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Skinner, Kiron K.

Kiron K. Skinner

1962(?)—

Academic, author

Kiron K. Skinner is a professor and political analyst with two New York Times best sellers to her credit. A scholar of post-World War II U.S. foreign policy, she teaches history at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is also a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 2003 and 2004 Skinner coedited a trio of newly discovered writings from Ronald Reagan, the U.S. president credited with ushering a new era of political conservatism in America. Together, the titles make up "a primary source for all future historians and political scientists who evaluate the 40th president," asserted National Review writer Steven F. Hayward. "No appraisal of Reagan can be complete without reckoning with the self-discipline and seriousness that is revealed here."

Born in the early 1960s, Skinner earned an associate's degree from Sacramento City College before heading to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, for an undergraduate degree in political science. She earned a master's degree and a doctorate from Harvard University, focusing on political science and international relations in her studies. Her area of interest was U.S. foreign policy in the decades that followed the end of World War II in 1945, and she was particularly fascinated by the historic changes that occurred during the Republican administration of Reagan, a onetime Hollywood actor who was elected governor of California in 1966. During Reagan's first term in the White House in the early 1980s, tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States reached an all-time high, but less than a year after the end of his second term, much of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe had crumbled.

The Soviet Union would itself collapse in 1991, bringing an end to the cold war that had dominated the postwar political discourse.

Skinner won a prestigious fellowship at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and began researching the Reagan era. "There's been so much written about the end of the Cold War from the standpoint of the old Soviet Union, but very little from the American side," she explained in a report that appeared in a Grand Rapids Press article by Bob Hoover. "Most of the focus has been on activities in Russia, but I was curious to know what was happening inWashington." At the time Skinner began her research, Reagan was still alive but suffering from Alzheimer's disease and had been out of the public eye for some time. Skinner wrote Nancy Reagan, the former first lady, to request permission to conduct research at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Nancy granted the request, and it was there that Skinner discovered a forgotten sheaf of yellow legal pads from the 1970s filled with Reagan's handwritten speeches.

After his second term as California governor ended in 1975, Reagan wrote a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and gave a daily weekday radio commentary that was picked up for syndication by some three hundred U.S. stations. Reagan scholars knew the newspaper columns had been ghostwritten, and the radio addresses were assumed to have been penned by another hand, too. The yellow legal pads that Skinner found proved otherwise: Of the 1,027 "Viewpoints" that Reagan broadcast between 1975 and 1979, Skin- ner found handwritten notes from Reagan for 682 of them. Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, Hoover Institute researchers, helped her shape them into book form, and the result was Reagan, in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, published in 2001. "They are raw drafts, with Reagan's self-editing apparent, and reveal a writer adept at marshaling a philosophical argument in a listener-friendly, conversational style," wrote William Safire in the New York Times Magazine. "In today's age of composition on computers and writing by government committee, we are struck by the workings of one man's mind expressed through a pen in his hand."

Other commentators in conservative-leaning publications were equally effusive in their praise, with Hayward declaring that "the remarkable range and depth of Reagan's writings suggests that he was arguably the best-prepared person to enter the White House in modern times." Hayward also contended that Skinner's book "marked a watershed in the public's knowledge and estimation of Reagan. It proved that Reagan was no mere creature of speechwriters and handlers, as his detractors had long alleged, but was in fact the prime mover of his public career." Indeed, Skinner viewed the speech drafts as a rebuke to the tongue-in-cheek nickname—"The Great Communicator"—that Reagan was given by wary pundits early on in his first administration. An audience estimated at twenty million were likely listening to those weekday radio commentaries, and with those, "Reagan probably reached more people as a private citizen than anybody before Oprah," the Grand Rapids Press article quoted Skinner as saying. "What he was doing was expanding his political base. By the time he ran for president, a lot of people knew his message."

In 2003 Skinner and her coeditors, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, issued Reagan: A Life in Letters, which also spent a couple of weeks on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. The trilogy ended in 2004 with Reagan's Path to Victory: The Shaping of Ronald Reagan's Vision: Selected Writings. Two other titles appeared in 2007: Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin, written with a team of coauthors that included U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and Turning Points in Ending the Cold War, for which Skinner served as editor.

To some, Skinner may appear to be following the career path of Rice, the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. national security advisor as well as U.S. secretary of state, but in a 2004 interview with radio host Tavis Smiley, Skinner claimed to be a registered Democrat. She also offered a long-range, nonpartisan view of the war in Iraq. "War is extremely difficult, and I think we forget that," she told Smiley. "If you think back to World War II, the reconstruction in Germany, the Germans were starving in 1946. It took a long time to get the country up and running. We had the Berlin airlift. War is extremely difficult. It rarely goes well, even when you ‘win,’ and reconstruction is especially difficult. I think now in this kind of instant age of television and communications we want to see things going well very quickly, but it doesn't happen that way."

At a Glance …

Born c. 1962. Education: Sacramento City College, AA; Spelman College, AB; Harvard University, AM, PhD.

Career: Carnegie Mellon University, associate professor of history and political science; Stanford University, Hoover Institution, W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow; member of the executive panel of the Chief of Naval Operations, the Defense Policy Board of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Education Board, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Addresses: Office—Hoover Institution, 434 Galvez Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010.

Selected writings

Books

(With Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, eds.) Reagan, in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, Free Press, 2003.

(With Anderson and Anderson, eds.) Reagan: A Life in Letters, Free Press, 2003.

(With Anderson and Anderson, eds.) Reagan's Path to Victory: The Shaping of Ronald Reagan's Vision: Selected Writings, Free Press, 2004.

(With Serhiy Kudelia, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and Condoleezza Rice) Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

(Editor) Turning Points in Ending the Cold War, Hoover Press, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), March 4, 2001.

National Review, November 8, 2004.

New York Times, January 5, 2004; January 19, 2004.

New York Times Magazine, December 31, 2000.

Online

"Dr. Kiron Skinner," The Tavis Smiley Show,http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/archive/200410/20041029_skinner.html (accessed December 26, 2007).

"Kiron K. Skinner," Hoover Institution, http://www.hoover.org/bios/skinner.html (accessed December 26, 2007).

—Carol Brennan

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