Wed, 03 Jun 2009 19:57:28 +0000 – Nancy Reagan, born nearly nine decades ago, has now lived long enough to see her late husband, President Ronald Reagan, permanently enshrined in the pantheon of America's civic faith: A statue of The Gipper now stands tall in the Rotunda of the Capitol, where he was sworn in for a second presidential term in 1985 -- and where his body lay in state in 2004.
Mrs. Reagan, you are the queen of our hearts. And not just the hearts of those of us who worked in your husband's political campaigns, or served with him in Sacramento or Washington, or who proudly voted for him. Now, all Americans -- OK, almost all Americans -- regard your Ronnie as a great president, and they revere you as the woman who helped him every step of the way, and who added style and grace to her eight years as First Lady.
Born during the term of the 29th President, Warren G. Harding, the former Nancy Davis always said that her life truly began when she met the man who would become the 40th President. And now she has the pleasure of seeing the 44th President, Barack Obama, pay tribute to the two of them.
On Tuesday, Obama invited her to the White House, where he signed legislation authorizing a centennial celebration of Ronald Reagan's birth, to be held on Feb. 6, 2011. As Obama said: "President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics -- that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day."
Then the president added:
In these perilous times, President Reagan had the ability to communicate directly and movingly to the American people; to understand both the hardships they felt in their lives and the hopes that they had for their country. That was powerful, that was important, and we are better off for the extraordinary leadership that he showed.
Now some will say, of course, that it was smart politics, and icy calculation, that inspired Obama to say all these kind words. Perhaps. But Obama has long been admiring of Ronald Reagan; consider these words from candidate Obama, spoken in Nevada on Jan. 16, 2008:
I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America, in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path ... I think he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was that we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
Obama said all those praising words, and yet Democrats nominated him anyway. Of course, such words don't mean that the man was a Reaganite, then or now. Most likely, Obama disagrees with many, even most, of his predecessor's policies, but he nonetheless regards Reagan as an effective and transformational figure.
Which he was -- and more. To us Reaganites, he was one of the greats. He shouldn't just be immortalized in the Rotunda; his face should be added to Mt. Rushmore.
And we were pleased to join with the Reagan Foundation at a reception on Monday night at the Capitol Hilton, just a few blocks from the White House. Mrs. Reagan was there, graciously saying "Hi" to the old team. I was one of those, as a very junior White House staffer, and she never would have known who I was, but when I told her that I once worked for Marty Anderson, she lit up. "You know, he has a new book out," she said brightly. And I said, "Yes, I know, I have it -- and it's yet another piece of scholarship documenting your husband's greatness."
Martin C. Anderson, having worked on the Reagan presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980, served as President Reagan's first assistant for domestic policy. Since then, he has devoted most of his scholarly life to the Reagan presidency; his latest book, co-authored with his wife Annelise (who also served in the Reagan administration) is entitled Reagan's Secret War: The Untold Story of His Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster-- and more about that book soon.
But this week belongs to Nancy. As she told us, she looks forward to helping all Americans celebrate Ronnie's 100th birthday. And we look forward to seeing her then, just like always.