‘Could we stop in for cappuccino?’

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

That was the “code” between the Reagan White House and Cardinal Pio Laghi, the Vatican envoy to the U.S., according to an oral history interview with Bill Clark, released today, the day of his funeral Mass. Steve Hayward has some excerpts from what Clark had to say here.

I was reading the The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand over the weekend and came upon these observations about the Clark-Reagan relationship:

Both were westerners at heart, men who preferred solitude on the ranch and longed for the West. Joan once assessed: “Both are Western men. They love the outdoors. They are at ease with themselves—nothing neurotic about them. No identity crises. Their feelings are genuine, and that’s why people take to them.” Reagan personal secretary Helene Von Damm agreed: “Both were really nice, solid individuals. People liked them.” She says that of all the relationships that Ronald Reagan had, he was probably most comfortable with Bill Clark: “The westernness, the horses. They had so many similarities. Also, Bill didn’t crowd him, didn’t pressure him on decisions, didn’t push him, didn’t talk him to death. That was all very important. People don’t realize those things.”

Michael Reagan is quoted as saying:

“You guys on the East Coast don’t get it! Relationships aren’t built at a country club; they’re built on the back of a horse. And that’s where Bill and my dad built their relationship. In the dirt, in the dust, around horses.” Michael adds: “They were good friends, yes, but they were more than that; they were ranchers—ranchers, I tell you!” Michael concedes that both men were cowboys of a sort, though he thinks the word “ranchers” best describes them and their kinship.

I grew up in Manhattan, so I’m not going to be a poseur here, but nature does lend itself to a more contemplative life.

Clark himself spent a few months in an Augustinean novitiate, discerning whether or not he was called to be a Catholic priest. Clark reflected: “My time at the Novitiate added an important dimension to my time on earth; it was probably the most personally constructive year of my life. God put me there for a reason—what I learned at the Novitiate, as a disciple, I would attempt to carry forward through all my life.”

“When asked fifty years later which profession he would try if he were once again twenty-one years old, Clark replied: “’It would not be so much a question of what I would like to try but rather to discern through prayer and contemplation what God has in mind for me.’” 

The biography further opens a window into the spiritual component of the Clark-Reagan relationship:

Before the US-USSR Summit in Geneva, Reagan had insisted: “[W]e are all God’s children. The clerk and the king and the Communist were made in His image. We all have souls.”  He directly urged a group of American and Soviet exchange students to understand that “we’re all God’s children.” He personally said, “I pray that the hand of the Lord will be on the Soviet people.”

In fact, it is important to note that Reagan personally inserted into the Evil Empire speech a crucial line that was ignored by leftists like Wills: he asked his fellow Christians to join him in praying for everyone in the USSR. “[L]et us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God,” wrote Reagan.

Reagan and Clark were fond of a prayer they prayed together. It typifies how they perceived their role toward communist peoples and nations, and the difference they hoped to make from the White House: It was the Prayer of St. Francis, the following excerpt of which was particularly meaningful to Reagan and Clark:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace….

Where there is doubt, let me sow faith.

Where there is despair, let me sow hope.

Where there is darkness, let me sow light.

Reagan saw himself as sowing freedom—including religious freedom—in communist countries, as did his national security adviser and top hand, Bill Clark.

A little time with Augustine isn’t bad training ground for public life …