The HyperTexts

Ronald Reagan: Poet and Poetry — a Retrospective, Tribute and Memorial

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

Our troubles break and drench us.
Like spray on the cleaving prow
Of some trim Gloucester schooner.
As it dips in a graceful bow ...
But why does sorrow drench us
When our fellow passes on?
He's just exchanged life's dreary dirge
For an eternal life of song.

— From "Life" by Ronald Reagan, age 17

Isn't it just like Ronald Reagan to question our lack of optimism at his untimely passing?

Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music. —Ronald Reagan (from his high school yearbook)

Was Ronald Reagan a romantic poet at heart? You be the judge, as he recalls a scene from his childhood in his own words:

The best part was that I was allowed to dream.
Many the day I spent deep in a huge rocker
in the mystic atmosphere
of Aunt Emma's living room
with its horsehair-stuffed gargoyles of furniture,
its shawls and antimacassars,
globes of glass over birds and flowers,
books and strange odors;
many the day I remained hidden
in a corner downstairs
in Uncle Jim's jewelry shop
with its curious relics,
faint lights from gold and silver and bronze,
lulled by the erratic ticking of a dozen clocks.

I took the liberty of inserting the line breaks, but if that ain't poetry, there ain't much that is.

It seems likely that Reagan's first public performance was a reading at the age of nine, of a piece entitled "About Mother," before the Tampico, Illinois Church of Christ congregation in early May, 1920.

What many of us have forgotten, or probably didn't know to begin with, is that Ronald Reagan was a prodigious writer. Edmund Morris tells us, "Until he became president, he took pride in being the author of most of his speeches." Michael Barone says "Reagan was a voracious reader, a persuasive logician, and a graceful writer." George Shulz, who "logged many hours with Ronald Reagan," says, "I remember his intense interest and fondness for the spoken word ... Somehow he always seemed to know what to say." And the person who knew him best, Nancy Reagan, tells us, "He was always sitting at his desk in the White House, writing." and "He worked a lot at home; I can see him sitting at his desk writing, which he seemed to do all the time." David Fischer, Reagan's executive assistant in 1978 and 1979, remembers, "The minute the meal service was done, he'd whip out the legal pad and start writing."

But he was more than a writer; he was a man of words and a man of action. Whatever one thinks of Ronald Reagan the politician, it's hard (nigh impossible) not to admire Ronald Reagan the man. I happen to be an admirer of both the president and the man, but especially of the man as a leader of men, apart from his policies and politics. Who will ever agree on the "correct" degree of taxation, on the "proper" size of government, or on the "reasonable" prices of stealth bombers and their almost-as-expensive coffee pots? If any president is judged on the near-term success of his policies, he is likely to be misjudged. Lincoln's policies helped lead to the Civil War, but it seems the Civil War was required to end slavery. And who knew in the 1930s that Social Security would survive to this day—indeed, would come to be thought of as indispensable by many—at a time when Herbert Hoover and other notables were hissing accusations of "socialism," and while many other New Deal programs were dying a-borning? Yet one might have correctly postulated greatness for FDR, simply because of his character, his leadership, his words. In the same way, a near-term evaluation of Reagan should begin with an examination of his character, his leadership, his words. Only future generations will be able to say whether his policies led us down the road to riches, ruin or Armageddon. And on a personal note, as a poet and a lover of "things poetic," I am particularly interested in looking at Reagan as a writer . . .

"Reagan's eloquence in framing the American moment stands as perhaps his greatest legacy ... He asked a nation to find within itself the greatness he considered its birthright, and he sought to make us equal to the task by reminding us of our collective heritage. Reagan was the Great Communicator, yes, but he was also a master at communicating greatness. He understood that, as he once put it, 'History is a ribbon always unfurling' and managed to convey his vision in terms both simple and poetic." — Dan Rather

Reagan's Courage Under Fire

Excerpt: When Reagan arrived at George Washington University Hospital with a bullet lodged in his chest, Secret Service agents tried to help him out of his limousine; Reagan waved them off. Slowly, the president climbed out of the car, hitched up his pants, buttoned his suit jacket, and walked stiffly through the hospital doors. Inside, he collapsed to one knee. It was only then, in private, that he allowed the agents to help him. "He believed it was part of the role of the president of the United States to show strength and confidence to the American people," recalls former White House media adviser Michael Deaver. "You never saw weakness." — U. S. News & World Report, June 21, 2004, as reported by Kenneth T. Walsh

Reagan's Legacy

Was Reagan a great president, a good president, a mediocre president, or a bad president? History will, of course, offer us a smorgasbord of super-sized opinions: some tasteful, some tasteless, some distasteful. The people speak today, in a voice of near-unanimous acclaim. They may well change their minds, and their tune, tomorrow. The press giveth and the press taketh away; biased be the name of the corps! But some things do not change: it has been said that God works in mysterious ways, and there are every now and again, at opportune moments in time, great men who accomplish great things mysteriously: always despite their circumstances, often, it seems, despite themselves. Edmund Morris, one of Reagan's biographers, found Reagan so difficult to "explain" that he ended up "explaining him away," albeit not very successfully, with the result that his book Dutch is surely one of the strangest biographies ever penned or panned (I'm thinking here of fool's gold). I'd rather mine for real gold: exploring, in a perhaps haphazard but certainly determined way, the bright interior mystery of Ronald Reagan, the man . . .

Millions have gone before us,
And millions will come behind,
So why do we curse and fight,
At a fate both wise and kind?

— From "Life" by Ronald Reagan

Reagan the Poet

Excerpt: He knew better than any president since John F. Kennedy how "to spin that poetry," says Stephen F. Knott, who oversees the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project at the University of Virginia. Knott believes Reagan's words may be his most enduring legacy. In his view, their power places him in the rhetorical company of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and JFK. Reagan didn't mean only to soothe, but to stir a nation, even a world, to action. His blunt and direct challenges to the Soviet Union and his unflinching rhetoric about the menace of communism inspired dissidents behind the Iron Curtain and helped set in motion the end of the Cold War. Yet optimism underscored even his harshest language. The 40th president had a gift for expressing the American mind. Not only when leading the nation in mourning or honoring the sacrifice of soldiers, but when he spoke about that "shining city on the hill." Long before he came to Washington, Reagan saw America as a special nation, and Americans as a chosen people. "Over time it's the poetry of America that binds us together," says Knott. Americans, he explains, remember Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people," not his prisoner exchange policies. They remember FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," not his creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reagan quotes competing for that rarefied place in memory include "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and his declaration that "the march of freedom and democracy ... will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history." His poetic tribute to the Challenger astronauts is also remembered for the lines from John G. Magee's "High Flight." Reagan spoke of the astronauts who "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" to "touch the face of God." For Reagan, perseverance and sacrifice were always in the name of a higher cause — and that cause was freedom. At Arlington National Cemetery on May 28, 1984, he honored an unknown soldier of the Vietnam War, saying, "We can be worthy of ... their courage in the face of a fear that few of us will ever experience." His voice broke when, speaking for "a grateful nation," he added a prayer that "God cradle you in His loving arms." At Bergen-Belsen on May 5, 1985, he invoked the memory of Anne Frank, saying that not even the Nazi death camps could extinguish the spirit of freedom: "Out of the ashes, hope, and from the pain, promise." At Normandy the year before, on June 6, he conjured "the cries of men" and "air dense with smoke," as Nazi soldiers threw grenades over the cliffs. Then came the redemption: "And the American Rangers began to climb." The speech that epitomizes the Reagan style is the one he gave at the Jan. 31, 1986, Houston memorial service for "our seven star voyagers." He went from "the strength to bear our sorrow" to "the courage to look for the seeds of hope" in the first sentence. He said the way the Challenger astronauts had lived their lives — not our eulogies — [was] "their truest testimony." [One might add that the way he lived his life, not his policies, was his truest testimony.] He said they "gave more than was expected or required" and that "we must pick ourselves up again." ... And he was a prolific writer — not just of letters, but of his own speeches. "His (White House) speechwriters will tell you that he was a terrific editor," says Knott. Take his provocative "evil empire" speech. "Reagan hacked that thing to pieces," Knott says. "He really knew what he wanted to say." — as reported by Delia M. Rios, Newhouse News Service, June 11, 2004

Reagan's Optimism

As I begin to pen this essay and assay, it is June 13, 2004 and Ronald Reagan's body has just been transported from Washington to California to be laid to rest. We have—many of us—been transported along with him. Why? And why does a poem he wrote as a teenager seem to speak to us prophetically and understandingly from beyond the grave, telling us that he's earned "a life of eternal song," and that the fate planned for him by his loving God is "both wise and kind"?

I wonder what it's all about, and why
We suffer so, when little things go wrong?
We make our life a struggle,
When life should be a song.

— From "Life" by Ronald Reagan

Why did the office that weighs on, crushes and ages ordinary men have Reagan kicking up his feisty heels, as testified by the "Putting on the Ritz" photograph to follow? What was it about Reagan that made him seemingly impervious to criticism? Was it mere shallow insensitivity, or was it deep abiding faith? I'd like to explore the mystery and enigma of Ronald Reagan primarily through his own often-poetic words and through what others have said and written about him. All italicized quotations hereafter are those of Ronald Reagan, unless otherwise attributed.

What is the inborn human trait
That frowns on a life of song?
That makes us weep at the journey's end,
When the journey was oft-times wrong?

