Death of a President

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wo days ago, Thursday, I remember thinking, “Why am I writing this?” It wasn’t November. There were no specials on TV about the Kennedy assasination. But, for whatever reason, I was moved to write about my feelings and reaction of the death of a president. I’m not trying to pretend I’m psychic, but I feel kinda weird writing about another death so soon.

Yesterday, Saturday, June 5, 2004, President Ronald Reagan died. Now, I admit that I am a left leaning Independent, but I must confess that I was once a registered Republican, and mostly because of Reagan when he was Governor of California. He was a conservative, I am a minority, and the two don’t seem to mix. But in my view, Reagan was a fiscal conservative and law-and-order conservative. Socially, he showed none of the tell-tale signs that other conservatives manifested. To the best of my knowledge, he never talked against gays. He never proposed policy that was anti-minority–indeed, he signed bills designating many Japanese American sites as historical landmarks including Manzanar and the Wakamatsu Colony where the first Japanese immigrants lived. He is also the president who signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided reparations to Japanese Americans interred in camps during the war. This liberal bent may be due to his days as an actor in Hollywood, but I suspect that it had more to do with his conviction in an ideal America, one in which everyone was free and equal, protected and well-fed.

However, I would like to leave SDI (Starwars) and Iran-Contra aside for today, and focus on his tenure as governor. Perhaps his greatest vision–in my mind–was his view of educational opportunity for all. When he became Governor in 1967, he immediately moved to have the president of UC Berkely, Clark Kerr, removed. Many viewed this as heavy-handed maneuvering by a political conservative, ousting a liberal out of a position of power. Berkeley at the time was a hotspot for anti-Vietnam protests and the campus was always a mess with demonstrations and riots. In Reagan’s mind, his commitment to education likely would not allow these destructive elements to interfere with the education system. It’s perhaps no surprise that it is during Reagan’s early years as governonr that S.I. Hayakawa became acting president of S.F. State (1968)–the first Asian American to head a major university–reopened the campus that had been closed due to student unrest and made a name for himself when he bullied his way onto a soundtruck during a student protest, riped out the wires to the microphones and began his own speech.

In any event, Reagan was pro-education and I was a direct beneficiary. As governor,

  • he wanted to limit state spending–he was a conservative–but he still insisted on improving educational standards for all children, approving money for the early-childhood education reform.
  • he signed legislation allowing the use of other languages of instruction in California public schools, showing his support for Hispanics who had yet to learn English.
  • he referred to community colleges as “a priceless treasure–close to our homes and work, providing open doors for millions of our fellow citizens…the original higher education melting pot .”

His actions and words showed me that he viewed all people as equal, and that he wanted to improve our state through education. As one who benefited from the California higher education system–I went to East Los Angeles Community College and UCLA–I appreciated his acts as governor. I just wish his view had rubbed off on some of the neo-cons of today.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Reagan family…