This is long but a very good read.
AMERICA'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH RONALD REAGAN
by Gary D. Halbert
June 15, 2004
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Reagan Tribute – A Magnificent Job Of Statecraft
2. Those Historic Eulogies, But Clinton Was Left Out.
3. Margaret Thatcher “Curtsies” To Reagan’s Coffin.
4. Did Ronald Reagan Win The Cold War? Ah, Yes.
5. Who Else Would Have Said NO To Gorbachev?
6. With Some Exceptions, The Media Did A Good Job.
7. The United Nations Partied During Reagan Funeral.
The near weeklong tribute to Ronald Reagan was nothing less than a national spectacle - overwhelming and pleasantly surprising to those of us who loved him, and stunningly uncomfortable to many of his critics and the media. The funerals, the processions and the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans who waited hours in line, and up and down the streets of California and Washington, to pay their respects.
A large part of my job is watching news every day and as a result, I watched the coverage of the Reagan funerals very closely. This week, I offer some observations of last week’s tribute to Ronald Reagan, some things you may not have seen or heard, some thoughts on the media’s reactions to it all and some other points of interest.
Magnificent Piece Of Statecraft
Many Americans had never seen a weeklong state funeral. And what a week it was. I think it is safe to say that no one anticipated the enormous outpouring of Americans who, at every possible opportunity, filled streets and roadways to honor the 40th president. People stood in lines for 5-6 hours around the clock for a mere moment or two in which to pass by the flag-draped casket and quietly pay their respects. Over 100,000 viewed the casket in the Reagan Library in California; over 200,000 including scores of foreign dignitaries passed by the casket in the Rotunda in Washington. Crowds along the procession routes in Washington were stacked 15-20 deep.
It was simply an enormous public outpouring of love and respect for Ronald Wilson Reagan. No one expected it. Certainly not Nancy Reagan, who also won the hearts of Americans last week. God bless her for her enduring care for the 40th president through a tiring illness.
The execution of the week’s many events was a magnificent piece of statecraft. Every event was almost perfectly on time and executed flawlessly. When you consider that numerous events occurred in California, then in Washington and then back to California, it was amazingly well organized.
It is well known that presidential funerals are planned preliminarily before the sitting president leaves office. It is also true that Ronald Reagan’s funeral was well planned prior to his death. Yet President Reagan died rather suddenly, making it more impressive that his weeklong tribute and funerals went so smoothly and movingly.
One reason that things went so perfectly was that the military was in charge of all of the events. The US military has great love and respect for Ronald Reagan. It was reported that all branches of the service were overwhelmed with volunteers to serve in the events for their former Commander-In-Chief.
Moving & Historic Eulogies
Words cannot describe the powerful and emotional eulogies delivered by Brian Mulroney, George Bush, Sr., Margaret Thatcher and President Bush in the National Cathedral. Lady Thatcher poignantly cemented Ronald Reagan’s legacy with her powerful and eloquent tribute.
“Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; he won the Cold War - not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress and turning them into friends.”
Former President Bush (41) had a touching, emotional revelation in his eulogy which brought tears to his eyes and a lump in his throat (and mine):
“As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.”
President Bush (43) also rose to the occasion and delivered perhaps the most powerful message of his lifetime.
“And Ronald Reagan believed in the power of truth in the conduct of world affairs. When he saw evil camped across the horizon he called that evil by its name.
There were no doubters in the prisons and gulags, where dissidents spread the news, tapping to each other in code what the American president had dared to say. There were no doubters in the shipyards and churches and secret labor meetings where brave men and women began to hear the creaking and rumbling of a collapsing empire. And there were no doubters among those who swung hammers at the hated wall, that the first and hardest blow had been struck by President Ronald Reagan.
In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country.”
Americans all across the country, in addition to millions around the world saw and heard these moving eulogies last Friday on the National Day Of Mourning. If you were not able to hear them, the transcripts are available several places online (one is www.realclearpolitics.com
, one of my favorite websites).
