MICHAEL REAGAN, SON OF RONALD REAGAN: Good evening.
I‘m Mike Reagan. You knew my father as governor, as president. But I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad. A little bit about Cameron and Ashley‘s grandfather because not a whole lot is ever spoken about that side of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan adopted me into his family 1945. I was a chosen one. I was the lucky one. And all of his years, he never mentioned that I was adopted either behind my back or in front of me. I was his son, Michael Edward Reagan.
When his families grew to be two families, he didn‘t walk away from the one to go to the other. But he became a father to both. To Patti and then Ronnie, but always to Maureen, my sister, and myself. We looked forward to those Saturday mornings when he would pick us up, sitting on the on the curb at Beverly Glen as his car would turn the corner from Sunset Boulevard and we would get in and ride to his ranch and play games and he would always make sure it ended up a tie.
We would swim and we would ride horses or we‘d just watch him cut firewood. We would be in awe of our father. As years went by and I became older and found a woman I would marry, Colleen, he sent me a letter about marriage and how important it was to be faithful to the woman you love with a P.S.—you‘ll never get in trouble if you say I love you at least once a day, and I‘m sure he told Nancy every day I love you as I tell Colleen.
He also sent letters to his grandchildren. He wasn‘t able to be the grandfather that many of you are able to be because of the job that he had. And so he would write letters. He sent one letter to Cameron, said, Cameron, some guy got $10,000 for my signature. Maybe this letter will help you pay for your college education. He signed it, Grandpa. P. S. , your grandpa‘s is the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. He just signed his sign. Those are the kinds of things my father did.
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 good-bye. 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. He gave me a lot of gifts as a child. Gave me a horse. Gave me a car. Gave me a lot of things. But there‘s a gift he gave me that I think is wonderful for every father to give every son. Last Saturday, when my father opened his eyes for the last time, and visualized Nancy and gave her such a wonderful, wonderful gift.
When he closed his eyes, that‘s when I realized the gift that he gave to me, the gift that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had, back in 1988 on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Point Mugu, told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior. I didn‘t know then what it all meant. But I certainly, certainly know now. I can‘t think of a better gift for a father to give a son. And I hope to honor my father by giving my son Cameron and my daughter Ashley that very same gift he gave to me.
Knowing where he is this very moment, this very day, that he is in heaven, and I can only promise my father this. Dad, when I go, I will go to heaven, too. And you and I and my sister Maureen that went before us, we will dance with the heavenly host of angels before the presence of God. We will do it melanoma and Alzheimer‘s free.
Thank you for letting me share my father, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
PATTI DAVIS, DAUGHTER OF RONALD REAGAN: 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 thereby 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.
My father never feared death, he never saw it as an ending. When I was a child, he took me out into a field at our ranch after one of the Malibu fires had swept through. I was very small on the field, looked huge and lifeless, but he bent down and showed me how tiny new green shoots were peeking up out of the ashes just weeks after the fire had come through. You see, he said, new life always comes out of death. It looks like nothing could ever grow in this field again, but things do.
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.
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.
He may have in his lifetime come across a small book called “Peace of Mind” by Joshua Loth Lieberman. If he did, I think he would have been struck by these lines, then for each one of us, the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, it‘s time to go home, night is coming. It is your bedtime, child of Earth.
RON REAGAN JR., SON OF RONALD REAGAN: He is home now. He is free. In his final letter to the American people, dad wrote, I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. This evening, he has arrived.
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.
He used to say, a gentleman always does the kind thing. And he was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. A gentle man.
Big as he was, he never tried to make anyone feel small. Powerful as he became, he never took advantage of those who were weaker. Strength, he believed, was never more admirable than when it was applied with restraint. Shopkeeper, doorman, king or queen, it made no difference, dad treated everyone with the same unfailing courtesy. Acknowledging the innate dignity in us all.
The idea that all people are created equal was more than mere words on a page, it was how he lived his life. And he lived a good, long life. The kind of life good men lead. But I guess I‘m just telling you things you already know.
Here‘s something you may not know, a little Ronald Reagan trivia for you, his entire life, dad had an inordinate fondness for ear lobes. Even as a boy, back in Dixon, Illinois hanging out on a street corner with his friends, they knew that if they were standing next to Dutch, sooner or later, he was going to reach over and grab ahold of their lobe, give it a workout there. Sitting on his lap watching TV as a kid, same story, he would have a hold of my ear lobe. I‘m surprised I have any lobes left after all of that.
And you didn‘t have to be a kid to enjoy that sort of treatment. Serving in the Screen Actors Guild with his great friend William Holden, the actor, best man at his wedding, Bill got used to it. They would be there at the meetings, and Dad would have ahold of his ear lobe. There they‘d be, some tense labor negotiation, two big Hollywood movie stars, hand in ear lobe.
He was, as you know, a famously optimistic man. Sometimes such optimism leads you to see the world as you wish it were as opposed to how it really is. At a certain point in his presidency, dad decided he was going to revive the thumbs up gesture. So he went all over the country, of course, giving everybody the thumbs up.
Doria and I found ourselves in the presidential limousine one day returning from some big event. My mother was there and dad was of course, thumbs upping the crowd along the way, and suddenly, looming in the window on his side of the car was this snarling face. This fellow was reviving an entirely different hand gesture. And hoisted an entirely different digit in our direction. Dad saw this and without missing a beat turned to us and said, you see? I think it‘s catching on.
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.
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 towards 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.
REV. JOHN C. DANFORTH, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He maketh me to line down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name‘s sake. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.
(CHOIR SINGS “STAR-SPANGLED BANNER”)
REV. MICHAEL WENNING, RETIRED SENIOR PASTOR, BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN
CHURCH: Mrs. Reagan, members of the Reagan family, distinguished and honored guests, it is a wonderful, awesome responsibility for me to be able to give these final parting words on this long journey of this week of sadness.
I want to thank you for the privilege of being your pastor and chaplain to the president. Little did I think that four and a half decades ago, when Frieda and I came to this country to study in college, that one day I would end up as the chaplain to the president of the United States, only in America.
Dear Nancy, thank you for bearing your grief so nobly. Thank you for
the dignity that you have shown this week. Our hearts have gone out to you. So many people have commented on the picture where you and I are together as we began this week. And I think the reason for its poignancy was that the whole American nation was putting its arm around you. And so we love you and care for you.
