Obama had a vision: Nancy Reagan at a White House bill signing
Talk about planning a party in advance. And talk about flip-flops.
President Barack Obama, who made one of his troublesome un-telepromptered asides about a Nancy Reagan seance at his first president-elect news conference and didn't bother inviting the former first lady to the White House for his federal stem-cell research turnaround that is now her life cause, sure had her on hand today. (The crack also prompted Obama's first telephoned apology call to Mrs. Reagan in California.)
The festive, well-covered occasion today was the signing of legislation to create a full-blown commission to prepare to celebrate the centennial of President Ronald Reagan's birth. In presidential commission terms, the late president's 100th birthday is just around the corner, only 20 months away, on Feb. 6, 2011. Start inflating the balloons.
A far cry from the controversial days not too long ago when Grover Norquist and others tried to get everything that didn't move for a few minutes named for the late president, who died of Alzheimer's in 2004 at age 93.
It was a touching scene today as the rookie president slowly led the frail Mrs. Reagan into the White House Diplomatic Room for his remarks (Full text below) and the signing of the legislation. Obama used the occasion to usefully and perhaps wishfully recall President Reagan's bipartisan working relationship with Congress.
He gave Mrs. Reagan one of the six pens he used, adding that she probably already had plenty of presidential pens.
In her right hand Mrs. Reagan had a cane she leaned on often. But her left never left the crook of the president's arm, even while he was speaking. And she gently put her hand on Obama's shoulder as he signed the legislation, partial letter by partial letter to use up sufficient pens.
At one point, Mrs. Reagan, who's approaching her 88th birthday next month, commented that the 47-year-old Obama is left-handed like her husband and most recent presidents.
So mark your calendars. It's the third-year on your Barack Obama four-year souvenir calendar.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for coming to the White House today as we commemorate the life and work of a President in the presence of those who loved him, and knew him, and respected him deeply as both a leader and as a man.
And in particular, I want to thank our special guest here today, Nancy Reagan, our former First Lady, who redefined that role in her time at the White House -- and who has, in the many years since, taken on a new role, as an advocate on behalf of treatments that hold the promise of improving and saving lives. And I should just add, she has been extraordinarily gracious to both me and Michelle during our transition here and I'm thankful for that.
There are few who are not moved by the love that Ms. Reagan felt for her husband -- and fewer still....
...who are not inspired by how this love led her to take up the twin causes of stem cell research and Alzheimer's research. In saying a long goodbye, Nancy Reagan became a voice on behalf of millions of families experiencing the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer's disease.
I'd also like to recognize the members of Congress who are standing alongside us, who worked so hard to pass the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, particularly Congressman Elton Gallegly, the lead sponsor of this bill. Finally, I want to thank the trustees of the Reagan Foundation who are here today as well.
This legislation -- approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives, and passed unanimously in the Senate -- will create a commission to honor President Reagan on the 100th anniversary of his birth. And I am proud to sign it into law.
President Reagan understood that while there are often strong disagreements between parties and political adversaries -- disagreements that can be a source of conflict and bitterness -- it is important to keep in mind all that we share.
For all of the deepest of divides that exist in America, the bonds that bring us together are that much stronger. And we may see the world differently, but we must never stop seeing one another as fellow Americans -- and as patriots -- who want what is best for the country we love.
This nation was built on the basis of the principle that we are stronger, not weaker, for even the most vigorous debates -- debates that have energized our politics since the inventors of America argued over our founding documents more than two centuries ago.
Through the weighing of different views we take measure of where we stand and where we must go. And the moment we fail to recognize the good in those with whom we quarrel, is the moment that we've lost sight of who we are as a people.
President Reagan helped as much as any President to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics -- that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day. It was this optimism that allowed leaders like the President and Speaker Tip O'Neill, who held sharply different philosophies, to sit down together at the end of difficult debates as friends, and to work with one another on complex and contentious issues like Social Security.
It was this optimism that the American people sorely needed during a difficult period -- a period of economic and global challenges that tested us in unprecedented ways.
In these perilous times, President Reagan had the ability to communicate directly and movingly to the American people; to understand both the hardships they felt in their lives and the hopes that they had for their country. That was powerful, that was important, and we are better off for the extraordinary leadership that he showed.
So I'm glad to have all of you here today; I'm especially glad to have Mrs. Reagan here today as we sign this bill. I'll look forward to the seeing the fruits of this commission's work, culminating in the celebration of President Reagan's life on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
And on that morning in America, we can be proud to come together as one nation -- and one people -- to honor a leader who loved this country and wanted nothing more than to see its promise fulfilled.
So thank you all very much. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Ms. Reagan, let's go sign this bill. (The Act is signed.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that President Reagan's signature was more legible than mine. (Laughter.) There you go.
Photo: Associated Press