It was reported that former President Bill Clinton questioned why he was not invited to speak at the National Funeral. Former Congressman John LeBoutillier, who had friends close to the Reagan White House, said it indeed was Nancy Reagan’s adamant wish that Bill Clinton not speak at her late husband’s funeral. LeBoutillier said a source very close to Mrs. Reagan told him that Nancy ‘feels that President Clinton stained the image of the Oval Office.’
Baroness Thatcher “Curtsied” To Reagan Coffin
Margaret Thatcher shocked (and angered) many in Britain when she paid her respects to President Reagan at the Rotunda in Washington. After standing at the flag-draped coffin for several minutes, she backed away and curtsied to the former president. In the United Kingdom, the curtsy is reserved only for royalty – Kings or Queens, specifically.
Yet she did so without hesitation. In fact, as she left the Rotunda, a reporter asked her why she had curtsied to the dead American president. To that she is said to have replied: “I should think it would have been obvious.”
It should also be noted that Margaret Thatcher traveled to America to honor Ronald Reagan against the advice of her doctors. Her health has been in decline due to a series of strokes. Yet despite the doctors, she was not going to miss Reagan’s funeral.
It was reported that she believed that Reagan’s funeral was one of the last important occasions in her public life. So important that over two years ago, with Reagan’s health failing, she purchased a black dress for the occasion. During her travels since then, she took the dress with her, just in case Reagan passed and she had no time to return to London.
After the national funeral, she even flew back to California to be with Nancy and the family for the burial. Baroness Thatcher was the only world leader to attend both the funeral and burial service.
Did Reagan Win The Cold War?
Margaret Thatcher has said on more than one occasion that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. Many in the media, on the other hand, do not give Reagan credit for the fall of the “Evil Empire.” The alternative explanation holds that the Soviet Union simply collapsed, falling in on itself because of economic stagnation, imperial overreach - that is, an empire that had grown so big the Soviets could no longer afford it - and the rise of a generation that failed to share the communist faith of its parents and grandparents.
Ronald Reagan, they argue, had little or nothing to do with it.
The Soviet Union certainly did suffer from economic stagnation. But its economy had been growing feebly since at least the early '70s. What changed during the '80s wasn’t so much the Soviet economy as it was the economy of the US, which responded to the policies of Mr. Reagan by growing dramatically.
Imperial overreach? True enough, the Soviets found themselves stuck with an empire they could no longer afford. Yet by rebuilding our military, Reagan forced the Soviets to spend more on theirs. He compelled the Soviets and their proxies to engage in long, expensive wars of attrition merely to cling to territory they’d already come to think of as their own. By supporting the dissident movement in Eastern Europe and providing funding and equipment to Solidarity, Reagan transformed the Warsaw Pact from an asset into a liability for the Soviets.
And by launching the Strategic Defense Initiative, he had confronted the Soviets with the need to make massive new investments in their nuclear arsenal. Henry Kissinger once said:
“We didn't have to build a complete version of SDI to make their calculations difficult. If the Soviets no longer knew how many missiles would get through, then they might have had to launch hundreds more to have had a chance of success. You can see why SDI had them so rattled."
Bottom line: The Soviet case of imperial overreach came courtesy of Ronald Reagan.
When Gorbachev Blinked
George Shultz was Secretary of State in 1985 when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time. In an editorial on Sunday, Shultz revealed the details of that meeting:
“I remember the Geneva summit meeting in 1985, when he met Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time. The two were scheduled to talk about the full range of issues confronting the United States and the Soviet Union. On the second morning, the subject was strategic nuclear arms. Donald Regan, Bud McFarlane, Paul Nitze, Roz Ridgway and Arthur Hartman joined the president and me on our side of the table, facing our Soviet counterparts.
Suddenly Gorbachev began to harangue us about the Strategic Defense Initiative, our plans for missile defense [SDI]. President Reagan exploded. The two leaders went back and forth, interrupting each other and expressing their views with vehemence.
Then Reagan got the floor. He spoke passionately about how much better the world would be if we were able to defend ourselves against nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. He was intense as he expressed his abhorrence at having to rely on the ability to ‘wipe each other out’ as the only means of keeping the peace.
‘We must do better, and we can,’ Reagan declared.