Thank you for caring for the president in his declining years. Thank you for the wonderful example of your marriage that you modeled throughout your life together and especially in the White House years. Yours was truly a glorious friendship, based on mutual love and respect. And we love you for it. And thank you for it.
To you, Michael, and Patti, and Ron, thank you for those very, very touching and moving words, a little humor, but the heartfelt love of children who loved their father and respect him so much.
We gathered at the beginning of this long day in the National Cathedral and heard so many wonderful words from the nation‘s leaders and also from a beloved friend. I have never heard lady Margaret Thatcher speak more eloquently in all her life. The last time when I heard her speak, I had the privilege of being present as she was awarded the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.
And I remember her saying particularly, when Ronnie spoke about the Soviet Union as the evil empire, even I blanched. Thank God that neither she, nor your husband, shirked in the face of communism, but saw its demise.
He touched us all. When I went back to the land where I was born in South Africa, I went to see my aging father. And, as I sat in his study, he pointed to a huge picture behind me framed. It was of your husband. And he said, this is my president; 10,000 miles away, he identified, as we all do and shall do through time to come.
It now remains for me to talk about the man and his faith. Indeed, he was a gift from God to us all. He made us feel good and confident about ourselves, about our country, and about our future. And I believe it‘s because he gained his confidence from the psalm which I read at the beginning of this week, Psalm 46, where the psalm says, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble.
When you attended church, so many people noticed that he could sing the hymns without looking at the hymnal. He loved hymns. And it was appropriate that it was sung in the cathedral this morning and played on the bagpipes this evening. That hymn speaks about God‘s amazing grace. And Ronald Reagan knew of the grace of his lord, Jesus Christ, for he lived with and on and in that grace.
I think of that one particular stanza of that hymn which says, through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home. Grace has led him home this day. He was a man who exhibited graciousness with all that he met, from the highest in the land to the lowliest.
On one occasion, when Alzheimer‘s was beginning to rob that beautiful mind and he no longer came to Bel Air Presbyterian Church, you know that I came to the office regularly and brought the church to him and then to your home. And, on one occasion, his secretary said, Mr. President, your pastor is here. Come and sit in the corner of his office.
And he said, no, I think I‘ll just sit here at the desk. I looked at her. She looked at me. We knew he wasn‘t going to budge. So I sidled up and sat on the edge of the desk. And I said, Mr. President, you‘re still boss. I‘ll sit where you are.
And so I read scripture and prayed. Shortly afterwards, his secretary ushered in my wife and he stood up immediately and went over to her and shook her hand. You see, the gentleness, the kindness, the love, the gifts, the fruit of the holy spirit was deeply embedded in his DNA. As Ron has already said, in 1994, he wrote that letter saying, “I now begin my journey into the sunset of my life.”
But I believe that, last Saturday, he began a new journey into the glorious presence of almighty God, and he is basking in the sunshine of his love. And I believe he‘s touching the face of God, as he said during the Challenger disaster. And the lord is saying to him, well done, my good and faithful servant.
Let me close with just one thought. In the ancient nation of Israel, when the temple had been built, the lord appeared to King Solomon and said to him these words: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways and pray and seek my face, I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God was reminding his ancient people that the glory of the nation was not in power or prestige, in wealth or in might. Ronald Reagan knew that as a cardinal truth, that, ultimately, our strength is not in our might, but it is as we depend upon almighty God and trust in him and walk humbly before God. Ronald Reagan lived and believed that. And thank God that he did.
Mr. President, I salute you.
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
WENNING: Please pray with me.
God, we commend into your hands the spirit of your servant, Ronald Wilson Reagan. We commend him into your care and keeping. And as we do so, we commit ourselves afresh into your love and care.
Teach us to so live that we shall never, ever be afraid of death, nor ever ashamed to see you face to face, but grant that your love and peace may rest with us now and always. The lord bless you and keep you. The lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious upon you, the lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and grant his peace now and forever more, in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, aim, fire!
Ready, aim, fire!!
Ready, aim, fire!
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, that‘s the conclusion of it.
The burial is about to come. It‘s not going to be on camera. The family paid its respect, remarkable remarks by the children of Ronald Reagan, Michael, Patti Davis, and our colleague here at MSNBC, Ron Reagan.
I really think those were the—the marked events of this evening was the family and what they had to say.
Howard Fineman, thanks for joining us from “Newsweek.”
You know, Ron Reagan is something else, isn‘t he?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He really is.
I didn‘t get to know President Reagan well. I covered him. I met him, chit-chatted with him. But Ronnie Reagan, if you know the son, you know the father. And Ron Reagan is one of the most unaffected, most genuine, most direct and charming people that I‘ve ever met in politics and public life, a guy with enormous potential and great leadership and speaking ability, which he showed tonight.
This whole pageant of the week is a combination of a family story and a national story and a historical moment in time. And everything in this country is seen through the eyes of family. That‘s the way we operate in America. And this family became an emblem for all of us and a way for all of us not only to share in their grief, but to remember what is essential about our country and that, ultimately, freedom and family are joined together.
And I thought Ronnie Reagan expressed that beautifully and was able also to make gentle political points without seeming to be doing it, which was another hallmark of his dad, who was ever gentle, but always on point.
MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan. The family, it‘s like all families. It‘s interesting being in a family.
MATTHEWS: That‘s just one way to put it.
BUCHANAN: It‘s more than that.
And you could see the difference in the generations and in the children. Michael is clearly an evangelical, deeply devout Christian, outspoken in his belief and his knowledge that he will be with his father in heaven. I think Patti reflects the generation of the 1960s, with poetry. And I agree with you. I thought Ron‘s eulogy for his father demonstrated tremendous poise, and the reserved—and the words were beautiful, and they were spoken, and it was almost poetry.
And they were spoken not in sort of a declamation, but simply almost in a conversational tone and slowly. And I thought it was a very, very memorable eulogy, especially the clothes and the image that he presented of the kind of heaven that he sees for his father.
But I do think the one indelible picture we‘re all going to get out of this is and carry with us is of the first lady. And I think it‘s going to be almost as indelible as that picture of Jacqueline Kennedy that we see constantly in black at John F. Kennedy‘s funeral.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think the word for me for the week was duty. Everyone in this country was involved in the honoring of Ronald Reagan, as Dick Cheney, the vice president said the other night, in extending to this man the highest honors of the United States.
