KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you talk about tomorrow?
The farewell continues with the president joining the thousands of ordinary Americans passing in silent farewell before the catafalque.
On the eve of the national funeral service an unexpected Reagan legacy. Will the president now have to politically oppose Nancy Reagan?
Different field, similar sadness: Music legend Ray Charles is dead.
History written small: Decision reversed or choices not made and the ceremonies here might never have been. How history links Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and both George Bushes.
And how to remember Ronald Reagan: The proposals about the Reagan 50 cent piece, the Reagan 20, the Reagan—well, reading left to right, what is wrong with this picture?
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from Washington. On the eve of the nation‘s first national funeral service in 31 years, as thousands of ordinary Americans continue to file past the catafalque in the Capitol rotunda, President Bush has returned to the Capitol to one sad occasion and one budding political controversy that may wind up pitting him against Nancy Reagan.
In our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: the sad occasion. At 6:37 p.m. Eastern daylight time the unceasing rhythms of the public visitations at Ronald Reagan‘s casket, already in their 22nd hour, were halted so that President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush could pay their own respects to the man whom Mr. Bush‘s father served as vice president. Mr. Bush is, of course, to deliver the eulogy for President Reagan at the Washington National Cathedral in the funeral service that begins tomorrow morning at 11:30 Eastern time. His stay at the casket side was brief and respectful.
Mr. Bush was the highest ranking of today‘s thousands of mourners, but it was another man appearing hours earlier, improbable in his presence, eloquent in his silence, who said without words, the most about the presidency, perhaps about the life of Ronald Reagan.
In touching remembrance to the man who once called the former Soviet Union “an evil empire,” Mikhail Gorbachev, that nation‘s last formal leader, took a moment to reach out and say goodbye. Mr. Gorbachev will also be in attendance at the funeral, tomorrow.
Yet, on the whole it is the ordinary citizens, up to 100 of them passing by every minute since last night, who have constituted the stories of this day, here in Washington. Their steady flow interrupted only by the hourly changing of the Honor Guards, their silent brief passage over the sparkling floor of the Capitol rotunda, an almost deliberate pause in the solemn pomp and ritualized formal farewells of yesterday and tomorrow.
The images have been consistent throughout the day: many with watery eyes, hands over hearts, others pausing to cross themselves, many ordinary civilians, saluting, all of them silent, respectful, contemplative. And on this parade of the not famous it will continue all through this night through the small hours, until 9:30 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.
Amid the public sadness, among the kind of institutionalized remembrance that is done nowhere better than in Washington, we have perhaps, not seen it coming. The immediate political legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan, may not be the anticipated flag-waving at Madison Square Garden, replete with President Bush holding hands with Nancy Reagan at the end of August. That immediate legacy may be controversy over stem cell research.
First Lady Laura Bush, whose own father suffered from the same Alzheimer‘s disease that ultimately claimed Mr. Reagan, voicing her continued support for the current policy on stem cell research to combat that long dismal tide of incapacitation, and other diseases. But continuing to oppose any expansion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: There are stem cells that are available for research, but also we need to balance the interest in science with moral and ethical issues that have to do with embryonic stem cell use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What might be a smoldering controversy got two new sources of fuel, today, one from each perspective. Several of the nation‘s leading specialists on stem cells and Alzheimer‘s have told the “Washington Post” that the doubts that the stem cells are a likely therapy for the disease are real ones.
“I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer‘s brains by putting in stem cells is small,” said Michael Shelanski, co-director of the research at Columbia University.
Although others continue to insist that to stick to the rigid limitations on the research, to predict what experimentation will not find is foolhardy.
“The public should understand that science is not like making widgets,” says James Batty who heads the stem cell efforts at the National Institutes of Health, “We‘ve exploring the unknown, and by definition we don‘t know where it‘s going to take us.”
The second development of the day, a majority of the Senate, 14 Republicans ranging from Oren Hatch to Arlen Specter, among them, have sent a letter to Mr. Bush asking him to loosen those restrictions on stem cell research, the ones he imposed nearly four years ago. Two hundred and six members of Congress sent a similar letter to the White House a month ago.
