I use this illustration in the interest of brevity: There are many longer passages in Reagan speeches that he extensively edited, converting uninspired verbiage to plain and sometimes rousing language. Perhaps the best example is the speech Reagan delivered to members of the British Parliament in Westminster on June 8, 1982, at a time when the Soviets were saber-rattling and clamping down on Poland. Editing that speech, Reagan replaced swaths of serviceable but unexciting prose with a prophetic challenge to the Soviet Union, which he said was “gripped by a great revolutionary crisis.” Reagan said that Poland, then under martial law, was “magnificently unreconciled to oppression” and would one day be free.
Then, in a litany that reminded me of FDR’s account of Japan’s conquests on Dec. 7, 1941, Reagan ticked off the economic failures and the repressions in the Soviet Union, concluding with a paraphrase of a famous Marxist line in which Reagan predicted that “the march of freedom and democracy … will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
Being a good editor means knowing when to leave a phrase in a speech as well as when to take it out. On the morning of June 12, 1987, Reagan and his entourage toured the Berlin Wall and paused at a poignant tribute scribbled on the west side of the wall to an East German who had died trying to cross it. Speaking at the Brandenburg Gate that afternoon, Reagan urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall. The passage perfectly reflected Reagan’s sentiments, but the words had been written by speechwriter Peter Robinson. U.S. diplomats wanted Reagan to take them out of the speech, believing they were provocative at a time when the United States and the Soviets were negotiating over nuclear missiles.