Ronald Reagan at 100: The party continues

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No matter where one turns this year, there seems to be a tribute to Ronald Reagan.

Though the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth was Feb. 6, the centennial commemoration continues with new exhibits in Washington featuring materials from Reagan’s days in Hollywood, Sacramento and the White House.

Among the items -- a harmonica.

‘After the assassination attempt, he was in the hospital and bored. Somehow he got hold of a harmonica and taught himself to play,’ said Sidney Hart, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery. ‘Few people knew about it.

‘In one of the farewell ceremonies at the White House, the one in the exhibit was presented to him by the director of the Marine Band. The director said, ‘I had heard you play the harmonica,’ and Reagan said, ‘Yes, but I can only play one tune, and that’s ‘Red River Valley.’'


The exhibits are the latest tributes to Reagan in Washington, where Democrats as well as Republicans slip references to the former president in speeches almost every day.

They come as the Reagan Presidential Foundation has commissioned a poll asserting that Reagan would beat President Obama in an election today.

According to a phone survey of 1,200 likely voters, 54% chose Reagan to 39% for Obama. (Perhaps that’s why Obama has spent so much time studying Reagan, even taking a book about Reagan on an earlier vacation.) Naturally, most of those supporting Reagan were Republicans.

The survey, conducted in June by Pulse Opinion Research for Chicago-based the Sam Adams Alliance, a free-market think tank, also confirmed Reagan’s enduring popularity, with more than 69% of those surveyed having a favorable impression of him, close to the percentage he had when he left White House in 1989 with the highest final approval rating of a president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When participants were asked which of the recent presidents they admired most, Reagan finished top, at 29%, followed by Bill Clinton, 23%; Obama, 16%, and George W. Bush, 10%. By age, 18- to 29-year-olds chose Clinton (28%), followed by Obama (19%) and Reagan (17%).

Of those who selected Reagan as the president they admired most, 60% were Republican; only 7% were Democrat.

The survey comes in a year filled with Reagan tributes, including (so far) a Reagan-themed float in the Rose Parade; a Super Bowl tribute; a jet flyover, howitzer salute and concert at the Reagan library in Simi Valley; a Reagan day at Wrigley Field; galas; essay contests; the naming of a street after the former president in Prague (Ronalda Reagana); and a lot of lectures. Statues of the former president, who died in 2004, have been unveiled in Budapest and London, and additional ones will be erected later this year in Washington at the airport named after him and in Newport Beach.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation plans to distribute Reagan centennial coins to thousands of high schools and colleges and to NFL teams for a coin toss at football games throughout the country next month to commemorate the centennial.

Meanwhile, at the National Portrait Gallery, exhibits include a photo of Reagan as a sports announcer in the 1930s; promotional material for the movie ‘Knute Rocke, All-American’ featuring Reagan as the Gipper; a photo of newly elected California Gov. Reagan and wife Nancy at his 1966 victory party at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles; plus doodles Reagan made as president, and a chunk of the Berlin Wall.

Also included is an Andy Warhol screen print of Reagan from 1985 featuring the former president in a 1950s-era ad for a wrinkle-free shirt intended to portray Reagan as the Teflon president because no criticism could stick to him.

The exhibit also includes critical items, including a sculpture by Patrick Oliphant depicting Reagan as a cowboy getting thrown off a horse.

The exhibit runs through next May; portions can be viewed at the National Portrait Gallery’s website. And a presentation by Hart is available on the C-SPAN video library.

A few blocks away, the National Archives is spotlighting a week in the Reagan White House.

That exhibit, featuring items from the president first week in office in October 1988, includes a Washington Redskins ‘Just Say No’ football jersey and photograph of its presentation by quarterback Doug Williams to the first lady; and the ‘Kennedy Eagle,’ which had sat in President Kennedy’s office and was given to Reagan in 1985 by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)


The Reagan legacy

The celebration at the Reagan library

An eclectic centennial commemoration

-- Richard Simon reporting from Washington