WASHINGTON — Reaganites of long memory, recalling all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that the liberal intelligentsia displayed while the 40th president of the United States restored the economy and made ready the embalming of communism, are by now agreeably surprised by the nation’s spontaneous reverence for the deceased President. Even Bill Clinton has expressed a desire to eulogize in the hallowed precincts of the National Cathedral, though his selfless offer has been declined. Possibly the demurral was made on moral grounds. Bill’s treatment of the Ten Commandments as a buffet makes some churchgoers uneasy.
At any rate, caught in the spirit of bereavement and of patriotism, Americans of all political persuasions are competing to come up with suitable ways to memorialize the Old Cowboy. Most frequently heard are suggestions to place Ronald Reagan’s handsome face on the ten dollar bill or on Mount Rushmore. The Rushmore proposal is an old one, one that I had a hand in creating and that the Washington Times transformed into a national cause.
It all began on July 26, 1988, when I had President Reagan as my guest at a small dinner party in my home. Through his two terms he had had me over to the White House regularly. An interest of his, rarely acknowledged by his critics, was writing and reading. Now with the publication of Reagan, In His Own Hand and Reagan: A Life in Letters we know that the President was a competent writer, both of letters and radio scripts. Moreover, he was an avid reader, with newspapers and political intellectual reviews often on his reading table. In reciprocation of his hospitality to me I promised an evening with some clever libertarian-conservative writers, and up the road he came on July 26 with 300 or so of his favorite security men.
Vic Gold, an old friend of mine, suggested we make the evening memorable by giving our guest a drawing of Mt. Rushmore with his face on it. The President accepted the bibelot graciously, and the evening continued with lively conversation. The President expressed his insight that the Russian people had a yearning for religion. He talked about Hollywood and politics. He corrected me when I remarked that while convalescing from his gunshot wound he lifted weights and put an inch of muscle on his chest: “An inch and a half, Bob.”
Afterwards the story of Reagan’s face appearing on Mt. Rushmore began popping up in the news after the Washington Times‘ John Elvin ran our drawing in his newspaper column. He gave the story another boost the following Spring, whereupon a Village Voice columnists speculated on the proposition at scholarly length. That prompted me to establish a public-spirited committee in support of the project and to put out a press release. The committee was named the Committee for Monumental Progress (CMP) and the idea spread nationwide after major national news organs went berserk over the press release.
I like to think that what captured the liberal media’s fascination was our committee’s expressed concern for the environment and our demonstration of respect for the Soviet Union with an eye to renewed détente. Recognizing that one could not simply start dynamiting new sites on a crowded mountaintop, we suggested that the amount of disturbed rock be kept to “an absolute minimum.” We suggested affixing to Mt. Rushmore “a concrete nose and chin, and possibly a simulacrum of Reagan’s left ear.” Relying on my “special relationship” with the President, who was now in retirement and had time on his hands, we envisaged commissioning a sculptor to make a mold of Reagan’s head, which could then be enlarged using “advanced holographic techniques.” The concrete appendages would then be attached by a metal frame and “the whole thing suspended next to Abraham Lincoln in such a manner that the mountain’s indigenous moss might double as Reagan’s hair.”
All these details I quote from our historic press release. Then came the gesture to further détente with the soon-to-be-expired Soviet Union. Doffing our hats to Soviet economic advances, we proposed that the monumental nose, chin, and ear be created in cement supplied by the Soviet Union, whose engineers were then “justly acclaimed as world leaders in this field.” If the Soviets could not afford the cement, our committee would pick up the tab.
As I say the press was mightily impressed by our energies on Ronald Reagan’s behalf. Such lunk-headed enthusiasms were just the sort of thing liberal journalists expected from conservatives. When professional Washington fundraisers started raising money for the project, the press grew in confidence that this was a serious undertaking. Well, maybe it was. Over the years other members of the Committee for Monumental Progress have grown dissatisfied with forcing President Reagan to share “stone time” with Washington, Jefferson, TR, and Lincoln. They now suggest we give him his own mountain. Some have suggested Mt. Everest.