In their documents, the senators write:
“We would very much like to work with you to modify the current embryonic stem cell policy so that it provides this area of research the greatest opportunity to lead to the treatments and cures for which we are all hoping.”
One of the five organizers of the Senate letter, Dianne Feinstein of California, says this issue is especially poignant given President Reagan‘s passing. Poignant, and given Nancy Reagan‘s much publicized view, potentially explosive. Can it be forestalled?
It was in a letter to the American public 10 years ago that he revealed his diagnosis, by doing so, he wrote, he hoped to promote, quote, “greater awareness of the condition and to encourage a clearer understanding.” The woman, who is now his widow, took those remarks to a different level. She first publicly, but with seeming deference, pushed for more stem cell research at a time when the current President Bush first opposed it. Last month the difference—deference ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Ronnie‘s long journey has finally taken him to a distance place where I can no longer reach him. We can‘t share the wonderful memories of our 52 years together, and I think that‘s probably the hardest part. And because of this I‘m determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain. And now science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that have for so long been beyond our grasp. I just don‘t see how we can turn our backs on this. There are so many diseases that can be cured or at least helped. We‘ve lost so much time already and I just really can‘t bear to lose any more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What happens now? Three forces seem to be colliding, the sadness and nostalgia for Ronald Reagan, the extraordinary public support for Nancy Reagan and the Republican‘s intent to use the Reagan legacy in the current campaign. To try to sort it out I‘m joined now, here in Washington, by “Newsweek” senior correspondent and MSNBC News political analyst, Howard Fineman.
It‘s good to have you with me, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: I‘m glad to be here.
OLBERMANN: Now, do we really have three or perhaps even more trains running toward a collision all on the same track?
FINEMAN: We have a few of them and they will meet at Madison Square Garden in the convention, potentially, in New York. There‘s no doubt that with the passing of Ronald Reagan that some of that convention is going to focus on his legacy. George W. Bush is going, in essence be saying, let‘s win one more for the “Gipper.” And, that means a prominent role for Nancy Reagan, I would assume.
Except for the fact that Nancy Reagan‘s mission now—and I‘ve talked to friends of hers out in California, people who were at that testimonial dinner that she was at the other week—who say Nancy Reagan‘s mission now is stem cell research. And that puts the Bush-Cheney campaign in a bind because they‘re relying on conservative Catholics and others who deeply oppose stem cell research on moral and religious grounds.
OLBERMANN: So, how does the president expect to get the cooperation of Nancy Reagan, in the immediate wake of her husband‘s death, while denying her that which she has set—not only set her heart on in her grief but, set her heart on publicly?
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, I think they are going to have to have talks. There are going to be—have to be discussions about what role she‘ll have at the convention. But first of all, even if she says nothing at the convention, if she just shows up at the convention, she is already now the loading advocate, perhaps, for stem cell research in the country, if not the world. So, that will illicit comment. Better to actually have her give a speech.
So quite possibly they will work with her on a speech that is mostly about Ronald Reagan that may allow her to mention the topic. Delicate negotiations of the kind that you wouldn‘t expect this White House to have to have with the widow of a Republican president.
OLBERMANN: I was out during the state funeral procession yesterday, right behind us in Taft Park, all of the appreciation of the military bands, all of the awe-struck responses to the F-15‘s flying over so low and in succession in the missing man formation, even the passing of the caisson itself. Of all of these things in that 15 minutes or so that it took to go past a given point, the most spontaneous, genuine response from that crowd, those people there, was when Nancy Reagan drove past—if President Bush is on one side of this thing and the grieving presidential widow is seen to be on the other one, ultimately is it not the president who has to give in?
FINEMAN: I think so. I think quite possibility, and I think Nancy Reagan is becoming more of a figure now as a result of these ceremonies than anybody could have possibly anticipated, people are looking at the 10 years of care that she gave to her husband and her suffering, really, and her great love for him that‘s demonstrated at every moment. And, yes, she‘s becoming a major moral figure in the country, a real force. And yet the Bush presidency and the Bush-Cheney campaign is going to want to argue that their man is carrying on the political legacy of her husband.
