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Special Report: Remembering Ronald Reagan

Aired June 6, 2004 - 15:32   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield joined by Carol Lin for this special CNN report "Remembering Ronald Reagan." As people around the world mourn the death of Ronald Reagan, they're also looking back on this day 60 years ago to the enormous bloodshed and sacrifice in Europe. It marked the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, where thousands of American soldiers are buried and to where thousands of vets have returned -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been an amazing day here Fredricka on this 60th anniversary of D-Day. Things have occurred here that have never happened before, including this. Look at this picture. The president of France, Jacques Chirac, receiving the chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schroeder. This is a picture that has never occurred on any anniversary involving D-Day, because this is the first year the German leader, any German leader has been invited to participate with the allies from World War II in these commemorative events.

There have been leaders from about 15 countries who gathered here to take part in these events. The Russian President Vladimir Putin, as seen in this photograph involving all of the world leaders who had gathered here, including President Bush, of course, who was here hosted by President Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II was here, leaders from most of the countries of western Europe, the allies who participated together with the United States and Britain on this D-Day in 1944 that began the process 11 months later, it would result in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

President Bush certainly tried to improve relations with his host, French President Jacques Chirac. They both spoke at President Chirac and President Bush, they both spoke here at this U.S. military cemetery. They made it clear that despite some of the strains in the relationship in the recent past, there's been more than 200 years of an alliance between the United States and France going back to the Revolutionary War in the United States. Once President Bush began to speak, he opened up with some brief comments on the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: Twenty summers ago, another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man himself. And a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today, we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The leaders now have basically left France. President Bush on his way to Sea Island, Georgia for the g-8 summit, the economic summit of major industrialized nations which begins Monday night. The leaders of the other countries either on their way already or soon will be on their way. By all accounts, Fredricka, we're told most of the leaders, if not all of them will be participating Friday in that state funeral for Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral in Washington -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Wolf. And of course we heard from Joanne Drake who explained it will be a logistical nightmare trying to entertain both the g-8 summit and the world leaders who will be attending that as well as the six days of mourning and ceremonies for the late President Ronald Reagan -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well Fred obviously leaders and dignitaries from around the country are going to be arriving in this country, basically to honor President Ronald Reagan here in the U.S, obviously the man who led the country before and after the forty president will want to pay their tribute. Elaine Quijano is standing by at the White House getting reaction there. Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you Carol. Well undoubtedly there will be security challenges in the days ahead here in Washington. Obviously this comes on the heels of another big event, the dedication of the World War II Memorial, that event a year in the planning as far as the security concerns there. Thirty five federal state and local agencies participating, hundreds of officers, obviously with this situation now arising, another challenge as well, but President Reagan's policies now they were polarizing during his time here at the White House, and now reflection though from Republicans and Democrats alike who are echoing the praise of him.


QUIJANO, (voice over): The tributes came from those who understand more than anyone the pressures of a presidency.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness and won its love with his goodness.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: He was always optimistic about our country, and he believed that freedom was a universal value.

GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: And he had a wonderful way where you could disagree with him. He had leaders in Congress or foreign leaders that he would disagree with, yet he was never disagree able about it himself.

QUIJANO: From the man President Reagan defeated in 1980, appreciation for his former political opponent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner President Reagan was. It was because of him that I was involuntary retired from my last job. QUIJANO: Those who worked in the Reagan White House recall feeling booed by their formal bosses ideals.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: He was a man who brought such pride back to the armed forces and pride back to the nation. He was a man of incredible vision.

QUIJANO: Even those from across the aisle say his skills as the great communicator reached a broad spectrum.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANIDATE: His communications at critical moments in our countries history will never be forgotten. Normandy, the loss of the "Challenger." He had a way of making people feel as if the next day would be better.

QUIJANO: And in this election year, a reminder from a man who lost to President Reagan in 1984, that the tone of political discourse has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, one thing that I feel strongly about, the more I think about it, is how civilized that campaign was. Ronald Reagan was not a mean man. I think his idea was to get elected with a strong majority of Americans that would allow him to unite the country and got in the direction he wanted to go. And in the campaign, there was no meanness, no viciousness; there was no kind of personal attacks.


