Ronald Reagan and the Triumph of American Conservatism by Jules Tygiel

President #40, C-SPAN Historians ranking #10

40 is the new -30-

Of the nine Presidents who have been in office in my lifetime, none had the impact that Ronald Reagan has had. Ronald Reagan succeeded in transforming not just the office of the Presidency, but also the nature of how politics and government is viewed by the country overall. To the Republicans of today, he is revered like no one else in the party, at times outstripping Abraham Lincoln in fame. To the Democrats of today, he is mostly reviled, although sometimes begrudgingly respected.

For historians and biographers, Ronald Reagan is a popular, yet somewhat difficult subject. Edmund Morris lived with Reagan during almost all of his eight years in office. And yet, he could not truly figure out who Reagan was. So, Morris created a fictional character as the narrator for his biography of Reagan called Dutch.

Lou Cannon, a longtime reporter in Sacramento, had a career of covering Ronald Reagan. He wrote a twovolume biography of Reagan. And Cannon never came close to figuring just who Ronald Reagan was.

I opted for a shorter tome, written by San Francisco State University professor Jules Tygiel. Tygiel, who passed away in 2008, is best known for writing a history of Jackie Robinson’s experience with the Brooklyn Dodgers called Baseball’s Great Experiment. Tygiel also wrote a book on the Julian Oil scandal called The Great Los Angeles Swindle.

One of the reasons for choosing this book is that I actually had corresponded several times with Tygiel about baseball history, and found that he was very generous and giving of his time. He was always willing to help out a researcher if he could. So, since I had a gift card to a bookstore, I picked up his book, figuring that his family would get some royalties for this. (Also, I would finish this series a lot sooner.)

Tygiel’s book is, like nearly all of the others I’ve read for this blog, a synthesis of many other writers works. The book is actually intended to be used as a college textbook. Nevertheless, Tygiel injects his opinion of Reagan’s time as President frequently. To Tygiel, Reagan’s biggest contributions (as the title would indicate) were ideological, but his actual achievements may have been less than what his reputation merits. As an aside, I have found this to be the case with every President from George Washington on. The better job that a President did, the more people expect more to have been achieved.

The book takes a while to get to Reagan’s Presidency, but that is hard not to do for someone who was not inaugurated until he was 70. And Reagan’s journey through life gives insight into how he made what was an unlikely career path from studio contract actor to conservative political icon.

Ronald Reagan was born on February 5 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. His older brother Neal was baptized a Catholic by Ronald’s hard-drinking father, Jack. However, Ronald’s mother, Nelle, insisted that her younger son follow her faith, The Disciples of Christ.

Jack thought his son Ronald looked like a “fat little Dutchman.” This saddled the future President with the nickname “Dutch” for the rest of his life.

Because he grew up severely near-sighted, Reagan had trouble learning to read. He did develop an impressive memory which helped him through school. He could recite back entire lessons given by his teachers. Once Reagan was fitted with glasses, he became a much better student.

Jack Reagan was a diehard Democrat, who bemoaned the defeat of Al Smith at the polls in 1928 by Calvin Coolidge. The family moved from town to town for a while as Jack was unable to hold a job. The Reagans eventually settled in the city of Dixon, Illinois.

Also in 1928, Ronald Reagan enrolled at Eureka College, a Disciples of Christ affiliated school in Illinois. The Great Depression would make attending college difficult for all the students. Reagan had to take several part-time jobs to help with tuition. Reagan had little idea of what he wanted to do after graduation, but he had an idea that he wanted to become a sportscaster.

In 1932, the profession of sportscaster was in its infancy. After a few false starts, Reagan got a job with WOC in Davenport, Iowa as a sportscaster. He started out with college football, but would make a name for himself broadcasting baseball.

Although Reagan did not know much about baseball, he studied up on it, especially the nature of crowd reactions. This would be important because Reagan would be announcing Chicago Cubs games, but not from Chicago. Instead, he performed recreations of games from a studio in Davenport, Iowa. (At the time, baseball teams did not have one exclusive radio broadcaster for their games.)

In 1937, Reagan traveled with the Cubs to their spring training site of Catalina Island in California. Reagan made some connections with people in the burgeoning motion picture industry. Reagan got himself an agent. That led to an offer from Warner Brothers to work as a contract player. In May of 1937, Ronald Reagan left radio behind and headed to California.