OLBERMANN: Do you send her up to that podium if there is no agreement? Do we have suddenly something of fascination at the Republican convention? Now suddenly something as a plug for people to watch it...
FINEMAN: Yes, please will watch this convention. No, but I‘m afraid to say the last time there was an unscripted moment at a convention is—you know, passes all of our memories, so it‘s unlikely to be unscripted, I hate to tell everybody.
OLBERMANN: When Champ Clark didn‘t get the nomination in 1912.
Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC. As an author once wrote, “Events. Events are what ruin politics for politicians.” Many thanks for coming out.
FINEMAN: Of course, of course.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, in the fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: What was planned to be the political and international story of the week ended today, in comparative obscurity. The G-8 Summit is over. The leaders of the group of eight adopted antiterror, trade, and development measures. They agreed to train over 50,000 troops for peace-keeping missions, to coordinate efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, to fight famine in Africa. But when it came to the principal reason for meeting, Iraq, they failed to find consensus. Our reporter following the now concluded summit in Georgia, is David Gregory—David.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, security is the greatest challenge facing Iraq‘s new government and despite the indefinite commitment of roughly 140,000 U.S. troops there, today the president insisted that it will be up to Iraqis to provide the stability in their own country.
(voice-over): Despite the ongoing danger to U.S. troops in Iraq the president said today, it‘s unrealistic to expect NATO countries to send additional soldiers. During the summit the president issued a plea for international help in Iraq, but it appears the best the administration will get is support training Iraqi security forces, which until now have disappointed U.S. commanders.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No question it‘s still going to be dangerous, but the solution for Iraqi security is going to be provided by the Iraqis. That‘s what Prime Minister Allawi has said so clearly.
GREGORY: Despite his confidence in the Iraqis, the president was again today unwilling to say when U.S. troops may return home.
BUSH: When the job‘s done.
GREGORY: And even he predicts the insurgency will grow more violent in the coming weeks and months.
At a press conference before his return to Washington tonight, Mr. Bush strongly denied ever acting on the advice from his Justice Department suggesting that torture was an acceptable interrogation technique during the war on terror.
BUSH: I‘m going to say it one more time. I—if—maybe—maybe I could maybe be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law, that ought to comfort you.
GREGORY: The president said this summit has helped the U.S. and its allies overcome some bitter disagreements, but there are still differences. The president tried it make light of them when asked what the meetings are like with those who opposed him on Iraq?
BUSH: Well we go to different corners of the room and we face the wall, no.
GREGORY (on camera): Some of the leaders who attended the summit are now on their way to Washington to join President Bush tomorrow at the memorial service for President Reagan. Mr. Bush said he is preparing to eulogize the 40th president of the United States, whom he called “the national treasure”—Keith.
OLBERMANN: David Gregory at the G-8, many thanks.
In his wide-ranging comments before he left the summit at Sea Island, Georgia to return to Washington, Mr. Bush insisted relations with France were good. Certainly they are on one point. President Jacques Chirac did not say d‘accord to an expanded NATO role in the war in Iraq, but he didn‘t give a flat out no to talking about it and he complimented the eats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACQUES CHIRAC, FRENCH PRESIDENT: ...the last few days, this cuisine, here in America, was certainly on a par with French cuisine and I asked the president to convey my thanks to the chef.
BUSH: He particularly liked the cheese burger he had yesterday.
CHIRAC: It was excellent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, I hope you guys remembered to leave a tip. Later, on COUNTDOWN:
Commemorating Ronald Reagan, long after the events of this week are at an end: Mr. Reagan on coins, Mr. Reagan on bills, Mr. Reagan on Mount Rushmore.
And up next remembering a music legend, Ray Charles has passed away today, at the age of 73.
OLBERMANN: Tonight‘s No. 4 story up next: Ray Charles, his death from liver cancer, his unlikely connection to President Reagan. COUNTDOWN continues from Washington, stand by.
OLBERMANN: Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” at the 1984 Republican National Convention and then afterwards shaking hands with the president and nominee, Ronald Reagan.
