President Obama kissed and made up with Nancy Reagan today at a White House event to create a commission to celebrate the centennial of her husband Ronald's birth.
The 11-person panel will plan and carry out activities to mark the 100th anniversary, in 2011, of the late president's birth -- a commemoration that could include a postage stamp, a $1 coin, or a joint session of Congress.
Though of the opposite party and of different views, Obama has paid homage to Reagan, calling him a transformational figure in American politics that some fellow Democratic presidents were not.
"Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and a way that Bill Clinton did not," he said in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal in January 2008.
And today, Obama said, "President Reagan understood that while there are often strong disagreements between parties and political adversaries -- disagreements that can be a source of conflict and bitterness -- it is important to keep in mind all that we share....President Reagan helped as much as any President to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics -- that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day."
Despite those laudatory words, he had some making up to do with the former first lady.
During his first press conference as president, Obama was asked whether he had spoken to former presidents for advice. All the one who were living, he replied, adding strangely, “I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any séances,” presumably a reference to Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer about Ronald Reagan's schedule.
He called to apologize, but Nancy Reagan also felt snubbed, she told Vanity Fair magazine in the July issue, that she wasn't invited to the March event where Obama overturned Bush administration limits on federal funding for stem cell research -- a cause of hers.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today, "We certainly meant no slight whatsoever."
Any hard feelings were absent today.
"I want to thank our special guest here today, Nancy Reagan, our former first lady, who redefined that role in her time at the White House -- and who has, in the many years since, taken on a new role, as an advocate on behalf of treatments that hold the promise of improving and saving lives," Obama said. "And I should just add, she has been extraordinarily gracious to both me and Michelle during our transition here and I'm thankful for that.
"There are few who are not moved by the love that Ms. Reagan felt for her husband -- and fewer still who are not inspired by how this love led her to take up the twin causes of stem cell research and Alzheimer's research. In saying a long goodbye, Nancy Reagan became a voice on behalf of millions of families experiencing the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer's disease."
When Obama escorted Nancy Reagan into the Diplomatic Reception Room, she walked using a cane in her right hand, while her left hand was in the crook of the president's arm, where it stayed the entire time he spoke, according to the press pool report.
When he escorted her out, she again had her hand in the crook of his elbow. The president leaned down, and said, "Michelle....She just thinks the world of you."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.