Members of Congress and other officials saluted Ronald Reagan last night, with Republicans calling him a great president who won the Cold War, Democrats tending to emphasize his extraordinary communication skills and nearly everyone citing his infectious optimism.
"Ronald Reagan marshaled free men everywhere to their victory over communist oppression," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "He led America out of weakness and malaise to heights of strength and prosperity never before witnessed by any nation in history."
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called Reagan "a larger-than-life figure today, the man who fought and won every battle from the movie studios to the governor's mansion to the Cold War."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) -- who came to the Senate in 1980 as part of the "Reagan revolution" that led the Republican Party to the White House and then to majority positions in both houses of Congress -- said the former president "deserves credit because his leadership brought an end to the Cold War, brought down the Berlin Wall and broke up the Soviet Union. The obvious result is that we don't have nuclear warheads pointed toward New York City, and the world's a safer place because of him."
"The world and his fellow Americans will forever be in his debt," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was Reagan's last national security adviser, from December 1987 to January 1989. "He was one of a kind, an American original."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said: "President Reagan was a leader at a time when the American people most needed leadership. . . . How ironic that he died on the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion? He shared the vision of those brave men who risked and sometimes lost their lives, so that others could live in freedom. That vision lives today."
"America mourns the loss of a great leader," said Howard Baker, U.S. ambassador to Japan and former Senate majority leader. "President Reagan will be remembered with gratitude as an historic figure whose vision and dedication brought about the end of the Cold War," the former Tennessee lawmaker said.
Democrats said less about the substance of Reagan's achievements, focusing more on his sunny personality and his ability to speak directly to the American public.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said Reagan "will be forever remembered for his faith, his optimism and his unwavering commitment to his convictions."
"As an American, I appreciate Ronald Reagan's great leadership and service to our country," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "As a Californian, I admire the special grace and humor that endeared him to millions."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who since 1962 from his seat in the Senate watched the rise of Reagan and with him the Republican resurgence, said: "We often disagreed on issues of the day, but I had immense respect and admiration for his leadership and his extraordinary ability to inspire the nation to live up to its high ideals."
Departing from the Democratic pattern, Kennedy went on to say that Reagan "will be honored as the president who won the Cold War." He also drew a direct connection between Reagan's handling of the Soviet Union and his brother's, saying that "his 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' will be linked forever with President Kennedy's 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "
Summarizing the day's reactions, Ralph Whitehead, a political commentator who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, said that Reagan had many achievements but is likely to be most remembered through the "golden haze" of history for lifting the spirits of the nation early in his presidency.
"In 1979 and 1980, the country went through a period of self-doubt," Whitehead said. "Reagan did give the country a new sense of hope and possibility."
Amid all the commentary from political figures, Michael Reagan, one of Reagan's two sons, issued a statement that was intensely personal. "I remember with great clarity my father's emotion when Nelle Reagan, my grandmother, passed away," he said. "Until today, I didn't understand the feeling of loss and pain which comes when a parent leaves you. For this reason, I will not be making any public statements at this time."
He added: "What I will remember is a man that changed my life. He was always there for me when I needed him. He had a way of putting everything into perspective, and I believe that his determination and perseverance came from his relationship with the Lord. He played an important role in pointing me to God."