As we have been reminded since Saturday in the eulogies to Mr. Reagan, one measure of a man‘s greatness is not only the way he takes jokes about himself, but if and how he makes them. Thus was a generation introduced to Ray Charles in the movie “The Blues Brothers” unselfconsciously participating in bad gag in which he fires a near miss warning shot at a would-be shoplifter at his own music store.
Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight: Ray Charles has died today, at his home in Los Angeles. And as our correspondent, Bob Faw, reports, that sense of humor about his affliction was only one of the many measures of that man‘s greatness.
BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ray Charles didn‘t recognize musical boundaries. Blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, swing all into one amazing soulful thing, said an admirer.
FAW: Born dirt poor in Georgia he was left blind by glaucoma at age seven, was orphaned at 15, learned to read and write music in Braille, was influenced most by what he heard in the Baptist church, on the radio, the Grand ‘Ol Opry, by Chopin and Cavelius.
QUINCY JONES, MUSIC PRODUCER: Everything, he played everything. Rhythm and blues clubs with strippers and that‘s how we learned our crafts those days.
FAW: For five decades he dazzled as a composer, arranger, and performer hitting No. 1 three different times. Garnering 12 Grammy Awards plus to honors from President Clinton, even becoming spokesman for the Pepsi generation.
RAY CHARLES, MUSICIAN: I do strive to give the people all of me and -
· you know, I mean I don‘t short-change—you know, when I do anything in my music, I‘m very sincere about it—you know, and I give it all that I got.
FAW: His personal life was stormy. A long time drug user, he kicked the heroin habit, fathered nine children by seven different women.
DAVID RITZ, BIOGRAPHER: For all of the intensely wild behavior on some level, nothing overpowered his work.
FAW: “What I did was, I became myself,” he once said, wincing when others call him the “Father of Soul Music.”
“You can‘t teach people to sing with feeling,” said Ray Charles, “they either have it in them or they don‘t.”
He did. Oh, how he did.
Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: The life and passing of music legend, Ray Charles, our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN, this night. Still ahead of us a much needed break from all of the sad news of today and this week. To lighten the mood, one of our favorite segaments—segments, every night, “Oddball” is up next, as if you could not tell from this videotape, complete with guys getting the shins kicked out of them. That‘s a head, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.
BUSH: Clive, BBC. Where are you, Clive?
BUSH: You qualify.
Where is Clive? Clive, I‘m sorry. There is a surrogate Clive, here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
QUESTION: Policy differences that sometimes happen between you and your foreign partners. How do they affect your personal relationship with those leaders?
BUSH: Yeah. Well we go to different corners of the room and we face
OLBERMANN: We‘re back, and even though the Capitol Dome looms and the week here has been one of somber reflection, life still needs the pause for the bizarre, our nightly stories that simply, we get a kick out of. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
And when the only major sport in your country is soccer a lot of minor sports come along that are mere variations. We are in Gloucester, England, the same place that brought us the Cheese Roll from a few weeks back and you are watching the Shin Kicking Competition. The idea is to kick at the shins of your opponent until one man goes down. No martial arts stuff allowed, but competitors can stuff straw down their pants. Not sure if that helps in the contest, but anytime you get that opportunity, hey why not? This year‘s champion is 40-year-old Joe McDonough (ph). He will receive a nice plaque and a stern letter of reprimand from Britain‘s National Health Service.
To Moscow now, and no the Russian acrobat Nikolai Novikov was not a runner-up in the shin kicking competition, who‘s trying to compensate for sore shins, he‘s walk on his hands on purpose. It was a successful run at the world handstand descent record -- 787 steps down from the top floor the historic Moscow Hotel. It took 40 minutes for Novikov to descend the 32 flights of marble stairs, with short breaks between flights, a few falls, and one long pause to scrape the gum off his hands. That makes this Russian handstand, as opposed to “American Bandstand.” He says now he is off to conquer the Eiffel Tower or some other building where the elevator is actually working.
