Nation’s Farewell to Ronald Reagan
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GWEN IFILL: Once again, we return to a live picture of Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., as the funeral cortege of President Ronald Reagan as it makes its way past thousands of onlookers, some of them applauding, some of them saluting, as it makes its way to the U.S. Capitol. Joining me again are journalist and author Haynes Johnson and Los Angles Times bureau chief Doyle McManus. It is a hot day in Washington. You probably can’t tell from the photographs, but these people have been standing out there in order to watch this cortege pass for hours, Haynes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: You know, at the second Reagan inaugural, we were all there, inside it was so cold. It was the coldest day of the president’s inaugural I think ever maybe. Here we have at the very end, the shimmering heat there. And yet great crowds out there.
GWEN IFILL: Doyle.
DOYLE McMANUS: The cortege has passed in front of some of the most evocative buildings in the capital. Constitution Avenue is one of the main streets. It has pulled on to Pennsylvania Avenue. But the Smithsonian Institution, many of the Smithsonians are there, the Department of Justice, the National Archives. The symbolism in this entire event is really terribly impressive.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Of course it is. And you reminded me of something. The archives for years and years and years Roosevelt was so controversial. He never had a memorial. There was just a little piece of stone out in front of the memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt with birth dates of his birth and death. Now of course it’s the Roosevelt Memorial. And Reagan has his own memorial before he even died.
GWEN IFILL: What we are seeing now is the 21 military jets passing over the capitol, part of the tradition that is script out in a 300-page military plan. The cortege pauses while the salute happens. And they’ll play Ruffles and Flourishes, Hail to the Chief. And there will be a 21 volley salute from 105 military cannons. One of the interesting traditions here is that normally not that this is very normal, but when it happens, these presidential funeral corteges go up the east side of the capitol, away from White House and for many years presidential inaugurations were held. This time it is going up the west part, in part because there is extensive construction going on at the Capitol right now and also because this is where President Reagan started a new tradition by inaugurating a westward facing inauguration in 1981.
HAYNES JOHNSON: That was so typical of Ronald Reagan and his people, that they wanted to have the great view of the mall looking all the way west across the Potomac River and across the United States symbolically and all the other inaugurations had been held on the east front of the capitol. That was typical of the way in which — and also the television age, too.
DOYLE McMANUS: Technically speaking, the east front that they’re not using is the front door of the Capitol. They were using, in effect, the backyard to do it. But it was a much better picture.
HAYNES JOHNSON: It triggers your memory of these things, they’re all part of our psyche. He is not going to be buried here. He is going back home where John Kennedy, of course, was taken to Arlington and buried and I was there at the slopes and when the planes flew over, it was a shock. You had a sense of great — couldn’t really, it was one of those moments. And the same thing here when the planes go over.
GWEN IFILL: When the cortege arrives at the Capitol, not only will members of Congress be seated there and dignitaries but the family will be joined there. Obviously Patti Davis, Ron Reagan, Doya Reagan, Ron Reagan’s wife, Michael Reagan and his wife Colleen. Nancy Reagan’s brother, his wife of and some other members of the family, including Dennis Revele, the husband of Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen who died in 2001 of cancer and was one much his big boosters.
DOYLE McMANUS: One of the things that has struck me, Gwen, is the success the capital police and other police forces have had in working out a way mourners could file through the Capitol even despite the extraordinary security that this city has been under since Sept. 11. You know, you used to be able to go to the capitol building almost at any hour of the day and night. That hasn’t been true for several years. Nonetheless, they’re making it possible.
HAYNES JOHNSON: In fairness, this is a very tense time and despite the wonderful spectacle that we are watching, there is great anxiety because we live in an age of terrorism now and everybody knows it.
GWEN IFILL: And that makes this very different from any other kind of presidential funeral procession we have seen in the past. Earlier this afternoon, there was a minor scare at the capitol. It turned out to be a false alarm. But everybody came to full alert.