And look at all the people that played a role in this, Fred Ryan, of course, with the library foundation, the Ronald Reagan Library Foundation. but we‘re seeing this, Mrs. Reagan in planning it and going through this.
FINEMAN: Chris, they did a tremendous service to this country.
Whether you agreed with Ronald Reagan‘s policies or not, this was about something larger. This was about the continuing institutions of the country, about continuity, about renewal, about beauty.
FINEMAN: This has been a beautifully produced week, putting together almost a highlight reel of American culture and the ideals of leadership and stability that I think in these times we really need.
They did us all a big favor in that sense. And these parting shots here, including the sun setting beautifully in the West over the Pacific Ocean, couldn‘t express more deeply what is essential about this country.
MATTHEWS: We just saw Merv Griffin walk by. And I know from personal experience how he has tended the family of Ronald Reagan. His close friendship with Nancy Reagan is something to behold, in addition to all the other friends we‘ve seen here. He keeps up. These people meet the responsibility of friendship as well as anyone you‘ll see.
I do love the fact that this country took its duty seriously here in Washington, the official service here, the religious service here, the military role played by the military. You didn‘t see—I mean, look at these military guys. This has nothing to do with politics. They all come out, spit-and-polish, absolutely dignified, doing their duty. I go back to that word. I‘ve seen it in so many people this week, everywhere.
BUCHANAN: This was a great civic ceremony.
It‘s—again, it‘s quasi-religious, in the sense that you have a civil religion. This was a solemn high mass, as it were, of this country, of the republic, and the ceremony, the passing of a great leader. And I think the whole nation was invited in on it and the participation of all elements represented there.
And then you had I think the whole country watching this all week long. I go back to the word unifying. I think it‘s all of us together seeing this. And I really think there‘s a sense of togetherness all during this week in observing this. There has to be. And with some people, it calls for a timeout of partisanship, a timeout of bickering and coming together.
MATTHEWS: Howard, we‘ll be right back in just a moment.
Eight o‘clock on the West Coast. We‘re back. Welcome back to MSNBC‘s coverage of the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
Just moments ago, he was buried in Simi Valley at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on a hilltop that offers, obviously, as we‘ve seen, a panoramic view of the valley and the Pacific Ocean.
I‘m Chris Matthews, here with Pat Buchanan and Howard Fineman.
You know, this service has reached its end. We‘re not going to see the actual burial, obviously. That‘s not part of the public service here. But we saw just about everything, didn‘t we? I mean, Nancy Reagan was transparent this week. I mean, she had no place to hide all the emotions of a widow losing this guy.
You know what struck me? When you lose somebody at an age when you don‘t expect to, through accident or disease, there‘s a shock that sort of protects you. But, ironically, here, when it‘s old age and it‘s slow and it‘s deteriorating and it finally comes, there‘s no shock to protect you. This is a complete, clear reality of losing this guy for Nancy Reagan.
And Margaret Thatcher, look at her.
FINEMAN: Well, she was, in a way, one of the other most important women in Ronald Reagan‘s life and his staunchest ally and the person, along with Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa, who will be remembered for ending the argument of the 20th century, which was about whether government could be the answer to our lives here on Earth.
And that, to me, was the big question of 20th century and what Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher helped to answer with a resounding no with the fall of the Soviet Union. History doesn‘t get more important than that, bigger than that.
MATTHEWS: That‘s former Governor Wilson, who was of course a great adviser to Governor Schwarzenegger, the current governor of California, as he ran for the governorship in the special election last year. We covered that one every night for weeks, that campaign.
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Howard is right.
The great struggle of the 20th century, from 1917, basically, to 1989 was between the ideas as represented by the West and Ronald Reagan, the pope, Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher, vs. the ideas of Lenin and Stalin.
And what was so interesting today and was the other day up in the Capitol was to see Mr. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, stepping up and touching the coffin of the man many Americans believe was a decisive leader in winning and ending the Cold War.
MATTHEWS: There‘s Bo Derek, of course, the movie star; “10” was her big movie.
You know, it‘s interesting. You and I, Howard, have covered politics in this city for a long time. And it‘s filled with so many people that come into office because maybe becoming a congressman is a step up in their life. And it‘s not a bad career. And then this guy comes along out of another field, entertainment, television, runs for governor. He doesn‘t waste his time with the other offices. He goes right for governor of California.
Then he runs for president right away, within two years, finally wins it, comes with a purpose. Most politicians come to hold office. He came with a purpose. And I think that separates him.
Pat, very much like that, you. You‘re interested in politics for a particular doctrinal reason. You believe in free enterprise. You believe in stopping communism and reducing the size of government. He didn‘t come in to become a senator or to become a congressman. He came to do these things.
FINEMAN: He didn‘t do it for the honor of the office.
FINEMAN: He didn‘t do it for that. And all too many politicians...
MATTHEWS: Or for the salary.
FINEMAN: All too many politicians do. And coupled with that was his unaffected nature, in which he never seemed to be regarding himself.
So many politicians seem to always be looking at themselves in an invisible mirror. When I met him, he never was like that, totally unself-conscious, but, yes, committed to his values. If you read his letters, as I‘ve been doing during this week, he‘s constantly in the struggle of big ideas, constantly engaging in them. And he was the capstone of a movement that Pat has been part of that took 50 years to develop, I think.
It began with Bill Buckley at Yale and culminated in Ronald Reagan‘s election in 1980. And, in a way, George W. Bush is the remainder man of that movement.
MATTHEWS: There‘s Mickey Rooney. He‘s been in the business since the ‘30s. God.
FINEMAN: This is the Hollywood part. This is the West Coast and Hollywood part.
One thing we tend to forget is that Ronald Reagan is the first and only Western governor ever to be elected president, first and only Western governor. And his Westerness, the fact that, though he was born in Illinois, he became the quintessential Californian...
MATTHEWS: That was Betsy Bloomingdale, Nancy Reagan‘s good friend.
MATTHEWS: And her husband was a member of the well-known “Kitchen Cabinet” that helped finance—in fact, did finance Ronald Reagan‘s entry into politics in the mid-‘60s in California.