QUIJANO: And that absence of ill will is a recurring theme here in Washington, where even those who were staunchly opposed to President Reagan's policies are now expressing their respect for his leadership -- Carol and Fredricka.

LIN: Elaine is there a sense to who is going to be speaking at the official funeral?

QUIJANO: Well, obviously we heard just a moment ago from Joanne Drake the spokeswoman for Reagan's office in Los Angeles, we know President Bush so far at this point. We have not yet heard, as you know, obviously everyone is waiting to hear what the family's wishes were. This is the first official word that we have received; so at this point still unclear to whom exactly might be speaking.

LIN: All right, thank you very much. Elaine Quijano reporting live today from the White House.

Ronald Reagan was the oldest president elected to the White House at the age of 69, but he's most remembered for his youthful optimism, energy and humor. His death has a vote a world of remembrance. CNN's Alina Cho is in New York talking to people outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Alina what are you hearing from folks out there?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, as you know, Times Square is the crossroads of the world. And there certainly was no shortage of opinions here. We talked to Republicans; we talked to Democrats, people from around the country, around the world really. And while not everyone agreed with his politics, everyone said he had a certain special way of making them feel better about the country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lived a long, good life. He hasn't been a person for ten years, but everybody dies. It's like you when you lose a parent. You never want to lose a parent, it happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad for Nancy it's been such a long haul, ten years right? For her, and so she's been very devoted during all his illness, and I'm sure it's just the end of a long era.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call him the great communicator. I'm not sure I agree with what he communicated, but he was very good at doing it.


CHO: In fact, many people we spoke to says they remembered Reagan as much for his personality as his politics, that their thoughts were with the Reagan family today, and that no one was better at delivering a line -- Carol.

LIN: Thanks very much. Alina Cho reporting live from New York -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: He was also remembered as the gifter. And more on "Remembering Ronald Reagan" right after this.



REAGAN: That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.


LIN: Ronald Reagan did more than shape American politics. He helped shape the nation's image of itself. When Reagan came into office, the U.S. was at the tail end of a malaise. With soaring inflation, and hostages in Iran. That changed literally and figurative almost overnight. Robert Dallek is presidential historian and the author of "Ronald Reagan: the Politics of Symbolism" and he joins us now from Washington in our Washington Bureau. Hello Professor Dallek, good to see you.


LIN: In your book you make the case that Ronald Reagan both as governor of California and as president of the United States practiced symbolic politics or politics of symbolism. What do you mean by that?

DALLEK: Yes, well what I mean by it is that he understood that a president, a governor, a leader in this country was not simply a hands-on politician, but someone who had to attend to the important symbols of the country.

LIN: Such as?

DALLEK: Well, such as freedom, liberty, the flag, democracy, free elections, civil rights, civil liberties, all those things that come down as part of our national heritage. These are embodied in the presidency; these are things that a president has to stand for if he's going to have a continuing hold on the public's imagination.

LIN: How did it translate into policy? You talk about in your book, about the decision made during the air traffic controller's strike or the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to the Supreme Court. Those weren't necessarily policy decision, but they were also image-making decisions.

DALLEK: Well sure, they always are. I mean politics are never thought in the minds of a president or presidents or the minds of politicians, but they understand also that they resonate as symbols. Appointing the first woman to the Supreme Court was a landmark event. And Ronald Reagan understood that he was doing something progressive, imaginative, and bold and I think he was very pleased by that.

You know what I'm struck by is that the country seems so -- at least watching television and watching the response now to his passing, plus people are saddened, but I think there's an upbeat move almost remembering him, because our politics have been so unpleasant for so many years now and people remember him as a kind of better moment in American political history.

LIN: He convinced Americans that this was really a virtuous nation, that it really was morning in America. And he understood the power of energy. I read a great story about how, on January 20, 1989, the day of the inaugural, he had already cleaned out his office, the oval office, but he returned for the photographers to get the pictures as he departed with that great sentimental look back across his shoulder passing at the place where he held power. He understood the importance of capturing that image with the American public.

