Ronald Reagan


Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, but instead of doing something to honor our country’s 40th president, I did something related to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

“Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America,” a traveling display of reproduced artifacts related to Lincoln’s life and death, opened at the Ottawa Scouting Museum this past weekend. It will be there until April 12, at which time the exhibit will be transported to the next stop on its two-year tour around Illinois. (Interestingly, April 12 also will mark the 150th anniversary of when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter, starting the American Civil War.)

The Lincoln exhibit consists of seven learning stations and a dollhouse-sized replica of Lincoln’s home in Springfield. (The dollhouse was created by Ottawa resident Nancy Dominis.) Among the reproduced artifacts are Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, an ax the president used to chop wood for Union soldiers, a toy cannon given to his son Tad, and two Lincoln life masks.

Mollie Perrot, executive director of the Ottawa Scouting Museum, told me turnout for the exhibit was better than expected during its opening weekend, considering the Super Bowl took place Sunday.

The exhibit is worth seeing and doesn’t take long to go through it. If you get an opportunity to see it in Ottawa or elsewhere, I recommend you do so.

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After President Obama finished his State of the Union address last night, a conservative friend of mine sent me this text message: “They always talk about Clinton moving to the center. Obama is moving far right!”

I don’t agree that Obama is moving far right, but as I responded to my friend, “I always thought Obama was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi allowed him to appear.”

“True, but this was stunning,” my friend wrote back. “American Exceptionalism? Reducing corporate taxes? Maybe this Reagan stuff is affecting him. Liberals must be pissed.”

He was right. Judging by the post-address commentary on MSNBC, some far-left liberals definitely were pissed. As a matter of fact, I had to change the channel to CNN after some of the MSNBC commentary started bordering on whining. (As usual, CNN had the best middle-ground coverage of a presidential speech.)

Here’s what I don’t understand: Obama obviously leans more to the left than the right, so why does he continue to get so much criticism from fellow Democrats? Why don’t the Democrats act like the Republicans and support their president?

I’m not saying that Obama — or any politician, for that matter — is above criticism, but the president has delivered on some significant liberal agenda items, including comprehensive healthcare reform and abolishment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. How far left do the president’s critics really expect him to go?

It long has been apparent to me that Obama is a pragmatist. He understands the political reality of his situation. He knows he must compromise with Republicans in order to get more done — but his left-leaning critics don’t seem willing to accept this. If they don’t wise up, they won’t appreciate Obama’s presidency until he leaves the White House — and by then, they may not have anyone left in the Oval Office willing to listen to anything they want.

Since neither Ottawa Delivered nor The Times has U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union address posted on their websites, and Kinzinger is the U.S.  congressman who represents Ottawa, I’m going to post the freshman Republican legislator’s response here, courtesy of The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal’s daily newspaper)*:

“In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama made it clear that we must turn our focus squarely onto growing a competitive nation. The way to make our nation prosperous is by getting our neighbors back to work and ensuring our economy works for American families and businesses.

“The President made promising remarks about job creation, but the only action Americans have heard from Washington Democrats over the past two years is that more government spending and higher taxes are the only solutions to grow our economy and create jobs.

“The actions and decisions made by prior Congresses have led us to where we are today. Nearly one in 10 of our neighbors remain unemployed. Over the last two years unemployment has skyrocketed from 7.8 percent to 9.4 percent.

“In addition, our nation’s debt now exceeds $14 trillion. More than $3.3 trillion of this debt was piled on in just two years.

“We cannot continue down this slippery slope with the same failed policies that has led our nation to fewer jobs, more government spending and an intrusive expansion of government.

“As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘All great change in America begins at the dinner table.’

“This past November, American families, businesses, seniors and taxpayers sent a clear message to Washington. All across the nation, Americans chose the path toward limited government, reduced spending and a free-market system.

“We must quit spending more money than we take in and we must focus our efforts toward growing the private sector, where jobs are created. We have tough decisions to make but we can make them while living within our means.

“Earlier today, the House passed a budget resolution that would cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels. This, along with additional spending reforms, will ensure we continue to eliminate wasteful spending, and will force government to cut up their credit cards.

“House Republicans made a promise to the people to put our nation back on track towards fiscal responsibility, economic growth and accountable and transparent government, and this is a promise we intend to keep.

“We must promote and foster free enterprise here in America. Congress must work tirelessly to implement policies that encourage entrepreneurship, cultivate innovation and reward the hard work that will lead us toward prosperity.”

* I want to make clear that my posting of Kinzinger’s response doesn’t represent endorsement or rejection of his positions. It just bothers me that neither of Ottawa’s newspapers put the response on their websites, and I would have done so. It is important for constituents to know what their elected officials have to say about issues of the day.

Earlier this month I covered the inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner for Ottawa Delivered. The event, held at Pitstick Pavilion near Ottawa, featured a $500 scholarship being awarded to an Ottawa Township High School senior and a lot of fond Republican memories of our nation’s 40th president being shared by those in attendance.

As tends to be the case at such events, I got to interview several political candidates who don’t regularly stump in this part of the state. The following is a column I wrote about my encounter with two Republican candidates for Illinois governor, originally published online and in print Nov. 12.

* * *

Last weekend’s inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner proved fruitful for me as a political reporter. Since Ottawa isn’t Chicago, Springfield or another Illinois city comparable in size, we usually don’t get a lot of visits from statewide-office seekers until crunch time right before a close election.