— From "Life" by Ronald Reagan

"Life" was published in Reagan's high school yearbook in 1928. Since Reagan was born in 1911, the poem was written when he was 17 or younger. Judging by the meter and rhyme of the poem, it was not his first attempt. There are reports that Reagan wrote poetry somewhat (or perhaps quite) prolifically: John Omicinski of The Detroit News reported on August 20, 1999 that Reagan biographer Edmund Morris "told an audience at American Enterprise Institute last year that he tore up chunks of the book [Dutch] and rewrote them when he learned of a secret stash of poems Reagan had been writing since college." Unsurprisingly, the unfailingly self-promoting Morris seems to have seen it better to gift the world with his poetry than with Reagan's, appendixing three of his poems to the epilogue of Dutch. The erudite (translation: "big-headed, small-minded") Morris concludes the silliest and stupidest of biographies with the frilliest and densest of poems: "These leaves your lips will sink as rot they must / Too logged at length to ride the up and down / Of us who mingling mixed our brackish beads / And bore you up, and washed you of your dust. / Yet still you leech your steeps of green and brown / Your resins rinse, your cold carotene bleeds ..." It seems odd that Morris incessantly and whiningly complains about Reagan's impenetrability, only to conclude his book with poems like this monstrosity of unintelligibility!

To further illustrate the chasm between biographer and subject, "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee Jr., was a favorite poem of Reagan's, according to Peggy Noonan, one of his speechwriters:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Interestingly, Magee was also a teenage poet when he wrote "High Flight." Magee died in his Spitfire on December 11, 1941 at the age of 19, just a few weeks after penning the poem. He was born in Shanghai, China in 1922, the son of missionary parents; his father was Scotch-Irish-American, his mother English. He earned a scholarship to Yale in 1939, but in September 1940 he dropped out of college and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941, where he flew sorties in defense of England and fighter sweeps over France, rising to the rank of pilot officer. "High Flight" was written on the back of a letter to his parents which stated, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." After Magee's death, the sonnet came to the attention of the Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, who included it in an exhibition of poems called "Faith and Freedom" in February 1942. The poem subsequently was widely copied and distributed. MacLeish acclaimed Magee as the first poet of the war. "High Flight" came to be knows as "the pilot's creed." The first and last lines of the poem constitute the epitaph on Magee's gravestone:

        Oh! I have slipped
    The surly bonds of earth
         Put out my hand
And touched the face of God.

Reagan was present the night fellow actor Tyrone Power recited "High Flight" from memory at a party after his return from fighting in World War II. Later, the poem was read over Power's grave by Laurence Olivier. The day of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, Reagan concluded a message addressed to the nation with: We shall never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their mission, waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.

Reagan's Poetic Prose

The young Ronald Reagan was capable of precise, poetic prose, for instance describing a canoeist's impression of the wind: It bends the trees on either shore like a hand pulled across the bristles of a hairbrush ... Oily rollers appear; swifter, higher, higher they climb,—white crests break at the peak of each swell ...

At his farewell address he still spoke with precise, passionate eloquence: I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow; they came from the heart of a great nation.

Reagan's Personality

"... in the end what chiefly survives, or should survive, of any Chief Executive is the quality of his personality. Presidents, whatever their political symbolism, represent the national character of their era, and if we do not understand our leaders as people, we can never understand ourselves as Americans." — Edmund Morris, Dutch

I would encourage readers who are not fans of Reagan's politics and policies to look back at his life and legacy now as we look back at the lives and legacies of poets, writers and philosophers whose accomplishments we admire. Do we shun Pound's poems because of his politics? Regan's poem was his life, not his politics. I would second the suggestion of Peter Robinson, the author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, to "ask not about Reagan's policies, but about his interior life." Reagan's legacy is not the size of the United States budget deficits or its welfare rolls. Reagan's legacy is a testament written through his indomitable, generous spirit on many lives all around the world. Many of us are better people today because of who Ronald Reagan was when the world needed him so desperately: needed him to break like the sun through long years of fog and gloom. Yes, I wish Reagan had done more to protect the environment, to recognize the human rights of Palestinians (which could have prevented 9-11), and I think his tax cuts could have been doled out more equitably. But I remember the fog, gloom and defeatism that immediately preceded his presidency. And I remember full well all the naysayers who mocked and ridiculed him for having the audacity to suggest cutting taxes. I remember how easily he shrugged off insistent reporters and shrill ultraliberal intellectuals like so many midges, as though he were a bemuscled logger ready to go about felling a redwood. And fell it he did, despite being shot 70 days into his presidency and losing half his blood at age 70, despite two cancer operations, despite the incessant harping of numerous detractors, and despite the possible early onset of Alzheimer's disease. Reagan was not so much a president of politics and policies as he was a living inspiration and a human beacon-call to inspired action.

Reagan's "Crossing the Bar"

Patti Davis remembers her father: Many years ago, my father decided to write down his reflections about death, specifically his own, and how he would want people to feel about it. He chose to write down the first verse of an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, "Crossing the Bar," and then he decided to add a couple lines of his own. I don't think Tennyson will mind. In fact, they've probably already discussed it by now. Tennyson wrote:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

My father added:

We have God's promise
that I have gone on to a better world,
where there is no pain or sorrow.
Bring comfort to those who may mourn my going.

Reagan's Eulogy

Ronald Prescott Reagan's eulogy for his father is without a doubt a poem:

Humble as he was, he never would have assumed a free pass to heaven.
But in his heart of hearts, I suspect he felt he would be welcome there.
And so he is home. He is free.
Those of us who knew him well will have no trouble imagining his paradise.
Golden fields will spread beneath a blue dome of a western sky.
Live oaks will shadow the rolling hillsides.
And someplace, flowing from years long past,
a river will wind toward the sea.
Across those fields, he will ride a gray mare he calls Nancy D.
They will sail over jumps he has built with his own hands.
He will, at the river, carry him over the shining stones.
He will rest in the shade of the trees.
Our cares are no longer his. We meet him now only in memory.
But we will join him soon enough. All of us.
When we are home. When we are free.

Reagan's Irish Travels

In his travels through Ireland, Ronald Reagan once took note of a graveside epitaph at Castlereagh, the place where St. Patrick was said to have erected the first cross in Ireland:

Remember me as you pass by,
For as you are so once was I,
and as I am you soon will be,
So be content to follow me.

Who better than Reagan to put an amusing spin on such a dolorous epitaph? At a St. Patrick's day party at Pat Troy's Irish Pub in 1988, having "enjoyed a pint of Harp and some corned beef and cabbage," Reagan recited the lines above, then, after pausing for dramatic effect, continued, "I looked below the inscription, where someone had scratched in these words:"

To follow you I am content,
I wish I knew which way you went.

In full appreciation of the man Reagan was, I am likewise in full agreement with the words of Tom Purcell, an onlooker at that party:

To follow you we were intent,
and damn thankful for the way we went.

Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way.

Ronald Reagan "putting" on the Ritz

A man of rare good humor, Ronald Reagan knew how to have fun, and he was famously quick with a quip (we know that the first two quotes below, at least, were not rehearsed):

After Hinckley shot him, Reagan mock-pled to the George Washington Hospital trauma team, Please tell me you're all Republicans. The head of the team, Dr. Joseph Giordano, a liberal Democrat, reassured him, "We're all Republicans today."

His first words to Nancy after having been shot were: Honey, I forgot to duck!

I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.

I did turn 75 today — but remember, that's only 24 Celsius.

After Reagan had endured a particularly tough photo-op with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who took the opportunity to roundly criticize the Reagan administration's South Africa policies), the media asked how things went. Reagan responded: Tutu? So-So.

I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.

I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience. — Reagan's response after being asked if he felt his age would be an issue, during a 1984 presidential debate with the much younger Walter Mondale

Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.

When you see all that rhetorical smoke billowing up from the Democrats, well, ladies and gentleman, I'd follow the example of their nominee: don't inhale. — Speaking of Bill Clinton in 1992

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.

Reagan, the notoriously good and frequent napper: I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting.

In the same vein, he told a visitor to the Oval Office: Some day, people will say Ronald Reagan slept here.

Reagan could zing a chiasmus with the best of 'em: The difference between them [Democrats] and us [Republicans] is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.

It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?

How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.

Reagan told a story about an old Russian woman who asked Mikhail Gorbachev whether communism had been invented by a scientist or a politician. Gorbachev said he thought it was a politician. "That explains it," said the woman, "a scientist would have tried it on mice first."

Detente — isn't that what a farmer has with his turkey — until Thanksgiving?

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

I've always thought that the common sense and wisdom of the government were summed up in a sign they used to have hanging on that gigantic Hoover Dam. It said, "Government property. Do not remove."

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.

There are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified "top secret."

When I was a little boy, my father proudly told me that the Irish built the jails in this country, then proceeded to fill them.

Ahead of his TIME? Reagan once told members of the media: Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.

I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.

Reagan's love of levity sometimes went a bit too far. With the world still in a Cold War deep freeze, August 11, 1984, during a radio microphone test, he jested: My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.


While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.

Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.

We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.

Eulogies from Around the Globe

Nancy Reagan: "I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie. He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone."

Ronald Prescott Reagan: "History will record his worth as a leader. We here have long since measured his worth as a man. Honest, compassionate, graceful, brave. He was the most plainly decent man you could ever hope to meet."

Michael Edward Reagan: "At the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, my father and I would tell each other we loved each other and we would give each other a hug. As the years went by and he could no longer verbalize my name, he recognized me as the man who hugged him. So when I would walk into the house, he would be there in his chair opening up his arms for that hug hello and the hug goodbye. It was a blessing truly brought on by God. We had wonderful blessings of that nature. Wonderful, wonderful blessings that my father gave to me each and every day of my life. I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son. What a great honor."

Patti Davis: "He was the one who generously offered funeral services for my goldfish on the morning of its demise. We went out into the garden and we dug a tiny grave with a teaspoon and he took two twigs and lashed them together with twine and formed a cross as a marker for the grave. And then he gave a beautiful eulogy. He told me that my fish was swimming in the clear blue waters in heaven and he would never tire and he would never get hungry and he would never be in any danger and he could swim as far and wide as he wanted and he never had to stop, because the river went on forever. He was free. When we went back inside and I looked at my remaining goldfish in their aquarium with their pink plastic castle and their colored rocks, I suggested that perhaps we should kill the others so they could also go to that clear blue river and be free. He then took more time out of his morning — I'm sure he actually did have other things to do that day — and patiently explained to me that in God's time, the other fish would go there, as well. In God's time, we would all be taken home. And even though it sometimes seemed a mystery, we were just asked to trust that God's time was right and wise."

