The Alumni

Reagan Veterans Bring Back the '80s

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004

Edwin Meese III opened his spare bedroom to a fellow Californian, knotted an Adam Smith tie and went to the White House.

William P. Clark, his opinions once again in demand, stayed up late writing a newspaper opinion piece about the importance of stem cell research.

Peggy Noonan's prose poetry echoed around the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and Buffy Cafritz threw a dinner party for the Kitchen Cabinet.

The state funeral for former president Ronald Reagan brought a dusty blast of the '80s back to Washington -- insistently if fleetingly -- as alumni of the 40th presidency fell into their old roles one last time and toasted a movement that has outlived the man.

Former officials with where-are-they-now? names were embraced once again by official Washington and the news media as "Ambassador" and "Mr. Secretary." The once-powerful got to hoard cell-phone numbers that practically no one will want in two days, and indulged themselves in ignoring phone messages. After today's funeral service, the Ronald Reagan Alumni Association will stage "the last Cabinet meeting" at the Ronald Reagan Building, with an empty, black chair for the leader that ex-aides still affectionately refer to as "the old man."

Veterans of Reagan advance teams from two terms and two presidential campaigns, reunited after two decades of making money and having kids, walked their last motorcade routes and taped down their last toe marks for the funeral, part of "Operation Serenade."

"It is a presidential trip," said Rick Ahearn, lead advance man for Reagan's Washington arrival as president-elect and for his departure when he left office. "Just, unfortunately, instead of a limousine, it is a hearse."

One of Ahearn's last decisions for the boss was that Reagan's riding boots, fitted in the stirrups of the riderless horse accompanying the caisson for the procession to the Capitol, should be left scuffed but not dusty. He took a little saddle soap to them.

Once again, rosy scenarios were de rigueur. The Reaganauts produced many more leaks, shakeups and public feuds than have afflicted the current administration, but the infighting between the self-styled pragmatists and the outmaneuvered conservatives -- once the talk of Washington -- stayed on ice for the week.

"There were disagreements, but I can't remember any real fights," said Meese, who lost his West Wing job as counselor -- which made him part of the troika that ran the early Reagan White House -- when the moderates made their move and got him shifted to the post of attorney general.

The Reaganites have stayed tight enough that an annual alumni directory ran 482 pages this year. Determined to staff him to the end, his former aides paired off and divided themselves into two-hour shifts to join his Secret Service detail in keeping vigil over the remains lying in state overnight in the Capitol Rotunda.

There weren't many tears. As entertainer, old friend and pallbearer Merv Griffin put it after the toasts at Cafritz's dinner on Wednesday night, "The sadness was a few years ago."

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