Amazing news this week as scientists around the world have dropped whatever meaningless research they were doing on humans to focus on the city of Berlin, Germany and “Rico,” the world‘s smartest dog. Good boy. Who‘s a lucky dog? Who‘s a lucky doggie? That‘s right. Researchers say Rico the Collie, shown here, can actually understand human language and can remember the names of over 200 objects. They say he shows the language comprehension skills of a 3-year-old child. The creatively named science journal, “Science,” which published the Rico study, thinks this could just be the first step, quote, “We wonder what prevents animals from speaking.” Maybe they just don‘t have anything to say to scientists. Rico, they say, is loving all of this attention, hamming it up for the camera, but he really likes to spend most of the days at home playing fetch, doing “New York Times” cross word puzzle, and licking himself.
Finally tonight, the weather report, and taking a look at the “Oddball” five million day extended forecast, temperatures should remain warm and stable with a 10 percent chance of another ice age. Scientists drilling nearly two miles deep into the ice core of the Antarctic, say they have produced the oldest ever continuous climate record dating back 740,000 years. With this information, they believe they can predict climate changes for the next 15,000 years. And, you might want to pack an umbrella if you‘re heading out to the Macy‘s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the 6085.
Picking up the COUNTDOWN again, per se, after the break. Coming up:
Ronald Reagan‘s vision is said to have played a big part in the fall of the Berlin wall, a vital 100 mile monument to the Cold War, now with his passing, what type of monument, perhaps of that dimension, is appropriate to honor his impact on the world?
Up next, though the somber pageantry of the week so far, how history set the tone for the ceremonies honoring Mr. Reagan. Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3, Dania Johnson of Philadelphia. Police say she was so distraught when she was pulled over on the Schuylkill Expressway, maybe because they had confiscated her pet, a three-foot alligator that was—quote—“sitting in the driver‘s lap sticking his head out the window.”
No. 2, Eva Hofbauer of Austria. Yesterday was her wedding day. She showed up at the church wearing the world‘s longest bridal veil, 1.7 miles long. It took nearly 100 young assistants to carry it down the aisle. No word as to whether or not the marriage has yet been consummated because she may still be undressing.
And No. 1, our friends at the nearby Pentagon, further proof that no one can waste money any better, nor more spectacularly, than they can, a congressional report today saying the Pentagon wasted $100 million on airline tickets that were purchased and then never used. To add insult to injury, most of those tickets would have been fully refundable if anyone had bothered to return them.
OLBERMANN: Merely the miles tread on foot by those walking past the casket of Ronald Reagan in California and then again in Washington and those who lined the procession route yesterday must total in the tens of thousands.
And yet, as we note in tonight‘s third story, it is tomorrow that is the first and only official day of mourning for the 40th president. After public visiting at the Rotunda ends at 9:30 a.m., the departure ceremony from the Capitol takes place at 10:30. Then, the motorcade makes its way to the National Cathedral for the national funeral service an hour later, after which, the motorcade will depart for Andrews Air Force Base, and then the return to Simi Valley, California.
The private interment service begins at 9:15 p.m. Eastern, 6:15 Pacific, on the grounds of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library there. Please remember to join Chris Matthews, Lester Holt, me, the entire MSNBC team, as we bring you MSNBC‘s live coverage throughout the day tomorrow of the national funeral service and the interment of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Surely, we can forecast the tone of events tomorrow based on the tone of events yesterday. The procession and the state funeral presented themselves in essence as the traditional juxtaposition of great sound and utter silence, the solemn music of the military bands, then quiet interrupted only by the clatter of boots and hoof steps, the deafening roars of the F-15s overhead, followed by the almost instantaneous silence of the citizens against caisson drew slowly past, the quiet orders of the honor guard echoing through the still Rotunda, great sound and utter silence and a tradition rooted in farewells that no man living can remember.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): The tradition of the riderless horse. Today, Sergeant York, a standard bred retired from the racetracks of New Jersey. It is to overwhelm the probable with the sentimental, to *˜2Dapply the human to the animal, to suggest that Sergeant York was less aware of his tasks than was his most famous predecessor in solemnity, but these events are days for sentimentality.