Jimmy Carter: "This is a sad day for our country. I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner president Reagan was. It was because of him that I was retired from my last job."

Helmut Kohl: "His consistent championing of freedom contributed decisively to overcoming the division of Europe and Germany. We Germans have much to thank Ronald Reagan for."

Mikhail Gorbachev: "I take the death of Ronald Reagan very hard. He was a man whom fate set by me in perhaps the most difficult years at the end of the 20th century. He has already entered history as a man who was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War. To use the terminology of those years, he was a hawk. Nevertheless, that hawk loved life. He was a man who respected traditions, and I think he was concerned about how he would be remembered in history. It was his goal and his dream to end his term and enter history as a peacemaker."

George W. Bush: "Ronald Reagan had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save."

Maggie Thatcher: "Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the cold war for liberty. To have achieved so much, against such odds, and with such humour and humanity, made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero."

Ed Koch: "Of the three [Reagan, JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.], I think Ronald Reagan is clearly the most beloved. His support crosses party lines, notwithstanding the fact that our country is nearly split down the middle on most issues. Reagan's domestic policies were, in the opinion of many, exceedingly conservative. But he had charm and character, and all negatives resulting from policies are trumped by those rare virtues."

Maggie Thatcher: "Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than his large-hearted magnanimity — and nothing more American."

Jacques Chirac: "[Reagan was] a great statesman who through the strength of his convictions and his commitment to democracy will leave a deep mark in history."

George H. W. Bush: "Ronnie stayed with his principles, which is very important, and he proved to be a strong leader for what he believed. But secondly there were the human qualities of decency and kindness, a wonderful sense of humor. All of these things added up to the fact that even if he disagreed with a person, that person would not become a political enemy; he conducted himself in a very civil manner."

Bill Clinton: "Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people, and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere."

John Kerry: "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious. Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate ... Today in the face of new challenges, his example reminds us that we must move forward with optimism and resolve. He was our oldest president, but he made America young again."

Former Soviet dissident Natan Scharansky: "My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an 'evil empire.' Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan's 'provocation' quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us."

Sydney: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 7, 2004: In 1980, on the eve of an era nobody predicted, the conventional wisdom was that Ronald Reagan was the journeyman, the B-grade actor, the mouthpiece for big business interests who was too old, who read Reader's Digest, and had twice failed to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976. When he tried once more, at the age of 69, he was, for a long time, simply not taken seriously by the media consensus. The view was widely shared in Australia, and to Australian eyes, even in an American context, Reagan did seem remarkably folksy, with a message too simple for a great imperial power. In the sweep of history, who looks myopic now?

Hong Kong: Asia Times, June 7, 2004: For his lonely stand against the forces of barbarism, I rate Winston Churchill the greatest statesman of the 20th century. Ronald Reagan though, arguably was the greater commander in chief. Decisiveness (translating Clausewitz's term Entschlossenheit) depends in turn upon strategic vision. But a commander requires not only vision, but also the intestinal fortitude to endure uncertainty, and the will to force the burden of uncertainty onto his opponent. Borrowing from the language of economics, one might call this a predilection for creative destruction. Whatever his faults, Reagan possessed the great attribute of command … To a generation that has come of age after the fall of the Soviet Empire, it is hard to imagine that the smart money in Europe wagered on Russian dominance when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. I can attest that the closest advisors of French President Francois Mitterand and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt thought NATO would lose the Cold War. So humiliating was the later collapse of the communist regimes that the pundits could argue credibly that it had fallen of its own weight. No such thing happened. Reagan took office at a dark hour for the West, and did things that the elite of Europe had deemed impossible … For now it is enough to say that Ronald Reagan goes to his rest with the gratitude of free people everywhere. — Spengler

Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2004: Like World War II, the Cold War is now viewed retrospectively through American eyes as inevitable, just, and ending in the West's victory. But as Reagan himself pointed out in his farewell address, the policies that he espoused were widely derided as "dangerous" before and during his tenure.

Moscow: Moscow Times, June 11, 2004: Reagan turned the tide [of the Cold War] with his unique approach and interest in the Soviet people. "He really wanted to know how ordinary Russians thought and lived and their aspirations ... He was the first president, I think to understand very clearly the difference between 'Russian' and 'Soviet'." — Simone Kozhuarov

London: The Guardian, June 7, 2004: Ronald Reagan ... gave an always dignified and warm performance, serenely meeting such challenges as increasing deafness, two bouts of cancer, and an assassination attempt one year into his presidency.— Hugh Brogan

Tokyo: The Japan Times, June 7, 2004: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Reagan laid the foundation for the Japan-U.S. alliance. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone mourned him as a great leader and "a friend of Japan ... a great president who led the Cold War against communism to the victory of freedom and democracy." ... "He was a good friend of the Japanese people as he respected Japan and its culture." Koizumi said in a statement: "The foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance that now serves as a driving force to solve international issues with other countries was built during President Reagan's era."

Common Folk Talk

Nan Kester: "He made us proud."

Greg Williams: "He put a face on freedom."

R. B. Henry: "Day by day, he looks like he's in trouble and losing everything, but in the end he seems to get what he wants. I'd say he knows what he wants to do, he believes in it, and quite frankly he's gotten quite a bit done, even though that didn't always appear to be the case."

Beth Vanderkooi: "Ronald Reagan touched all of our lives and reminded us of what we ought to be."

A Man of Humble Beginnings

Both Reagan's father Jack Reagan and his mother Nelle Reagan were buried without headstones.

Jack Reagan was an unsuccessful shoe salesman and alcoholic.

Peering into the tiny Tampico [Illinois] apartment where Reagan entered this life, it is hard to imagine more commonplace beginnings. As we now contemplate his exit from this life, it is hard to find a man who has left a more important legacy. — Brad and Dan Lips

Nelle Reagan "was an active church member who devoted her life to the poor and helpless. She was a regular visitor to local hospitals, mental asylums and the sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers. Every week she would visit the jail, 'where she came equipped with apples, cookies, and her Bible.' ... The apple did not fall far from the tree. Reagan, [Paul] Kengor writes, absorbed his mother's Christianity and practiced tithing as well. He also became an active member of the church and, like his older brother, taught Sunday school. He developed a flair for drama by public readings of the Bible." — Phil Brennan

Reagan said that "lifeguard money paid for half of my college education, and dishwashing the other half." In 1931, a loan application of his showed "savings on hand" of $30 and "earnings during school year" of $175.

A Humble Man, a Modest Man of Means

Lyndon Johnson used to enter a room and rape it. Reagan seems to be in a continual state of receding, a posture that makes strangers lean toward him. In a contest for the same audience, he would draw better than Johnson. — Roger Rosenblatt

A Man of Faith, a Man of God

Weep when we reach the door
That opens to let us in,
And brings to us eternal peace
As it closes again on sin.

— From "Life" by Ronald Wilson Reagan

Faith in God, patriotism, freedom, the love of freedom, family, work, neighborhood — the heart and soul of America's past and the promise of her future. If we stand together and live up to these principles, we will not fail.

I've always believed that this land was set aside in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent between the oceans to be found by a people from every corner of the earth who had a special love of faith, freedom and peace.

"Growing up in a family of both Catholics and Evangelicals, he understood the common purpose these two groups shared. He understood the orthodoxy of both the American Protestant and Roman Catholic churches." — Nelle Reagan

... Those who invoke Nelle's memory (most worshipfully, Dutch himself) speak of her as a saint capable of healing the sick. Family members go so far as to accord her divine powers. "Nelle," they say at times of crisis, "will take care of us." Pieties like these, usually accompanied by a soulful glance upward, frustrate research. — Edmund Morris, the often-perplexed, always out-of-his-element biographer of Dutch

Reagan had a sort of, if I may say, a God's plan theology, where he talked constantly about how God works in every individual's life, God lays out the twists and turns in the road. His mother taught him that this bad thing might happen, but that bad thing is a precursor to brighter skies and a rainbow around the corner and that God lays all of this out. But at the same time, as you heard in the evil empire speech, it was a very clear Christian faith. — Paul Kengor, author, God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life

Whatever happens now, I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can. — Ronald Reagan, writing in his diary after John Hinckley's attempt on his life on March 30, 1981

"Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference." — Ronald Prescott Reagan

Reagan's favorite hymns included "Rock of Ages" and "The Old Rugged Cross." — Edmund Morris, Dutch

In a mysterious sidenote, John Hinckley's brother Scott Hinckley was scheduled to have met Neil Bush, son of (then) Vice President George H. W. Bush, for a dinner date that same evening. What are the odds of that? To make the odds even longer, Scott Hinckley seems to have been invited only as the date of a girl friend of Sharon Bush, Neil Bush's wife. Here's the account as reported by the Associated Press ("Bush Son Had Dinner Plans With Hinckley Brother Before Shooting" — The Associated Press Domestic News, March 31, 1981, Tuesday, PM cycle): The family of the man charged with trying to assassinate President Reagan is acquainted with the family of Vice President George Bush and had made large contributions to his political campaign, the Houston Post reported today. The newspaper said in a copyright story, Scott Hinckley, brother of John W. Hinckley Jr., who allegedly shot Reagan, was to have dined tonight in Denver at the home of Neil Bush, one of the vice president's sons ... On Monday, Neil Bush said he did not know if he had ever met 25-year-old John Hinckley. "I have no idea," he said. "I don't recognize any pictures of him. I just wish I could see a better picture of him. Sharon Bush, Neil's wife, said Scott Hinckley was coming to their house as a date of a girl friend of hers. "I don't even know the brother. From what I know and I've heard, they (the Hinckleys) are a very nice family and have given a lot of money to the Bush campaign. I understand he was just the renegade brother in the family. They must feel awful," she said. The dinner was canceled, she added.

What a long, strange dinner that would have been!

