Who Killed the Kennedys? Ronald Reagan’s Answer…

Ronald Reagan SC

This year marks not only the 50th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy but also the 45th anniversary of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, which occurred in June 1968. Was there a common source motivating the assassins of both Kennedys—that is, Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan?

That renowned political philosopher Mick Jagger speculated on a source. “I shouted out ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’” asks the lyrics in the 1968 song by The Rolling Stones. “When, after all, it was you and me.” The song was titled, “Sympathy for the Devil.” It was, The Rolling Stones suggested, the Devil who had killed the Kennedys, along with his accomplices.

I must say I can’t disagree with that one—a rare area of agreement between me and Mick Jagger.

There is, however, a more earthly answer. And it was provided, surprisingly, by a rising political star in the immediate hours after the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. That star was the new governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

RFK was shot in Governor Reagan’s state. Reagan was no stranger to Bobby Kennedy. He had debated him a year earlier on national television, which didn’t go well for RFK, with Reagan clearly outshining him. Kennedy told his handlers to never again put him on the same stage with “that son-of-a-b—-.”

That debate occurred five years after Bobby Kennedy had intervened to get Reagan fired from his long stint as host of the top-rated GE Theatre on CBS—a fact unknown until it was revealed by Michael Reagan in his excellent book, The New Reagan Revolution. Typical of Reagan, he harbored no bitterness toward RFK. That was quite unlike Bobby Kennedy, a man who personally knew how to hold a grudge.

On June 5, 1968, Reagan was full of nothing but sympathy for RFK. He appeared on the popular television show of Joey Bishop, one of the extended members of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Bishop and Reagan were old Hollywood friends, and Bishop extended the governor a platform to address the shooting. A transcript of Reagan’s appearance on that show was grabbed by his young chief of staff, Bill Clark, who died just a few months ago. Clark shoved it in a box that ended up in the tack barn at his ranch in central California. It lay there until I, as Clark’s biographer, dug it out three decades later.

That rare surviving transcript reveals a Reagan who spoke movingly about RFK and the entire Kennedy family. Condemning the “savage act,” Reagan pleaded: “I am sure that all of us are praying not only for him but for his family and for those others who were so senselessly struck down also in the fusillade of bullets…. I believe we should go on praying, to the best of our ability.”

But particularly interesting was how Reagan unflinchingly pointed a finger of blame in the direction of Moscow. Reagan noted that Kennedy’s killer, Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab and also a communist, had shot Kennedy because of his support of Israel during the Six Day War that had occurred exactly one year earlier. On that, we now know beyond dispute what Reagan knew then: That war had been shamelessly provoked by the Kremlin.

Looking to exploit divisions in the Middle East and further exacerbate America’s foreign-policy problems at the time (we were mired in Vietnam), Soviet officials cooked up false intelligence reports claiming that Israeli troops had been moved into the Golan Heights and were readying to invade Syria. They peddled the malicious, phony information to Egypt and other Arab states for the explicit purpose of creating a military confrontation with Israel. The Israeli leader, Levi Eshkol, immediately denounced the accusation, telling the Soviet ambassador to his face that there were no Israeli troops there whatsoever, and offering to personally drive him to the Golan at once. Acting on orders, the ambassador flatly refused, shouting “Nyet!” at Eshkol and storming out of the prime minister’s residence. The Egyptians, too, checked their intelligence sources and found no evidence of Israeli troops in the Golan. Nonetheless, the pieces were in motion, and one thing dangerously led to another until everything spiraled out of control. Within mere weeks, the Six Day War was on—precipitated by the Kremlin. The egregious depths of Soviet disinformation spawned a major Middle East war.

RFK supported Israel in that war. Sirhan Sirhan never forgave him for that. He killed him for that.

Again, Ronald Reagan knew about the Soviet role in instigating the conflict, which he apparently pieced together via various reports at the time. As a result, he linked Bobby Kennedy’s assassination to the USSR’s mischief in the Middle East. “The enemy sits in Moscow,” Reagan told Joey Bishop. “I call him an enemy because I believe he has proven this, by deed, in the Middle East. The actions of the enemy led to and precipitated the tragedy of last night.”