The depth of the president’s belief in missile defense was vividly apparent. Reagan was talking from the inside out and, with simultaneous translation, Gorbachev could connect what Reagan was saying with his facial expressions and body language.
When the president finished, there was total silence. After what seemed an interminable time, Gorbachev spoke.
‘Mr. President, I don't agree with you,’ he said, ‘but I can see that you really mean what you say.’
Reagan had made an immense impression on Gorbachev, who must have realized that he could not talk, con, bully or in any other way manipulate the president into dropping his missile-defense [SDI] research program. Reagan had personally nailed into place an essential plank in our negotiating platform.”
And yet Reagan had little or nothing to do with winning the Cold War?
Reagan Said “NYET” (NO) In Reykjavik
The next time Reagan and Gorbachev met in an arms summit, the Soviet leader was in full retreat, and it was a meeting which would cement Reagan’s Cold War legacy for the ages. It was in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 1986. At this meeting, Gorbachev put an unprecedented offer on the table: The Soviets would agree to dismantle substantially all of their nuclear weapons, if the US would do likewise – ANDIF – Reagan would agree to substantially abandon SDI.
Reagan agreed to dismantle the nukes, but he said “NYET” (NO) on abandoning SDI.
In the weeks afterward, the left went crazy over this one! Reagan was lambasted in the media for squandering the greatest opportunity in history for eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. This was the liberals’ greatest confirmation that Reagan was indeed the buffoon and cowboy they had always believed.
But Reagan didn’t believe the Soviets. While he had grown to like Gorbachev personally, he refused to bet US security interests on our ability to confirm, without question, that the Soviets would hold up their end of the bargain. Plus, Ronald Reagan – the supposed dumb cowboy – knew that with SDI in his back pocket, he had the upper hand.
And yet Reagan had little or nothing to do with winning the Cold War? Yeah, right.
Media Reactions To The Weeklong Tribute
If you are a regular reader of this E-Letter, you know that I rarely pass up a chance to beat up on the media. As stated last week, many in the media despised Reagan. I expected there would be widespread attempts by the media to discredit Ronald Reagan. My only question was, would they wait until after he was buried?
There were those who took their shots at Ronald Reagan last week, even before he was laid to rest. They were the usual suspects – Rather, Jennings, Brokaw, etc. and some of the crackpots on the far left. You can read some of their attacks below.
Yet despite these relatively few attacks on Reagan, I was actually proud of the media overall.
I was impressed with the level of respect shown for Ronald Reagan and his accomplishments. I don’t know if most of the media actually believe some of the respectful things they said, or if the enormous national outpouring unduly affected their coverage. Even some devout Reagan haters in the media admitted that he was a kind and decent man.
While I appreciate that, here are a few of the disrespectful attacks.
Dan Rather of CBS was the first out of the blocks among the major networks. On Monday, June 7, he did a story on the “blemishes” of the Reagan legacy, with the inference that Reagan’s policies could have led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Rather asked: “Is or is not America still paying a price for what’s called the Iran/Contra debacle?”
[CBS reporter Bill] Plante answered in the affirmative: “An arms control agreement with the Soviet Union refurbished President Reagan’s image, but US efforts to deal with the tough issues in the Middle East went on hold, helping to set the stage for the first Iraq war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.”
Excuse me, Dan, but I believe the Iran hostage crisis occurred on Jimmy Carter’s watch!
Both Rather and ABC’s Peter Jennings complained on the air on Monday, June 7, that the coverage of the Reagan funerals was overblown. Ted Koppell got into the act during the week as well, complaining about all the talk that Reagan was one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century. Koppell called Reagan a “controversial president” who had “fairly contentious” issues. And let us not leave out NBC’s Tom Brokaw who said: “[The] city shining on a hill does not apply to everyone in America. There are disenfranchised people as well, people of color who were not the beneficiaries of Ronald Reagan's administration.”
Sam Donaldson couldn’t resist getting his jabs in as well: “There were two Ronald Reagans, one a man who was friendly, warm, everybody liked him, he liked people… [But] then there was Ronald Reagan the ideologue.
Donaldson argued,“If you were down on your luck, Reagan would literally give you the shirt off his back, and then he’d sit down in his undershirt and he’d sign legislation throwing your kids off school lunch program, maybe your parents off Social Security, and of course the Welfare Queen off of welfare.”