A Man of Realized Dreams

Reagan "had a dream that recurred throughout his life: 'He had always dreamed that he was living in a big white house.'” He told [speechwriter] Peggy Noonan that the dream “just kept coming back … that I was going to live in a sort of mansion with big rooms like this one …” — Phil Brennan

"Reagan believed that he survived the 1981 attempt on his life only by divine intervention. Not only did the bullet Hinckley fired miss Reagan's heart by inches, but also the Devastator bullet Hinckley used inexplicably and miraculously failed to explode. Soon after being shot, Reagan had a vision while lying in his hospital bed. He was startled to see 'figures in white standing around him.' He wasn't sure he was still alive, so he scribbled a note to Nancy: 'I'm alive, aren't I.' He wrote during his recuperation, 'Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him every way I can.' Interestingly, Mother Teresa believed Reagan's survival had a higher purpose. She told him privately that there was 'a purpose to this.' She said the attack had helped him to 'understand the suffering and pain of the world.'” — Phil Brennan

On November 3, 1980, a double-rainbow crested over Main Street in Tampico, Illinois, where Ronald Reagan was born. The next day, Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States. The Israelites entered the promised land after spending 40 years in the wilderness. "When we saw the double rainbows, we knew he had it won," explains Amy McElhiney, who, with her husband Lloyd, manages the Reagan Birthplace Museum. — related by Brad Lips and Dan Lips

As related in Dutch by Edmund Morris, the double rainbow appeared, seemingly prophetically, over Reagan's birthplace: "Two arcs of colored light shafted out of a dark sky onto the Birthplace's roof, pointing precisely at the spot where Nelle had labored so long to bring him forth. An amateur photographer caught the effect and sent a print to the President-elect. Dutch delightedly pasted it into a scrapbook he keeps of his youth. On November 3, 1980, he wrote in his careful, crabbed hand, this double rainbow appeared in Tampico, Ill. The rainbow appears to end on top of the First National Bank, where Ronald Reagan was born. The next day Mr. Reagan was elected Pres. of the U.S.A. "

Excerpt: The afternoon sunlight was dimming, thrusting the spacious living room into browns and golds. It was that magic moment peculiar to the fall of the year, whether in California or Maine, when it is neither day nor dusk. Childhood memories are often filled with Sunday afternoons like that, memories of a special day. Seven sharply different people drifted into that moment on this Sunday afternoon in October, 1970, stepping almost aimlessly toward the foyer of a stately Tudor home in Sacramento. They were talking rather softly, but running over one another's words as they edged toward the entrance. One moved in front, then hesitated, looking back at the rest. That was Herbert E. Ellingwood. He was, in a fashion, herding four of the others, who were obviously visitors. He was just a whisper out of rhythm with them—not awkward, perhaps tentative. They were getting ready to say good-bye and that heightened everyone's uncertainty. Ronald Reagan was smiling and nodding as he turned his head toward Pat Boone, whose smile caused his entire face to glisten. Nancy Reagan watched the two of them momentarily, the barest trace of a smile on her lips, and then she whispered two or three words to Shirley Boone. Two rather short men, Harald Bredesen and George Otis, moved toward Ronald Reagan and Boone. Both were silent, and Bredesen seemed to be studying the floor. Suddenly, everyone stopped. In the split-second of stillness, they looked at one another. Then one of the men—Boone or Bredesen—said, "Governor, would you mind if we prayed a moment with you and Mrs. Reagan?"

"We'd appreciate that." Reagan's face remained bright and pleasant, but eased ever so slightly toward seriousness. It was hard to tell who moved first, probably Boone, but in a sort of chain reaction, the seven took hold of each other's hands and made an uneven circle. For an instant, they were like little children, each looking first to the right and down at one set of hands and then left to the other. Only Boone seemed thoroughly at ease, but long friendship had broken all barriers between him and all those there, including the Reagans, their hosts. He had a happy smile on his face. Otis and Bredesen were obviously tense. Nancy's expression was quizzical, but relaxed. All seven closed their eyes. Reagan bowed his head sharply; Nancy's remained fairly level. The others tilted theirs a bit. Otis, standing to Reagan's left, remembered the few seconds of awkward silence that followed. "It was a little tense," he said, "a bit embarrassing. We didn't know how they felt about doing that, you know. Suddenly we realized we might be a little presumptuous." And that's the way they stood, holding hands, eyes closed. Otis thought the seconds seemed like minutes. He cleared his throat, and began to pray, "Lord, we thank you for the chance to be here together ..." It was very general, the kind of prayer offered at large and small gatherings all across the land. It was so ordinary that no one remembered much of it. "I was just sort of praying from the head," Otis said. "I was saying those things you'd expect—you know, thanking the Lord for the Reagans, their hospitality, and that sort of thing." That went on for ten or fifteen seconds, and then it changed. "Everything shifted from my head to the spirit—the Spirit," Otis recalled. "The Holy Spirit came upon me and I knew it. In fact, I was embarrassed. There was this pulsing in my arm. And my hand—the one holding Governor Reagan's hand—was shaking. I didn't know what to do. I just didn't want this thing to be happening. I can remember that even as I was speaking, I was working, you know, tensing my muscles and concentrating, and doing everything I could to stop that shaking. "It wasn't a wild swinging or anything like that. But it was a definite, pulsing shaking. And I made a great physical effort to stop it—but I couldn't." As this was going on, the content of Otis' prayer changed completely. His voice remained essentially the same, although the words came much more steadily and intently. They spoke specifically to Ronald Reagan and referred to him as "My son." They recognized his role as leader of the state that was indeed the size of many nations. His "labor" was described as "pleasing." The foyer was absolutely still and silent. The only sound was George's voice. Everyone's eyes were closed. "If you walk uprightly before Me, you will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." The words ended. The silence held for three or four seconds. Eyes began to open, and the seven rather sheepishly let go of hands. Reagan took a deep breath and turned and looked into Otis' face. All he said was a very audible "Well!" It was almost as though he were exhaling. Otis was struck by the calm expression on Reagan's face. "I was really concerned about how he might have taken it all," George remembered. "But the expression on his face was kind, wholesome—a receptive look, you know. It was not gushy or sentimental or any of that. He just said, 'Well,' and that was that ...

Small talk followed, and the visitors soon rose to leave—Pat Boone, singer, entertainer, celebrity, outspoken Christian; his wife; Harald Bredesen, former pastor, television interviewer, and minister to world leaders; George Otis of High Adventure Ministries, later founder of TV and radio stations in the Middle East. It was a strange assortment of people. It had been a rather strange afternoon.

Questioned later, Otis was particularly struck by the fact that his prayer-turned-prophecy had been so precise about Reagan's future. "God had a plan," he said, "but it was conditional. It hinged on Reagan's actions." Most emphatically, he was dismayed about the shaking of his hand during the prayer, concerned that Reagan might have thought him eccentric. But his amazement was increased when he later learned from Ellingwood, who had been on the right side of Reagan, that the governor's other hand had been shaking similarly to Otis's. Ellingwood himself recalled years later that he somehow felt a "bolt of electricity" as he clasped Reagan's hand. "I can only think that the prophecy was being authenticated to the governor," Otis said. Pressed as to his opinion of Governor Reagan that day, he said: "Well, as you may know, I've always liked the man. I thought he was great. But, remember, there wasn't a lot of talk about his being president at that time. I sure hadn't talked about it—certainly not up to the time of that word there in his house." Bredesen, some time later, recalled that he had been much impressed by Reagan's relaxed, boyish appearance and by his friendliness. And he had found the governor's knowledge of the Bible to be deeper than he expected ... — from Bob Slosser's Reagan Inside Out:

Related by singer Pat Boone to Jon E. Dougherty in relation to the incident described above: Otis had Reagan's hand when he "suddenly broke in and began to speak prophetically," Boone recalled. "He uttered, 'My son, I am pleased with you. ... If you continue to walk upright before me, you will live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.'" ... "We were all stunned," Boone said ... "It did seem to all of us that George was not simply speaking from own consciousness but that he was actually delivering a prophetic word. It was so specific." Some years later, the prophecy came true; Reagan defeated incumbent president Jimmy Carter. On that night, Boone said, he called the newly elected president to congratulate him and ask if he remembered Otis' words. "'Of course I do,'" Boone recalled Reagan saying.

As the high school art director of the Dixonian, Reagan laid out the volume "in the style of a silent-movie storyboard. The various sections were given such titles cards as 'Directors,' 'Cast,' 'Stage," and 'Filming.' Even more remarkably, he had illustrated each of these cards with silhouette drawings of himself as an authority figure. Reels of transparent film roll through his masterful hands. He calls orders through a megaphone. He sits behind his desk, solitary and darkly directorial. To this day, when I show this last silhouette to veterans of Ronald Reagan's White House, they gasp with recognition. The resemblance to the man in the Oval Office is almost occult. 'He drew it," I tell them, "when he was sixteen." — Edmund Morris, Dutch

Related by Patti Davis in her eulogy for her father: I don't know why Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father — sorry — before releasing him into the arms of death, but I know that at his last moment, when he opened his eyes, eyes that had not opened for many, many days and looked at my mother, he showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love.

