Tuesday, January 08, 2008

National Catholic Register: "Bill Clark, the Catholic Leader America Forgot"

Paul Kengor, author of The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), writes in the January 13-19, 2008 issue of National Catholic Register:
One of the most consequential Catholics of modern times is also one of the least heralded and most enigmatic.

His name is William P. “Bill” Clark, known as “The Judge,” because of his decade of service on the bench, including the California Supreme Court. Those appointments followed his service as chief of staff to Gov. Ronald Reagan in the 1960s and preceded his service as President Reagan’s deputy secretary of state, national security adviser and secretary of the interior in the 1980s — the positions through which Bill Clark changed history as Reagan’s most trusted aide and adviser.

The Clark story is a moving saga of what was and what might have been, a remarkable trail of footprints in the sand — a fitting image, given that every one of us acknowledges the footprints but are unable to see the figure who left them.

In June 1981, Bill Clark was serving Ronald Reagan at the State Department when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart announced he was resigning. Reagan called “The Judge” into his office to ask him if he would like to be considered for the position.

... Bill Clark, however, declined the president’s generous offer.

The quintessential citizen/public official, the lawmaker or policymaker who puts down his plow for a few years to serve his country, and then returns to the plow, Clark had come to Washington to serve his president and his country, to accomplish some goals and then to return to his family and his ranch. This was selfless service, as America’s Founding Fathers envisioned public life.

Clark did not go to Washington to pad his resume, become famous and die on the Supreme Court. Ronald Reagan knew that, which is one of the reasons he so liked and trusted Clark.

“That’s what I thought you would say, Bill,” said President Reagan with a grin, as he crossed Clark’s name off a short list of potential replacements for Stewart.

Instead, the position went to Sandra Day O’Connor. And that is the story of what might have been: If Clark had taken that Supreme Court seat in 1981, he would not have voted the way that O’Connor did on pivotal abortion cases like Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992). If Clark had taken that job — which I have no doubt was his for the taking — Roe v. Wade would have been reversed.

Six months later, he was tapped by Reagan to run the National Security Council, the nation’s premier body for implementing national security and foreign policy. It was in that capacity that Clark, as Reagan’s closest and most influential adviser, became — by all accounts — the most powerful man in Washington (next to the president himself) and, by extension, one of the most powerful men in the world.

It was there, too, from that position of remarkable power and influence — to which he never aspired — that Clark from January 1982 through October 1983, often working in consultation with only Reagan and no one else in the room, laid the foundation to undermine the Soviet Union and win the Cold War through a series of extraordinary and only recently declassified National Security Decision Directives.

It was Clark who helped set up the June 1982 meeting at the Vatican when Pope John Paul II and the president confided in one another that they believed that God had spared their lives from assassination attempts the previous year for the purpose of undermining atheistic Soviet communism.

From there, Clark (along with another instrumental Catholic, CIA director Bill Casey) met weekly, sometimes daily during moments of crisis, with Cardinal Pio Laghi, the apostolic delegate to the United States, at Cardinal Laghi’s residence or other undisclosed locations, at times via a back door at the White House.

By the time Clark left the National Security Council in late 1983, the pieces were in place for the Soviet downfall.

Clark was arguably the most important American Catholic in the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, and, in that respect, the second most important Catholic worldwide, behind only Pope John Paul II.

Yet most Catholics have never heard of the man.


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