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Remembering Reagan: The Scene in California

William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2004; 10:00 AM

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States, who transformed the Republican Party and substantially defined the terms of contemporary political debate during two momentous terms in office, died Saturday afternoon at his home in Bel Air, Calif., after succumbing to a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Washington Post staff writer William Booth discussed the reaction in California to Ronald Reagan's passing and the scene both outside and inside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where Reagan's flag-draped casket rests in the lobby.

The transcript follows

. Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


William Booth: Hello all. It's 7 am in California.


Anonymous: Was the viewing room open all night?

William Booth: Yes, I got up and turned on the early news on television, and it continued through the night. When I left the staging area for guests near the library last evening, the wait was getting to be three, four or even five hours long.


Virginia: I heard that Gov. Schwarzenegger was one of the first to pay his respects. Has anyone else of note come by the Library?

William Booth: Yes, Gov. Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver were among the first to come to the rotunda. As for other persons of note, I confess I do not know. The viewing was designed, specifically, by Reagan and his family, we are told, so that ordinary Californians could get a chance to say goodbye and be a part. Reagan, you remember, was a two-term governor out here.


Arlington, Va.: What is the scene like outside of the Library? Are there protesters, a media scrum, vendors, are people behaving respectfully both inside and outside? How do the neighbors feel about this?

William Booth: The scene outside the library on the street is pretty tame. Police have closed off much of the traffic. There are no venders. There is some media in front on the main road, mostly there to shoot photos of people leaving flowers. Up the hill at the library, proper, theres a whole media camp, but we're/they're being kept at bay.


Valencia, Calif.: Do you think the reaction to his death in some way is a nostalgia for a time when the lines in the dirt were simpler. It was a cold war not a never ending struggle against an uncertain enemy. Decency could be defined and recognized but now has too much spin and too many legal disclaimers.

William Booth: Good point. Any takers out there who agree/disagree?


Former Californian: What is your sense of what Californians think of Reagan's role in shaping how the country viewed their state?

William Booth: That is an excellent question. I think that many people in California find it funny how the rest of the nation, Washington and New York in particular, see the Golden State has this place as flakey. But its actually, you know, the sixth or seventh largest economy on the planet. The number one industry is agriculture (not movies) and it gave birth to Ronald Reagan (and Richard Nixon).


Anonymous: Is the Official Reagan Library offering any commerative souvenirs of President Reagan's passing?

William Booth: Just a memorial card that thanks visitors for coming. One per person. I imagine in future days there will be items for sale with his dates. For all things Reagan funeral, the website for the library is helpful. reaganlibrary.com


Jacksonville, Fla.: You mention in your article that people watched the procession go by - did you talk to them about their motivation to watch the hearse? Was it moving at a slow clip to allow bystanders to take in the moment? Thank you.

William Booth: The hearse and motorcade travelled slowly, by LA freeway standards, but they were moving along. I'd guess 40-50 mph when I saw it pass. The motivation of the people watching it pass probably differs so much its hard to generalize, but folks I talked with said things like, they just wanted to be witness to a historical event, or they admired the former president, or we're just curioius.


Falls Church, Va.: Just curious since most of Hollywood is Democrat -- did any other celebrities besides the governor visit the site? Sorry, I did not get to watch the coverage much at all. Thanks.

William Booth: I believe there was a large fundraiser for Kerry scheduled for Monday night at the Disney concert hall, which would have featured Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond (tickets $1000 to $2000). I believe that event was cancelled. As for the celebrities at the library, I didn't see any among the crowds. Anyone out there catch a glimpse of any? Let us know.


Washington, D.C.: How long has this been in the planning? It seems the Library knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Was there a plan in place before Reagan's death?

William Booth: According to Joanne Drake, RR's chief of staff in his post-presidential years, a president is required by the protocol officers to make known his funeral plans upon becoming president. So in one sense, RR's plans began in 1981. Each year they are updated and revised. It has been known since the library openned that RR would be buried there. His crypt is already built. There was much planning done, and you could see it yesterday. It went pretty well. The crowds were large but managed.


Anonymous: What is to become of the mementos left at the site of the Library, the Reagan home and Ronald's Hollywood Walk of Fame star? Are there other impromptu memorials in California that I have missed?

William Booth: The library is documenting the impromptu memorials, photograghing them and will collect the cards, which will go (or at least some of them) into the library's collection. The flowers go into the recycling bins.


Arlington, Va.: I noticed Merv Griffin sitting behind the Reagan family yesterday at the ceremony at the Reagan Library. Did Reagan stay close to many in Hollywood as his political career took off? I wonder because of A. his conduct during the House Un-American Activities hearings and, B. his conservative ideals -- how well would they jibe with Hollywood ideals?

William Booth: Reagan, and as he grew ill, Nancy kept in contact with old friends from Hollywood, as you note, Merv Griffin has been close to the Reagan's for years. Same with Charlton Heston. But the core of liberal-activist Hollywood has never been close to the family, probably cordial -- since they're rich neighbors in Bel-Air, but political opposites.


Ohio: Has the governor made any statements on Reagan's death? Will there be any public proclamations, holidays, days of morning, etc. specific to California?

William Booth: Friday is a national day of mourning. But I dont think we get the day off. Schwarzenegger has made statements praising the memory of Reagan. But no word of a state holiday.


William Booth: Just checked. The Streisand-Diamond fundraiser for John Kerry last night in LA was cancelled and to be rescheduled.


Alexandria, Va.: How long did the members of the honor guard stand at attention?

William Booth: When I was passing through the rotunda, they actually performed the move where soldiers enter and take the positions of those standing at attention around the casket. It was interesting -- the care, the precision, and the slow motion of the drill.


William Booth: My time is up. Thanks all for the questions. Reagan's body will continue to be on view at his library through 6 pm today in California, then he and the family depart for Washington on Wednesday morning.


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