When Judge William P. Clark died Saturday the Washington Times said he succumbed after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. As someone who knew and admired Judge Clark over many years, I can tell you it was one of the few battles he ever lost.
In 1983, Time magazine called Judge Clark “the second most powerful man in the White House.” But if anything, that downplays his importance. The judge didn’t simply work for Ronald Reagan or with Ronald Reagan. Judge Clark was my father’s conscience and that’s a much more significant position.
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Their relationship began in 1966 when he served as Ventura County campaign manager when my father first ran for governor of California. After the victory, Clark served first as my father’s Cabinet secretary and as his skill and intelligence became more and more obvious, he rose in the administration, finally becoming executive secretary to the governor.
But his first love was the law and in 1969 Clark was a gubernatorial appointment to the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Starting a long, unfortunate and unfair precedent, Judge Clark was attacked by my father’s political opponents as unqualified and the appointment was termed a political payoff.
On the bench, as in the administration, Judge Clark rose steadily.
In 198, Clark was perfectly happy as a distinguished member of the California state Supreme Court, when my father called and asked him to join the Reagan administration as Deputy Secretary of State.
Fortunately for my father’s legacy, Judge Clark didn’t hesitate. He accepted the position and moved east. In the State Department, he served as the President’s eyes and ears keeping a close watch on what my father called “the experts.” Ronald Reagan was very aware that the tendency in a bureaucracy was for the bureaucrats to do what they wanted rather than what the president wanted.
Judge Clark was there to make sure that didn’t happen.
But his most important role in the Reagan administration was when he was named national security adviser. As Herbert E. Meyer wrote, it was in that position 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."
We did win and they did lose and the world is a better place for that victory.
But it’s not a better place without Judge Clark. With his passing it’s as though I have lost my father for a second time. But I am consoled that he is now rejoining my father.
Goodbye my friend, as you spend eternity together.
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