Sunday, February 6, 2011

Today is the 100th birthday of President Ronald Wilson Reagan

This is one of my favorite photographs of Blessed Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Wilson Regan

Mr. President, When I was born during your presidency in 1982, I remember seeing on tv and doing remarkable speeches, you are truly a gifted actor and president, thank you for breaking the infamous "0" curse and defeating the Communism,you are one of my top favorite presidents, remembering you today, happy 100th birthday!

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989), the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975) and prior to that, a Hollywood actor.

Reagan was born in Tampico in Whiteside County, Illinois, reared in Dixon in Lee County, Illinois, and educated at Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology. Upon his graduation, Reagan first moved to Iowa to work as a radio broadcaster and then in 1937 to Los Angeles, California. He began a career as an actor, first in films and later television, appearing in over 50 movie productions and earning enough success to become a famous, publicly recognized figure.

Some of his most notable roles are in Knute Rockne, All American and Kings Row. Reagan served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and later spokesman for General Electric (GE); his start in politics occurred during his work for GE. Originally a member of the Democratic Party, he switched to the Republican Party in 1962. After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 as well as 1976, but won both the nomination and election in 1980.

As president, Reagan implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed "Reaganomics," advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, and ordered military actions in Grenada. He was reelected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming it was "Morning in America."

His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," he supported anti-Communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente by ordering a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries' nuclear arsenals.

Reagan left office in 1989. In 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier in the year; he died ten years later at the age of 93. He ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents, and is a conservative icon.

Early life
Ronald Reagan as a teenager in Dixon, IllinoisRonald Wilson Reagan was born in an apartment on the second floor of a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911, to John Edward "Jack" Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan. Reagan's father was of Irish Catholic ancestry, while his mother had Scots-English ancestors.

Reagan had one older brother, Neil "Moon" Reagan (1908–1996), who became an advertising executive. As a boy, Reagan's father nicknamed his son "Dutch," due to his "fat little Dutchman"-like appearance, and his "Dutchboy" haircut; the nickname stuck with him throughout his youth.

Reagan's family briefly lived in several towns and cities in Illinois, including Monmouth, Galesburg and Chicago, until 1919, when they returned to Tampico and lived above the H.C. Pitney Variety Store. After his election as president, residing in the upstairs White House private quarters, Reagan would quip that he was "living above the store again".

According to Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan, Reagan had a particularly strong faith in the goodness of people, which stemmed from the optimistic faith of his mother, Nelle, and the Disciples of Christ faith,which he was baptized into in 1922.

For the time, Reagan was unusual in his opposition to racial discrimination, and recalled a time in Dixon when the local inn would not allow black people to stay there. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to stay the night and have breakfast the next morning.

Following the closure of the Pitney Store in late 1920, the Reagans moved to Dixon; the midwestern "small universe" had a lasting impression on Reagan. He attended Dixon High School, where he developed interests in acting, sports, and storytelling.

His first job was as a lifeguard at the Rock River in Lowell Park, near Dixon, in 1926. Reagan performed 77 rescues as a lifeguard, noting that he notched a mark on a wooden log for every life he saved. Reagan attended Eureka College, where he became a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and majored in economics and sociology. He developed a reputation as a jack of all trades, excelling in campus politics, sports and theater. He was a member of the football team, captain of the swim team and was elected student body president. As student president, Reagan notably led a student revolt against the college president after he tried to cut back the faculty.

Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan
Reagan died at his home in Bel Air, California on the afternoon of June 5, 2004. A short time after his death, Nancy Reagan released a statement saying: "My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has died after 10 years of Alzheimer's Disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers." President George W. Bush declared June 11 a National Day of Mourning, and international tributes came in from around the world.

Reagan's body was taken to the Kingsley and Gates Funeral Home in Santa Monica, California later in the day, where well-wishers paid tribute by laying flowers and American flags in the grass. On June 7, his body was removed and taken to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where a brief family funeral was held. His body lay in repose in the Library lobby until June 9; over 100,000 people viewed the coffin.

On June 9, Reagan's body was flown to Washington, D.C. where he became the tenth United States president to lie in state; in thirty-four hours, 104,684 people filed past the coffin.

On June 11, a state funeral was conducted in the Washington National Cathedral, and presided over by President George W. Bush. Eulogies were given by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and both Presidents Bush. Also in attendance were Mikhail Gorbachev, and many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq.

After the funeral, the Reagan entourage was flown back to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, where another service was held, and President Reagan was interred. At the time of his death, Reagan was the longest-lived president in U.S. history, having lived 93 years and 120 days (2 years, 8 months, and 23 days longer than John Adams, whose record he surpassed). He is now the second longest-lived president, just 45 days fewer than Gerald Ford. He was the first United States president to die in the 21st century, and his was the first state funeral in the United States since that of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.