Excerpt: Ms. [Patti] Davis revealed earlier this year that her father, crippled by Alzheimer's disease for ten years, had not been able to recognise Mrs Reagan for a number of years. He could no longer talk, walk or feed himself. Despite having had years to prepare for his departure, Ms Davis said the reality was crushing her mother. As the 93-year-old Mr Reagan's health deteriorated sharply last week, the family gathered by his bedside. Ms Davis held her mother as she was “shaking with so much pain you think if you were at the centre of the Earth you could probably feel it”. But in an article to be published later this week, she wrote: “At the last moment, when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that hadn't opened for days did, and they weren't chalky or vague. They were clear and blue and full of love. And they closed with his last breath. If a death can be lovely, his was.” — Times Online

Excerpt: ... as Nancy Reagan publicly showed her heartbreak, details of her final private moment with the love of her life were revealed last night as one of deep sorrow and miraculous surprise. The former First Lady believes her long-suffering husband recognized her when he stared into her eyes for an instant before taking his last breath, his daughter Patti Davis writes. "It was the greatest gift he could have given me," the former First Lady told her family. Sobbing, shaking and knowing death was imminent, she held her husband's hand about 1 p.m. Saturday as he inhaled deeply and opened his eyes for the first time in five days. While most thought Alzheimer's disease had robbed former President Reagan of all his memory, the last look he gave his wife was one of deep acknowledgment, Davis writes for People magazine in its upcoming edition ... Davis and her brother Ron were standing next to their father's bed when the astonishing interchange between their parents took place. "In his last moment he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls," Davis writes. "It was the last thing he could do to show my mother how entwined their souls are, and it was everything." The former President died just before Michael Reagan entered his father's room, but he said the look on Nancy Reagan's face revealed she had been given a gift even as she began to mourn her loss. "His last earthly look was at his wife, his next look was at the face of God," Michael Reagan told People. The Reagans' personal physician, Dr. John Hutton, could not rule out the possibility that Ronald Reagan recognized his wife of 52 years just before he died. "Whereas one could not explain it on any medical or physiological terms, I think there must be something to this," Hutton said last night on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." "It's something that if you believe in it, you should take great joy and happiness in your belief," he said, adding that such moments have more to do with "the belief of people and their faith." — Michelle Caruso, Bill Hutchinson and Corky Siemaszko, Daily News, June 8, 2004

There is an section of Dutch that reveals many interesting parallels between a book Ronald Reagan read as a boy and the man he became. The book was That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright. The book had a profound effect on Reagan, who told Edmund Morris that it made him "a practical Christian." The parallels include:

The boy in the book, Dick Falkner, sees his father lying prostrate in a drunken stupor.
As a young boy, Reagan found his own father lying in a cruciform position, passed out drunk in the snow.

Years later, Dick Falkner, "now a tall young man," arrives in a midwestern town.
Ronald Reagan reached manhood—a tall, tanned lifeguard/athlete—in a midwestern town.

For Dick Falkner, "Sun begins to shine down on the misty rooftops, and a new lightness surges in his heart."
Ronald Reagan had lightness of heart and a sunny disposition.

"Dick wanders into a luminescent church."
"Reading That Printer of Udell's was a religious experience for Dutch." He went on to teach Sunday School, and became a deeply moral and spiritual man.

Dick is smitten by Amy Goodrich: "If there is one girl in this world for me ..."
Ronald Reagan was entirely smitten with Nancy Reagan.

Dick "strikers her as amusing, if rather long-winded ... He admits to some showbiz experience."
Reagan was always amusing, gave innumerable speeches, and had "some showbiz experience."

Amy's parents are doubtful, but are reassured: "He may surprise you one day."
Reagan certainly surprised innumerable critics and doubters, and probably Nancy as well.

Dick treats everybody "in the same kindly, courteous manner."
Reagan was deservedly famous for treating everyone in a kindly, courteous manner.

Dick enters the political arena by engaging in welfare reform.
Reagan, of course, engaged in welfare reform.

Dick becomes an activist, undertaking the moral revival of the city.
Reagan undertook the moral revival of the "city on a hill," the United States.

Something about Dick's "handsome bigness and unassuming dignity makes the audience listen with respect."
Sounds like a dead ringer for Reagan!

As Dick talks, "he discovers that he is a natural political orator, with a gift for balanced truisms."
Reagan was the Great Communicator.

Unfortunately, economics was not Dick's strong suit.
Reagan got a "C" in economics at Eureka college, then many dismal grades from many critics of "Reaganomics."

However, a smile "disarms Dick's audience. He hears nothing but admiring applause."
Reagan was a charmer and the "Teflon president."

"Ultimately, Dick's scheme is adopted and becomes a showpiece example of the power of private citizens to solve their own community problems."
The United States economy boomed under Reagan, even as the USSR collapsed.

Dick had a "gift of eloquent address, combined with genial manners."
As did Reagan.

Dick had "a penchant for brown suits."
As did Reagan, famously (or was it infamously?)

All of which made Dick the throb of many feminine hearts.
Reagan once was second only to Errol Flynn in sheer copiousness of fan mail (female fan mail, we presume).

Dick agrees to become a Disciple of Christ.
Reagan and his mother Nelle were devout, active members of the Disciples of Christ church.

The people of the city vote to send Dick to "a field of wider usefulness."
The people of the "city on a hill" did the same for Reagan.

"Our last glimpse shows Dick kneeling in prayer before leaving with his wide-eyed wife for Washington, D.C."
As is detailed elsewhere on this page, many prayers (and even a prophesy or two) steered Ronald Reagan Washington-ward.

Edmund Morris finds many of these parallels coincidental, but I wonder. Just ask yourself: how many of these unlikely elements are likely to converge in a single life: the alcoholic prostration of a father; a sunny disposition shortly thereafter; a luminescent church; a fairytale-like lifelong love affair; showbiz experience combined with social involvement, welfare reform and moral revival; pious public oration; a Teflon smile and demeanor; mediocre economics leading to public acclaim; Disciples of Christ who head off to Washington to save the world; penchants for brown suits. Even Hollywood would not hatch such a plot! But, as I like to say, however unoriginally, perhaps God moves in mysterious ways ...

A Man of Prayer

In telephone calls to the families of servicemen who had died, he would ask if he could lead the family in prayer. — Phil Brennan

There is one thing about campaigning. We talk about how hard it is, but when you go out across the country and meet the people, you can't help but pray and remind God of that passage in 2nd Chronicles [about healing the land], because the people of this country are not beyond redemption. They are good people and I believe this nation has a destiny yet unfulfilled.

Excerpt: Perhaps one of the most powerful such moments [of Reagan's] came on the night he accepted the party nomination at the national convention in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. It was not a graceful moment, but a certain awkwardness in execution often seems to blend into a special Reagan graciousness that translates into persuasiveness. Looking up, and then down, and then back up, he seemed small and even insecure behind the massive convention podium. Then he blurted, "I'll confess that I've been a little afraid to suggest what I'm going to suggest." He paused slightly. "I'm more afraid not to—that we begin our crusade joined together in a moment of silent prayer." He allowed ten seconds or more to pass, although it seemed longer, and he looked up. Everyone was on his side in that moment. "God bless America," he said huskily. — from Reagan Inside Out, by Bob Slosser

When I interviewed Judge William P. Clark [as I was working on my book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, from which this passage is drawn], I found myself wanting to ask not about Reagan's policies but about his interior life. What had Clark, the man who was probably closer to the President than anyone outside the Reagan family, seen in the chief executive that would have been hidden from an ordinary member of the staff such as a speechwriter like me? The private, inner Reagan—what had he been like? ... “He was a man of prayer,” Clark said. Reagan's favorite setting for prayer? The outdoors. “He didn't need a church to pray in,” Clark explained. “He referred to his ranch as an open cathedral with oak trees for walls.” On trail rides, Clark and Reagan would often recite the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi that opens, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” “Sometimes,” Clark said, “the President would look around and say, ‘What a wonderful place for prayer.' And sometimes he'd just look up at the sky and say, ‘Glory to God.'” — Peter Robinson

Prayer also helped Reagan with his fears. One was his fear of flying. For decades he refused to fly and took cars and trains to travel across the country. He overcame that fear through prayer, and began every flight with a silent prayer. His daughter Patti, once seeing him pray before a flight, asked if he was requesting that the plane not crash. "No," Reagan responded, "I pray that whatever God's will is, I'll be able to accept it with grace and have faith in His wisdom.” — Phil Brennan

A Man of Conviction

No arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We're not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.

In 1975, Reagan wrote this in one of his radio commentaries: The leaders of [the WWII generation] saw the growing menace and talked of it but reacted to the growing military might of Germany with anguished passiveness. Will it be said of today's world leaders as it was of the pre-WWII leaders: "They were better at surviving the catastrophe than they were at preventing it"?

Let it be said of us that we, too, did not fail; that we, too, worked together to bring America through difficult times. Let us so conduct ourselves that two centuries from now, another Congress and another President, meeting in this Chamber as we are meeting, will speak of us with pride, saying that we met the test and preserved for them in their day the sacred flame of liberty — this last, best hope of man on Earth.

You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream — the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, "The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits."

It is time, indeed, to do more than just talk of a better world. It is time to act. And we will act when nations cease to try to impose their ways upon others. And we will act when they realize that we, for whom the achievement of freedom has come dear, will do what we must to preserve it from assault.

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

Only when the human spirit can worship, create, and build, only when people are given a personal stake in determining their own destiny and benefiting from their own risks, do societies become prosperous, progressive, dynamic, and free.