Reagan started out as performer in B-movies. His first film was Love Is On The Air, where Reagan played a radio announcer. It does not appear to be available on DVD.

However, Reagan caught the attention of another Dixon, Illinois native, Louella Parsons, one of the most influential Hollywood gossip columnists of the era. Parsons tried to drop in favorable mentions of Reagan in her columns. Reagan would start to appear in better films, such as 1939’s Dark Victory. Also, that year Reagan appeared in a film called Brother Rat. On the cast of that picture was an actress named Jane Wyman. The two became a couple and would be married in January of 1940.

A little later in 1940, Reagan got a part as Notre Dame football star George Gipp in the film Knute Rockne: All American. Although the movie’s star was Pat O’Brien, Reagan would be the most remembered actor in the film. “The Gipper” would become another of Reagan’s nicknames. (I’ve never seen the film and never will. It has nothing to do with politics. I just really hate Notre Dame football, the most insidious and diabolical group of people ever created.)

Although Reagan was close friends with one of Hollywood’s most notable conservatives at the time, Dick Powell, Reagan was still very much on the left end of the political spectrum. Reagan was a strong supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, and was becoming increasingly more active in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), becoming an alternate delegate to the executive board.

Reagan had another big role in the 1942 film Kings Row. The novel the film is based on features incest and a sadistic doctor who enjoys performing needless amputations. Parts of the story were toned for the film, but it was still a fairly dark film. Reagan’s character wakes up from an accident to find out that his legs have been amputated and says “Where’s the rest of me?” That line would become the title of an autobiography of Reagan.

However, Reagan’s film career was sidetracked by World War II. Even though, Reagan was married and had a child at the time, the Army would not grant Reagan a deferment from serving. Reagan did not serve in a combat unit (because of poor vision) and spent the war making instructional films.

When the war ended, Reagan tried to restart his film career, but it was slow going. Jane Wyman’s career was thriving, creating a strain on their marriage.

A major labor dispute in Hollywood would be a turning point in Reagan’s life. In 1946, a jurisdictional dispute between two unions, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage and Motion Picture Operators (IATSE) and the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) over who would represent carpenters. IATSE was a much older union, but was considered to be too close to studio executives by CSU members. CSU members went on strike amidst the dispute. IATSE, with help from the studio, hired thugs to attack CSU pickets. (It is not believed that the thugs were union members, although I’ve often thought of an organizing The International Brotherhood of Thugs, Goons, and Guys Who Will Beat Up People If You Slip Them Twenty Bucks.) SAG members voted to cross the CSU picket lines.

By 1946, Reagan had become the Vice President of SAG. The CSU strike was becoming more violent. An anonymous phone caller told Reagan that someone would try to disfigure him if he did not honor the CSU picket lines. The threat made Reagan even more opposed to CSU. After a series of mass arrests of CSU picketers for violating a court order in December of 1946, the strike ended.

In 1947, Reagan became the president of SAG. Soon after, Reagan and Wyman were visited by an FBI agent, who asked the two of them if they could help the Bureau identify Communists working in Hollywood. At first Reagan balked, but the FBI persuaded Reagan to cooperate by reminding him that many of the CSU leaders were admitted Communists and likely still angry at him. Reagan would never name names publicly, but he did tell the House Un-American Activities Committee that Communists were not a major influence in Hollywood.

The political and career battles effectively ended Reagan and Wyman’s marriage. They divorced in June of 1948. Later in the year, Reagan traveled to England to film The Hasty Heart. Reagan was appalled by the condition of England’s economy and welfare state. The trip shook Reagan’s belief in the New Deal, although he would still campaign for Harry Truman in 1948.

Reagan’s contract with Warner Brothers ran out in January of 1952. Finding new employment would be difficult. However, he had fallen in a love with another Warner Brothers actress, Nancy Davis. They were married in March of 1952. Their first child together was born seven and a half months later.

During this time, the highest tax bracket in the United States paid a rate of 91%. Reagan saw much of his earnings, which were already dropping, get eaten up by the government. Reagan was not shy in telling people about this.

In an attempt to earn more money for his family, Reagan briefly worked in Las Vegas as a master of ceremonies for a dancing show at the El Rancho, but found the work demeaning. In 1954, Reagan picked up some financial security when he was hired by the General Electric Corporation to host a weekly drama show called G.E. Theater. Most of the time, Reagan did little more than provide intros to each episode, although he would appear in episodes as an actor as well.

