Ronald Reagan: Good Actor, Better President.
The Early Years
Arguably one of the most influential people in all of American History, Ronald Reagan was and is an icon of the twentieth century. Although he was both loved and hated, it is safe to say that Mr. Reagan did indeed make an impact, not only on the United States, but on the rest of the world as well. The topic of this essay is as follows: Was Ronald Reagan a good president, bad actor? Or was he in fact a bad president, good actor? The remainder of this text will persuade you to believe that Ronald Reagan was a good actor, but he was an even better president.
Born in February of 1911 to Jack and Nell Reagan, Ronald Wilson Reagan quickly earned himself the nickname “Dutch” for his pudgy, rounded appearance. As a young man he served as Student Body President, performed in plays, and competed as an athlete. It is true to say that he was a very well rounded individual who from an early time in his life knew that the power positions and leadership roles were meant for him. At Eureka College, Ronald studied Sociology and economics, which would no doubt play a role in his future as the president of the United States. He graduated in 1932 and thereafter took a job as a sports radio announcer in Iowa.(Unknown)
A Career in Acting
On its own Ronald Reagan Biography page, IMDB writes, “Ronald Reagan is, arguably, the most successful actor in history” (Various). Of course it goes without saying that working as an actor was not always an easy and fruitful experience for the future president. In 1937, after a successful screen test with an agent at Warner Brothers, Reagan was offered (and accepted) a seven year contract. The road to becoming the cream of the crop of Hollywood began with playing in many semi-successful and somewhat uninteresting parts. Most of Ronald’s roles consisted of playing minor parts or acting as the lead in B movies. However, in 1939, his somewhat boring early acting career would take a turn for the better. After being cast in Brother Rat (a Broadway play), Ronald’s popularity as an actor and public entertainer took a small but significant spike. However, acting in this show would affect Reagan more than he could have ever imagined, because it is where he met his future wife, fellow actress Jane Wyman, who was going through a divorce at the time. The two were, of course, engaged very quickly and soon wed.
Following the success of Brother Rat, Reagan lost his passive and inoffensive approach to obtaining small, mediocre acting parts due to the constant assertion of Jane that he could do better, get larger roles, and make an actual name for himself. If not for the vocal poking and prodding of Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan could have easily been a nobody in the world of acting.
In 1940, Reagan began to seek out the position of playing Charles Gipp in the sports thriller, Knute Rockne—All American. Charles Gipp was a very large, prominent, and important character in the movie, and as such Warner Brothers Studios was rightfully reluctant to hand the part over to a nameless actor. However, due to Ronnie’s determination, great attitude, and background as a sportscaster, he was eventually given the role as Gipp that would truly solidify the exponential rise in his popularity as one of America’s brightest film stars. (Unknown)
Due to the huge success of Knute Rockne—All American, Reagan began to get offers for more and more large starring roles in A movies. Some of these classic movies include, but are not limited to, Desperate Journey and King's Row. Reagan would later go on to say that King’s Row was his favorite movie that he had played in as an actor, and critics would acclaim it as Reagan’s best movie; the one that truly showed that he was a star among stars.
In 1942, Reagan’s career as a shining young and fresh Hollywood star would come to an abrupt halt when he was called in for active duty in San Francisco, California. During this service to his country, Ronald, along with the help and assistance of the other members of his troop, would make over 400 training videos for the war. Later, after being discharged because of his rather poor eyesight, Reagan would co-star/star in 53 more motion pictures and one television movie during the rest of his career, a few of the more notable ones being The Voice of the Turtle,John Loves Mary,Hellcats of the Navy andThe Killers.
It is also worth mentioning (considering this put him in a highly influential position) that in 1964 Reagan was elected President of the Screen Actors Guild.
Truly, Ronald Reagan was a firecracker. The man showed enthusiasm and vigor throughout his entire life. As an actor, Ronald started out as a more passive person than anything else. Interestingly enough he did not push for higher ground when he was given only minimalistic roles and leads in B movies. It seems unlike Mr. Reagan to take this sort of approach to getting into the entertainment industry, as he was such a go-getter especially in his youth. However, it can possibly be concluded that perhaps he was treading the water, and needed that extra push from Jane to really bring out the drive for bigger things in the future president.
However, after this period of complacency in the young Ronald’s life, he really took off. The man went from a no-name actor trying to get a break with Warner Brothers to quite possibly the biggest, most successful actor of the time and debatably of all time. He starred in movies that were highly popular, and served as the main character in American classics that would be viewed for years to come. However, one cannot help but speculate what would have happened to Ronnie’s acting career if he had not been called to serve in the United States system. Surely with the abrupt ascent of his popularity, it can be concluded that Reagan would have been even more wildly successful.
So then is it logical to come to the conclusion that Ronald Wilson Reagan was a giant among men in the film industry? I would say it is more than logical! If there is any doubt, please refer back to the IMDB statement at the beginning of this essay. Truly, Ronald Reagan is a timeless figure who graced the screen with his infectious smile and optimistic attitude. To say he was a great actor is a very valid statement indeed, however what I am really here to prove is that he was an even better President of the United States of America.
Early Stages of the Reagan Reign
The early political days of Ronald Reagan were quite the opposite of what he would later turn into. In fact, Reagan started out as a left wing liberal. He found great interest in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Unknown 3) He especially admired President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” plan, which was highly liberal in nature. He supported anti-nuclear protests and in fact very seriously considered leading a few. However, Reagan’s economic viewpoints were about to change.
From the early 1950’s on to the late sixties, Mr. Reagan began to throw his support behind numerous Republican political figures, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, and Richard Nixon. However, at this time, Reagan still identified as a liberal Democrat.
