Paul  Kengor

I was at the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 3, for the dedication of the statue to President Ronald Reagan. I was there because Bill Clark was there. Judge Clark, as readers of my material know, was Reagan’s closest and most important adviser.

Clark is 77 years old. His wife, Joan, died a few weeks ago. He was invited to the ceremony by the good folks at the Reagan Presidential Foundation. He made a rare trip to Washington, flying from San Francisco late the previous night, in a wheelchair.

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Clark sat in the front row, where he was a magnet for current political luminaries and old Reaganites. They all came over to shake his hand: Peggy Noonan, Bob Michel, Denny Hastert, Michael Steele, John McCain, Chas Fagan—the sculptor of the statue. McCain made a beeline for Clark, with cameras clicking upon the two.

The ceremony began with a wonderful invocation by Rev. Barry Black, Senate chaplain, who hit the prayerful themes Reagan himself fondly invoked when waxing eloquent about America—about that Shining City on a Hill. Among those providing remarks, Congressman John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell—the Republican leaders in Congress—were excellent. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, aside from a foolish statement on “stem cell research,” was gracious in her “respect, esteem, and admiration” of President Reagan.

It was a moving event, especially with Nancy Reagan’s presence. Frail, small in size but large in stature, she was no longer the walking dartboard that “journalists” once joyously harpooned. They now treated her like an elder stateswoman, a kind of political royalty—America’s preeminent former first lady. The loudest applause was directed at Nancy.

For me, however, the crowning touch came before Nancy spoke, and before the statue unveiling. It was the sole musical selection for the program: the U.S. Army Chorus singing, a cappella, “America, the Beautiful.”

This love-song for the nation captivated the room. It was beautiful. I caught a camerawoman struggling to hold up her long-lens as she wiped tears flowing down her face.

But what struck me was the perfect choice of that patriotic hymn, unwittingly tying together not only the thoughts of Rev. Black and others, but the origins, ends, and legacy that was Ronald Reagan’s career. Indeed, lost to the innumerable books, articles, documentaries and recollections of Reagan is the significance of this particular anthem.