A lot of those “Kitchen Cabinet” members were there, or are there right now, a lot of movie stars, too. You know, there are—let‘s be blunt about it, some conservative movie stars, Tom Selleck, Pat Sajak, quiz master, if you will, Charlie Wick, Mickey Rooney, Bo Derek.
FINEMAN: Yes, but you can count them basically—you can count them basically on the fingers of two hands.
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying they‘re all there.
FINEMAN: Most of them are there.
But I encountered a wonderful exchange in the Reagan letters with Norman Lear, who is also there, Norman Lear, who founded People for the American Way, a staunch Democrat, but a friend of Reagan‘s until the end. They were arguing over the school prayer amendment. And Ronald Reagan finally said in the last letter: Well, I guess we can agree to disagree, and for that, sitting here in the White House, I thank God. Norman, I hope that‘s OK with you.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to a big moment this evening.
BUCHANAN: That is a
BUCHANAN: ... touch.
We‘re out here at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.
Let‘s go back and look at one of the moments with the former first lady, with Nancy Reagan. Here it is.
Well, that‘s Nancy Reagan and her last moments with her late husband. She‘s going to leave the grave site. That‘s Michael Reagan and Patti Davis. She changed her name to Patti Davis. She wanted to be a rebel, and she was and took her mother‘s name, her mother‘s maiden name.
FINEMAN: This is quite consciously by the Reagans a public ceremony for the week, almost a pageant, a movie, if you will, that ends with the tight shot, just a devastatingly sad picture of Nancy Reagan looking helpless in a way that only a widow who realizes her widowhood can be.
But just because these are public people doesn‘t mean that their grief isn‘t real. It‘s real. It‘s so obvious. It‘s palpable to everybody. And I think it‘s part of the way we continue on in this country, that we share our emotions with and through public people. And the Reagans were dedicatedly public people, but never uncomfortable doing it.
That was the key to their success and their ability to inspire. They were never uncomfortable being in public. They were always comfortable in their own skin, whether it was off stage or on stage.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go right now to George Lewis, NBC‘s George Lewis, who covers on the West Coast on all things. And this is a big one.
George Lewis, you‘re out there at the library.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, here among the crowd of 700 invited guests at the library.
And everyone was very touched by that moment when Nancy Reagan and the children spent that final second at the coffin. It was—I don‘t think there was a dry eye in the house. They referred to it as Ronnie‘s final scene, and it was. And it all played out exactly as planned, as the sun set in the west and behind the Santa Susana Mountains.
The members of the audience, the congregation, are now filing past the coffin, paying their final respects. This will take some time because of the large number of people going by very slowly. And then, following that, when everyone has left, the area around the coffin will be closed and Mr. Reagan will be laid to rest.
The library will be closed tomorrow and then opened on Sunday, so that the public can pay its final respects. They‘re expecting quite a large crowd, obviously, to show up at the library. The only thing that didn‘t go according to plan was that it took longer than they had expected for the funeral procession to get from Point Mugu Naval Air Station up to here.
They had budgeted about 45 minutes for that, and it took much longer, because an unexpected crowd of Californians showed up lining the roadway. They estimate about 150,000 people showed up. And so, they slowed down the funeral procession, so that people could get a good look at the hearse and Mr. Reagan‘s casket inside draped with the American flag.
We‘ve talked to a lot of the people who have come by the library this week. And many of them say that they sympathized with Mr. Reagan as a person. Not all of them were on his side politically, but many of them said that they loved his warmth, they loved his positive attitude, the morning in America of Ronald Reagan.
Many people brought their children because they wanted their kids to glimpse a piece of history, to see the 40th president of the United States being laid to rest. So it‘s been a very somber afternoon, but also very uplifting. The weather here in California was in contrast to the weather back there in Washington, a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, the sun setting in the west in sort of an orange haze, a very fitting end to the day—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a political question, George. How does the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger—he is the new star of the Republican West. Howard pointed out a moment ago that Ronald Reagan was the first ever Western governor elected president. And, of course, Schwarzenegger cannot be president because he‘s foreign-born.
But how does he fit into this thing of a movie star becoming a governor, becoming a star again?
LEWIS: Well, Ronald Reagan made the transition from the screen to politics beautifully, and all the critics said he couldn‘t do it, you know, that he was—they kind of dismissed him, wrote Ronald Reagan off, as many did Schwarzenegger when he made his run for governor.
And Ronald Reagan‘s playbook seemed to be followed exactly by Schwarzenegger. Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing a lot of the things that Ronald Reagan did as governor, reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans, trying to bridge the gap, trying not to be too hard ideologically, actually courting his political enemies.
There‘s a guy in the state legislature, John Burton, the leading Democrat. And Schwarzenegger has been courting him assiduously, calling him when he was traveling overseas.
LEWIS: Saying how much he missed Burton, a love fest between this Republican and that Democrat.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s laying it on, isn‘t it?
LEWIS: And that‘s exactly what Ronald Reagan did.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Hollywood community.
We‘ve been talking in the last couple of days about why Ronald Reagan, who made some good movies, like “Kings Row,” and was pretty well celebrated for parts like the Gipper and the Knute Rockne story, and, of course, was a real success as a television performer. He was No. 3 in the Nielsen ratings back when there were only three networks, which meant that 20 million people a night were watching him on “GE Theater.”
How come he never got a single bit of recognition from the Hollywood community, at the Oscars, at the AFI or anything?
LEWIS: That‘s a very good question. I suspect we‘ll see some honorary awards being given from Hollywood to Ronald Reagan at this point.
But Hollywood tends to follow—a lot of the Hollywood people tend to follow a pretty liberal Democratic line, and his politics were out of sync with a lot of Hollywood, although it‘s interesting that among the invited guests here tonight were Hollywood liberals, like Norman Lear, who said that they struck up a friendship with Ronald Reagan along the way and found him to be an engaging fellow, even though they disagreed with him politically.
MATTHEWS: Well, do you think he might able to swing him an award or two while there‘s still time or relevance here?
MATTHEWS: I‘m serious.
I don‘t—Howard brought—we‘ve been talking about this. I brought it up with Jack Valenti, the longtime head of the Motion Picture Association. And he said nothing. It‘s almost like the unspeakable. Why isn‘t Ronald Reagan recognized by the community that produced him?
FINEMAN: That‘s a good question. As I say—as was pointed out, he‘s got friends like Norman Lear and a few others.