His burial site is inscribed with the words he delivered at the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and that there is purpose and worth to each and every life."


Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was dedicated on November 4. 1991. Supporters have pointed to a more efficient and prosperous economy and a peaceful end to the Cold War.

Critics argue that his economic policies caused huge budget deficits, quadrupling the United States national debt, and that the Iran-Contra affair lowered American credibility.

As time has passed, he has generally come to be viewed in a more positive light, and ranks highly among presidents in many public opinion polls.[268] In presidential surveys he has consistently been ranked in the first and second quartiles, with more recent surveys generally ranking Reagan in the first quartile of U.S. presidents.

Edwin Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, said that Reagan "helped create a safer, freer world" and said of his economic policies: "He took an America suffering from 'malaise'... and made its citizens believe again in their destiny."

However, Mark Weisbrot, co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that Reagan's "economic policies were mostly a failure," and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post stated that Reagan was "a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest".

Many conservative and liberal scholars agree that Reagan has been the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, leaving his imprint on American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics. Since he left office, historians have reached a consensus, as summarized by British historian M. J. Heale, who finds that scholars now concur that Reagan rehabilitated conservatism, turned the nation to the right, practiced a pragmatic conservatism that balanced ideology and the constraints of politics, revived faith in the presidency and in American self respect, and contributed to victory in the Cold War.

List of honors named for Ronald Reagan

Reagan received a number of awards in his pre- and post-presidential years. Following his election as president, Reagan received a lifetime gold membership in the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the United States Military Academy's Sylvanus Thayer Award.

In 1989, Reagan was made an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, one of the highest British orders (this entitled him to the use of the post-nominal letters "GCB" but, as a foreigner, not to be known as "Sir Ronald Reagan"); only two American presidents have received this honor, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Reagan was also named an honorary Fellow of Keble College, Oxford. Japan awarded him the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum in 1989; he was the second American president to receive the order and the first to have it given to him for personal reasons (Dwight D. Eisenhower received it as a commemoration of U.S.-Japanese relations).

Former President Ronald Reagan returns to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush in 1993.

On January 18, 1993, Reagan's former Vice-President and sitting President George H. W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that the United States can bestow. Reagan was also awarded the Republican Senatorial Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed by Republican members of the Senate.

On Reagan's 87th birthday, in 1998, Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by a bill signed into law by President Clinton.

That year, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was dedicated in Washington, D.C. He was among 18 included in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th Century, from a poll conducted of the American people in 1999; two years later, USS Ronald Reagan was christened by Nancy Reagan and the United States Navy. It is one of few Navy ships christened in honor of a living person and the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a living former president.

A bronze statue of Reagan stands in the Capitol rotunda as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.Congress authorized the creation of the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Dixon, Illinois in 2002, pending federal purchase of the property.

On May 16 of that year, Nancy Reagan accepted the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, on behalf of the president and herself.

Following Reagan's death, the United States Postal Service issued a President Ronald Reagan commemorative postage stamp in 2005. Later in the year, CNN, along with the editors of Time magazine, named him the "most fascinating person" of the network's first 25 years; Time listed Reagan one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century as well. The Discovery Channel asked its viewers to vote for The Greatest American in an unscientific poll on June 26, 2005; Reagan received the honorary title.

In 2006, Reagan was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.

Every year since 2002, California Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have proclaimed February 6 "Ronald Reagan Day" in the state of California in honor of their most famous predecessor.[331] In 2010, Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 944,authored by Senator George Runner, to make every February 6 Ronald Reagan Day in California.

In 2007, Polish President Lech Kaczyński posthumously conferred on Reagan the highest Polish distinction, the Order of the White Eagle, saying that Reagan had inspired the Polish people to work for change and helped to unseat the repressive communist regime; Kaczyński said it "would not have been possible if it was not for the tough-mindedness, determination, and feeling of mission of President Ronald Reagan". Reagan backed the nation of Poland throughout his presidency, supporting the anti-communist Solidarity movement, along with Blessed Pope John Paul II.

On June 3, 2009, Nancy Reagan unveiled a statue of her late husband in the United States Capitol rotunda. The statue represents the state of California in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Following Reagan's death, both major American political parties agreed to erect a statue of Reagan in the place of that of Thomas Starr King.[335] The day before, President Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act into law, establishing a commission to plan activities to mark the upcoming centenary of Reagan's birth.

April 04, 2005, 7:53 a.m.
Freedom’s Men
The Cold War team of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan.

By Mark Riebling

Though Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan will be remembered as the pope and the president who defeated Communism, the exact nature of their relationship has remained elusive. Some journalists have posited a “holy alliance” between the two, with the CIA briefing the pope each Friday. Others, like George Weigel writing in National Review, have argued that “there was neither alliance nor conspiracy [but] a common purpose born of a set of shared convictions.”

