Mrs. Reagan defends White House role

Nancy Reagan says she makes no apologies for looking out for President Reagan's personal and political welfare. ``Although I don't get involved in policy, it's silly to suggest my opinion should not carry some weight with a man I've been married to for 35 years,'' Mrs. Reagan told a luncheon audience at the American Newspaper Publishers Association convention Monday.

Mrs. Reagan has been referred to recently as a behind-the-scenes political manipulator directing some of the President's public actions. She is believed to have been instrumental in the ouster of White House chief of staff Donald Regan and his replacement by ex-Sen. Howard Baker Jr.

``In spite of a White House full of people taking care of various aspects of a President's life, you're the one who knows him best,'' Mrs. Reagan said. ``You don't give up your right to an opinion just because you're married to the President.''

Mrs. Reagan reportedly clashed with Mr. Regan over his handling of the Iran-contra affair and his efforts to get the President back to work quickly after surgery in January.

``I'm a woman who loves her husband, and I make no apologies for looking out for his personal and political welfare. We have a genuine, sharing marriage. I go to his aid. He comes to mine. I have opinions. He has opinions. We don't always agree. But neither marriage nor politics denies a spouse the right to hold an opinion or the right to express it,'' Mrs. Reagan said.

She made light of stories picturing her as running the White House. ``This morning I had planned to clear up the US-Soviet difference on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, but then I decided I'd clear out Ronnie's sock drawer instead,' she joked.

More seriously, she said, ``I see the First Lady as another means to keep a President from being isolated.

``I talk to people. They tell me things. They pass along ideas. And sure, I tell my husband. And if something is about to become a problem or fall between the cracks, I'm not above calling a staff person and asking about it.''

When she became the First Lady, she said, ``I was completely unprepared for the intense scrutiny - strange for someone who had been in public life as long as I had. I just didn't expect it to be that concentrated. And I was even more unprepared for what I read about myself....''

Mrs. Reagan said she began her public campaign against drugs after she realized that as the First Lady she would be the object of attention no matter what she did, so she decided to focus on something that had interested her for a long time.

``Once you're in the White House, don't think it's going to be a glamorous, fairytale life. It's very hard work with high highs and low lows. Since you're under a microscope, everything is magnified, so just keep your perspective and your patience,'' she said.

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