There were those in the media who complained that Reagan didn’t care about AIDS, with several commenting that Reagan never uttered the word AIDS in public until his second term. Never mind that Reagan spent $5.8 billion on AIDS research.
There were other examples where libs in the media tried to discredit Reagan during the week, but as noted above, I was impressed by the media coverage overall. As it turned out, those who attacked Reagan last week, before he was laid to rest, looked small, calloused and utterly disrespectful.
United Nations’ Staff Party During Funeral
Finally, I cannot help but comment on the United Nations during the week of tribute to Ronald Reagan. Despite President Bush’s declaration of a “National Day Of Mourning” for President Reagan last Friday, the United Nations decided to have business as usual – or sort of.
Last Friday, the day of Reagan’s National Funeral, had previously been scheduled as the annual“UN Staff Day.” The UN’s headquarters in New York City remained open for business and all employees were expected to report for work, said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Staff Day has been set aside by the United Nations to honor its fallen employees. This year’s event was considered especially important in light of the deaths of UN staff members in the attacks on the UN compound in Baghdad last year. A flag raising ceremony was held on Friday in their honor.
Several reports I have read indicate that, in recent years, the UN Staff Day has also become an annual event for parties following the memorial service, including staff ‘talent shows’and other festivities during the course of the day.
The question I must ask is: Would those fallen UN employees have been any less honored if the Staff Day event had been delayed a few days?
One of your host country’s greatest presidents was being laid to rest. But you couldn’t wait?
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN General Assembly President Julian Hunte were among the VIPs at the state funeral for former president Ronald Reagan in Washington.
But the National Day of Mourning didn’t stop the UN in New York from its Staff Day schedule of festivities. So while President Reagan was eulogized in a somber memorial in Washington, UN staffers in NYC were reportedly partying it up.
You didn’t hear about this? No wonder. No one in the media has commented on this, unless I missed it. President Reagan once remarked, “If the UN does not like New York, they are free to move, perhaps to Moscow.”
Amen, President Reagan, but I would take it a big step further: Let’s force the anti-America UN to move somewhere else!
Last week was one of the most emotional and heartwarming events of my adult life. I managed to handle the National Funeral fairly well, but I wept upon watching the family ceremony in California as the sun set on Ronald Reagan’s life late last Friday night. My children had never seen me cry before.
Whatever the media might say, and however the historians may treat him, I believe Ronald Reagan was the greatest president during my lifetime to this point
(I was born in 1952). I loved Ronald Reagan. You may agree or disagree.
Did he have his faults, his weaknesses and his failures? Absolutely. Reagan promised to reduce the size of government. He didn’t. He promised to cut government spending. He didn’t. Even though federal income tax revenues increased significantly – despite his tax cuts - budget deficits grew record large. He could not curtail the tidal wave of government spending and the inherent growth in the size of the federal government, try as he might.
So, does this mean he was a failure, as some in the media would have us believe? NO. Even if you only give him credit, as so many have, for ending the Cold War, then he is still the greatest president in my lifetime.
We can only wonder where the world might be today – or if it would be today - if the nuclear race of the Cold War had continued for another decade or longer, as it well could have. We can only wonder how many more rogue nations would have nukes, sold to them by the Soviets.
Ronald Reagan is unquestionably the father of the modern conservative movement. As I wrote last week, he made a conservative out of me in a single evening in 1975, when I first heard him speak. Even though I am not (and never have been) a member of any political party, Ronald Reagan made politics a big part of my life and career.
Finally, short of the death of both of my parents, I have not had such an emotionally moving week as last week in my lifetime. I will always miss Ronald Reagan. America will too.
History will be very kind to Ronald Reagan, I believe. That remains to be seen, of course. Hopefully, his legacy will lead to the end of “revisionist history,”
which has been a travesty in my opinion. How, you might ask. I do not know how the revisionist historians can fail to record the enormous national outpouring of love and respect we saw last week.
Let’s hope so!
I wish Ronald Reagan eternal peace.
© 2004 Gary D. Halbert