And, in 1963, the onlookers had no doubt about the riderless horse in President Kennedy‘s state funeral procession. He was Blackjack. And as he trailed Kennedy‘s caisson, he was never out of the control of his handler, but we wanted to believe that his rearing and spiritedness was an acknowledgement of the lost president. He, said his handler of Blackjack, was proud. The riderless horse is not just a tradition. It is an ancient ritual predating the nation itself by perhaps a millennium.
Genghis Khan was said to have been buried this way, with the horse provided to bear the great warrior or great leader on the road to another world.
Plus, the rituals that formally bore Ronald Wilson Reagan through the capital today are an utter mix, some derivations of ancient Roman burials, some of the 10th century, some of the Civil War, and some of 1973. Mr. Reagan based his ceremony in large part on that which had been enacted for Lyndon Johnson 31 years ago, the last formal state funeral in this country, a fact which, whenever it is mentioned, invokes the question, what about Richard Nixon?
And in that answer is contained the most curious fact about today‘s Washington farewell. The official state funeral here is anything but official. Nixon did not have one. Watergate was a factor, but ultimately the decision was his and his family‘s. But nor was Franklin Roosevelt honored in the way Mr. Reagan was today, nor Harry Truman, memorialized at his presidential library in Independence, Missouri, not in this city of which his wife once famously said, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
In Texas, the Truman ceremony still wounds many. Lyndon Johnson traveled there in the frigid days after Christmas 1972. And 28 days later, Johnson too was dead.
Ultimately, all of what we saw today traces most directly back to the frozen moments of the funeral possessions for John F. Kennedy and for Abraham Lincoln. The ritualized expression of a nation‘s sadness is directed to the memory of Ronald Reagan, but, in a broader sense, it remembers all of our presidents.
And each element today ultimately contained only the meaning we have assigned it. Consider the procession of dignitaries, one of the searing images of the Kennedy funeral, the leaders of the world marching into Arlington Cemetery, 19 kings, presidents and princes. And the order in which they marched, the intertwining and interweaving of the traditions and vanities of 20 nations, the protocol of grief was not found in no diplomat‘s handbook nor a remembrance of Genghis Khan.
The State Department simply asked them all to walk in alphabetical order by the name of their country, a solution both egalitarian and commonsensical, which would have appealed to today‘s honoree.
OLBERMANN: We recorded that yesterday, of course.
There was an innovation at dusk last night, one that might have been thought disrespectful at any of the earlier processions and funerals here. After the bands and the caisson had passed a given point along the route, there was thunderous applause for Nancy Reagan and her family, another juxtaposition of great sound and utter silence and perhaps a new component to the ever-evolving tradition.
The solemnities marking the death and life of President Ronald Reagan, our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.
Up next, the political alliances and aspirations that could have put the careers of these three men on entirely different paths. And later, celebrating 80 years of life by taking a death-defying leap. President Bush the elder and his plans for the weekend coming up on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Coming up on COUNTDOWN, how Ronald Reagan‘s political choices before he ever reached the Oval Office might have determined the legacies of three other presidents. And later, remembering Mr. Reagan as a physical, rather than a figurative part of the American landscape.
OLBERMANN: It is useful perhaps to remind ourselves that, in the two years and nearly nine months since 9/11, we have seen history written large, capital letters only, about terrorism and Afghanistan and Iraq.
But in our second story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, the history of the path that brought Ronald Reagan and not someone else to this particular juncture is made up of mostly small things, some of them with import that was utterly indecipherable at the time.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): History often pivots on the head of a pin. The textbooks say Ronald Reagan won all four of his elections and all in landslides.
They textbooks ignore his brief joust for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and, more importantly, his hammer-and-tongs battle with incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976. Not only did Ford stave Reagan off, but he also did not, as many hoped, select or convince Reagan to run with him as vice president. And then Ford, with Bob Dole on his ticket, lost the White House to Jimmy Carter, the first pivot on the head of a pin.
Reagan doesn‘t get the nomination, is not tarred alongside Ford by defeat at the polls, doesn‘t get stuck as his vice president during the lean years of the late ‘70s. But the tiniest head of the pin would come four years later. Reagan rolls to the Republican nomination, but Ford is still a very forceful figure in the party. How forceful? July 16, 1980.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening from Detroit, where a mighty effort is under way tonight to get former President Gerald R. Ford to run for vice president on a ticket headed by Ronald Reagan.