As part of the job, Reagan also performed public relations work for G.E. He would visit G.E. plants throughout the U.S. where he would use his well-honed storytelling techniques, along with healthy doses of lectures on capitalism and free enterprise.

Reagan devoured newspapers and magazines in quests for information to put into his speeches for the G.E. workers. He became stridently anti-Communist. He also became anti-government, speaking out against Social Security and welfare programs. The income tax was also a popular target.

In 1958, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, had their second child, Ronald Junior. At that time, Ronald Junior and his older sister, Patricia, were finally introduced to their half-siblings, Maureen and Michael. Ronald Reagan would tell his second daughter that he had not bothered to tell her about Maureen and Michael because “we just hadn’t gotten around to it. ”

Reagan returned to the SAG presidency in 1959 just as the membership was threatening to go to strike over the issue of television residual payments. Even though Reagan was a producer, he was allowed to assume the SAG presidency. The membership of SAG went on strike for six weeks over the issue. The ensuing contract was considered quite favorable to the studios. Reagan resigned the presidency of SAG soon after the strike ended.

However, G.E. was beginning to find Reagan to be a headache. His speeches were becoming more stridently conservative. When Reagan attacked the Tennessee Valley Authority, G.E., which liked the idea of people using electricity, began to distance itself from Reagan. G.E. Theater was discontinued in 1962.

Reagan made his last film in 1963. It was called The Killers, and it represented the only time Reagan played the villain in a film. Reagan’s last scene as a film actor would show him getting shot by Lee Marvin. (Reagan still made occasional TV appearances into 1965.)

In 1964, Reagan campaigned for Republican nominee Barry Goldwater in the Presidential election against incumbent Lyndon Johnson. Although Goldwater lost badly, Reagan received national attention for a televised speech he gave on October 27, 1964. It was called “A Time for Choosing.”

The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.

Reagan’s first foray into elected politics would come in 1966. A group of wealthy Republican donors convinced Reagan to make a run for governor of California. Incumbent Pat Brown had served two terms already. Brown’s popularity had dropped in the wake of the Watts Riots in August of 1965, as well as multiple protests on college campuses in the state.

Brown did not think Reagan would be much of an opponent because of his lack of experience. However, Reagan, thanks to some skilled handling and advice combined with his natural gift for communicating, trounced Brown, winning 58% of the vote.

Once in office, Reagan promised to slash the size of the state budget. However, Brown’s last budget left an enormous deficit. Reagan was forced to ask for a tax increase to get the budget balanced. Reagan also reluctantly signed a bill legalizing abortion in the state of California.

Reagan kept his conservative credentials in order through his strident attacks on student protesters. He once remarked, “Their signs say make love, not war. But they don’t look like they can do much of either.”

In 1968, Reagan made a short-lived bid to earn the Republican nomination for President. However, he realized that 1968 was Richard Nixon’s time. Reagan would wait.

Despite not having made major changes to California government in his first term (Democrats controlled the state legislature during his tenure), Reagan remained very popular in California. He was easily reelected to a second term.

Reagan made welfare reform his top priority in his second term. Reagan contested that the welfare system was rife with corruption perpetrated by lazy people scamming the government. When Reagan and the State Legislature worked on a reform plan, the number of people receiving welfare in California dropped by 300,000.

In 1973, Reagan had a tax reform measure, Proposition 1, put on the ballot in a special election. The state budget would be tied to personal income levels. Tax increases would require a 2/3 vote. The measure was defeated at the polls.

Reagan opted not to run for a third term as governor, positioning himself for a Presidential run in 1976. Reagan came very close to beating out Gerald Ford for the nomination, but could not overcome early missteps in the campaign. Ford would lose to Jimmy Carter, but Reagan would remain in the public eye, writing a weekly newspaper column and recording a weekly radio address.

Carter’s four years in office were not a high point for the United States. The economy was beset by slow growth coupled with high inflation, the so-called “stagflation.” The United States saw its embassy workers in Tehran taken hostage. Carter came on television to tell the country that it was experiencing a “crisis of confidence.”

Reagan was primed for a run in 1980. After beating back an early challenge by George H.W. Bush in the primaries, Reagan won the nomination going away. Bush was given the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket.