Moscow had precipitated the Six Day War in June 1967, which, in turn, had prompted RFK’s assassin in June 1968.

But Reagan wasn’t finished positioning blame where it deserved to be placed. Eight days later, on July 13, 1968, Reagan delivered a forgotten speech in Indianapolis. Both the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star reported on Reagan’s remarks, but the only full transcript I’ve seen was likewise located in Bill Clark’s private papers. In that speech, Reagan leveled this charge at international communism, with an earlier Kennedy assassination in mind: “Five years ago, a president was murdered by one who renounced his American citizenship to embrace the godless philosophy of communism, and it was communist violence he brought to our land. The shattering sound of his shots were still ringing in our ears when a policy decision was made to play down his communist attachment lest we provoke the Soviet Union.”

Reagan was spot on. As many conservative writers are currently noting, liberals in the immediate moments after the JFK assassination sought to blame everything but Oswald’s love of communism, love of the Soviet Union, and love of Castro’s Cuba as motivations for what he did. Some blamed the climate of alleged “hate” and “bigotry” and “violence” in Dallas for the shooting. They ached to blame the right, fulfilling James Burnham’s timeless maxim: “For the left, the preferred enemy is always to the right.” Amazingly, they attempted to label Oswald a “right-winger,” which was utterly upside down. He was a left-winger, as far left as one could get. Oswald was a completely committed communist. He was head over heels for Castro’s Cuba in particular. He adored Fidel. After defecting to and then leaving the Soviet Union after a long stay there, he went back to Texas (with a Soviet wife) and then tried everything to get to Havana and serve the revolution there. JFK and Fidel despised one another; each wanted the other dead. Guess who Oswald sided with on that one?

The Warren Commission later agonized over the possible motivations of Oswald. In the end, it determined that it “could not make any definitive determination of Oswald’s motives.” To its credit, the commission “endeavored to isolate the factors which contributed to his character and which might have influenced his decision to assassinate President Kennedy.” It listed five factors, which appear on page 23 of the huge commission report. Among the five, the fifth underscored Oswald’s “avowed commitment to Marxism and communism,” and noted specifically his ardor for Moscow and Havana.  The commission concluded that this did indeed contribute to Oswald’s “capacity to risk all in cruel and irresponsible actions.”

Nonetheless, Oswald’s passion for international communism, from Russia to the Western Hemisphere, has been downplayed by the American left and many Americans generally from the literal moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

One American who was never blind to that motivation was Ronald Reagan. More than that, Reagan wasn’t naïve to the role of international communism in the shooting of RFK either.

For the record, this is not to say that Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan acted as conscious, deliberate agents trained and ordered by the Soviets or the Cubans, though some—such as Ion Mihai Pacepa—have examined that possibility in depth. Their actions, however, cannot or should not be separated from the malevolent force of international communism, which unquestionably played a role in their ultimate deadly actions.


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”


Editor’s note: This article first appeared at American Spectator.

Privatize the National Park Service


The behavior of the National Park Service during the government shutdown has been truly shocking. As has been widely reported, Park Service employees have been told to make life as uncomfortable as possible for people, and they have flourished in that endeavor. They have acted crudely and unprofessionally, allowing themselves to be used politically by the White House in its PR campaign.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, then please start Googling. There are frightening first-person accounts everywhere. Among the worst examples was a case innocently covered by a small Massachusetts newspaper that reported on a group of tourists traveling to Yellowstone National Park. The tourists described the Park Service as “Gestapo”-like in its tactics.

That, of course, is an exaggeration. But the fact that a group of apolitical citizens would invoke such hyperbole to describe how they were treated really says something.