OLBERMANN: Find that in the history books, even in its simple form. The real story was far more complicated. It involved not just Ford and Reagan, but also Henry Kissinger, using not shuttle, but elevator diplomacy.
DAVID BRINKLEY, NEWS ANCHOR: Kissinger and other members, other people, have been involved in negotiating during the day. Ford stated certain conditions under which he would accept the nomination for vice president.
OLBERMANN: The conditions for having an ex-president run as vice president? According to many witnesses, including Reagan‘s foreign policy adviser, later national security adviser, Richard Allen, Reagan himself recited them in the hotel room from which he watched the 1980 Republican Convention unfold in Detroit.
Ford wants Kissinger as secretary of state and Greenspan at Treasury, he said. Even Ford addressed his role in a would-be Reagan administration on television as Reagan watched. “Did you hear what he said about his role?” Reagan told Carl Cannon. “Sounds like he wants to be a co-president”—another pivot atop another pin.
RONALD REAGAN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is true that a number of Republican leaders, people in our party, office holders, felt, as I‘m sure many others have felt, that a proper ticket would have included the former president of the United States, Gerald Ford, as second place on the ticket.
He and I have come to The conclusion and he believes deeply that he can be of more value as the former president campaigning his heart out, which he has pledged to do.
OLBERMANN: And with that, Reagan for president, Ford for vice president was dead, dead so late in that Detroit night that stories of Ford‘s selection as V.P. made it into some Eastern newspapers and radio newscasts. With the unprecedented ticket now smashed, history had yet another head of the pin on which to pivot.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH ®, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just a few minutes before he appeared at the convention, out of a clear blue sky, I might add, Governor Reagan called me up and asked if I would be willing to run with him on this ticket.
OLBERMANN: Could Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford have defeated Jimmy Carter? Could Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford have defeated themselves during a virtual co-presidency? And what would have happened to that guy Bush? And didn‘t he have a son or something?
OLBERMANN: That Ronald Reagan touched countless lives is obvious. That he redirected those of both Bushes, Ford and Carter, four other presidents, at least, is almost as awe-inspiring as the events here this week.
It is at this point every night that we suspend the COUNTDOWN to bring you the celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.” We are in full preparation, though, for the national day of mourning. Thus, this usually entirely silly segment will be confined tonight to the offbeat news of political celebrity, including one of the ones we just mentioned.
The former President Bush is going skydiving again. Tomorrow, the services for his old boss. Sunday, he leaps out of a plane from 13,000 feet with a parachute on his 80th birthday. It will be Mr. Bush‘s fourth parachute jump of his lifetime. The last three have been intentional. The first was over the Pacific when his plane was shot out from under him during World War II.
And you may have noticed that, for all of Ronald Reagan‘s Hollywood and TV connections, that second and longest stage of his career, has almost been out of view since his passing. Not quite. One tangible connection, Joan Rivers, part of yesterday‘s funeral service at the Capitol Rotunda. Friend of Nancy Reagan‘s, she not only arrived in Washington on the noon train from New York yesterday, but had been escorted to Penn Station in New York by policemen and met at Union Station in D.C. by another official retinue.
So far, she is the only entertainment figure to have made a high-profile appearance during the entire week of mourning.
Still ahead of us here tonight, long after the eulogies, long after the personal tributes to Ronald Reagan, what sort of permanent memorial will befit his place in history? Commemorating the 40th president of the United States in real terms.
OLBERMANN: The outpouring of final respects being paid to Ronald Wilson Reagan continues without pause inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
For more than 24 hours now, the casket bearing the body of America‘s 40th president has been atop that same catafalque used to bear Abraham Lincoln‘s remains. It is a sight the likes of which this country has not seen for 31 years, during the state funeral for President Lyndon Johnson. Tens of thousands have filed by already, the public viewing scheduled to end at 9:30 tomorrow morning.
And yet this is the most transient of the commemorations. Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, what of the permanent remembrances? Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader (sic) Bill Frist proposed renaming the Pentagon in President Reagan‘s honor.
