Peter Gibbon on Ronald Reagan

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July 14, 2011
Peter Gibbon on Ronald Reagan

Actor, president of the Screen Actors Guild; governor of California; president of the United States.

Breakout session:

  1. Why does Dinesh D’Souza say Ronald Reagan gets “no respect”?

  2. Why does he suggest Reagan deserves respect?

  3. How does he describe Reagan’s leadership style?

  4. How does Ron Reagan (in his book) describe his father?

  5. Compare George Schultz’s assessment of Reagan with that of Lou Cannon.

  6. How do you teach Ronald Reagan?

What is perhaps one policy failure in Reagan’s term as president? The deficit; the American people were not up for sacrifice (Cannon).

Conservatives criticizes Reagan for not “trimming” government. No progress on social issues (abortion, birth control, prayer in school, etc.); Reagan campaigned on social issues; however, he was a pragmatist and did not fight as much as conservatives hoped; the gay community criticized Reagan for being too slow on addressing the issue of AIDS.

Judicial revolution under Reagan; appointed many conservative judges including Scalia, transforming the Supreme Court.

In his book, Ron Reagan Jr. (son) describes his father as warm, but distant; he was an enigma. D’Souzsa described Reagan as being obsessed in accomplishing key ideas and goals in his presidency. Weinberger commented that Reagan never expressed gratitude or appreciation to his staff.

Reagan had a small-town idyllic childhood; relationship with Nancy (their marriage was strong, a unit; more close to each other than to their children); with Ron (distant, but loving); with Patti (contentious; she was rebellious and fought constantly with Nancy).

George P. Schultz; Reagan had a mind, could operate without his cue cards. However, many conservatives were terrified whenever Reagan went “off the cue card.”

Nancy Reagan was very influential in Ronald’s life; didn’t care much about Edmund Morris’s biography on him; weakened after his assassination attempt (March 30, 1981). Nancy thought Ronald was non-confrontational, and felt very strongly that she knew who was good and loyal. Donald Regan, fired through Nancy’s influence to some degree; fired campaign managers during strategic times.

See notes provided by Peter Gibbon.

Highlights include:

  • Regan, after being fired, exposes the “astrology” controversy.

  • George Will described Reagan as optimistic; “talent for happiness”.

  • Schultz: Reagan having 3x5 cards

  • Humor

  • Reagan is credited mostly for: an economic revival; Reagan tax cuts (goes down to 28 percent; economic boom); peace (foreign policy), ending the Cold War.

  • Criticized for the Iran-Contra deal, economic deficit; slow response to AIDS.

  • Ideologue vs. pragmatism; Reagan was a practical man; knew when to retreat (such as welfare reform and abortion).

  • Leadership style of Reagan

  • Rawhide Down (book) by Del Quentin Wilber on Reagan’s assassination attempt three months into his presidency

During World War II, Reagan was a popular spokesperson for the armed forces, although never served (poor eyesight).

1964 speech endorsing presidential candidate Barry Goldwater; “A Time for Choosing”; anti-Communism; pro-capitalism; smaller government; individualism; intellectual elite; “American exceptionalism”; full speech can be found in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library web site and YouTube.

1980 presidential primary debate: Reagan versus Bush on taxes and spending. Bush argues that Reagan’s tax cuts will increase the national deficit. Reagan brings it home by using a son’s allowance as an analogy. 1980 presidential election; Bush loses to Reagan in the primaries; Carter camp is thrilled, underestimating Reagan’s popularity. Reagan wins the 1980 election.

Reagan’s first inaugural address, January 20, 1981; see YouTube video and text transcript on the wiki (July 14): “Government isn’t the answer; government is the problem.”

In office, Reagan decrease taxes, increase military spending, deficit increases and blames Democrats for not cutting domestic programs.

First two years in office were dismal; tax increases; Reagan’s popularity ratings were low by mid-terms; but economy improves (six years) and is re-elected by a landslide against Mondale. Deficit soars throughout his presidency, however.

Reagan believed that education was a state-level responsibility and wanted to abolish the Department of Education; however, A Nation at Risk is published (1981); scathing review of the American public education system; Terrence Bell, Secretary of Education, persuades the Reagan administration to keep the Department of Education.

The Age of Reagan (book); a look back at Reagan.

Video: PBS narrative of Ronald Reagan (American Experience documentary)

On Reagan’s legacy

Prosperity; patriotism; peace; the poor (reservation); deficit.

Commendations: Approval rating was high at the end of his second term as president. World-wide swing to the right; the Age of Reagan (overreaching?); deregulation; conservatives like George Will and William Buckley embrace Reagan; the New Conservative; evangelicals, Jerry Falwell; restoring the national morale.

Failures: Iran-Contra, aiding the Contras; increasing the national debt; wealth gap widened; big government remained.

Alzheimer’s; first diagnosed after his presidency, but many wondered if Reagan suffered from it during the last years of his presidency.
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