Last night, I watched some of CSPAN’s coverage of the Reagan memorial, and I heard echoes from 1963. Many of you are too young to remember the assassination of John F Kennedy, but most of us who do remember it vividly.
The same caisson that bore President Ronald W Reagan’s body down the streets of Washington also bore the body of President John F Kennedy. Then and now, tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Washington, the military color guards walked silently to the sound of a drum cadence, and in the capitol rotunda people filed quietly past the flag-draped casket to honor a fallen president.
I heard echoes in the clip-clop of the horses hooves on the hard asphalt and the shuffling feet of mourners amplified under the capitol dome. There are differences, of course.
The mood in 1963 was tragic. The military bands played funeral dirges. Men and women, and even the soldiers who stood guard, wept openly. John Kennedy, of course, had been cut down before he had time to achieve half the greatness he was capable of. Ronald Reagan, despite the tragedy of his Alzheimer’s disease, was a man who had lived a full and blessed life.
Both men were deeply loved by America. To Republicans, Reagan is an icon, a larger-than-life figure who embodies the very conservative principles the party holds dear. To Democrats, Kennedy is an icon, a larger-than-life figure who brought Camelot to America and seemed to be ushering in a new age of American greatness and world influence.
Despite their very different backgrounds, both Kennedy and Reagan were remarkably similar in their ideals and values. They were of the same generation—Reagan was born only 6 years before Kennedy. Both men were idealists, perhaps because they had survived the Great Depression, a time when America was on its knees, and World War II, a time when America had risen to impossible challenges in the name of freedom. They shared a fundamental faith in the greatness of the American experiment and the American people.
They were both men of deep religious convictions, and their shared belief in a just and merciful God informed their political ideals, as well as their moral principles. They were not perfect, either as men or as politicians—Kennedy was nearly undone by his brash attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs; Reagan was nearly undone by an ill-considered secret arms deal called Iran-Contra. But they shared a horror of Communism and were unhesitant about challenging Soviet expansionism, both militarily and politically. They each had a healthy belief in a literal kingdom of evil, and they shared a commitment to oppose rather than appease it.
I’m guessing that we loved and continue to love these two men because of their unflagging optimism, their unshakable faith and their willingness to expend their last full measure of devotion for a country they themselves loved unashamedly.
Rest in peace, Ronald W Reagan.