We drove from Malibu over the coastal mountain roads to Simi Valley, sometimes at 15 MPH due to the curves in the roads. It was fun to look at the homes of the rich and famous, but nothing really prepared us for the entrance drive and view of the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. There was a portrait of each president on the drive up to the summit of the hill where the library is situated and the views over the landscape of the valley below was spectacular.
Upon entry to the library you are taken on a tour of his life. The emotions that we felt were based on having so experienced the years that he had impacted our lives. Starting with his boyhood, the exhibits take him through college at Eureka and on to his job as a sports announcer. He would announce a game by reading the ticker tape and make up all the surrounding detail that we have become so use to while listening to sports on the radio. He was “discovered” and asked to visit MGM for a screen test. The more memorable movies included playing the Gipper in “Knute Rockne, All American” (1940), Kings Row (1942) and Bedtime for Bonzo (1952). When World War Two broke out, being near-sighted, he was not eligible to serve overseas and spent the war making Army films for training purposes.
The history building up to his entry into politics, included becoming president of the Screen Actors Guild and helping to solve the union issues within the entertainment industry. He spent his years with General Electric Theater, while touring the various plants, talking with both management and labor became part of his political movement to conservatism away from the “New Deal”. He first entered the American political scene by delivering a nationally televised speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in the final stretch of the 1964 presidential race. In his famed “A Time for Choosing” speech of October 27, 1964, Reagan conveyed his conservative ideology. He opened by acknowledging that he wrote the speech himself. He spoke of America’s “tax burden,” the necessity of a balanced budget, anti-communism, and individualism. He condemned “a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital,” bureaucracy, public housing, and welfare. Reagan concluded:
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last
best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.’
“The Speech” really started the interest in getting Reagan into mainstream politics. He ran for Governor of California in 1966 winning the election over current California Governor Jerry Brown’s father, Pat Brown, running for a third term. In a paper published by Kevin McKenna, “The “Total Campaign”: How Ronald Reagan Overwhelmingly Won the California Gubernatorial Election of 1966″ McKenna says “He was a political neophyte campaigning on an eloquent message of change in a primary and general election battle against the most experienced and established candidates of the two major political parties. Condemned by his general election opponent as an extremist, his superior campaign operation brought him to victory with the aid of a shifting political climate.
Elected he served two terms and entered the national stage first in being a rival to Gerald Ford for the 1976 nomination and then winning the nomination against George Bush in 1980, selecting him to run as his VP candidate. The exhibit of the campaign is very well done, you feel the emotion of it as you watch the famous debate seen with Jimmy Carter where the question is asked “Are you better off now then you were four years ago?” followed by the follow-up questions about paycheck, economy, security and so on. Still one of the most talked about debate performances and one that all since have been compared to.
As you walk through the displays you are hit with so many memorable events, the assassination attempt by John Hinkley and his recovery in the hospital, it was as though it was happening in front of you! Move on to the Air Traffic Controllers strike and to the bombing of the barracks in Lebanon, the Grenada invasion and so many more. Each event is bought to life with sounds, video and pictures. The relationship and negotiations with Gorbachev where very well covered and bought to life with Gorbachev, after agreeing to our Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research being part of the INF agreement (INF denoting “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces” Reagan ended the Reykjavik conference. Despite its apparent failure, participants and observers have referred to the summit as an enormous breakthrough which eventually facilitated the INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), signed at the Washington Summit on December 8, 1987. Reagan famously talked about “Trust But Verify” and this was the first time that the United States was able to inspect and verify that the Soviets did what they said. There were many accomplishments during his term and like all of our leaders some disappointments.
One of the halls is Air Force One. T. Boone Pickens made the display possible with one of the Boeing 707s (civilian numbers) that serviced Richard Nixon thru George W. Bush, retired from service in 2001 rests high on display in a three story atrium looking out on the hills of Simi Valley. There is a number of other transportation vehicles including the presidential limo with the license plate: GIPPER. Marine One, the presidential helicopter is also on display. Touring the plane was fun, as you went farther towards the back, the seats got smaller for the press. The press pays the price of a first class ticket plus $1.00. President Reagan loved chocolate cake, but Nancy was strict about him having it. Reagan made sure that a chocolate cake was always in the back section of the plane. He would then find out who had a birthday and would pick up the cake, take it to the person and sing Happy Birthday. He then could have his slice! The other candy on board were numerous jars of Jelly Bellys, his favorite jelly bean.
The spirit that he inspired in all of us will not be forgotten. He believed with all of his heart in what was good about America and the American people. His quote upon leaving the presidency: “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…..And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
As you finish the tour of the library there is a wonderful and emotional presentation of the celebration of his life after passing away in 2004 from the years with Alzheimer’s. It brings tears to your eyes as once again you say good-bye to someone who affected us all.