The Weekly Standard, a conservative source, argues in an editorial that the Park Service’s conduct “might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration.” The Standard rattled off examples of abuses during the shutdown, highlighting the most egregious of them all, the shameless scene at the World War II Memorial:

People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

No question. What happened at the World War II Memorial was pure political exploitation. The spectacle of elderly, heartbroken, wheelchair-bound vets voyaging thousands of miles to remember their fallen brothers, maybe for a final earthly time, only to be denied by cruel, intransigent Republicans, was apparently too delicious to pass up.

But even then, as the Standard noted, the barricading of the World War II Memorial was “just the start of the Park Service’s partisan assault on the citizenry.” It noted other historical sites that are privately owned and operated, where “the Park Service doesn’t actually do anything.” Nonetheless, the Park Service mustered the resources to deploy officers to forcibly remove volunteer workers and visitors. As the Standard put it, the Park Service “is now in the business of forcing parks they don’t administer to close…. It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party. This is how deep the politicization of Barack Obama’s administration goes.”

Sadly, federal employees have been conscripted in the politicization. Not unlike the IRS, NPS agents are abusing their powers. They are being tasked as a political/ideological arm of the state. This is precisely not what civil servants are to be.

As a personal sidenote, the National Park Service falls under the Department of Interior, once run by my late friend Bill Clark. Clark had great respect for the department, its mission, and its employees. Clark died in August. If he had seen Interior employees enlisted and behaving like this, he would have been extremely disappointed.

And so, my reaction to this egregious behavior by the National Park Service is one word: privatize.

I’m not talking about privatizing the parks, a suggestion others have raised. Here’s a crucial fact about privatization that most people don’t understand: privatization frequently involves not ownership, but operation. It’s often wiser to privatize not ownership, but operation. (Roads are an example. Let the government own the roads, but their maintenance can be contracted.) That’s particularly true when government employees operating a service become unionized, entrenched, and over-extended. And that’s precisely what we should now consider with the National Park Service.

The beauty of privatizing management rather than ownership is that ownership is permanent, but management is not. This means that if a management group doesn’t perform to expectations, another can be hired. The hiring process should be regularly and competitively contracted. This “competitive bidding” process keeps current management on its toes and accountable. If it performs badly, it can be replaced—unlike the government employees running the National Park Service, which is a protected class with a monopoly on its service.

Let’s privatize the National Park Service.

This recommendation will anger NPS employees. But the fault resides with them, their actions, and their willingness to be manipulated. They’ve demonstrated the roguish tendencies of some federal employees who blindly follow orders. They embody the dangers of big, unaccountable government. Let’s respond by taking power from those employees so this cannot happen again.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at Forbes.com.

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.” 

The Progressive Income Tax Turns 100

Build It IRS Will Come SC The progressive income tax turns 100

Maybe it’s a measure of progressives’ refusal to look back, to always move “forward.” Otherwise, they should be celebrating right now. In fact, President Obama and fellow modern progressives/liberals should have been ecstatic all this year, rejoicing over the centenary of something so fundamental to their ideology, to their core goals of government, to their sense of economic and social justice—to what Obama once called “redistributive change.”

And what is this celebratory thing to the progressive mind?

It is the progressive income tax. This year, it turned 100. Its permanent establishment was set forth in two historic moments: 1) an amendment to the Constitution (the 16th Amendment), ratified February 3, 1913; and 2) its signing into law by the progressive’s progressive, President Woodrow Wilson, on October 3, 1913. It was a major political victory for Wilson and fellow progressives then and still is today. By my math, that ought to mean a long, sustained party by today’s progressives, a period of extended thanksgiving.

President Obama once charged that “tax cuts for the wealthy” are the Republicans’ “Holy Grail.” Tax cuts form “their central economic doctrine.” Well, the federal income tax is the Democrats’ Holy Grail. For progressives/liberals, it forms their central economic doctrine.

As merely one illustration among many I could give, former DNC head Howard Dean and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell were recently inveighing against Republican tax cuts. Dean extolled “what an increase in the top tax rate actually does.” He insisted: “that’s what governments do—is redistribute. The argument is not whether they should redistribute or not, the question is how much we should redistribute … The purpose of government is to make sure that capitalism works for everybody … It’s government’s job to redistribute.”

