Air Force One and a Free People
Yesterday, our family took advantage of the waning days of the kids' Easter break and made our maiden journey to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. Of course, the highlight of the trip (for kids and honest adults) is the opportunity to tour a decommissioned jet that served as Air Force One for Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and (very briefly and as backup) W. Bush.
I say that it was the highlight, but it was not so for the reasons you might expect. To see the plane from the outside and sitting in that massive hangar--surrounded, as it is, by exhibits paying tribute to Reagan's impressive achievements in diplomacy all of which helped to bring about an end to the Cold War--all of that, of course, inspires exactly the sort of awe that it should. But when we got to what we expected would be the climax of the experience--the point at which we actually got to board the plane--an initial wave of disappointment washed over me. The plane projected greatness, but inside it was rather ordinary. The exterior sparkle and flash of it are not matched in the interior which could be described more as serviceable than grand. I have seen RVs that were more plush and, no doubt, a rock band might have a plane that is embellished with more luxury. This impressive and powerful machine is designed, mainly, to do a job and it is intended to facilitate a man who is doing the job of a nation of free men who are not beholden to some grandee.
By the time we made our way to the galley and the White House Press Corps section of the plane, a deep sense of satisfaction washed over me, replacing my initial disappointment. I realized that this plane is entirely American. It did its job in simplicity and efficiency--projecting both power and humility. We were touring the movable office of the President of the United States . . . not a gilded palace of Europe or, even, a grand and cushy carriage of a monarch. And the funny thing was that everybody on board with our group (children excluded, of course) was remarking about it and they all had pretty much the same reaction. There was a kind of modest pride--if such a paradoxical term can make any sense--or maybe it was a pride in our modesty. The other thing that I though remarkable was the kind of spontaneous cheer that erupted from the crowd as the docent explained that the press corps traveling with the President is chosen by a lottery and, while they are accommodated with exactly the sort of meals that the President, First Lady and staff receive, they (or, rather, their news organizations) have to purchase their fare at the going rate. They don't eat or fly on our dime. Someone behind us made the remark that this much expectation for people to pay their own way stood in contrast to recent trends . . . and the docent smiled broadly as she made a fair point about what true freedom of the press means.
Would that we all understood our own freedom in that way and guarded it as jealously.
Still, moving away from the highlight of the plane, the broad and general sentiment of the day gathered from being in that place and among so many who lost no opportunity to mutter remarks under their breath by way of comparison and contrast with today's politics (and gradually took to making loud pronouncements upon the times) reminded me that bad as things may seem, there is plenty of reason to remain optimistic and cheerful. Things have always been thus. All of our politics is a story of imperfection and a striving to make us a more perfect Union. It will NEVER be perfect, but we cannot despair in the realization. We continue to have the freedom to reflect, to learn from our amazing past, and act upon what can be our amazing future. Perfection may not be possible, but as for the continual effort at approximation: It Can Be Done.
Oh, and by the way, Steve . . . you owe me. I sold at least a few of your books with my proselytizing in the bookstore.