Robinson '79 recalls years with Reagan

by Licyau Wong | 10/16/03 5:00am

"You'd have thought you'd wandered into a lunatic asylum in which the inmates believed they were not Caesar or Napoleon, but Reagan," Peter Robinson '79 wrote in his memoir "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life."

The memoir, which discusses Robinson's career as a Reagan speechwriter, was recently released to much media attention.

"It shows that the country is still fascinated by Reagan, that there is recognition that he was a great figure," Robinson said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The book covers Robinson's six-year career as the youngest speechwriter in the Reagan administration. As a speechwriter, Robinson became part of an elite group of individuals who possessed intimate knowledge of the President.

One of the challenges Robinson faced as a speechwriter was becoming familiar with the speaking habits and manners of Reagan. Additionally, it was essential that speechwriters agreed with the policies of the administration.

"To be a good speechwriter, you had to give your heart to the man," Robinson said.

Robinson's career has had many highlights, but perhaps the most historically important was a particular speech that Reagan made in Germany in April 1987. Robinson's adapted line "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" became a rousing symbol of the end of the Cold War.

"I was just a speechwriter trying to write a speech. I didn't think it would have anything like the prolonged life that it continues to have today," Robinson said.

As a young man in his 20s, Robinson looked up to Reagan as a role model. His most important lesson learned was to "face life with what you've got." Robinson saw Reagan as a man with shortcomings like anyone else, but he never wished to be someone else and he always stood up for what he believed in, according to Robinson.

When Robinson was a student at Dartmouth in the late 1970s, co-education was still a recently implemented policy. With the increasing number of females on campus, students have also become better dressed, he said.

"We really were savages with jeans and unshaven faces," Robinson said.

When he was a student, another difference, according to Robinson, was that Republicans were not as dominant on the political scene. Until the 1994 elections, the House of Representatives had been Democratically ruled for 40 years. Robinson and his friends considered themselves conservatives first and Republicans second.

"Republicans were very much a minority; it wasn't clear that [Republicans] had all that much to be proud of," Robinson said. "The College Republicans were a very insignificant group in those days."

Robinson wrote op-eds frequently for The Dartmouth starting his freshman year. He rose to the position of editorial page editor by his junior year.

The year after Robinson graduated, a group of his friends started The Dartmouth Review, the College's conservatively-slanted newspaper. Robinson contributed to The Review in its early years from England while he was studying at Oxford on a Reynolds scholarship.

Since Reagan's presidency, Robinson has worked for Fox Television, received his MBA from Stanford University and has had his work published in publications like the New York Times, The Red Herring and Forbes.

In 1993, Robinson joined Stanford's Hoover Institute and has been editor of the Hoover Digest since its beginnings in 1996. He is also the host of the public policy show "Uncommon Knowledge" on PBS.

Robinson is also the author of "It's My Party: A Republican's Messy Love Affair with the GOP" and "Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA."