Sam) Hayakawa.1 (The Ad-...
Chapter 13 Shutdown!
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The Bushes arrived, followed by President Mitterrand. A fife and drum corps in colonial garb announced the two men and gave tinny renditions of the national anthems. Toward 8:45, refreshed and spruced up, Jennifer and I were driven to Providence Hall, the handsome wooden colonial building where the Bushes are staying, for their dinner in honor of President and Mrs. Mitterrand. It was elegant but relaxed in the Bush fashion. There was candlelight, a husky- voiced female singer and guitarist...
Chapter 14 A Czar Is Born
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On this Thanksgiving Eve, Pete Teeley and I made a field trip to the Pentagon. That enormous oﬃce building for the Department of Defense is some-place we both need to know, and today we saw its guts: the National Military Command Center (NMCC). We were met at the River Entrance by an Army lieutenant colonel and taken to NMCC. A soldier in full dress uniform ...
Chapter 15 In Recession America
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For today’s trip to South Carolina, we had the cream of the state’s Republican leadership aboard SAM 86970 at one time or another: Energy Secretary (and ex- governor) Jim Edwards, young congressmen John Napier of Bennettsville and Carroll Campbell1 of Greenville, plus Lee Atwater, the White House political specialist on the South. Lee may not be a true friend, but today he was ...
Chapter 16 Luncheon with the Emperor
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SAM 86970, filled with people and baggage, lifted off heavily from Andrews at 8:50 a.m. for the seven- and- a- half- hour flight to Anchorage. En route I read a history of the opening of US diplomatic relations with Chosen or “Corea,” a study of the 1934 and 1954 congressional elections, which Lee Atwater gave me, and the State Department–prepared briefing book. Our route took us over an endless Canadian...
Chapter 17 Rimming the Pacific
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At 7:00 we all gathered out front of the old Akasaka to board our vehicles for Haneda. The entire serving staﬀ of the palace waved goodbye as our motorcade wound through the portico and away. On the two- hour flight to Seoul, we were given the glorious treat of passing right over Mount Fuji, getting a special perspective of its famous graceful slopes and irregular crater cap....
Chapter 18 Everything but the Quack
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Around 9:30 p.m., AF2 approached Hangzhou in the rain. We could see very few lights and nothing that looked like an airport. Suddenly the plane accelerated and raised its landing gear to come around and make another pass. We later learned that the airport hadn’t switched on the runway lights! The second try was a success,...
Chapter 19 Just Your Typical Palace
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On the helo to Andrews, GB said that last night he was in bed when the phone rang, and [Senate majority leader] Howard Baker said there might be some tie votes on the defense appropriations bill. None occurred, but GB was at the Senate from 11:00 p.m. till 4:00 a.m., unsuccessfully trying to sleep in his oﬃce just oﬀ the Senate floor. It would have been terrible under normal ...
Chapter 20 Nonstop to Idaho Falls
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In Miami, GB met with the leaders of the Cuban- American National Foundation, a group primarily devoted to winning congressional approval of Radio Martí, a US- based station that will broadcast into Cuba. The foundation’s chief is Jorge Mas Canosa, a real evangelist for Martí.1 On several occasions, GB asked me to make a note of Mas’s requests, including write an insert into to-...
Chapter 21 A Funeral in Moscow, via Africa
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As I did before April’s trip to Asia, I walked to the Observatory, reaching the hill just as the helo came out of a soft yellow sky. All passengers on Marine 2—the Bushes, the Admiral, Jennifer, Kim Brady, and I—smiled bravely at each other, knowing we were off on the most challenging trip of the Administration...
Chapter 22 Job Hunting in the (Semi- )Gloom
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When AF2 lifted oﬀ from Kinshasa at 10: a.m., Art Fletcher waved at the Zairians and said with a sardonic sneer, “So long, brothuh!” It was a six- and- a- half- hour fl ight back to Cape Verde, during which we passed close to a special geographic spot: 0˚00' longitude east–west and 0˚00' latitude north–south—where the prime meridian meets the equator in the Gulf of ...
Chapter 23 Mission Most Important
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On the flight to Andrews, GB was up but edgy, a reflection of the tremendous worldwide attention being given this trip. At last night’s Alfalfa Dinner, for example, Sen. Sam Nunn (D- Georgia) gravely told him it was the most important vice presidential trip in a decade. The Washington Post editorialized today: “This is a remarkable day in the Reagan Administration’s foreign ...
Chapter 24 Moving On
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We landed at Daytona around 11:00; the raceway is next to the runway. We staffers rode in a van, and along with the other cars in the VP’s motorcade actually went onto the two- and- a- half- mile track. We rode on the level lane, amazed at the 31 degree banked lanes that rose to our right. To our left in the infield was a...
Afterword Why Things Went Right
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Looking back after thirty years with the perspective not allowed the nightly diarist, how might one say “things went right” in the United States under President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush? The reasons I submit below characterize their entire tenure but were of particular value during their first two years in the...
Notes on Sources
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About the Author
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Chase Untermeyer has held both elected and appointed oﬃce at all four levels of government: local, state, national, and international. A diarist since the age of nine, he went to Washington, DC, two weeks before the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in January 1981 to work for the new vice president, George Bush. He remained over the next twelve years, closely observing two ...
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2013