A Man of Talent and Accomplishment

Consider this: As a lifeguard in the small town of Dixon, Illinois, Ronald Reagan saved 77 people from drowning in Rock River. As Paul Kengor says, "Saving a drowning victim is not easy under any circumstance, but it was especially difficult in the treacherous Rock River, where the swirling water is so deep and murky that swimming there today has long been banned." Reagan had a number of successful careers by anyone's estimation: lifeguard, scholarship student, radio sportscaster, writer of radio commentaries, acclaimed actor, TV host, syndicated columnist, governor of California twice, president of the United States twice. He didn't become president at the height of his powers, but was the oldest United States president ever elected. Soon thereafter he was shot and almost died. He battled cancer twice while in office, and probably the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. And yet the things he accomplished! Reagan was the poor, myopic son of a nowheresville town drunk, but he did things most men only dream of. — MRB

As a teenager, Reagan was the art director of his high school's newspaper, the Dixonian, and drew well enough to see himself "earning a living as an artist."— Edmund Morris, Dutch

Ronald Reagan was a man who had it all. It is difficult to identify an American who lived a fuller, or greater, life — what he understatedly called "An American Life." In nearly everything he did, Reagan succeeded. When he left his parents' home in 1932, he landed a coveted job in radio. Then came the movies and television, in the heyday of each medium. In the 1930s, when most of America suffered, Reagan soared. By the 1940s, he was one of the top box office draws in Hollywood and received more fan mail than any actor at Warner Brothers except Errol Flynn. His hosting of the number-one rated television show GE Theatre from 1954 to 1962 made him one of the most recognized names in America. Of course, after that, he entered politics and twice won the governorship of the nation's largest state and the presidency of the world's most powerful nation. And I'm certain that his epitaph will be that he was the president who won the Cold War. — Paul Kengor

A Man of Letters

I've been looking through Reagan: A Life in Letters, a book whose publication will no doubt startle a lot of people unaware that Ronald Reagan was the most prolific presidential correspondent of modern times. I'm not talking about the kind of "letter" produced in batch lots by a team of secretaries equipped with autopens, either. Of the 1,100 letters in this 934-page book, some 80% were written by hand, another 15% dictated. The editors had "over 5,000 genuine Reagan letters" to choose from, and they estimate that another 5,000 or so have yet to surface. Put aside for a moment your opinion of Reagan (either way) and think instead about the implications of those numbers. Speaking as a biographer, I can assure you that this is an extraordinarily large number of letters to have been written by any public figure, much less one who wasn't a professional writer—though Reagan, as it happens, spent a number of years writing his own speeches, radio commentaries, and syndicated columns, and would also have been perfectly capable of writing his own memoirs without assistance had he been so inclined. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other 20th-century president who left behind so large a body of informal writing, and few who wrote as much in any medium. Theodore Roosevelt, probably Nixon, possibly Calvin Coolidge (who was, believe it or not, the best by-his-own-hand presidential prose stylist in modern times), and…who else? Nobody comes to mind. On paper, Reagan was unselfconscious, fluent, surprisingly candid, and rarely eloquent—most of his best-remembered speeches were written by other people, and I doubt that anything in Reagan: A Life in Letters will make it into the next edition of Bartlett's. Still, I have no doubt whatsoever that his next biographer will quarry this volume assiduously ... Beyond this, of course, the mere fact that Reagan chose to put so much energy, even as president, into corresponding with friends, colleagues, and plain old pen pals is fascinating in and of itself. So is the introduction to Reagan: A Life in Letters, in which the editors describe his letter-writing routine in some detail. As I worked on The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, I never ceased to be astonished by the sheer volume of Mencken's correspondence, and I couldn't help but wonder how he managed to churn out so many letters while simultaneously functioning as a full-time writer. I'm even more mystified that Reagan wrote all those personal letters—most of them by hand—while serving as president ... henceforth, anyone who tries to make sense of Reagan the man will have to start by explaining the very existence of these letters. — Terry Teachout

A Man with Staying Power

"Peggy Noonan ... offered a plausible explanation of [Reagan's legendary] opaqueness in her deft life of Reagan, When Character Was King: 'Ronald Reagan once had deep friendships and close friends. He had men who knew all about him, but by the time he'd reached the presidency they were dead. He'd outlived them.'" — Terry Teachout

A Man of Character

"For all his strength and directness, he was the most decent man I've ever known. And certainly the kindest." — Ronald Prescott Reagan

From Dutch by Edmund Morris: Many years later, I asked Gorbachev the question that tantalized me that morning: what he saw when he looked up into Ronald Reagan's eyes. “Sunshine and clear sky. We shook hands like friends. He said something, I don't know what. But at once I felt him to be a very authentic human being.”... “Authentic? What word is that in Russian?” I asked the interpreter. He was startled to be addressed directly, and shot Gorbachev a nervous look. “Lichnost. It is a very difficult word to translate because it means ‘personality' in English. Or ‘figure,' but in the dignified Italian sense, figura. But in Russian its meaning is much bigger than in these languages: a lichnost man is someone of great strength of character who rings true, all the way through to his body and soul. He is authentic, he has”... “Kalibr,” said Gorbachev, who had been listening intently. He is so intuitive that he can follow dialogue without vocabulary. “I know what kalibr is, Mr. President, “ I said. “We have the same word in our language.”

Reagan was proud of his Hollywood career, and would surely have wanted it remembered and mentioned today. It happens that I saw Kings Row for the first time a couple of months ago. The movie itself is more or less preposterous, a whole field full of stale corn, but I marveled at the late-romantic beauties of the Erich Wolfgang Korngold score—more Straussian than Strauss—and I was no less surprised to discover that Reagan was a damned good actor. The only Reagan movie I'd ever seen was Bedtime for Bonzo, not exactly a fair test of his skills, but he was definitely up to the challenge of the demanding part he played in Kings Row. (In case you've forgotten, it's the one where he wakes up, sees that his legs have been amputated, and shrieks "Where's the rest of me?") Just to confirm my first impressions, I looked up Otis Ferguson's 1941 New Republic review of the film, and found that it refers in passing to "Ronald Reagan, who is good and no surprise." Obviously Ferguson, the best American film critic of his generation, took Reagan's gifts for granted-surely the finest kind of tribute. — Terry Teachout

Terry Teachout's estimate of Reagan as an actor—that he was good—reminds me of a couple of conversations I had with Ed Meese and Lyn Nofziger. They agreed that there were only two sure ways of making Reagan angry: To overbook him, forcing him to keep people waiting (Ed told me that as governor Reagan once grew so angry that the staff had forced him to keep a series of people waiting that he took off his reading glasses and whipped them across the room) and to call him a B actor. "Anytime he heard he'd been called a B actor," Lyn told me, "he'd start listing all the great stars he'd worked with. He was proud of that career." — Peter Robinson

A Man of Vision: The Prophet of the Demise of Communism

Communism is neither an ec[onomic] or a pol[itical] system—it is a form of insanity—a temporary aberration which will one day disappear from the earth because it is contrary to human nature. I wonder how much more misery it will cause before it disappears. — Reagan: In His Own Hand (written 1975, collected 2001)

The Russians have told us over and over again their goal is to impose their incompetent and ridiculous system on the world. — Reagan: In His Own Hand (written 1975, collected 2001)

I believe we shall rise to the challenge. I believe that Communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this, because the source of our strength and the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man. For in the words of Isaiah, “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increase strength. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary.

In early September 1990 Reagan arrived in Berlin, greeted by a city newspaper that had printed the words to a new love song written in honor of him, “The Man Who Made Those Pussyfooters and Weaklings Feel Ashamed.” He made his final pilgrimage to the Wall and was given a hammer and chisel. He was 79 now, but he took a few pieces out of the large gray edifice. Then he walked along the death strip where East German border guards had once operated with orders to shoot anyone trying to escape. He shook hands with ordinary Germans. “Thank you, Mr. President,” one resident shouted. “Well,” he said in response, “we can't be happy until the whole world knows freedom the way we do.” From Germany he traveled to Gdansk, Poland, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement. He was greeted by torrential rain and hail, but 7,000 people had shown up for a public ceremony in his honor, chanting “Thank you, Thank you!” while singing “Sto Lat,” a song in honor of Polish heroes. As the crowd watched, Lech Walesa's former parish priest presented Reagan with a sword. “I am giving you the saber for helping us to chop off the head of communism,” he said. — Reagan biographer Peter Schweizer, author of Reagan's War

A Man with Formidable Allies

"Reagan saw his own political crusade as a spiritual revival and frequently spoke of the need for a spiritual revival in America. He thought that the decline of Western civilization could be thwarted only by America's spirituality. He frequently quoted Pope Pius XII: 'Into the hands of America, God has placed an afflicted mankind.' Protestant Reagan made fast friends in the Vatican for his spiritual struggle against communism. [Paul] Kengor details how Reagan made a secret alliance with the pope to undermine communism. The church became an ally in U.S. efforts to undermine totalitarianism, not only in the pope's native Poland but also in stopping the spread of communism in Latin America, especially in Nicaragua." — Phil Brennan

"The entire twentieth century is being sucked into the vortex of atheism and self-destruction. We can only reach with determination for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently pushed away ... There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide." — Aleksander I. Solzhenitsyn

"The turning point in Reagan's war with the Soviets was the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the Soviet general secretary in 1986. Reagan thought Gorbachev was different. His frequent references to God made Reagan believe that the communist leader was a secret Christian. After meeting Gorbachev, an excited Reagan told his aide Michael Deaver, “He believes.” He explained to Deaver that he had no doubt Gorbachev was a believer in God, a 'higher power.'” — Phil Brennan

Solid Foundations

It was Nell Reagan that made Ronald Reagan president. We understand that Reagan was driven by a set of core political convictions that he had since possibly the late 1940's, certainly since the mid-1960's, and that those drove him throughout much of his political life. But what we don't understand is that he was driven by a core of spiritual convictions, Christian religious convictions, that were inculcated in the 1920's by his mother. Ronald Reagan's first audiences were in a church. The great communicator learned to speak in a church. He taught Sunday school when he was a teenager. He didn't miss a single Sunday in two years. In fact, I even found the records from his Sunday school class where the first three or four Sundays after he left for college, Eureka College, he drove the two-and-a-half hours home and continued to teach the Sunday school class. He was so mature and serious about his faith as a teenager that people in Reagan's congregation when he was growing up thought that he would be a minister rather than an actor. And that's a side of Reagan that we did not know. — Paul Kengor

Ronald Reagan — who endured an alcoholic father, a poor childhood, uncertain college prospects, a failed marriage, political isolation in Hollywood, a declining movie career, a failed presidential bid and an assassination attempt — found solace to help him endure life's trials. It was his faith. — James G. Lakely, The Washington Times, June 7, 2004

The man even looked at Alzheimer's optimistically. Reagan believed that Alzheimer's is what God had chosen for him. It was God's plan for how Reagan would die and he believed that we have no reason to question God. Reagan truly believed that even something that negative could be part of God's plan. We don't quite appreciate how eternal his optimism was. — Paul Kengor

Reagan's "Time Capsule" Letter

Shaping the World for 100 Years to Come
September 1, 1976

In this election year many of us talk about the world of tomorrow but do we really think about it? I'll be right back.