What Dean said is, in a few lines, a cornerstone of the modern progressive manifesto. For Dean and President Obama and allies, a federal income tax based on graduated or progressive rates embodies and enables government’s primary “job” and “purpose.” They embrace a progressive tax for the chief intention of wealth redistribution, which, in turn, allows for income leveling, income “equality,” and for government to do the myriad things that progressives ever-increasingly want government to do.

And so, in 1913, progressives struck gold. The notion of taxing income wasn’t entirely new. Such taxes existed before, albeit temporarily, at very small levels, and for national emergencies like war. The idea of a permanent tax for permanent income redistribution broke new ground. The only debate was the exact percentage of the tax. In no time, progressives learned that they could never get enough.

In 1913, when the progressive income tax began, the top rate was a mere 7 percent, applied only to the fabulously wealthy (incomes above $500,000). By the time Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921, the great progressive had hiked the upper rate to 73 percent. World War I (for America, 1917-18) had given Wilson a short-term justification, but so did Wilson’s passion for a robust “administrative state.”

Disagreeing with Wilson were the Republication administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, his immediate successors. Along with their Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, they reduced the upper rate, eventually bringing it down to 25 percent by 1925. In response, the total revenue to the federal Treasury increased significantly, from $700 million to $1 billion; and the budget was repeatedly in surplus.

Unfortunately, the rate began increasing under Herbert Hoover, who jacked the top rate to 63 percent. It soon skyrocketed to 94 percent under another legendary progressive, FDR, who, amazingly, once considered a top rate of 99.5 percent on income above $100,000 (yes, you read that right).

Appalled by this was an actor named Ronald Reagan, himself a progressive Democrat—though not much longer. Reagan often noted that Karl Marx, in his “Communist Manifesto” (1848), demanded a permanent “heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” Indeed, it’s point two in Marx’s 10-point program, second only to his call for “abolition of property.”

The upper tax rate wasn’t reduced substantially until 1965, when it came down to 70 percent. Alas, President Ronald Reagan took it down to 28 percent. And despite claims to the contrary, federal revenues under Reagan increased (as they did in the 1920s), rising from $600 billion to nearly $1 trillion. (The Reagan deficits were caused by excessive spending and decreased revenue from the 1981-3 recession.)

The upper rate increased again (to 31 percent) under George H. W. Bush and under Bill Clinton (39.6 percent). George W. Bush cut it to 35 percent. Barack Obama has returned it to the Clinton level of 39.6 percent.

Here in 2013, 100 years henceforth, the wealthiest Americans—the top 10 percent of which already pay over 70 percent of federal tax revenue—will be paying more in taxes this year than any time in the last 30 years. For progressives, this is justice. But it is also bittersweet: As progressives know deep inside, it still isn’t enough. For them, it’s never enough.

To that end, my enduring question for progressives is one they typically avoid answering, especially those holding elected office: In your perfect world, where, exactly, would you position the top rate? I routinely hear numbers in the 50-70 percent range.

Democrats like President Obama complain about Republican intransigence in raising tax rates but, truth be told—and as any liberal really knows—if it wasn’t for Republican resistance, progressives would rarely, if ever, cut taxes. America would remain on a one-way upward trajectory in tax rates, just like under Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and just as it has been in its unrestrained spending for nearly 50 years. Like their refusal to cut spending (other than on defense), progressives are dragged kicking and screaming into tax cuts. They need high income taxes for the government planning and redistributing they want to do, for Obama’s sense of redistributive justice.

This year, the progressive income tax turns 100. For progressives, getting it implemented was a huge triumph. Their success in making it a permanent part of the American landscape is a more stunning achievement still.


Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Investor’s Business Daily.

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”


Photo credit: terrellaftermath

Tax Cuts And Deficits: Fact Vs. Fiction

Sweeney Obama More Taxes SC Tax cuts and deficits: Fact vs. fiction

In my previous column, I underscored the 1920s lessons that President Obama and fellow “progressives” need to learn. These include the value of tax cuts — lessons that the president and his allies will refuse. They want big, expanded government, not big tax cuts and government restraint.

Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who understood that reducing tax rates can actually create more revenue, wasn’t proffering some mere academic theory. He and Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge cut the 73-percent upper-income rate left by President Woodrow Wilson. In 1922, it was cut to 58 percent; by 1925, to 25 percent.

What happened? Not only did the economy boom, vanquishing Wilson’s double-digit unemployment, but Coolidge consistently balanced the federal budget. Mellon was right: More revenue came in, rising from $700 million to $1 billion.

Unfortunately, “progressive” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt skyrocketed the top rate to 94 percent. It would be reduced to 70 percent by 1965; but it took President Ronald Reagan to return it to Mellon-era levels, ultimately to 28 percent. Like Mellon, Reagan saw federal revenue increase, from $600 billion to $1 trillion.

So, why did deficits increase under Reagan? Liberals insist that his tax cuts generated deficits. They’re wrong. It’s crucial to understand how and why.

Reagan’s deficits resulted from revenue loss during the 1981-83 recession and — foremost — from excessive spending. As revenues rose from $600 billion in 1981 to $1 trillion in 1989, spending — on social programs by congressional Democrats and on defense by Reagan — soared from $678 billion to $1.143 trillion.

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon calls the Reagan deficits “war-time deficits,” aimed at winning the Cold War and terminating the Soviet Union. Once they did, they paved the way for President Bill Clinton to slash defense spending and balance the budget.

Reagan’s deficits peaked in 1983-86, when the upper-income rate was still 50 percent. It wasn’t reduced again until 1987, to 38.5 percent, and didn’t come down to 28 percent until 1988. And get this: Reagan’s deficits actually decreased in 1987-89.

Think about that: Reagan’s deficits peaked when the upper tax rate was 50 percent, far higher than the 39.6 percent that President Obama and liberal Democrats demanded. If Obama believes that deficits will come down with a 39.6-percent upper rate, why didn’t they go down with Reagan’s 50 percent?

That gets back to the main reason for most deficits: excessive spending. History tells us this again and again. It’s an irrefutable, common-sense fact. It’s an elementary fact that liberals/progressives resist because it stands in the way of what they really want to do: grow government and redistribute wealth.


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.” 


Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Photo Credit: terrellaftermath

A Memorial To Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand

Ronald Reagan A memorial to Ronald Reagan’s top hand

The most important adviser to President Ronald Reagan in his takedown of the Soviet empire has died at the age of 81. His name was William P. “Bill” Clark, known to many as simply “Judge Clark,” and he was one of the finest human beings and Americans that this country has ever known. I can say that without exaggeration and with the intimate knowledge of someone who became not only Clark’s biographer but a close friend.

Actually, it was hard to be otherwise. I never met anyone who didn’t like and come to respect Bill Clark. Think about this: Could you name another person, in the Reagan administration or out, praised by figures as diverse as Edmund Morris and Cap Weinberger, Edwin Meese and Lou Cannon, Maureen Dowd and Michael Reagan, Human Events and the New York Times, Time and National Review, and even Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush? As to the last pair, when we prepared the biography of Clark for publication, it wasn’t a huge surprise when we got endorsements from both Carter and Bush. Only Bill Clark could inspire something like that.

And yet, if you asked Bill Clark how that could be, he would smile and say, “They’re easily deceived.”

No, they weren’t. In Clark’s mind, however, they were. This was a devoutly Catholic man of genuine saint-like charity and humility — praise he would characteristically and insistently deny. In fact, the biggest mistake I made in convincing him to let me be his biographer was allowing him veto power over things he objected to. This wasn’t a mistake for the usual reasons. Indeed, if I want to make a criticism of Clark, he would say “much deserved.” The problem was Clark’s refusal to let me commend him for things indubitably much deserved. Clark wouldn’t even let me call me him a “devout” Catholic. If I recall, we settled on “serious” Catholic. That, at the least, could be rightly said of a man who built a church on his ranch outside Paso Robles, California, and whose only real regret in life was that he didn’t pursue the priesthood, leaving an Augustinian novitiate for good in February 1951.