But I think we tend to forget and we‘re not really focusing now on the intense divisions at the time that Ronald Reagan‘s presidency produced. I mean, they‘ve softened with time. We‘re not focusing on them now.
FINEMAN: But Norman Lear actually started an organization called People For the American Way that was dedicated to removing Ronald Reagan from office as fast as possible.
MATTHEWS: And certainly defeating every one of his court nominees.
FINEMAN: Pat was doing battle with him day by day. But Reagan had a personal relationship with Norman Lear.
MATTHEWS: We want to say goodbye. Thank you for George Lewis, NBC‘s correspondent on the West Coast.
But you‘re right. I mean, there was an intense fight. Every time Ronald Reagan put up somebody for the Supreme Court, Norman Lear, who was here tonight, bounced him.
FINEMAN: Right. Yes.
I actually think that, while this was a beautiful week and a great movie, the ultimate starring role for Ronald Reagan and his family, in a way, I think, at the service or somewhere along the way, they should have included as a speaker either Mikhail Gorbachev or a Democrat of some kind to stress the point that Pat made. I do think this was a unifying week for the whole country, but I think it would have been more of one had they done something like that. I don‘t know why they didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: I wonder if they distrusted them because someone might have gotten in there at one of these services and thrown a monkey wrench in by saying, you know, something like that.
We‘re going to come right back. We‘re not going to come right back.
Thank you. I‘m being signaled not to.
But you think—do you think that Mrs. Reagan—well, Mrs. Reagan certainly put the list together with the former president, the late president. And they probably couldn‘t think of a Democrat they really wanted to hear from on this occasion.
BUCHANAN: Well, the only one that—up on the Hill, of course, you‘ve got the speaker of the House. And the Republicans control the Senate, so you got the president pro tem in the Senate and the vice president, who‘s the president of the Senate. I think the place to have done it might have been a fifth eulogist, perhaps Bill Clinton, at the cathedral.
FINEMAN: Boy, Bill Clinton, you could just tell was itching to say something.
MATTHEWS: You know, I have to say that I remember when my old boss, Tip O‘Neill, passed away and he put together the group—he wouldn‘t let the monsignor—I mean, he wouldn‘t let the cardinal speak either, Cardinal Law, because he‘s a Republican. And he just didn‘t want any of those people.
He didn‘t let Teddy speak.
MATTHEWS: And sometimes, you want to keep it to the family. You want to keep it to your friends and you don‘t want to have a funeral turn into a kind of a political occasion.
FINEMAN: That‘s a very good point.
MATTHEWS: And the one way to do it is to make sure no politicians got to talk.
FINEMAN: Well, there were a few who talked today.
FINEMAN: But they didn‘t talk in political terms.
FINEMAN: Which is why George H...
MATTHEWS: No one did.
FINEMAN: Which is why George H.W. Bush was so effective.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come right back with MSNBC‘s coverage of the Reagan funeral. We‘ll see bits of it again. And we‘ll see some of the major poignant points. I loved Ron Reagan‘s talk tonight. We‘ll hear from more of that later tonight.
Please rejoin us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON REAGAN JR., SON OF RONALD REAGAN: Here‘s something you may not know, a little Ronald Reagan trivia for you. His entire life, dad had an inordinate fondness for earlobes.
RON REAGAN: Even as a boy, back in Dixon, Illinois hanging out on a street corner with his friends, they knew that if they were standing next to Dutch, sooner or later, he was going to reach over and grab ahold of their lobe, give it a workout there. Sitting on his lap watching TV as a kid, same story, he would have a hold of my earlobe. I‘m surprised I have any lobes left after all of that.
And you didn‘t have to be a kid to enjoy that sort of treatment. Serving in the Screen Actors Guild with his great friend William Holden, the actor, best man at his wedding, Bill got used to it. They would be there at the meetings, and Dad would have ahold of his earlobe. There they‘d be, some tense labor negotiation, two big Hollywood movie stars, hand in earlobe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it great to hear the word dad?
And I kept thinking watching him, you know, Mr. and Mrs. Reagan, the president and the first lady, designed every moment of this thing when the president was still with his faculties 10 years ago. I was told this. And imagine when Nancy and the president said, now, we‘re going to have to let the kids talk.
MATTHEWS: And he‘s thinking, oh, my God, what a menagerie of thoughts we‘re going to hear from the very serious and evangelical Michael. That will be staid and Christian and good and predictable, in a sense. It will be positive. And, God, what is Ron going to do with this moment?
FINEMAN: Patti you knew would do the poetry and the little bird, the burying the fish, probably. You probably could have predicted that.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got to wonder what—because any father wonders, because kids are always a surprise. But they knew he was a surprise.
FINEMAN: I‘m studying Ronnie Reagan, because he‘s the one I know.
FINEMAN: And I‘m just fascinated by him. He is our colleague here. And I‘ve gotten to know him a little bit, the most self-assured, relaxed, unaffected, yet devastatingly effective speaker.
FINEMAN: This is—he has the knack that his father had, which was, in the most genial way, to be utterly devastating. People would not know that they had been relieved of their...
MATTHEWS: Oh, do you want to see that now?
MATTHEWS: Let‘s see that now.
This is a moment in which this wonderful eulogy by Ron Reagan, the son, offered the president. It‘s quite a serious moment. We‘re trying to get the tape ready now. But it was about the point of the feeling that President Reagan got after the attempted assassination, when he came back from that surviving it with a sense if not of destiny, of duty, of duty.
Let‘s take a look at how Ron Reagan portrayed that feeling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON REAGAN: 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.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, we heard the punch, didn‘t we.
Howard, explain the punch.
FINEMAN: Yes. And I would like to amend my former criticism of the week of pageantry for not having included a Democrat and a liberal.
MATTHEWS: And a dissent.
FINEMAN: And a dissent. There it was.
MATTHEWS: What was the dissent?
FINEMAN: Well, he was basically, without naming George W. Bush, I think, taking direct aim at him, because the president has said that he was inspired by and, in a way, told ministers he was chosen by God to lead the country and to lead us on the crusade that we‘re now on.
And I think it‘s fair to say, at least in Ronnie Reagan‘s view, this president wears his faith on his sleeve. And I thought that was a not-so-subtle, but classically Reaganesque critique, this time from the other side back.