But Mr. Reagan‘s former special assistant, now Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has already announced his opposition to that. “I don‘t think,” Rohrabacher said, “Reagan wanted to have a huge military establishment. That wasn‘t his goal.”
That is just the tip of the touchy iceberg that is tangible commemoration.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): More than five years ago, Washington‘s National Airport was renamed in President Reagan‘s honor. Frequent flyers are not necessarily sure that is a compliment. And in the wake of his death, his admirers are not necessarily sure it is sufficient.
Representative Jeff Miller of Florida submitted legislation Tuesday to remove John F. Kennedy‘s likeness from the 50-cent piece and replace it with Reagan‘s. This raises the obvious question, what has JFK done lately to deserve being erased from the coin of the realm? Besides which, some of President Reagan‘s admirers—wait for it—are not necessarily sure it is sufficient.
Rival proposals would put him on a $10 bill or the $20. The bit about the $20, involving a sayonara to Andrew Jackson, was originally proposed and shelved in the year 2000, largely because Jackson is still an icon, albeit not much of a campaign tool, for the Democratic Party.
Attention then reverted to the $10, which would relegate Alexander Hamilton, father of the federal banking system, to the dustbin of history. None of these proposals got very far four years ago. Congressman Miller notes that Reagan‘s likeness could revive the flagging half-dollar. He points out, only five million of them were struck last year, the fewest of any coin in circulation, and just a fraction of the 2.2 billion quarters that were minted.
And about JFK, well, Miller says, he has already been on the 50-cent piece for 41 years. Nobody seemed to missed his predecessor, Ben Franklin, who only held the job for a quarter of a century. Besides which, President Kennedy is already on more than 600 schools in this country.
And, anyway, as to a coin, President Reagan‘s admirers—see if this sounds familiar—aren‘t necessarily sure it is sufficient. Change has undergone such a change in the last decade that it often seems more nuisance than tribute. Ask Mr. Lincoln, who can now be had for free at almost any cash register in the nation.
It is serious business, this, how to remember a popular and seemingly ever decreasingly controversial president. But it is not as if Mr. Reagan has not already been commemorated. There is the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California, near the library of course, the Reagan Turnpike in Florida, and, as of 2000, 34 other Reagan roads and a bridge. Eureka, Illinois, where he went to college, has the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden. There is the aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan.
Still, especially this week, some of the memorials seem less respectful than commercial. Consider the Ronald Reagan suite at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, around five grand a night, commemorative bowl of jelly beans included.
Thus, in September of 2000, the House Resources Committee approved a Reagan Memorial on the Mall in Washington. But the Mall was little busy, as it was, and now a Reagan presence there might seem as if it were stealing the thunder of the brand new World War II Memorial.
So, a Reagan half-dollar, too small. A Reagan $20, too big. A Reagan Memorial, too lost in the crowd. Thus, perhaps was the inevitable. Besides Bill Frist‘s proposal to rename the Pentagon after him, a proposal now afoot to cut to the chase and cut Ronald Reagan‘s likeness into Mount Rushmore. That nobody newer than Teddy Roosevelt is up there had tamped down fleeting proposals to add FDR or Eisenhower or JFK.
There is also a logistical problem. One could build up some of the recesses to the right, the ones that kind of offset Washington, Jefferson, T.R. and Lincoln, but the Park Service has enough trouble with maintenance of that rock face as it is. Adding on to the mountain would necessitate importing and gluing in stone or using some other material. And that might imply second-class status.
And carve him in, as the others were, just as the mountain exists now, and Mr. Reagan‘s likeness may have to be set somewhat behind the others, giving him an odd “peering from the back of the photograph” quality. Why not, you ask, simply put him into that seemingly prime location there on the left next to George Washington? Um, Reagan on the left?
OLBERMANN: And seemingly every proposal has a small detail like that one. For instance, that proposed Reagan Memorial on the mall, one of our lesser known federal laws prohibits any such commemoration for any individual who has not been dead for at least a quarter of a century. The law was passed in 1986. It was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
That‘s COUNTDOWN from Washington tonight. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann in our nation‘s capital. Good night and good luck.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.