But there was good reason for that, as Clark often noted. “It wasn’t part of the DP, Paul,” he would tell me again and again. “Not part of the DP.”

The “DP,” which Clark and Ronald Reagan pondered together, was the “Divine Plan.”

To that end, God had another route for Bill Clark: it was to become first a lawyer, a rancher, and then connect with Ronald Reagan in a fascinating ride that altered the course of history.

The two men took that ride together. Fellow ranchers, fellow horsemen, fellow cowboys, they were kindred souls — some said like brothers, others said like father and son. They seemed to intuitively know what the other wanted. They were so close that Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s son, emailed me yesterday to say of Clark’s death: “I have lost my father for the second time … Good bye friend.”

For Bill Clark, the partnership began when he helped Reagan’s 1966 campaign for governor. Once Reagan won, Clark was his top aide, eventually chief of staff. Governor Reagan soon began appointing Clark up through various levels of the California court system, all the way to the state Supreme Court (thus the moniker “Judge Clark”). Clark loved the work, and even commuted to Sacramento via a private plane he regularly launched from the driveway-turned-runway of his ranch.

There was only one thing that could tug Bill Clark away from that job: Ronald Reagan’s need for him elsewhere; his sense of duty to Reagan and country. And so, when Reagan became president in January 1981, he convinced — and it truly took convincing — Clark to come to Washington to serve as deputy secretary of state. As Reagan put it, he needed someone he could trust at State, an “America desk” at Foggy Bottom. Bill Clark was that guy.

For the record, Clark first had to survive confirmation hearings before he could take the job at State. That would have been easy if not for a smarmy, smirking politician on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who deliberately tripped up Clark, turning the good man’s appointment into an international spectacle that humiliated the gentlemanly rancher and thrilled our enemies, especially the Soviets. That man, whose charade that February day was one of the ugliest displays in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a young senator from Delaware named Joe Biden.

Despite Biden’s antics, Clark’s performance at State blew away everyone. From Time to the New York Times, he was heralded for his steady hand, as Reagan’s reliable counsel. A year later, at the start of January 1982, Clark became Reagan’s national security adviser, head of the crucial National Security Council. It was there, in that seat, that Clark and Reagan, along with the likes of Bill Casey at the CIA and a group of superb staffers, laid the groundwork to undermine the Soviet Union.

That story cannot be given due justice in this short tribute, but, as a quick summary: The most consequential National Security Decision Directives — NSDDs, the formal documents that created official Reagan administration policy — were completed under Clark’s direction. Clark oversaw the development of NSDDs 2 through 120. The goal of these NSDDs was nothing short of revolutionary: to reverse the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe, to liberate Eastern Europe, and even to bring “political pluralism” (as one NSDD put it) to the Soviet Union. These were dramatic objectives that no one but Clark and Reagan thought possible in 1982.

Beyond NSDDs, any student of the Reagan administration knows that the really big things that happened in Reagan’s Soviet policy took place in the two transformational years that Clark headed the NSC: the meeting with John Paul II at the Vatican, the Westminster speech, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Evil Empire speech, NSDDs 32, 54, 66, 75, just for starters.

When Clark left the NSC position in late 1983, in part due to pressures from White House “moderates” and “pragmatists,” the men surrounding Clark were devastated. They sensed a looming apocalypse; they thought everything they had gained under Clark was suddenly dead. I sat in the tack barn of Clark’s ranch one hot summer day and read their pleas — long, heartfelt, heartbroken letters (which Clark kept). His faithful lieutenants were sure all was lost. Two men, however, were not crestfallen at all: Bill Clark and Ronald Reagan. They just smiled. They were confident the plan was in place. The groundwork had been laid. The DP was ready to prevail.