MATTHEWS: Well, Ronald Reagan is an independent, but, clearly, I agree with the implied criticism that‘s there.
BUCHANAN: To be more specific than that, I think what this is a young Ron Reagan‘s direct, targeted thrust at what has been called the Armageddonites, those who believe with the president that this is God‘s work that he‘s doing in the Middle East and in the Iraq war to remove this retched regime and that that‘s their duty here on Earth.
And I think it was a clear statement that the president, Ronald Reagan Sr., would not be doing this.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll tell you, my hunch is—and it‘s a pure hunch—that this entire family we saw tonight would not be part of this particular cause we‘re involved in right now. But that‘s pure hunch.
We‘ll see, by the way. All these answers will be open to us between now and the election, because Mrs. Reagan will clearly be a major asset of the Republican Party. And whether she chooses to go to the convention will depend probably on this president‘s position on stem cell research, his activity with regard to Alzheimer‘s, and perhaps, to some large extent, her beliefs politically about what we should be doing in the Mideast and what we should doing in this war over there.
And I think that will play a role. It‘s not a slam-dunk that she‘s out there on the front lines of the Republican Party this year.
FINEMAN: I agree with that. And also, one of the unintended, perhaps unintended, results of this weeklong pageant and movie we‘ve seen is that Nancy Reagan has emerged as a heroine, as a spokesperson for her causes and as a figure of enormous sympathy in this country, which she wasn‘t always. Again, 20 years ago, she wasn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, that power—that power emerged long before this week.
Remember when Ollie North was running for Senate from Virginia, Ollie North. And she put the screws to that guy and said, you‘re not going to win. You did not stand for my husband‘s policies in Iran-Contra. Remember that? She laid it on the line. You can say that‘s fair or not, but it‘s power.
FINEMAN: Yes, but now we‘re talking a global—this is a national, if not global presence.
BUCHANAN: This is very, very high. And I think Mike Deaver is very close to her. And my guess would be that Michael Deaver would tell Nancy Reagan, now that you‘ve made your statement on stem cell research, do not lead a cause here to thwart the president of the United States because it would be unwise from your standpoint.
I think this lady is elevated to a Jacqueline Kennedy level now. And when you do—her position is out there. And we‘ve seen Laura Bush take a position opposite that. If I were advising Nancy Reagan in her own interest, I would say, you‘ve made your statement and to go to thwart the president of the United States and the conservative wing of the party and to get into this directly and repeatedly would not be wise.
Well, we‘ll have this speculation ending rather soon, because this election is about to replace this pageant, this ritual of burial. Over the weekend, I‘d say, we‘ll be back at it. There‘s a story already out there today that John Kerry will not have John McCain as his running mate. That‘s not going to happen. There‘s a story that died this week.
FINEMAN: If it‘s any indication, that‘s what I‘ve been spending the last several hours working on.
BUCHANAN: That‘s an important story.
FINEMAN: Well, they had to get that story out there, Pat, so they can...
MATTHEWS: Well, politics will return as soon as tomorrow, probably.
Look, we‘re going to take a break now and we‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan, who served President Reagan, and Howard Fineman, who serves us all.
We‘ll be right back with MSNBC‘s coverage of this great day.
MATTHEWS: While many memories will stay in our head this evening and throughout our lives, for a lot of us, I don‘t think anyone‘s going to forget who has any interest in this country Nancy Reagan‘s head on that coffin.
I don‘t think anyone‘s going to forget what we‘re about to see in a minute or two. That‘s the tribute to Ronald Reagan by his vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, a man of few words, but wait until you hear these words.
Here‘s the senior President Bush on his old boss, Ronald Reagan. What a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why was he so beloved?
He was beloved, first, because of what he was. Politics can be cruel, uncivil.
Our friend was strong and gentle.
Once he called America hopeful, big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That was America and, yes, our friend.
And next, Ronald Reagan was beloved because of what he believed. He believed in America so he made it his shining city on a hill. He believed in freedom so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals. He believed in tomorrow so the great communicator became the great liberator.
He talked of winning one for the Gipper and as president, through his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev with us today, the Gipper, and, yes Mikhail Gorbachev, won one for peace around the world.
If Ronald Reagan created a better world for many millions it was because of the world someone else created for him.
Nancy was there for him always. Her love for him provided much of his strength, and their love together transformed all of us as we‘ve seen—renewed seeing again here in the last few days.
And one of the many memories we all have of both of them is the comfort they provided during our national tragedies.
Whether it was the families of the crew of the Challenger shuttle or the USS Stark or the Marines killed in Beirut, we will never forget those images of the president and first lady embracing them and embracing us during times of sorrow.
So, Nancy, I want to say this to you: Today, America embraces you. We open up our arms. We seek to comfort you, to tell you of our admiration for your courage and your selfless caring.
And to the Reagan kids—it‘s OK for me to say that at 80 -- Michael, Ron, Patti, today all of our sympathy, all of our condolences to you all, and remember, too, your sister Maureen home safe now with her father.
As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.
Who can forget the horrible day in March 1981, he looked at the doctors in the emergency room and said, “I hope you‘re all Republicans.”
G.H.W. BUSH: And then I learned decency; the whole world did. Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble.
The good book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man?
And perhaps as important as anything, I learned a lot about humor, a lot about laughter. And, oh, how President Reagan loved a good story.
When asked, “How did your visit go with Bishop Tutu?” he replied, “So-so.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s a great joke, isn‘t it? And it was well delivered and had a lot of heart. And this guy‘s got a lot of heart.
There‘s something about a guy who‘s generally awkward when he says something with such eloquence. And we know he had to work on it. And it‘s about a guy he competed with in many ways, the old boss he tried to meet. And he couldn‘t match him. And here‘s a rare statement of humility in this city, where there‘s so much phony humility, as well as phony everything else. Here‘s a guy admitting, I wasn‘t a match for this guy. All I could do was learn from him.
FINEMAN: And that‘s when he teared up.
FINEMAN: Because he was basically saying, in effect, it was Ronald Reagan who plucked me from the obscurity of that bar I had gone to...
MATTHEWS: That I had earned.
FINEMAN: I had gone to, to have a drink at the convention.
FINEMAN: And he gets literally the tap on the shoulder and becomes Ronald Reagan‘s running mate.
