SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Sometimes, the only thing a president can do is hang onto history -- the promise of that day when he has his library and all his critics have transformed into admirers who gloss over his many stumbles only to stand in awe of his accomplishments, when the naysayers and nitpickers cannot be heard, as the ears before him hear only an uplifting soundtrack of Aaron Copland.
President Bush clearly was dreaming of that day as he stood at the grand opening of the Reagan Library Air Force One Pavilion, with wife Laura and Nancy Reagan by his side. He beheld the faces of a sea of survivors of the Reagan administration.
Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, once vilified, is now how held up as an example for GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan's former attorney general, Ed Meese, endured a spate of scandals that would humble Bush guru Karl Rove. Former Reagan speechwriter Ken Khachigian weathered many brutal political campaigns.
Time allows the survivors to put it all behind them -- Iran-Contra, the god-awful Beirut-barracks bombing that left 241 American servicemembers dead, a massive deficit, ketchup as a vegetable. Today, the world remembers the Westminster speech in which he laid out his belief that freedom would triumph over communism, the Normandy speech and the day an American president uttered the words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Today, Republicans hear the words Ronald Wilson Reagan and they smile. No wonder, then, that Bush used the occasion of this ceremony to jump on the Gipper's bandwagon. Conservatives (rightly) are angry that Bush allowed the federal government to balloon and (foolishly) miffed that he chose a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court who wasn't a member of their club.
The left, of course, is hitting Bush for the deficit, as well. And from all sides, there is the constant carping on Iraq -- from those who want more troops, a withdrawal date -- and who barely give a nod to a successful voter-approval of the Iraqi constitution.
And so Bush reminded the people before him about how his term will look if America succeeds in Iraq. U.S. Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., picked up the theme, when he said after the Bush speech that both presidents had the "spirit to take on an -ism" -- communism and terrorism.
Having been belittled for calling terrorists the "evildoers," Bush reminded the audience how Reagan defeated "the evil empire." And Dubya didn't need to remind this crowd of the ridicule Reagan endured for using that term.
Nancy Reagan made an unwitting connection when she recalled her final flight with Reagan on Air Force One as they left the White House in 1989. "As the champagne was poured and glasses were raised, someone shouted: 'Mission accomplished, Mr. President. Mission accomplished.'"
Former state Sen. Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, remembered the days when he was a "flunky junior nobody" in the Reagan administration. "The first Gorbachev summit," he noted, "ended in 'failure' because Reagan wouldn't give away the store." But it wasn't failure.
It was an episode in a campaign won, Bush noted, because of Reagan's "resolve." While Bush is different in many ways -- Reagan was supremely confident in himself and secure in his skin; for all his bluster, Bush is less self-assured -- they both shared a vision of what this world could be.
And so as political heat blasted this administration, amid stories of a petty feud with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and as serious legal problems threaten top White House aides, Bush had reason to dream of the day when the rancor is past -- the day when a president's children are no longer the stuff of negative stories, his work habits no longer the stuff of derision and his speech no longer fodder for late-night talk shows.
How America sees Bush depends completely on what happens in Iraq and the war on terrorism. While the outcome is uncertain, the goal, to Bush, is clear.
Dennis Revell, the widower of Maureen Reagan, mused: "History is seldom an instantaneous pat on the back. That time will come for this president, as well."
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