DOYLE McMANUS: One difference between this funeral and the funeral of President Kennedy 41 years ago, at that funeral, there was a great procession of the world’s leaders across Memorial Bridge to Arlington. President de Gaulle of France and the ambassador of Ethiopia, remarkable striking pictures. There will not be any similar open procession of the world’s leaders this time.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Probably can’t happen again. That was true very much then and will probably never happen again. I don’t know.
GWEN IFILL: And of course Lyndon Johnson was flown back to Texas so there was nothing like that for him as well.
HAYNES JOHNSON: We were talking about the family and it’s true that there was, beneath the sunny demeanor of Mr. Reagan, there was differences within the family. They were estranged from each other, many of the children and so forth, but this has brought them together in a way that is quite touching and wonderful.
GWEN IFILL: At the president’s national funeral this Friday at the National Cathedral, we will hear from among other people, President Bush. This is a role which all presidents take on, which is the role of mourner in chief, a person who unites the country. What can he be expected to do but just speak for the country.
HAYNES JOHNSON: That’s his role. He has a very important role to do that. And he will be measured by how graceful he is and eloquent he is and what he has to say and it’s very hard, in fairness, it’s very hard to be matched up against Reagan who was the great ceremonial speaker when he spoke of the challenger disaster, it brought tears to your eyes when he went to D-Day, and he was absolutely — next to Franklin Roosevelt, there is probably nobody that can summon that kind of eloquence — maybe Jack Kennedy.
GWEN IFILL: In many ways, this was a presidency in which words and simplicity was the value.
DOYLE McMANUS: You know, Ronald Reagan, it turns out was a terrific writer, not just a terrific speaker but a terrific writer who understood how to use the English language. Earlier in his career, he was a radio broadcaster. He wrote his own scripts.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Did spontaneous broadcasts.
DOYLE McMANUS: Spontaneous broadcasts. Later on, a professor at university, a professor found the script and published them. Many were typed by Reagan and many were handwritten. He didn’t have speech writers in those days. Most of them are plain terrific.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Whatever you say about Ronald Reagan, he was a great authentic storyteller. Fables, myths, jokes, and he had a gift at bring much more than Hollywood. That was who he was.
GWEN IFILL: We’re watching the funeral procession of President Reagan as it goes to the Capitol Hill where it will be carried up the steps of the west steps of the capitol by military personnel and into rotunda where there will be a service, state funeral. And which Vice President Cheney will speak, Senate president pro tempore Ted Stevens of Alaska will speak as well House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the chaplains of the House and the Senate. Ronald Reagan was a transformational presidency, in many ways, wasn’t it, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Absolutely. He made a difference in way we think about politics and maybe the country in a sense. I happen to disagree with a lot of the policies, but there is no question that he made a difference in transforming the way people look at the political process. The how lasting it will be, I don’t know. I’m sure the lasting image of Reagan, the memory we have of had great unifier, not a divider but unifier, will last.
GWEN IFILL: One of the things he got credit for unifying was the United States at the end of the Cold War and the world at the end of the Cold War even though there is debate on how much the soviet union fell on its own and how much he played a role in it. What is that debate and how does that debate take shape on a day like today, Doyle?
DOYLE McMANUS: It is not something we debate much anymore. It has been forgotten in the last week of mourning, how enormously polarizing that issue was. You know, some of the biggest demonstrations in American history were head — were held around the issue of American nuclear power, the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s. These were very contentious issues.
What Ronald Reagan did during the eight years of his presidency was very interesting. He spent the first half of his presidency building additional military strength, waging a very tough policy against the Soviet Union overtly and covertly through espionage and other means. Then about the time of his reelection, he pivoted. He reached out to the new Soviet leadership — he began offering deals for disarmament and Gorbachev has written and said since it was critical to his chances of the space to open up to reform. So I think it is still possible to debate how great Reagan’s role was, but even historians who were critical of him at the time have sense concluded that he played an enormously positive role.
GWEN IFILL: Doyle McManus, Haynes Johnson, thank you very much for your help.