The dinner, which originally was to feature GOP rising star U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) as its main speaker (the health-care reform debate kept him in Washington, D.C., that day), was attended by two of the seven men vying for the Republican nomination for governor: state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom (R-Naperville). I talked with both of them separately before dinner began.

I found Dillard easily, considering he was wearing a big button with his name on it. (And by big, I mean the size of my fist.) He exuded confidence when asked how his campaign is going.

“I feel perfectly positioned at this point of the campaign,” Dillard said.

Two days earlier, the seven GOP candidates for governor – which also include state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), former state GOP chairman Andy McKenna (R-Chicago), former state Attorney General Jim Ryan (R-Elmhurst), political commentator Dan Proft (R-Wheaton) and government transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski (R-Hinsdale) – all debated together for the first time. While complimenting the tone of the debate, Dillard couldn’t resist poking at a couple of his opponents.

“It was polite and professional and it was nice to see Andy McKenna and Jim Ryan get out of the Rose Garden and come out of hibernation,” Dillard said. “Most of the candidates have been campaigning statewide, not just at the Hilton in Chicago.”

A state senator since 1994, Dillard served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, former Gov. Jim Thompson’s director of legislative affairs, and a judge for the Illinois Court of Claims. He believes his experience and his track record of clean ethics make him the frontrunner in the race. The main point he emphasizes is his desire to make Illinois a “destination economy” through what he promises would be “the most aggressive job-recruitment program in this state’s history.”

As soon as my interview with Dillard concluded, Schillerstrom’s assistant suddenly appeared to ask if I’d like to talk to his boss. Reporters who are seen talking to one candidate typically draw others like moths to light. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s funny how that works, isn’t it?

Anyway, my first impression of Schillerstrom was his booming voice (which was later amplified when he used a microphone to address the crowd). Like Dillard, he expressed confidence in his campaign.

“I think it’s going very well,” Schillerstrom said. “My message is really resonating with the people of Illinois.”

That message, he said, emphasizes the importance of stabilizing the state’s economy while practicing fiscal responsibility. He said that under his leadership, DuPage County cut property taxes in seven of the last 10 years. Noting that DuPage County has more residents than six states, Schillerstrom said his job as county chairman is akin to being governor of a small state.

“We can take that approach to Springfield,” Schillerstrom said. “I’m not from Springfield. I’m not from that culture. I don’t think like they do. I believe in balancing our budget every year. If we don’t have it, we don’t spend it.”

The opportunity for face-to-face interviews with these statewide candidates was, to quote another former governor, “golden.” I hope more candidates from both sides of the political aisle visit Ottawa soon so I get the chance to interview them in person, too.

I love this photo because of its historical significance:

The last time all living U.S. presidents met at the White House was Oct. 8, 1981, when then-President Ronald Reagan hosted his three immediate predecessors, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, before they went to a state funeral in Cairo for assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The photo posted above was taken Wednesday in the Oval Office before the five men – from left, former President George H.W. Bush, President-elect Barack Obama, President George W. Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – met privately for a 90-minute luncheon at the White House. The photo reminded me of the cover of Bob Woodward’s book, Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate, which features a photo of former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. I believe the Shadow photo was taken at Nixon’s funeral in 1994.

As an Illinois resident, I find it interesting to watch two different types of coverage of Blagogate, local and national. Local coverage on Chicago television stations focuses on a wider range of angles than national coverage on the cable news networks, which seems more focused on whether President-elect Barack Obama had any knowledge of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to award Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. It’s almost as if the national newspeople are only concerned with potentially finding some dirty Obama laundry.

As an out-of-work reporter, I certainly understand where the national newsies are coming from with their focus on the Obama angle of this scandal. But speaking strictly as an interested citizen whose home state got screwed by its governor (again), I wish all the commentators would stop insinuating that Blagogate somehow makes Obama dirty just because he is from Chicago. It isn’t as if Obama has a track record of shady behavior. Besides, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a very thorough investigator, said Tuesday that no allegations of wrongdoing have been made against Obama, and I can’t recall any instance of Fitzgerald being offbase about anything like this in the past.

David Gergen, who served as a White House adviser to four presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) and possesses a keen political mind, seems to believe this too.

“He was an honest man who came out of a corrupt system,” Gergen said Wednesday on Anderson Cooper 360.

I understand we live in a cynical society that tends to tear people down rather than build them up. But in the case of Obama, I hope we can continue to believe in him, for even though our country needs a lot more than hope right now, it is important to be able to hope and believe our next president is trustworthy and capable of righting the good ship America.

I recently finished reading Obama: From Promise to Power, a biography of Barack Obama written by veteran Chicago Tribune journalist David Mendell. Mendell has covered the president-elect since late 2003 when Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign began. In this book, first published in August 2007, Mendell chronicles Obama’s career leading up to when Obama announced his presidential bid outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, in February 2007. Mendell also includes pertinent information about Obama’s personal life, but generally doesn’t expound upon what Obama himself had already written in his two books.

I bought this book on a whim the day after Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. I spotted it in the literary aisle of my local grocery store, read an excerpt and decided to buy it so I could learn more about Obama. That was a good decision. Mendell clearly researched his subject matter extensively, talking to numerous people within Obama’s inner circle to create a well-written, balanced biography of the man who inspired the national electorate like nobody else has since Ronald Reagan.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Obama without having the information filtered through a pro- or anti-Obama lens.