BUCHANAN: It was like a eulogy of a younger brother who‘s not as accomplished for his older brother.
BUCHANAN: And you could see him choking up, like, this was the big brother that taught me all these things.
It was just very moving to see President Bush. I mean, as you say, he is not articulate in the sense of Ronald Reagan, nowhere near it, and he knows it. But an articulation came out from the heart there this day.
FINEMAN: But he has an emotional articulateness.
FINEMAN: And he remembered Maureen, the late Maureen Reagan.
MATTHEWS: That was
MATTHEWS: He did that.
FINEMAN: And he recognized Mikhail Gorbachev in the cathedral. And he has a sure social—George H.W. Bush‘s gift was a sure social sense of the room, of the room.
BUCHANAN: He‘s a polite man.
MATTHEWS: He also remembers—I mean, he may have gotten help on this, who knows, cares.
But he had—he has—and you know this from him—he remembers everything about you.
MATTHEWS: In the craziest sort of Santa Claus way, he knows who you are. And you meet him once and you say something to him, and three months later, you bump into him and he‘d say what you said to him. I don‘t get it, that gift. I mean, it‘s beyond Reagan.
FINEMAN: But he had the ...
MATTHEWS: It‘s beyond Clinton. It‘s beyond most guys in politics.
FINEMAN: And it‘s true of George H.W. He had to hire the people to be nasty.
I mean, H.W. didn‘t have it in him to be that way. And I thought this was one of the most genuine moments, when he was tearing up there, because, again, the American public is participating vicariously in this family pageant.
FINEMAN: The family of the leadership class, the family of the elected presidents were all there together. But we participate emotionally through that, and I think we need to as a country. This is a democracy.
MATTHEWS: Also, he spent that eight years with him.
MATTHEWS: It‘s like, when Johnny Carson goes, you‘ll want to hear what Ed McMahon has to say.
MATTHEWS: You know, you will want to know what the guy who worked with him for eight years has to say.
You really wanted to hear what the kids had to say tonight, because they are, like everybody, a little bit political, but they‘re also very much kids, and they‘re going to say what they feel, because this is for the family record books, as deep as they go, what you say about your dad or mom when she passes.
BUCHANAN: Kids come out of dramatically different cultures, too.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t they?
MATTHEWS: What a mixed bag, the evangelical Christian who carries it on his sleeve and is proselytizing, and Ron, who is—whatever religious piece was in there was for his mom, clearly, the Elysian fields, the notion of sort of a Roman heaven. All that stuff was beautifully said for her, I think.
And Patti still has—well, there‘s something about her that‘s still that ‘60s babe, you know? It‘s still there. It‘s he boots and the long hair, whatever, sort of the sass. It‘s all good and it‘s all there.
Why am I talking like this? It‘s a funeral today.
MATTHEWS: It‘s poetry.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go beyond the family for a minute to the service.
MATTHEWS: I noted earlier, as everyone will, that it was bicoastal. It was two coasts, this city, not always on a hill, and the other promontory out there in the West. It was such a statement of geography about this...
BUCHANAN: The one in the West, the informality of it, with the kids and the earlobes and things like that, there were no earlobes at the pulpit at the cathedral today.
BUCHANAN: It was to me—I‘m a Catholic. It was high church, Episcopalian, with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” thrown in for Ronald Wilson Reagan himself, you know? But it was very, very formal and just beautifully, beautifully done.
MATTHEWS: Right. East Coast-West Coast.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a big cultural difference.
MATTHEWS: And 105,000 people exactly on each coast in the waiting line, absolute symmetry.
FINEMAN: I know this may seem odd, but one of the most touching scenes to me was all of the—were all the cars pulled over on the freeways.
MATTHEWS: I love that.
FINEMAN: Parked on the freeways, standing there to watch the traffic go by on the other side.
BUCHANAN: It was as though they were standing there saluting.
MATTHEWS: Nobody planned that one. And that‘s why it was later tonight.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, guys, Pat Buchanan, Howard Fineman, my colleagues here.
Our coverage of the funeral of President Ronald Reagan continues after this. We‘re going to have some special treats for you after this.
You‘re watching HARDBALL—in fact, MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Solemnity and ceremony, the hallmarks of today‘s services for President Ronald Reagan.
This morning, three former world leaders and the current president of the United States spoke in honor of his memory. And tonight, Reagan‘s three surviving children paid their tribute to their father.
And as MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann recounts, their tributes are now part of a rare history, a rich history, in the art of the eulogy.
MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as Heaven‘s morning broke, I like to think, in the words of Bunyan, that all little trumpets sounded on the other side.
We here still move in twilight, but we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had; we have his example.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We think of the steady stride, that tilt of the head and snap of the salute, the big screen smile, and the glint in his Irish eyes when a story came to mind.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Among the first words of presidential eulogy at a formal national funeral service here in Washington since those said of Lyndon Johnson in 1973.
Most striking today, perhaps, not the words used, but the high-profile of the speaker. This was the man who eulogized LBJ, Marvin Watson, his postmaster general.
MARVIN WATSON, FORMER POSTMASTER GENERAL: He believed that good men together could accomplish anything, even the most impossible of dreams. No matter who his opponent, he constantly sought to find that touchstone within the soul of every man which, if discovered, would release the impulse for honest and fair solutions.
OLBERMANN: Once friendship, like Watson‘s and Johnson‘s, outranked rank. Even the eulogy at the last presidential funeral of any kind was based more on a personal relationship than a political one.
SEN. BOB DOLE ®, KANSAS: Strong, brave, unafraid of controversy, unyielding in his convictions, living every day of his life to the hilt, the largest figure of our time whose influence will be timeless. And that was Richard Nixon, how American. May God bless Richard Nixon and may God bless the United States.
OLBERMANN: Surely, Senator Dole‘s uncontrollable emotion is one of the great fears of those who have to give eulogies. He could have benefited from Ronald Reagan‘s own advice on this matter.
To paraphrase what he said at the time of his address on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of D-Day, if you are thinking you‘re going to have trouble getting through a speech, write it in your own hand and read it aloud and read it and read it until you are accustomed to it. You will then be prepared for the emotion. You will be practiced, but it will still be you.
The other great fear on such a great level was experienced by Richard Nixon himself when he eulogized President Eisenhower.