Another major political force has entered the political arena at this time: evangelical Christians. Evangelical, aka “born again”, Christians had decided to flex their considerable political muscles. The leader of this group would be a Virginia minister named Jerry Falwell, who would name his organization, the Moral Majority. Ronald Reagan would become their candidate.

During the campaign, Reagan constantly hammered Carter on the economy and foreign policy mistakes. Reagan wanted to lower taxes in an attempt to shrink the size of the Federal government. Also, Reagan promised a much harder line against the Soviet Union.

The election of 1980 matched up a very serious, often dour, Carter, against a far more ebullient Reagan. In televised debate, Carter appeared to be giving lectures, while Reagan appeared to be speaking more directly to the viewers (skip ahead to the 7:00 minute mark for the classic part of the debate). In a commercial that aired on the eve of the election, Reagan hammered home this point, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

For the majority of the country, the answer was no. Reagan trounced Carter in the 1980 election, one of the worst electoral defeats for an incumbent since Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1932. Reagan won just 50.7% of the popular vote as John Anderson had made a somewhat credible third party run. In the electoral vote, Reagan won 489 to 49. Most notably, every Southern state, except for Carter’s home state of Georgia went into the Republican column.

In his inaugural address, Reagan signaled that there would be a new way of doing business in Washington.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.

….

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.

One of Reagan’s first actions in office was to announce to the Soviet Union that there would be a change in arms control policy. Reagan called for a buildup in American forces.  Reagan and his national security team planned to build up American military strength in an attempt to force the Soviets to agree to greater concessions in arms control talks.

Also, Reagan appointed Vice President Bush to head a commission to examine government regulations. Reagan had long believed that American business suffered from excessive regulation, especially from agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But, Reagan’s Presidency almost ended. On March 30, 1981, after giving a speech, Reagan (along with his press secretary, a police officer, and Secret Service agent) was wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, a mentally ill man obsessed with Jodie Foster and the film Taxi Driver. Reagan, who was injured far more severely than James Garfield was in 1881, survived. He left the hospital on April 11. By April 28, he was well enough to give a televised address pushing for his economic program.

Although there was a Democratic majority in the House (the Republicans held a Senate majority at the time), Reagan was able to push through a package of tax cuts, as well as budget that called for increased defense spending. Reagan successfully used a group of conservative Southern Democrats to get his bills passed. (The Democrats who sided with Reagan would become known as the Boll Weevils.)

In August of 1981, the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) voted to go on strike, despite the fact that Federal law prohibited such action. Reagan order the striking air controllers back to work. A little over 1/3 of them did. Reagan, as was his prerogative, fired the rest of them. The move proved to be popular with the American public.

An early indication that Soviet domination of Eastern Europe may have been declining came late in 1981, when Polish labor leader Lech Walesa led an anti-Communist movement called Solidarity. The Polish government, on orders from the Soviet Union, imposed martial law in an attempt to quiet Walesa. Reagan seized the opportunity to denounce the Soviet Union for its tactics, ordering economic sanctions on the Soviet Union. The United States would end up supporting Walesa and Solidarity covertly through CIA actions.

By 1982, Reagan’s momentum had stalled. The economy was still in a recession. Some cast doubts that the Federal budget could be sustained with the increasingly larger deficits. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker tried to rein in inflation by raising interest rates. Later in the year, Congress passed a law deregulating the savings and loan industry. That law would prove to be one of the biggest errors of Reagan’s time in office.

In the midterm elections of 1982, Democrats increased their majority in the House, although the Republicans held on to their Senate majority. Despite sagging approval ratings, Reagan asked the country to “stay the course.”

In 1983, Reagan took a bold stop in foreign policy. He denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Also, he announced that the United States would undertake the development of a space-based nuclear missile defense system. Officially, it was called the Strategic Defense Initiative, but it became popularly known as “the Star Wars defense.” Experts believed that most of the SDI plans could never be built; however, the Soviet Union had to take into account that it could work. But, the Soviets could not afford to build a system of their own. The United States now had the upper hand in arms control negotiations.

The rest of 1983 would be turbulent in the arena of foreign affairs. Suicide bombers made two attacks on Americans in Lebanon. In the second attack, over 200 Marines were killed. Also, a Korean Airlines flight was shot down by Soviet fighters after it had accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace. 61 Americans were on the flight. Reagan denounced the attack as an act of barbarism.