Sometimes it's very easy to get very glib about how the decisions we are making will shape the world for a hundred years to come. A few weeks ago I found myself faced with having to really think about what we are doing today & what people like ourselves will say about us.

I'd been asked to write a letter for a "time capsule" which would be opened 100 yrs. from now. The occasion will be the Los Angeles Bicentennial & of course our country's tri-centennial. It was suggested that I mention some of the problems confronting us in this election year. Since I've been talking about those problems for some 9 months that didn't look like too much of a chore.

So riding down the coast highway from Santa Barbara — a yellow tablet on my lap (someone else was driving) I started to write my letter to the future.

It was a beautiful summer afternoon. The Pacific stretched out to the horizon on one side of the highway and on the other the Santa Ynez mt's were etched against a sky as blue as the Ocean.

I found myself wondering if it would look the same 100 yrs. from now. Will there still be a coast highway? Will people still be travelling in automobiles, or will they be looking down at the mountains from aircraft or moving so fast the beauty of all this would be lost?

Suddenly the simple drafting of a letter became a rather complex chore. Think about it for a minute. What do you put in a letter that's going to be read 100 yrs. from now — in the year 2076? What do you say about our problems when those who read the letter will know what we don't know — namely how well we did with those problems? In short they will be living in the world we helped to shape.

Will they read the letter with gratitude in their hearts for what we did or will they be bitter because the heritage we left them was one of human misery?

Oh I wrote of the problems we face here in 1976 — The choice we face between continuing the policies of the last 40 yrs. that have led to bigger & bigger govt, less & less liberty, redistribution of earnings through confiscatory taxation or trying to get back on the original course set for us by the Founding Fathers. Will we choose fiscal responsibility, limited govt, and freedom of choice for all our people? Or will we let an irresponsible Congress set us on the road our English cousins have already taken? The road to ec. ruin and state control of our very lives?

On the international scene two great superpowers face each other with nuclear missiles at the ready — poised to bring Armageddon to the world. Those who read my letter will know whether those missiles were fired or not. Either they will be surrounded by the same beauty we know or they will wonder sadly what it was like when the world was still beautiful.

If we here today meet the challenge confronting us, — those who open that time capsule 100 yrs. from now will do so in beauty, peace, prosperity and the ultimate in personal freedom, consistent with an orderly, civilized society.

If we don't keep our rendezvous with destiny, the letter probably will never be read — because they will live in the world we left them, a world in which no one is allowed to read of individual liberty or freedom of choice.
— From Reagan: In His Own Hand

Historians, Biographers, Philosophers, Reporters, Economists, Scholars, Politicians and Other Assorted and Various "Experts" Speak

"The world was one vast opportunity for Ronald Wilson Reagan." — Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

“The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men round to his opinion twenty years later.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

"He was the kind of president who, it seemed to me at that young age, we ought to have. He was strong, he was sure of himself, and he laughed—a lot. For a child, especially, this laughter was very reassuring. For his laughter was a laughter of confidence ... Reagan's gift to us was not that he made us have faith in him. It was that he made us have faith in ourselves." — Julie Ann Ponzi, a former professor of American Studies and currently a stay-at-home mother

"There are those who say he lived in a kind of fantasy world, but the most important thing is he lived that fantasy — (a belief) that good will triumph over evil, and if we're strong and firm in our convictions we will win in the end." — presidential scholar Stephen Wayne, author of Road to the White House

"For Ronald Reagan, the distinctions of past, present, future, may have been irrelevant. He remained a constant in the eight years he occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his outlook, if not always his deeds, unwavering from first word to last. And so he was able to act as a conduit to connect us to who we have been and who we could be." — Dan Rather

"Reagan is a lot smarter than most politicians. He takes the long view. ... He has that uncanny ability to know just what impact his actions will have. ... That's why he can compromise." — Drew Parkhill, CBN economics specialist

Two virtues that Ronald Reagan so admired—courage and character—are what his nearly half-century battle against communism required most. Beginning in Hollywood and throughout his presidency, Reagan was always willing to speak the truth about communism. Sometimes his strong views brought physical threats against his life and family. More often, they would prompt ridicule or denunciation of him as a dangerous ignoramus. In either case, Reagan unflinchingly pressed on, opposed by old friends, cabinet officers, and sometimes even members of his own family ... He believed in ideas much larger than himself; and his ideas did not shift over the course of his public life, nor did he ever attempt to camouflage them. When they seemed unpopular, he clung to them stubbornly. When established opinion called them simpleminded, he smiled and pressed ahead. Reagan cared deeply about these ideas; he would not jettison them simply to collect more votes ... In retrospect, it is clear that Reagan was largely correct about communism and his critics were wrong. Soviet communism was the threat that he claimed it was and was vulnerable in the way he said it would be. He was on the correct side of the great battles of the struggle against communism. Moscow and its supporters did try to gain a level of control in Hollywood; the peace movement in the 1970s and 1980s was being influenced by the Soviet Union; and Moscow and Havana did have plans to subvert Central America. Archives in the former Soviet bloc settle these debates. He also predicted that the Soviet Union would “end up on the ash heap of history” half a dozen years before others saw it ... far from being a simple conduit for presidential aides ... Reagan embraced many of these ideas before he was president. He was himself once asked how he figured all of this out, and he gave an interesting answer ... he simply pointed out that everyone knew the Soviet Union was evil, expansionist, and in trouble but that no one wanted to say it. Courage, it seems, made all the difference, an important lesson in an age when supreme importance seems to be placed on the intelligence of our leaders rather than their courage. — Reagan biographer Peter Schweizer, author of Reagan's War

Many of Reagan's most critical initiatives were launched alone. He approved massive defense increases in 1981, even though a majority of his cabinet was opposed and former presidents Nixon and Ford were advising him to cut spending. He launched the Strategic Defense Initiative almost entirely by himself, informing his secretary of state and most other advisers only hours before he announced his plans to the public. When he took a hard line over the declaration of martial law in Poland in an effort to keep Solidarity alive, he did so with scant support from any major ally save Great Britain's Margaret Thatcher. All the while, he was ridiculed for failing to grasp the intricacies of the global situation. Even when the opportunity arose to secure his place in history by striking a diplomatic bargain with Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Reagan resisted the temptation, much to the consternation of many who were watching. He would not change course, even in pursuit of political glory. — Reagan biographer Peter Schweizer, author of Reagan's War

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! —President Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, June 12, 1987 ... Most of his senior aides didn't want him to say it. Indeed, they tried repeatedly to talk him out of it. You'll embarrass your host, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. You'll anger and provoke Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom you've just started making progress on arms control. You'll whip up false hope among East Germans—for surely the Berlin Wall isn't coming down any time soon. Besides, Germans have grown used to the Wall. The ultimate reason: You'll look na´ve and foolish, Mr. President. "Virtually the entire foreign policy apparatus of the U.S. government," Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson recalled, tried to stop Ronald Reagan from saying "Tear down this wall," including Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz and the new National Security Adviser, General Colin Powell ... Reagan had to intervene against his own advisers. Ken Duberstein, serving then as Reagan's deputy chief of staff, has offered different accounts of how the conversation went, but the gist of it was like this—Reagan: "I'm the president, right?" Duberstein: "Yes, sir, Mr. President. We're clear about that." Reagan: "So I get to decide whether the line about tearing down the wall stays in?" Duberstein: "That's right, sir. It's your decision." Reagan: "Then it stays in." — Steven Hayward, journalist and writer

"Along with Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower, Mr. Reagan had the good fortune to be consistently underestimated by his adversaries. But even his advisers could miss the mark. Robert McFarlane, who served as one of President Reagan's national security advisors, once said of him, 'he knows so little and accomplishes so much.'" — Mackubin Thomas Owens, professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College


Sometimes we take the measure of man by how he responds to adversity.

Could Reagan actually not have known important details of the Iran-Contra imbroglio? Although history will probably not let him off the hook for his off-hands management style, Reagan was the exact opposite of a "micro manager." Fortune magazine ran an interview with the President in September 1986, a few months before the Iran-Contra Affair hit the newsracks, in which he said: Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere. Personally I can't and don't condone many of the policies and actions of the Reagan administration, but I sincerely believe Reagan was a patriot through and through. Of course, in intellectual circles these days it's unfashionable to sincerely believe in anything, much less a human being, and a politician at that! So call me unfashionable. It has a nice ring to it. Even call me naive. I'd simply say that it's better to believe in a man and risk disappointment than to disbelieve in principled men on principle.

What does an honest man sound like when he admits he's not sure of his facts? Perhaps like this: A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. Did Reagan's refusal to micro-manage, and perhaps his trusted staff, let him down? He said of himself, Much has been said about my management style, a style that's worked successfully for me during eight years as Governor of California and for most of my Presidency. The way I work is to identify the problem, find the right individuals to do the job, and then let them go to it. I've found this invariably brings out the best in people. They seem to rise to their full capability, and in the long run you get more done. [...] When it came to managing the NSC staff, let's face it, my style didn't match its previous track record. Duplicity or honesty? The man's words have the ring of honesty to them, at least in my admittedly receptive ears. But I believe him because of the man he was, because of the testimony of his life. Reagan wasn't a man to debate the meaning of the word "is." Instead, time and time again, he could be depended on to "tell it like it is." As he saw "it," of course.