Which view is more correct? The documentary record is incomplete, but clues to the answer may be found in formerly top-secret National Security Council files, now available at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. These materials reveal, often in granular detail, how the U.S. Vatican relationship evolved during Reagan’s first term. The documents describe the first contacts between the pope and the president; nuclear brinksmanship and disarmament; the Solidarity crisis in Poland; and Vice President George Bush's private 1984 meeting with the pope.

These papers yield tantalizing snapshots of buoyant goodwill and tireless diplomacy on both sides. There was, sometimes, a de facto alliance between this president and pope. But relations were not so close that they could be taken for granted by the president's men. In fact, the documents reveal a continuous scurrying to shore up Vatican support for U.S. policies. They also reveal a Vatican which acts politically, but always in a highly spiritual way.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the papers show that that, as late as 1984, the pope did not believe the Communist Polish government could be changed.

First Contacts
In February 1981, just over a year following his first triumphal visit to the U.S, Pope John Paul II planned to refuel for three hours in Anchorage, Alaska, en route home following a major pastoral trip to the Philippines, Japan, and Guam. National Security Council staffers recommended to Reagan, who had been in office only a few weeks, that he "establish an early, personal relationship with the Pope while welcoming him back to North American soil."

On February 5, NSC staffer James M. Rentschler proposed that a "Nanook-of-the-North mission" be mounted during the pope's Alaskan layover. Accordingly, when John Paul landed in Anchorage on February 25, the envoy-designate to the Vatican, William Wilson, handed him a letter from Reagan, stating: "...I hope you will not hesitate to use him [Wilson] as the channel for sensitive matters you or your associates may wish to communicate to me."

Nuclear Brinksmanship
On May 22, 1981, the pope's 61st birthday, Reagan sent Congressmen Peter Rodino to Rome with a personal letter for the pope, who was still hospitalized after the attempt on his life. "The qualities you exemplify," Reagan wrote, "remain a precious asset as we confront the growing dangers of the moment." Yet by November, as U.S.- Soviet negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear missiles began in Geneva, Switzerland, relations between the White House and Vatican were strained.

The Vatican Academy of Sciences was preparing a study on the dangers of nuclear war and the pope was preparing letters to Reagan and Brezhnev, urging disarmament. On November 11, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig appealed to the pope, through Cardinal Achille Silvestrini of the Vatican secretariat of state, not to morally equate U.S. and Soviet military might. The White House was worried, as Haig confided in a memo, about the "possible impact on support for defense programs needed in the west."

"It would be misleading, we believe, to imply in any way that the U.S. and the Soviet Union are equally responsible for having created the conditions that pose a danger of nuclear war," Haig wrote on November, 11, instructing Ambassador Wilson on the line to take with Silvestrini. "We would hope that His Holiness would give due weight to this consideration as he determines the most appropriate means of giving expression to the Church's views. "

The Vatican would not budge, however. The pope's November 25 letter on nuclear war, delivered simultaneously to Reagan and Brezhnev, implicitly blamed both the U.S. and the Soviets for moving the world toward Armageddon. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, attempted to diffuse the tensions in a December 15 visit to the Oval Office. But the White House did not reply to the pope's letter for nearly two months, when Reagan finally tried to put the best face on what was clearly a diplomatic defeat. "Your words of encouragement were welcome as we begin negotiations with the Soviet Union in Geneva for the elimination of all intermediate range nuclear missiles," Reagan wrote John Paul on January 16, 1982. "I reject, as you also do, Your Holiness, the doctrine that sees us as helpless creatures of inexorable fate."

This was the low point of Vatican-White House relations during the Reagan years. Yet tensions over the nuclear issue soon evaporated, as the pope's and the president's men made common cause against a Communist crackdown in the pope's homeland.

The Polish Crisis
On December 12-13, 1981, the Communist government of Poland arrested thousands of thousands of activists of the workers' movement known as Solidarnosc, or Solidarity. Over the next weeks the White House and the Vatican consulted closely on the events in Poland by telephone, cable, and through diplomatic representatives. "We seem to be overloading the Vatican circuits of late," Rentschler cautioned in one memo during this period. But a back channel for especially sensitive messages to the pope, established through his secretary, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz, in fact proved vital in coordinating Western sanctions against the Polish government and its Soviet sponsors.

"The United States will not let the Soviet Union dictate Poland's future with impunity," Reagan wrote the pope on December 29, 1981.

I am announcing today additional American measures aimed at raising the cost to the Russians of their continued violence against Poland. … Unfortunately, if these American measures are not accompanied by other Western countries, the Russians may decide to pursue repression, hoping to provoke a rupture within the Western world, while escaping the consequences of our measures. … I therefore ask your assistance in using your own suasion throughout the West in an attempt to achieve unity on these needed measures [economic sanctions on Poland and the Soviet Union]… I hope you will do whatever is in your power to stress these truths to the leaders of the West.