In October of 1983, the United States sent American forces to the Caribbean nation of Grenada, which had become closely attached to Cuba. The Marines were able to rescue a few hundred American medical students studying in Grenada. The operation was viewed as success, keeping Grenada from being the site of another Cuban Missile Crisis. While Reagan’s case may have been a bit overstated, the American people enjoyed having a definitive military victory over somebody.

Reagan would temper his rhetoric toward the Soviet Union in January of 1984, calling for greater understanding between the two superpowers. Reagan feared that a misunderstanding could lead to a nuclear holocaust, something that almost happened in November of 1983 when a NATO exercise was interpreted by the Soviets as a hostile attack. (Since we all seem to be here, it seems that nukes were not exchanged.)

Everything was going well for Reagan in 1984. He gave a dramatic speech in Normandy on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The country was awash in patriotic fervor after a successful showing at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles (helped greatly by a Soviet boycott.) Most importantly, the economy began to improve.

Reagan had no opposition for his renomination. The Democrats nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale. New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as his running mate.

In the first debate, the now 73-year old Reagan appeared to be confused and off his game. Mondale began to inch closer in the polls. But, in the second debate, Reagan’s campaign team prepared him better. He made a joke about how he would not exploit his opponent’s “youth and inexperience.” Everyone laughed, even Mondale.

The election of 1984 was a wipeout. Reagan won 59% of the vote and every state but Minnesota. Reagan amassed a record 525 electoral votes.

During his second term, Reagan, along with CIA Director Robert Casey, were determined to increase the amount of covert aid given to anti-Communist rebels in various countries. Among these groups were the contra rebels (Tygiel spells it lower case, so I will too) of Nicaragua. However, Congress had prohibited any aid from the CIA or any other Federal government entity from assisting the contras, whom Reagan had dubbed “Freedom Fighters.”

Reagan told National Security Advisor Robert MacFarlane to find a way to work around the Congressional ban. MacFarlane, along with an aide, Marine Colonel Oliver North, worked out a complicated plan that had private money being funneled to arms dealers throughout the world, effectively circumventing any ban.

In Reagan’s first term, three men had served as his closest advisers: James Baker, Edwin Meese, and Michael Deaver. Each had carefully managed some aspect of Reagan’s image, as well as helped him with decision making. Reagan did not like to get into details of policy and usually wanted complex decisions broken down into simpler parts.

By 1985, each man had left the White House. Meese had become Attorney General. Baker was the Secretary of Interior. Deaver left to work as a lobbyist. Former Treasury Secretary Donald Regan became Chief of Staff.

Reagan and Regan did not work well together. Even worse, First Lady Nancy Reagan disliked Regan. Regan would not keep Reagan focused, which would lead to problems.

The changes in the White House staff paled in comparison to the changes in the leadership of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union went through four leaders in a little over three years. Leonid Brezhnev passed away in November of 1982. His successor, Yuri Andropov, passed away in February of 1984. His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, died in March of 1985.

The Soviet Union turned to a new generation for leadership. Mikhail Gorbachev took control of a country that was spending nearly 80% of its GDP on defense. Gorbachev quickly gave indications that he was willing to talk about serious reductions in nuclear arms.

Back in the Middle East, terrorists began kidnapping Americans and holding them hostage for long periods of time. Casey and MacFarlane hatched a plan to gain bargaining power to free the hostages, as well as continue to aid the contras.

The United States would send missiles to Israel, who would in turn send them to Iran. Profits from the sale (Iran would pay the cost to the United States) would be funneled to Nicaraguan contras. (This is an oversimplification of the whole matter because I’m guessing that most of you are asleep by now.) The plan never managed to make Iran more amenable to the United States, nor did it free any hostages. It would end up becoming a major scandal toward the end of Reagan’s Presidency.

While backroom shenanigans were taking place, Reagan and Gorbachev started a series of discussions about arms control. At one point, Gorbachev and Reagan almost agreed to pull all nuclear missiles out of Europe, in exchange for ceasing development of SDI. Reagan and Gorbachev however could not reach a final agreement on this matter. Eventually, the two nations agreed to limit intermediate-range nuclear missiles, the first treaty which required the actual dismantling of nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union was showing signs of collapse under Gorbachev. Communism appeared to be on its last legs. Reagan, like John F. Kennedy, gave a dramatic speech in Berlin. He called for the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall.

