Freedom Forum Day II Morning

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The Reagan Ranch Centre is in Santa Barbara itself, and where we had the more formal sessions.

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This is Peter Robinson. Peter was hired at the age of 25 to be a White House speechwriter. He has published a book called “How Ronald Reagan changed my life”. He had some great stories to tell about working for Reagan. The most fascinating was the story of how the “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech came about.

Peter went out to Berlin a few months before the speech to start researching it, and the Ambassador there told him that whatever he doesn’t do not have the President mention the wall as this would just make him look reactionary. He was told that people have now got used to the wall.

However the following day he ended up out at dinner at a friend’s place in Berlin with around a dozen locals. And he decided to risk asking them what they thought of the wall – specifically is everyone used to it now. There was a long silence and then one woman said “My sister lives five miles away and I have not been able to see her for 20 years. Do you think I have got used to it”. This then set off a torrent with everyone saying similar. So that set the stage for including the words in the speech.

The draft went to the President and luckily he said that he especially liked the part on the wall. This was just as well as over the next six weeks the State Department and half the US Government tried to get it removed. Eventually the opposition grew so much that the Chief of Staff took it back to the President, and said that basically every advisor he had was against that section. Reagan replied “Correct me if I am wrong, but I am the President and I can keep it in, even if no-one wants me to”. “Of course, Mr President”. “Well, it stays in”

That line in the speech went on to be possibly his most famous, and many in Eastern Europe have spoken since about what hope it gave them. And they only had a couple of years to wait.

Was a real privilege to meet Robinson. A very humourous speaker (he described how he got his White House job, as almost being part of a Yale frat prank) and as one expects, a wealth of experience in writing for one of the world’s best communicators.

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