RICHARD NIXON ®, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a fond salute to a man we loved and cherished. It is a grateful salute to a man whose who extra—whose—who extra—whole extraordinary life was consecrated to service.
OLBERMANN: As that suggests, there can be no perfect eulogy, presidential or otherwise, a fact underscored by Adlai Stevenson, twice a presidential candidate, as he gave the eulogy for Eleanor Roosevelt, four times a presidential wife.
“We are always saying farewell in this world,” Stevenson said, “always standing at the edge of loss trying to retrieve some memory, some human meaning from the silence, something which is precious and gone,” as in November 1963.
EARL WARREN, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a great and good president, the friend of all people of goodwill, a believer in the dignity and equality of all human beings, a fighter for justice, an apostle of peace, has been snatched from our midst by the bullet of an assassin.
OLBERMANN: The best one ever spoken by a president perhaps was one so transcendent, many would not even think of it as a eulogy, Abraham Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address, a eulogy not just for one soldier, nor for one side in a battle, but for part of a nation, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth. For emotion and evocation, this, today, was powerful.
G.H.W. BUSH: As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.
OLBERMANN: Emotional, evocative, and yet one still yearns for that which only fiction can provide, Horatio‘s words in Shakespeare‘s “Hamlet.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Thank, you Keith Olbermann.
When we return, a look back at one of the things that made President Reagan such a giant in American politics, his master of stagecraft.
You‘re watching MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Today, this beautiful city of Washington has been cloaked in a gray mist and muted in silence as it honors its former President Ronald Reagan. The actor was a master of stagecraft. It was something he learned, Ronald Reagan learned, in his film and television days and held on to closely throughout his career in politics.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): When he went on television, as he did for four decades, Ronald Reagan played in a higher league than other politicians. In 1956, the Democratic presidential candidate hated television. The high-minded Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois and future U.N. ambassador, thought it below him. To him, television smelled of Madison Avenue. Worse yet, that little box with the fuzzy picture was a mystery to him, even when he was coerced into hiring a bright young University of Chicago grad Bill Wilson as his consultant on the new medium.
The problem was that Stevenson, skilled at giving speeches in person, had only a faint idea what Wilson‘s job was.
“I‘m having a lot of trouble getting a picture on my television set,” the upset candidate phoned Wilson one night during the ‘56 Democratic Convention. Would he be kind enough to hustle over to the Blackstone Hotel and fix it? That same year, Ronald Reagan was racking up some of the best numbers on television.
When the Democrats‘ guy couldn‘t tell the difference between his media consultant and a TV repairman, “General Electric Theater” was the third most popular show on the television. As I said, he was up playing in the majors while the other side was still in peewee. Nor did he surrender his advantage, not until that beautiful letter he wrote the country in 1994 telling us of his Alzheimer‘s.
When it came to using television, let‘s agree, it was rarely much of a contest. When Ronald Reagan ran for California governor in 1966, the opposition ran an ad reminding voters that it was an actor who shot Abraham Lincoln. Let‘s count the people that turned off. No. 1, every one who made a nickel in the film and television industry. And that‘s a lot of Californians.
No. 2, everyone who liked movie stars. Three, everyone who knew Reagan not as an actor playing somebody else, but as the guy who came into our home every week as himself, you know, your host, Ronald Reagan. When the politicians were out with the boys riding what Reagan would call the mashed-potato circuit, he was home with their families.
As Pat Brown, the once popular incumbent Reagan bounced from the governor‘s chair, said in ‘66, the challenger had succeeded with the public in making himself one of us. He reduced the Democratic governor to being one of them. Reagan liked being one of us. He used television to keep it happening. On “GE Theater,” he was not a star, simply our host. He was going to watch the show along with us. He didn‘t make the company products. He simply enjoyed them at his totally electric home.
In politics, that is called positioning. And for 40 years, Reagan used television to place himself on our side of events. “There you go again,” he chided Jimmy Carter in their 1980 debate, as if he were sitting next to us on the couch. It was an instinct for the camera that he never lost.
I recall the January night in 1983 when he came to the U.S. Capitol to deliver the State of the Union. Armed with copies of the speech, Democrats on the House floor were planning to bushwhack the president. They found a line in the text of Reagan‘s speech that had gone to the press where he appeared to admit it was the administration‘s duty, his, to do something about the high jobless rate. The Democrats had hatched a plan, which they proceeded to execute.
As the president read the line, “We who are in government must take the lead in restoring the economy,” they rose in a standing ovation, thereby intending to embarrass Reagan. For a moment, Reagan seemed to be caught off guard. He paused, waiting for the applause to debate, acknowledging the little tease from the Democratic back-benchers with a long, good-natured smile.
Then, with perfect Jack Benny timing came the haymaker: “And there all along, I thought you were reading the papers.” The Democrats, thinking the president was referring harmlessly to the speech text many of them had in their laps, erupted in laughter. They had failed to see the mischief. To the people back home in their living rooms, the barb was unmistakable. Those legislators were just a pack of “feet up on the desk, newspaper reading, cigar chomping” pols.
Reagan, the master, had gotten his studio audience to provide a laugh track for the joke at which they themselves were the butt. A week later, he pulled a similar number, this time employing the White House press corps as his studio audience. In the midst of an afternoon press conference, his wife Nancy wheeled in a birthday cake.
As Reagan cheerily began slicing pieces for those assembled, ABC‘s Sam Donaldson barked out, “But you understand we won‘t sell out for a piece of cake? No deals.” “Oh,” the president said, looking directly at Sam, “you have sold out for less than that.”
Ronald Reagan dominated television not just because of his ability with a script, but his ceaseless attention to the camera. More than anyone else in the room, he knew what we would see. That made him one of us. And that, right to the end, meant all the difference.
MATTHEWS: This has been an extraordinary week of remembrance here in Washington and across the country, as Americans pay tribute to President Ronald Reagan.
A little more than 23 years ago, President Reagan arrived in the nation‘s capital to begin his two terms in office. NBC News was granted access inside the White House to spend a full day with the new president just one month into the job. And coming up next, we‘ll show you that day unfold just the way the late David Brinkley reported it in an NBC News special, “A Day With President Reagan.”
I‘m Chris Matthews and I‘ll see you again Monday at 7:00 Eastern time.
Right now, we leave with you a final tribute to Ronald Reagan.
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