The Reagan centenary

February 6 is the centenary of the birth of Ronald Wilson Reagan, one of the most intriguing public figures of our time.

Clark Clifford, the ultimate Washington “insiders,” dismissed him as an “amiable dunce.” Yet Reagan’s posthumously published diaries and speech notes show a man of considerable insight and intelligence, who was shrewd enough to understand that the contempt of the elites was a political asset in securing the loyalty of the electorate and in getting what he wanted out of Congress and the federal bureaucracy.

He was feared by arms controllers and the foreign policy establishment as a man likely to blunder into a nuclear Armageddon. Yet recent studies by Martin and Annelise Anderson demonstrate that, unlike the liberal poobahs of deterrence, Reagan never learned to live with the bomb and bent every effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, through both disarmament and the development of effective strategic defense.

His anti-communism was derided as primitive, unsophisticated, and a danger to world peace. Yet the historical record shows that his “simplistic” prescription for ending the Cold War—“We win; they lose”—turned out to be the key to the victory of imperfect democracies over a pluperfect tyranny.

Few great public figures of late modernity have been so misunderstood in their lifetime or revered at their death—with the exception of another man who was never supposed to become the titanic figure he became, Pope John Paul II. And, as I try to show in “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” these two unexpected giants of the late 20th century had strikingly parallel biographies, despite the obvious differences in their backgrounds and interests.

They were both orphaned young: the future pope, literally; the future president, virtually, given the alcoholism of his father.

They were both men of the theater, whose extensive acting experience gave them both crucial skills and a conviction: that the word of truth, spoken clearly and forcefully enough, could cut through the static of evil’s lies, rally hearts and souls, and create possibilities where only obstacles were apparent.

Their understanding of, and loathing for, communism came to both of them early: Reagan, through his battles with Hollywood communists for control of the Screen Actors Guild; John Paul II, through his experience of the brutalitarian period of Polish communism after World War II. Both knew that the crucial battle with communism was in the realm of the human spirit, for communism proposed a false, yet seductive, view of the human future that could best be matched by a nobler vision of human freedom.

They were both dismissed as “conservatives” by pundits for whom “conservative” was a polite placeholder for “reactionary.” Yet the truth of the matter was that both were radicals:  Reagan, in his convictions about ridding the world of nuclear weapons; John Paul, in the depth of his Christian discipleship.

There was no “holy alliance” between them, as some overly imaginative reporters have alleged. But there was deep mutual respect. Shortly before Christmas 2001, John Paul II asked me, “How is President Reagan?” As it happened, I had just run into former attorney general Edwin Meese, who had told me a story that I shared with the pope. Meese had gone to the christening of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan earlier that year, and had brought the former president (whose illness prevented him from attending) the typical ship’s baseball cap, emblazoned “U.S.S. Ronald ReaganCV-76,” that had been given out on the occasion. Reagan, a gentleman to the end, responded, “Thank you, Ed. That’s very kind. But why would anyone name a ship after me?” Twelve years after leaving office, the most consequential president since Franklin Roosevelt had no memory of having led his country, and the free world, for eight years.

John Paul II, who could not imagine the unreflected-upon life, was saddened by my tale, and asked that I get word of his solidarity in prayer to Mrs. Reagan. It’s a comfort to imagine these two happy warriors now, in different circumstances, beyond the reach of either misunderstanding or sorrow.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.