Fitting that on the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain, they honor one of our greatest freedom-loving presidents.
(Guardian) — The sun shone over Mayfair for Ronald Reagan today. It usually did for America’s 40th president, perhaps the most easygoing man ever to occupy the White House. But, if the weather did not let him down, the 4 July ceremony to unveil his 10ft statue outside the US embassy in central London certainly did.
It was not that much of what the assembled Reagan fan club claimed for his presidency was mere nostalgia — mutual reassurance for the Atlantic special relationship in an increasingly Pacific world — more that was it a bit pompous and self-important, as Reagan never was.
Even sculptor Chas Fagan’s bronze, when it was finally unveiled, looked too formal and stiff to be right. You wanted to see the president with his feet up or sleeping (one of his favourite jokes) during a cabinet meeting — at very least to be smiling more broadly in this, his centenary year.
After all, it was his genius for affability, his willingness to laugh at himself, his corny jokes, his titanium-plated optimism, which made millions of Americans like Ronnie Reagan, even when many of them did not approve of what he was actually doing. Like JFK and — Republicans hate this comparison — Bill Clinton, Reagan had the ability to light up a room simply by entering it.
Standing for re-election in 1984 at the age of 73, he won 49 states. When he acknowledged his Alzheimer’s condition 10 years later, his open letter to the US people (“I am one of million of Americans who will be afflicted. . .”) was a model of grace. He died in 2004.
But no, the private ceremony in Grosvenor Square was a solemn occasion with a political purpose: the urgent need to proclaim the boy from smalltown Illinois “one of America’s most admired and respected presidents” (Ambassador Louis Susman) and “without question a great American hero” (William Hague), the man who “brought millions of people to freedom as the iron curtain finally came down” (Margaret Thatcher).
Lady Thatcher was too fragile to make the journey from nearby Belgravia so early in the day, but her message was read and her (dubious) claim that “Ronald Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot” is inscribed on the statue’s plinth. So if anyone shared the day’s honours, it was her, though Sir Winston Churchill was also heavily name-checked.
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