Ronald Reagan

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Reckoning with Reagan:
America and its President in the 1980s
Michael Schaller
Oxford University Press: New York, 1992

Ronald Reagan was more than a president. He was a phenomenon. Since he left office in 1989, many authors have tried to effectively identify who this man really was. He was an icon to some, and an enigma to others. He stood up to the worst economic, domestic, and international threats of the time and yet, took naps in the middle of cabinet meetings. At the height of his popularity in 1986, he had, as Time magazine put it, "found America's sweet spot. " Reagan had ideals of what he felt America should be like, and made it his number one goal to share his unrelenting optimism with every person in the country. He pledged to bring Americans a "little good news." and created a strong bond with the public. Throughout his eight years in office, he continually motivated and energized his supporters while at the same time, confounded and mystified his detractors. Reagan stood tall among the thirty-nine presidents that preceded him, and was one of the most popular leaders of the twentieth century. In his book, Reckoning with Reagan, Schaller attempted to reconcile the facts and myths that surrounded Reagan during his entrance into public service, his back to back terms as governor of California, and his eight years as President of the United States. Although, he briefly outlined Reagan's earlier years as a Hollywood actor, corporate spokesperson and motivational speaker, Schaller concentrates on the presidency and how Reagan impacted America to such a degree, that it would be felt for years to come. And for the first time since Kennedy, an era would be defined by a single man: Ronald Reagan.

Though he would stop short of saying that he was born in a log cabin, Ronald Reagan grew up in humble beginnings. The son of an alcoholic father whom couldn't hold down a job and a religious mother, Reagan was encouraged at an early age by his mother to act in school plays. An activity in which the young Reagan showed much promise. Because of a difficult home life, Reagan created a distance between the reality of his troubled surroundings and the fantasy of how things should be. Many believed that such mental redirection at this early age played a big role in his vision and ideals for America years later.

After he graduated high school in 1932, Reagan went to work as a radio broadcaster. The sincerity and warmth in his voice won instant popularity with listeners, and he rapidly excelled in the entertainment industry. Earning a promotion to sports announcer, he narrated baseball games that came into the station via telegraph. His colorful details and folksy stories intrigued his audiences so much, that many preferred to listen to him rather than the actual game broadcast.

While in California to cover spring training with the Chicago Cubs, Reagan auditioned for Warner Bothers Studios and won an acting contract. Reagan continued to be seen on the silver screen in many movies, including several war time morale films during his enlistment in the U.S. Army during World War II until his career stagnated in 1946.

Over the next few years, Reagan's ability to captivate his audience was honed as his career transposed into corporate spokesman and motivational speaker. This only solidified his most famous moniker as, "The Great Communicator."

Reagan's rise into politics started with his candidacy for governor of California in 1966. He ran on a platform of reducing the size of state government and throwing the rascals out. He claimed to be just an ordinary citizen who opposed high taxes, government regulation, waste and abuse. Reagan capitalized on Californian's resentment of Pat Brown because of high taxes and the Watts Ghetto Riots of 1965.

In 1967, during his first few months as governor, Reagan had no real agenda and had difficulty defining his goals for his administration. But after settling in, he began to...
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