Clark’s service to Reagan wasn’t over. He went on to serve a short but successful stint as secretary of interior, replacing the embattled James Watt. He also quietly served Reagan throughout the second term in a number of fascinating trouble-shooter and advisory roles that ranged from China’s Three Gorges Dam to Saddam Hussein to Iran-Contra. Virtually none of these tasks made the newspapers, and weren’t supposed to.

But then, alas, came another fascinating twist in the DP. It was what Clark later called a “wake-up call,” or, in his penchant for acronyms, an “AFE” — an Action Forcing Event.

It was March 7, 1988. The 56-year-old Clark taxied into position on the dirt landing strip of his ranch. He decided he was substantially finished with government service and was looking forward to life at the ranch, working cattle, planting olive trees, and developing a vineyard. But his sense of duty to God and country seemed unclear, unsettled. Something wasn’t right.

The night before, Clark had returned from a trip to Europe. He felt jet-lagged, not especially sharp, but his desk at the office in town was piled high with work, and he needed to pick up some fuel. He stepped into his plane and ran up the engine. Early into takeoff, the plane got caught in a crosswind. “I knew right away that I was in trouble,” said Clark. “I lost control.” At about 60 miles per hour, the plane crashed into a supply building to the right of the runway.

Bill Clark lay unconscious in a mangled mess of smoking metal. Ribs broken, shoulder separated, skull fractured, and soaked in blood and fuel, he was alive but hardly out of danger. The engine, simmering hot, was pushed back against his legs, while fuel from the fractured wing-tank sprayed on to the unconscious pilot. For some reason, the plane hadn’t burst into flames. “It should have lit up,” Clark later marveled.

A briefcase in the seat next to Clark contained a Dictaphone/recorder that activated from the force of impact when the plane hit the ground. The audiotape still survives. On the recording, Clark can be heard groaning and calling for help.

Clark’s only coherent plea, “God, please help me!” is immediately followed by the sound of the door being ripped off the plane. Jésus Muñoz, long-time ranch hand and dear friend of Clark to his final hours, had happened upon the crash and raced to the scene. He yanked the door from its hinges and somehow extricated Clark before the plane burst into flames.

Clark remained unconscious for an hour-and-a-half before waking in the intensive care unit at a nearby hospital. He thanked God and then made a decision he had been discerning: He would no longer delay in building that chapel he had thought about over the years. That brush with death, said Clark, was “a little wake-up call … God’s wake-up call.”

“Look,” he told me one summer at his ranch, shyly, sheepishly. “I’m no saint… but the incident helped me decide to go ahead and build the chapel.” To borrow from one of his inspirations, Mother Teresa, he determined to do something beautiful for God, on the ranch property, the same ground where his craft smashed.

Today, that chapel, financed solely by Clark, sits off Route 46 in central California, at the entrance to Clark’s ranch. It’s called Chapel Hill, and is admired by the community and, surely, by the God that Clark dedicated it to.

It contains artifacts collected by Clark and his late wife: originals from 14th to 17th century European monasteries, a special replica from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, surplus ceiling and stone remnants from the William Randolph Hearst collection at nearby San Simeon. On the exterior of the church is a ceramic mosaic of Saint Francis’ Peace Prayer. It was a prayer that Clark and Reagan prayed together. It’s also reflective of the Franciscan friar’s frock that hangs in the closet of Clark’s ranch house, given to him long ago, but which, having decided not to pursue the priesthood, Clark always felt unworthy to don.

In fact, it’s all so magically and providentially Saint Francis-like. In the hospital, having received God’s “wake-up call,” Clark experienced a Francis-like epiphany, as he felt God calling him to build his church.
Clark gave God that church, and God gave Bill Clark 25 more years.

Fittingly, and finally, it’s in that chapel that the funeral service of Bill Clark, Ronald Reagan’s indispensable man and kindred soul, seriously devout Catholic and seriously good man who literally made the world a better place, will be held this week.

Call it the DP. All part of the DP.

Editor’s noteThis article first appeared at The American Spectator.