John McCaslin

(The following timely excerpts on Ronald Reagan will appear in John McCaslin's soon-to-be-published Thomas Nelson/WND book, "Inside the Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops and Shenanigans from Around the Nation's Capital," which arrives in bookstores in early August.)

With my 6-year-old daughter, Kerry, in tow, I found Ronald Reagan happy, healthy (or so I wrote) and ever charming during our 1994 visit to his 34th-floor suite in Century City, California.

Wearing a hearing-aide, the 83-year-old former president winked when saying he didn't long for the politics of Washington. Still, he was curious to hear my opinion of then-President Bill Clinton and any other unusual arrivals in the nation's capital since he bid farewell to the city on Jan. 11, 1989.

"We made a difference," Mr. Reagan had said the day he left office. "All in all, not bad, not bad at all."

After I tried to explain Mr. Clinton, the nation's 40th president recalled a few highlights of his own two terms in the Oval Office, captured in photographs lining the walls and bookshelves surrounding his desk. The old cowboy's favorite was of him and Queen Elizabeth II on horseback.

He walked to a wall of windows, affording a view west along Avenue of the Stars towards the Pacific Ocean. He wanted to point out the seascape a little girl like Kerry doesn't see in Washington's swamplands. But this day it wasn't there.

"This is usually a beautiful view, but we haven't seen the ocean for two months," said Reagan, suddenly sounding the environmentalist (Los Angeles so far that year had seen more air-pollution advisories than during the previous two years combined).

Another of his favorite vistas, he said, was looking out from the rear veranda of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, an hour's drive north in Simi Valley. But his favorite view of all, he commented, was from the solitude of his California ranch.

He was taken with my daughter's bright red dress, which didn't surprise me. Women of the White House press corps liked to wear red dresses to Mr. Reagan's news conferences, knowing the color caught his eye and increased the chances they'd be recognized for a question.

Several days later, I was happy to receive several photographs from our visit. "To a beautiful young lady with a bright future," he wrote to Kerry. By the time I could get the picture framed, he revealed he had Alzheimer's disease. I had no clue, I told MSNBC the same day as Reagan's announcement.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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