Barone reflects on Reagan's impact
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:14 AM
As admirers prepare to mark the late Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, Michael Barone explores the 40th president's impact for a Washington Examiner article:
[S]ince he left office it has become apparent that the portrait of Reagan as an airheaded actor manipulated by sinister aides is very far from accurate. It was always in Reagan's interest to portray himself as an ordinary guy, unaffected by intellectual influences -- the actor who called himself "Mr. Norm," the candidate for governor who insisted he was only a citizen-politician, the president who said, "They say that hard work never killed anybody, but I say why take the chance?"
On the contrary, the picture we get from his 1970s radio scripts, written out in his legible handwriting and retrieved from the wastebasket by a history-conscious secretary, show a man who was widely read and well-informed on all manner of issues, with a clear philosophic compass and a gift for phrasemaking. It was one of his strengths that he could speak in the universal language of the 1930s and 1940s movies at a time of cultural conflict, a time when other politicians could only appeal to their particular niches of support. "I think it would be hard to be president without having been an actor," he once said. His greatest performance may have been after he was shot. In the process of losing half his blood, he insisted on walking into the hospital and buttoning his jacket, before collapsing on the floor when he was out of camera range.
Ronald Reagan changed his mind on economic issues and switched parties in his 40s. But if he sought to reverse the thrust of his hero Franklin Roosevelt's economic policies, he continued to believe as Roosevelt did that America had a special mission to deploy a strong military to oppose tyranny and expand freedom in the world. The New Deal historian William Leuchtenberg, interviewing all living presidents for the 100th anniversary of Roosevelt's birth, found Reagan by far FDR's most enthusiastic admirer -- the interview went over the allotted time.
Reagan was a believer, as Roosevelt was, in American exceptionalism. "I, in my own mind, have thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land," he said in a commencement speech in 1952, when he was still a Democrat.
» Return to posts for January 28, 2011
» Return to the Locker Room