After getting a tax reform package passed in 1986, Reagan spent the last two years of his Presidency trying to solve the problems that his management style had created.

Reagan was not a hands on manager. He also did not like to see disagreement among his staff. He wanted to keep everyone happy. However, he sometimes would turn a blind eye toward misdeeds done by his staff.

Deaver, as well as longtime aide Lyn Nofziger, violated conflict of interest laws after they left the White House. Both were convicted on ethics charges. Attorney General Meese was found to have interfered in the bidding for a Federal contract by a defense contractor while serving as Attorney General. The savings and loan industry, deregulated in 1982, turned out to be rife with fraud. Taxpayers would pay billions of dollars to clean up the mess left by failed S&Ls. Wall Street was beset by numerous insider trading scandals.

By November of 1986, the plan created by MacFarlane and North (along with Admiral John Poindexter) became public knowledge. A special review board was appointed to look into the matter, headed by former senator John Tower. The Commission’s findings revealed a White House where Reagan appeared to be out of touch with his staff, failing to provide enough oversight of his National Security Council staff. Reagan made a televised address where he admitted mistakes, but claimed that he did not authorize trading arms for hostages.

Throughout his administration, Reagan had managed to avoid any blame for problems caused by his staff. He was dubbed “The Teflon President.” However, the Iran-contra affair would be one matter that would stick with Reagan. Or at least until he left office. Or maybe until just the end of 1987. The American attention span was getting shorter. By the time Reagan left office, he had a 70 percent approval rating. His popularity made it fairly easy for Vice President George Bush to win the White House in 1988.

After leaving office, Reagan retired to California and stayed out of the public eye for the most part. In 1993, Reagan revealed to the nation that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was rarely seen in public again. He died on June 5, 2004 in Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan’s very public life ended very quietly and privately.

Reagan’s legacy became a hotly debated topic. For those on the right, a group that felt that they had been shut out of the political discussion in the country for decades, Reagan was a hero.  He had made conservatism, not just respectable, but the dominant political school of thought in the United States. Reagan left the country with a prosperous economy, and in a strong military position over the fading Soviet Union.

For those on the left, Reagan was someone who cared too much about his image, instead of his substance. His economic policies saddled the country with massive budget deficits. His foreign policy was dangerous at times, imperialistic at other times.

What is clear is that conservatives of today are still looking for another Ronald Reagan. But, are they looking for Reagan the Campaigner, who spoke often of limiting government and restoring American pride, or are they looking for Reagan the President, who turned out to be far more pragmatic and willing to compromise than people may have remembered.

You can think of Ronald Reagan as a hero or a villain. But you cannot ignore the fact that he did succeed in changing the terms of the debate in American politics. Conservatism has taken permanent root in the United States. It will be difficult for any President to ever completely reverse the changes that Reagan brought to politics. Public opinion polls during Reagan’s time showed a significant approval rating for his ideas among younger voters. (And giving us sitcoms like Family Ties.)

Ronald Reagan was the last President I will write about in this blog. And despite cranking out over 5,000 words on him, I do not feel like I fully covered all of his accomplishments. Perhaps it is just best to let each reader project on to Reagan what he or she thought of the man. Reagan, the public man whom nobody ever really knew, would probably expect that to be the case.

Other stuff: Ronald Reagan’s is buried on the site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Ronald Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico, Illinois is run by the local historical society. Reagan’s childhood home in Dixon, Illinois is also open to the public. Reagan’s ranch in Santa Barbara is now operated by the Young America Foundation, an organization aimed at teaching Reagan’s conservative values to high school and college students.

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7 Responses

  1. When does the series on president pro tems of the Senate begin?

  2. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure his bday is 2/6 – same as mine.

  3. Thanks a lot for doing this series, Bob. I enjoyed the history lesson.

  4. Great job. Enjoyed following. As regards Dutch, wasn’t a big fan at the time, but must concede that he certainly brought conservative thought into the limelight. Before that all I can remember were people and groups who seemed like cranks to me, Joe Pine and the John Burch Society come to mind, or the extremely intellectual Bill Buckley on Firing Line.

  5. Ronald Reagan WAS a member of the John Birch Society. Some remember Reagan as a fascist governor.

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