A week later, Cardinal Silvestrini called in Ambassador Wilson and handed him a letter from the pope, pledging support for the U.S. sanctions. Though John Paul worried about the impact of sanctions on the Polish people, he would stand with the president, even if he could not say so publicly.

Wilson's account of Silvestrini's remarks, in a January 6, 1982 cable to Haig, offers a rare window on the Vatican's philosophy of church-state relations.

The Vatican recognizes that the U.S. is a great power with global responsibilities. The United States must operate on the political plane and the Holy See does not comment on the political positions taken by governments. It is for each government to decide its political policies. The Holy See for its part operates on the moral plane. The two planes (politics and morality) can be complementary when they have the same objective. In this case they are complementary because both the Holy See and the United States have the same objective: the restoration of liberty to Poland.

The White House was ecstatic. "The Pope's letter makes it clear that he supports our policies and shares our goals," National Security Adviser William P. Clark wrote in a memo to Reagan January 11.

Reagan breached protocol, however, by referring to the pope's confidential letter in a January 20 press conference — citing it to refute German press reports that the Vatican did not support the hardline U.S. stance on Poland. The Vatican backed away from Reagan's statement, and Wilson had to sit down with John Paul to straighten matters out. "[T]he Pope made it clear he does in fact support our Polish policy, and sees his actions as complementary to ours," an NSC memo on the meeting reported. "However, he cannot be as publicly forthcoming in expressing this support as we would wish."

On February 23, NSC staffer Dennis C. Blair advised Clark: "You may wish to mention personally to the President that in the case of letters from friendly heads of state, it is safest to check with the sender before talking about the contents publicly."

Bush and the Pope
On February 15, 1984, Vice President George H. W. Bush concluded a trip to Europe and the USSR by meeting with the pope in Rome. As he flew back across the Atlantic on Air Force 2, Bush recorded his impressions in a secret cable to National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane.
I just had a visit with the Holy Father which lasted about 55 minutes. The Holy Father looked well, spoke softly but with a great sincerity, leaning forward across the desk and looking right into my eyes. ....

I was received alone by the Holy Father [and] gave [him] our views on East-West with some emphasis on my meetings with [Soviet President Constantin] Chernenko yesterday. The Holy Father opined Chernenko was close to [former Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev; maybe that will be helpful. He [the Holy Father] was interested in lower [sic] of rhetoric. A lower tone of rhetoric, etc.

I then asked him if he had any advice for us on Poland. He discussed this for some time. … The most important problem is the question of human rights. … The government cannot be changed. Therefore you must influence [Polish leader General Wojciech] Jaruzelski to "have a more human face."

In light of the credit that has since been given the pope for influencing Poland's political evolution — an evolution widely seen as causing the collapse of the East Bloc and the end of the Cold War — his own assertion that the Polish government "cannot be changed" is intriguing. Perhaps it is a function of his greatness that this pope did not realize how powerful he truly was. Yet it is important to remember that his remarks were made a year before Gorbachev took power; and it was only with Gorbachev’s ascent that the Polish government could be changed.

The pope and vice president also discussed America's worsening relations with much of the Muslim world. "I brought him up to date on Lebanon," Bush recorded. "The Holy Father emphasized the importance of the Democratic character of the [Lebanese] state. He emphasized the need for coexistence between Christians and Moslems. He came back to the theme of coexistence several times."

The Verdict of History
Among the more lasting impressions conveyed by these papers is the sheer deference showed by Reagan’s working-level staffers toward the pope, even when the two sides were at odds over policy. Admiration for this pope’s spiritual leadership has stripped Protestant White House staffers of any evident cynicism. They pun about a papal "missile" on disarmament, but are in dead earnest in their respect, and at times even reverence, for the Holy Father. Reagan himself, in his letters to Pope John Paul II, admits to being uniquely inspired by the leadership of the pope. The letters have an intensely personal quality, a warmth and light, which is striking when compared to the no less sincere, but far more formalistic, expressions of solidarity made by FDR to the World War II pope, Pius XII.

The geopolitical dynamic would of course soon change, during Reagan's second term, with the 1985 ascent of Gorbachev. Historians will debate the extent to which Soviet changes were sparked by the insistence, of both Reagan and John Paul, on the fundamental importance of the dignity of the human person. But when the Soviets faced these two leaders of shared purpose and conviction, they faced their worst-case scenario: a moral-political meta-power. As Cardinal Silvestrini had said, “The two planes (politics and morality) can be complementary when they have the same objective.” That there was no formal Vatican alliance with the West only gave the pope’s moral stance all the more weight. Perhaps, ultimately, that was part of the essential genius of his policy.

— Mark Riebling

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