DALLEK: Without question. You know, every president there were great presidents, very effective president is also something of an actor on the stage. And they know, especially in this media age, in this television age, that pictures, as they say, count for 1,000 words. So they're very mindful of appearing effective and in command, in control, and he was very mindful of that.

LIN: But this was part of his absolute being. Because this didn't come from becoming a politician. This came from his childhood. You make the case that his mother had experience with his alcoholic father really influenced him in terms of the man he wanted to become.

DALLEK: Without question. You know, somebody asked me yesterday, who was his strongest adviser, who gave him counsel, and I think he was someone who gave himself counsel. Because he had very strong views. This is not to say he wasn't pragmatic. He shifted and maneuvered. You know he began his administration by talking about the evil empire, referring to the Soviet Union, but he seized the opportunity in his second term to negotiate with Gorbachev, because he saw a chance to advance Soviet-American relations and indeed put an end to communism in Russia.

LIN: Thank you very much. Perhaps Robert Dallen that is why so many vivid images come back to us on this day as we celebrate his life. Robert Dallen, good to see you.

DALLEK: Good to see you. Thanks a lot.

WHITFIELD: And you can find out much more about Ronald Reagan on our Web site. We have reaction across the world. And there's a place where you can leave your thoughts as well. That is at

Well, he is the one world leader who most closely was linked in history with Ronald Reagan. We'll hear from the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, when our CNN special report "Remembering Ronald Reagan" continues.


WHITFIELD: Ronald Reagan is often credited with helping to end communism in the Soviet Union. There's high praise today for the late president from the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, once staunch adversaries, the two worked through the differences to thaw the Cold War. Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty talked with Gorbachev about his relationship with the great communicator -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we did speak with Mr. Gorbachev today, and he said he was very upset to hear the news. You would have to say that probably more than anyone else, he understood the legacy of Ronald Reagan.


DOUGHERTY, (voice over): Russians, Ronald Reagan defined the Cold War. The Soviet Union, he said, was an evil empire. Communism belonged to the trash heap of history, and it wasn't just words. Mr. Reagan believed deeply that the Soviet system had to be destroyed, and his mission was to do just that. In his first term as president, Reagan built up the biggest defense stockpile in history. He proposed a missile shield to defend the United States dubbed "Star Wars." At the Berlin Wall, he hurled a challenge at the Soviet leader.

REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

DOUGHERTY: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in person eight times; the first encounter Mr. Gorbachev recalls was rocky.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET PRESIDENT, (through translator): We were not exactly in ecstasy with each other. We went off with our separate delegations, and I said he's a real dinosaur, and he described me as a hardheaded communist.

DOUGHERTY: But they continued to talk. And in 1986 at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, President Reagan made the astounding suggestion to scrap all nuclear weapons. A year later, the two men signed the first treaty to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Despite Mr. Reagan's biting rhetoric, Mikhail Gorbachev gives the former president high marks both as a politician and as a human being.

GORBACHEV, (through translator): A wonderful conversationalist very skillful. Our conversations are negotiations weren't as hard as concrete. There was always an element of charisma. That's how he attracted people. That was his strong point, his style.

DOUGHERTY: The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed, its economy in ruin. And some claim that is President Reagan's greatest victory. Mikhail Gorbachev says, however, the Soviet system collapsed because of its internal problems. Ronald Reagan, he says, will go down in history as a great president, a leader who entered office as a Soviet Union's staunchest enemy, but who left office with the two countries on the road to partnership.


DOUGHERTY: And that is the dual legacy that Mr. Gorbachev says that Ronald Reagan had, that he was a person who began as a cold warrior and ended up bringing the countries closer together -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Jill Dougherty, thank you very much. An incredible relationship eventually forged.

LIN: Very personal, two men of very different backgrounds, but yet found common grounds. Made history. Our special coverage "Remembering Ronald Reagan" continues in the next hour.

WHITFIELD: We'll talk with the president's former political director. And tune in tonight for a special edition of "Paula Zahn Now" at 8:00 Eastern followed by "Larry King" at 9:00 and "NewsNight" at 10:00.



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