One of the giants of the Reagan administration has passed away. Judge William P. Clark, dubbed the "top hand" by his biographer Paul Kengor, succumbed to Parkinson's Disease at the age of 81. Judge Clark became one of the most significant aides in the political rise and the governorship and presidency of Ronald Reagan. His hometown (San Luis Obispo) newspaper's obituary summarized his long history:
Clark, a fourth-generation Californian, signed on as Reagan's Ventura County campaign manager when the actor ran for governor in 1966, and went on to be a charter member of the governor's staff, serving first as Reagan's Cabinet secretary and later as his executive secretary. It was during this time that Clark originated the "mini memo," usually a one-page document that distilled complex issues for Reagan's digestion.
By 1969, Clark was appointed by Reagan to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court - a move denounced and censured by the SLO County Bar Association as political patronage. Reagan said the brouhaha was nothing more than a "tempest in a teapot" and that Clark was one of the "brightest and ablest young men" that he knew.
From that point, Clark found himself on the political fast-track courtesy of his mentor: He was re-elected to the Superior Court post the following year, then Reagan appointed him to the state Appellate Court in Los Angeles in 1972, and the state Supreme Court in 1973.
He was 41 years old.
When Reagan ascended to the presidency, he didn't forget his friend Bill Clark: President Reagan tapped him for Deputy Secretary of State in 1981.
At this point, the left media establishment went into overdrive attacking Judge Clark. The SLO paper relishes printing some of the attacks on Judge Clark. As Herbert E. Meyer wrote in AT back in 2007, reviewing Kengor's biography of Clark:
When President-elect Reagan named Clark to the number-two slot at the State Department, Washington insiders were aghast. As Clark himself had reminded Reagan, "I know nothing about foreign policy or foreign affairs." But, as Reagan replied, "Bill, that's exactly why I want you there. I have all the "experts" I need." Reagan wanted his own man at State, both to keep an eye on the "experts" and, more importantly, to assure that State did what the President wanted State to do, rather than what the "experts" thought best.
Al Haig Didn't Get It
The new Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, never quite grasped this point. In his first meeting with Clark, Haig told the novice diplomat how things would work: "You, Bill, are going to run the building. I'm going to run the world." Well, no. If anyone was going to "run the world" it would be the President, with Haig's help. This is precisely why he sent Clark to State -- and why Al Haig was out of his job two years later. Kengor and Doerner provide some new details about those tumultuous years that most historians have missed, including an episode in which the intelligence chief of France -- whose elegant and sophisticated elites loved to dismiss Reagan as a gun-toting cowboy -- came to Washington to ask for American help in assassinating Libya's Moammar Kaddafi. (The gun-toting cowboy declined the French request.)
After less than a year at State, Reagan named Clark to succeed Richard Allen as national security adviser. And it was here that Clark made his greatest contribution, by guiding forward, step-by-step, President Reagan's strategy for ending the Cold War peacefully. Clark and his team produced a series of National Security Decision Directives -- of which the most famous is NSSD 75, through which it became our country's official policy:
"To promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged ruling class is gradually reduced."
Or, as the President liked to put it, "We win, they lose."
Judge Clark went on to serve as Secretary of the Interior, as well.
You won't see his death widely publicized owing to media bias, but those who understand how Ronald Reagan won the Cold War realize that one of the pillars of that victory has passed to his great reward. May he rest in peace, and may we celebrate his life.