Reagan: in Retrospect

Reagan is TIME's [1980] Man of the Year—for having risen so smoothly and gracefully to the most powerful and visible position in the world. He is also the idea of the year, his triumph being philosophical as well as personal. He has revived the Republican Party, and has garnered high initial hopes, even from many who opposed him, both because of his personal style and because the U.S. is famished for cheer. On Jan. 20 Reagan and the idea he embodies will both emerge from their respective seclusions with a real opportunity to change the direction and tone of the nation. Reagan is also TIME's Man of the Year because he stands at the end of 1980 looking ahead, while the year behind him smolders in pyres. The events of any isolated year can be made to seem exceptionally grim, but one has to peer hard to find elevating moments in 1980. Only Lech Walesa's stark heroism in Poland sent anything resembling a thrill into the world. The national strike he led showed up Communism as a failure—a thing not done in the Warsaw Pact countries. Leonid Brezhnev, a different sort of strongman, had to send troops to Poland's borders, in case that country, like Czechoslovakia and Hungary before it, should prove in need of "liberation." — Roger Rosenblatt

It's hard to remember how bleak the future seemed in 1980. Many conceded the military superiority of the USSR, and the United States seemed incapable of mustering the national gumption to tackle Iran or Libya, much less to take on a global superpower. The economy was in shambles. The nation was at a loss, without direction, without inspiration, hopeless. Reagan sunnily, incongruously, told us there was a rainbow around the corner. Almost no one believed him. Those who did were a ragtag collection of relics, anachronisms and throwbacks. What a difference eight years can make! Reagan proved a stronger and better man than the Brezhnevs and Qadhafis. He was strong, brave, resilient, cheerful, optimistic, humble, gracious, courteous and kind. He had the best interests of his country and countrymen—men and women like you and me—at heart. He said and did what he thought was right. You may fault him for not thinking as you think, for not doing as you might have done, but when have you ever put your entire heart, soul, mind, strength and faith into making what you think come to be: for a nation and for much of the world? It's a shame that many of his countrymen bemoaned (and still bemoan) Reagan's "policies" even as liberated East Germans danced in the streets and tore down the hated Berlin Wall. If you think Reagan's policies were shortsighted or misguided, ask the millions upon millions of men and women who love and idolize him to this day in Eastern Europe and around the globe. As for those who truly loathe him: ask how evil and repressive their regimes are. — MRB

Press Clippings

John Kerry: "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious. Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate. Despite the disagreements, he lived by that noble ideal that at 5 pm we weren't Democrats or Republicans, we were Americans and friends. President Reagan and Tip O'Neill fought hard and honorably on many issues, and sat down together to happily swap jokes and the stories of their lives. The differences were real, but because of the way President Reagan led, he taught us that there is a big difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship. He was the voice of America in good times and in grief. When we lost the brave astronauts in the Challenger tragedy, he reminded us that, 'Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.' Now, his own journey has ended—a long and storied trip that spanned most of the American century—and shaped one of the greatest victories of freedom. Today in the face of new challenges, his example reminds us that we must move forward with optimism and resolve. He was our oldest president, but he made America young again."

Sydney: The Sydney Morning Herald (centrist), June 7, 2004: In 1980, on the eve of an era nobody predicted, the conventional wisdom was that Ronald Reagan was the journeyman, the B-grade actor, the mouthpiece for big business interests who was too old, who read Reader's Digest, and had twice failed to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976. When he tried once more, at the age of 69, he was, for a long time, simply not taken seriously by the media consensus. The view was widely shared in Australia, and to Australian eyes, even in an American context, Reagan did seem remarkably folksy, with a message too simple for a great imperial power. In the sweep of history, who looks myopic now?

Hong Kong: Asia Times (online publication), June 7, 2004: For his lonely stand against the forces of barbarism, I rate Winston Churchill the greatest statesman of the 20th century. Ronald Reagan though, arguably was the greater commander in chief. Decisiveness (translating Clausewitz's term Entschlossenheit) depends in turn upon strategic vision. But a commander requires not only vision, but also the intestinal fortitude to endure uncertainty, and the will to force the burden of uncertainty onto his opponent. Borrowing from the language of economics, one might call this a predilection for creative destruction. Whatever his faults, Reagan possessed the great attribute of command … To a generation that has come of age after the fall of the Soviet Empire, it is hard to imagine that the smart money in Europe wagered on Russian dominance when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. I can attest that the closest advisors of French President Francois Mitterand and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt thought NATO would lose the Cold War. So humiliating was the later collapse of the communist regimes that the pundits could argue credibly that it had fallen of its own weight. No such thing happened. Reagan took office at a dark hour for the West, and did things that the elite of Europe had deemed impossible … For now it is enough to say that Ronald Reagan goes to his rest with the gratitude of free people everywhere. — Spengler

Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Post (conservative) June 7, 2004: Like World War II, the Cold War is now viewed retrospectively through American eyes as inevitable, just, and ending in the West's victory. But as Reagan himself pointed out in his farewell address, the policies that he espoused were widely derided as "dangerous" before and during his tenure.

Moscow: Moscow Times (independent), June 11, 2004: Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's one-time adviser on Soviet affairs remembers him as the man who forever changed the face of Moscow-Washington relations. Suzanne Massie, Reagan's adviser from 1984 to 1988 and a Democrat at the time, said Reagan played a "very significant" role in ending the Cold War ... Reagan was the first U.S. president to build human relations between the two countries, which were locked in the decades-long Cold War, Massie said ... Reagan turned the tide with his unique approach and interest in the Soviet people. "He really wanted to know how ordinary Russians thought and lived and their aspirations, rather than bureaucrats," she said. "He was the first president, I think to understand very clearly the difference between 'Russian' and 'Soviet'." — Simone Kozhuarov

London: The Guardian (liberal), June 7, 2004: Ronald Reagan, who has died aged 93, following complications from Alzheimer's disease, served two terms as U.S. president, from 1981 to 1989. He will be long remembered for his part in ending the cold war, although what that part was exactly will be long disputed. Perhaps the cold war was certain to end peaceably, rather than in a nuclear holocaust; perhaps the dissolution of the Soviet Union was equally certain. But it is at least as probable that the rise of Mikhail Gorbechev as Soviet leader in 1985, and the presence of the Republican Reagan in the White House, created a window of opportunity, which both men, to their credit, took full advantage of ... he gave an always dignified and warm performance, serenely meeting such challenges as increasing deafness, two bouts of cancer, and an assassination attempt one year into his presidency. — Hugh Brogan

Amman: The Jordan Times (independent), June 7, 2004: Reagan ... called the Soviet Union an evil empire and helped defeat it in the cold war by presiding over massive U.S. defence build-up that the Russians could not afford to keep up with. In a flood of tributes from America and abroad, Reagan was hailed as the man who changed the course of world history by hastening the end of Soviet communism ... The father of Soviet Perestroika reform Mikhail Gorbachev praised Reagan, his partner on the world stage, as a great leader who dared to change the tide in relations between the cold war superpowers. Gorbachev said his dialogue with Reagan "kick-started the process, which ultimately put an end to the cold war." Former British Prime Minister Thatcher — the "Iron Lady" to Reagan's warm "Great Communicator" — said: "Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the cold war for liberty. To have achieved so much, against such odds, and with such humour and humanity, made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero." … French president Jacques Chirac called him "a great statesman who through the strength of his convictions and his commitment to democracy will leave a deep mark in history."

Tokyo: The Japan Times (independent centrist), June 7, 2004: Prime ministers past and present offered words of tribute Sunday for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Reagan laid the foundation for the Japan-U.S. alliance. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone mourned him as a great leader and "a friend of Japan." Nakasone, prime minister from 1982 to 1987, described Reagan as a "great president who led the Cold War against communism to the victory of freedom and democracy." "He was a good friend of the Japanese people as he respected Japan and its culture." Koizumi said in a statement: "The foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance that now serves as a driving force to solve international issues with other countries was built during President Reagan's era."

More Reagan Quotations

A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets rough.

...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit.

It was leadership here at home that gave us strong American influence abroad, and the collapse of imperial Communism. Great nations have responsibilities to lead, and we should always be cautious of those who would lower our profile, because they might just wind up lowering our flag.

I know it's hard when you're up to your armpits in alligators to remember you came here to drain the swamp.

In America, our origins matter less than our destination, and that is what democracy is all about.

Can anyone here say that if we can't do it, someone down the road can do it? And if no one does it, what happens to the country? ... I know it's a tremendous challenge, but ask yourselves: If not us, who? If not now, when?

There are simple answers to the nation's problems, but not easy ones.

Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor's fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can't socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he'll eat you last. If all of this seems like a great deal of trouble, think what's at stake. We are faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation. They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. Winston Churchill said that "the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits—not animals." And he said, "There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty." You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.

We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free. Trust the people. This is the one irrefutable lesson of the entire postwar period contradicting the notion that rigid government controls are essential to economic development.

It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, "We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

For Nancy Reagan and the Reagan Family

Dear Nancy Reagan and the Reagan family: We cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved one was daring and brave, and he had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "Give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy." He had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. He wished to serve, and he did. He served all of us. We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for almost 25 years Ronald Reagan did just that, first as our nation's president, then as an example of how to face sickness, debilitation, isolation and death with faith, courage, grace and dignity. We've grown used to the idea of space, of wide-ranging freedom and liberty, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. He was for a time the great trailblazer and captain of our ongoing expedition, and we'll miss him very much. He was much loved and admired. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. He was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow his direction, his example. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. Nancy, we can say along with him, in his own words: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it." He honored us by the manner in which he lived his life. We will never forget him, nor the last time we saw him as he waved goodbye and prepared for his long journey home: to slip "the surly bonds of earth" to “touch the face of God." Thank you. — Based on Ronald Reagan's speech the day of the Challenger disaster, June 28, 1986

In Closing, In Memoriam

We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all. And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Letters to in Response to This Tribute and Memorial to Ronald Reagan

I paid a visit to The HyperTexts tonight and see that your excellent work continues, adding artists to the growing list of contemporary poets. Curious, I clicked on Ronald Reagan. Sure 'nuff, the man was a poet, more of a versifier — a graceful one, it turns out — and that counts too. I have mixed feelings about R.R. I did pay attention to his passing, which was also the passing of a certain optimism and genteel America in the 20th Century, the "American" Century, that is now history. You have undoubtedly written one of the finest tributes to the man and president. With luck, it will end up in his library! I have one personal recollection. I used to work at the tip of Manhattan near the helicopter pad where the President landed when he paid a visit to NYC. One day, I happened to catch a glimpse of President Reagan waving from the window of his limo as his motorcade headed uptown. Unaccountably, I waved back. — Hudson Owen, poet

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