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Lobdell: What would Ronald Reagan think?

January 24, 2011|By William Lobdell

I'm pretty sure Ronald Reagan would agree with me on this: For Newport Beach, there are better historical figures to canonize with bronze statues at the new Civic Center than the 40th president of the United States.

In fact, if I could interview Reagan today, here's what I believe he'd say:

Mr. President, they want to put a statue of you on the grounds of the new Civic Center in Newport Beach. What do you think?

Well, that's certainly flattering, but why Newport Beach? I didn't spend too much time there, though I loved the Balboa Bay Club, and Nancy and I took some wonderful cruises around the harbor. Oh, and I could always count on raising a lot of money there. Good people.

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Keith Curry, a Newport Beach councilman, worked in your administration in the 1980s and is a big admirer and wants the city to honor you on the 100th anniversary of your birth.

They're not spending taxpayer money on this, are they?

No, Curry is raising the $50,000 in private donations.

Then he learned well. But I do think there are enough statues of me, and my presidential library is right up the road in Simi Valley. I'm sure there are more deserving people in Newport's history to memorialize at a local city hall.

But many people here think you were one of the top five presidents in U.S. history.

[Chuckles.] That figures. Newport can be as conservative as a crew cut. Still, I'm not sure a City Hall is the place for statues of national political figures. I mean, I wouldn't be in favor of Santa Monica commissioning a sculpture of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, either. It doesn't fit with the flavor of local politics. I say save memorials for me for Washington D.C., my hometown in Illinois, Sacramento where I served as governor or Hollywood/Bel Air where I spent much of my life.

Do you think some people in Newport will see the Ronald Reagan statue at City Hall as a message that conservative politics have a special place of honor?

[Laughing again.] Well, I wouldn't have gotten that statue for my acting career! I couldn't even get that little Oscar figurine. I'm sure many people will see it as a 21-gun salute to Republicanism — how could they not? I just don't see the need to politicize a civic center with memorials for national figures. Again, if I lived in Santa Monica, I would hate to go into City Hall and be greeted with the likeness of Bill Clinton. I'm confident enough with my legacy that I don't need statues around the country as China did with Chairman Mao or Cuba does with Castro.

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