In August of 1962, Ronald Reagan would formally switch his political affiliation from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party; later stating that “I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” There is some speculation as to why Reagan really switched over; Some historians claim that his new budding relationship with Nancy Davis contributed to the switch, due to that fact that Nancy held her own conservative views in high respects. (Unknown 4) However, it is a generally agreed upon notion that through his work with GE, Reagan was exposed to pro-business arguments and began to see a different way of political life.
In 1965, Reagan made a life changing decision. He announced that he would be running for the Governorship of California in the 1966 election. His campaign was of course very conservative, but championed two very specific points, that the people of California should "to send the welfare bums back to work", and, “clean up the mess at Berkeley”.
Reagan won the governorship easily over the two time incumbent. He had accomplished what great men before him had tried to do. During this administration, Reagan balanced the budget within the first year. He cracked down on protestors and reformed the Californian tax system. Reagan also was a staunch supporter of capital punishment.
Becoming a Political “Big Dog”
In 1976, Ronald Reagan went straight for the jugular with his challenge to then president, Gerald Ford, for the spot as Republican Candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. After grueling sessions of campaigning and the final vote, Reagan took a narrow loss to Ford, one thousand, one hundred and eighty seven votes to one thousand seventy votes. However, after his loss, Reagan continued to stay in the political spotlight.
On November 13, 1979, Reagan once again announced that he would be running for the place of Republican presidential nominee. This time, Reagan and his team were able to pull through and gain the coveted spot. He then chose George H. W. Bush to be his running mate.
The 1980 election was going to be an interesting one. Reagan was going up against the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, who had formerly beat Ford after Ford had swiped the Republican nomination away from Reagan during the previous election cycle. Although Carter’s policies had not really resonated or done much for the American people in way of progress, Reagan wasn't off the hook. There were many Americans who believed that Mr. Reagan held radical ideas that would surely promote degeneration of the country. However, through his charismatic speeches and successful debates, Reagan began to gain a much larger pool of support from the American people. Even though at the beginning of the race, Carter had the lead, Reagan pulled through and showed that he was presidential material, fit to lead the country as Commander In Chief.
Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election with an astounding 489 electoral votes to now ex-President Jimmy Carter’s 49 electoral votes (John).This was a landslide victory for not only Reagan himself, but the Republican Party as well! Starting with this win, the Republicans would enjoy a twelve year streak of power. Some historians even go so far as to call this event the beginning of the “Conservative Comeback Years”.
Reagan enjoyed a four year term in the White House, the effects of which we will discuss at a later point in this article. For now we are going to continue on to the presidential election of 1984. As the presidential incumbent, Ronald Reagan already had an edge on his competition that year, former vice president Walter Mondale. That did not mean, however, that this was going to be an easy race for Mr. Reagan. In the first presidential debate, Reagan showed signs of weakness and did not perform up to the standard that the public and media had previously expected. As such, his competency was in question for a time. There were many who believed that Reagan was deteriorating with age, and becoming too senile for the office of president. Rumors started that the Reagan was suffering from alzheimers (Maer).However, in later debates Reagan pulled out that silver screen charm that had gotten him so far in life, and also showed that he knew what he was talking about by answering questions with vim and vigor.
Ronald Reagan won the presidential election of 1984 by an enormous margin. His five hundred and twenty five votes completely crushed Mondale. In fact, in this election, Reagan set the record as the 1st president to ever have that many electors vote for him. To this day, Ronald Reagan still holds that record. This election solidified his eight year control of the executive branch of the United States government and started off the last term of President Ronald Reagan.
In 1982, Ronald Reagan formally announced his “War on Drugs”. This followed a rise in the use of crack cocaine, which some people were calling an epidemic. Although Richard Nixon had formerly coined the phrase “War on Drugs”, Ronald Reagan really ran with it. He signed a bill allocating 1.7 billion dollars toward the disestablishment of drugs in the United States. This previously mentioned bill also put into place a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses. First Lady Nancy Reagan also helped the anti-drug sentiment along by promoting her husband’s policies against drugs with her “Just Say No” campaign.
In dealing with civil rights cases, Ronald Reagan was an innovator. In his article, Mike Flynn wrote, “Reagan campaigned on behalf of gay rights before he was President at great personal risk to his future political career. “ He also wrote, “Reagan did more for gay rights than any other President.” (Flynn). He appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. He did a lot for the Latino community because he was so familiar with them from working with them so much during his governorship in California.
Robert G. Kaufman writes, “Few Presidents have surpassed the (foreign and otherwise) achievements of Ronald Reagan, the greatest American President since World War II” (Kaufman). Indeed, Reagan was an international giant of the time period. Of course it is a well known fact that he was one of the most passionate leading the opposition of Communism in those days, and as such took a special interest in eradicating the Soviet Union and the spread of Democracy to other countries. He, along with others in the American governmental system, pressured Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos into stepping down from his position as head of affairs on the islands. Reagan also threw much of his attention and support behind a number of South American countries that were trying to institute Democratic systems into their homelands. These include, but are not limited to: Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina, and Bolivia. He also led the American dissent against Iranian leader Saddam Hussein during the Iran- Iraq war of 1979.
Reagan’s economic politics also played a giant part in his presidency. These fiscal policies were so affectionately nicknamed “Reaganomics”. In 1980, Reagan’s beginning presidential administration just happened to start during an economic downturn. To fight this, Reagan aggressively attacked the income tax, cutting it from 70% to 28% for public taxes and 48% to 34% for corporate interests (Collender).This was put into place due to Reagan’s logic that by cutting taxes the economy is stimulated and can grow. He also attempted to reduced government spending in order to attempt to stop inflation and stabilize the economy. Along with these previously mentioned tactics, a lot of deregulation was put into place. Former guidelines on oil, shipping, and phone service were lifted in favor of a more loose set of rules. (Amadeo).
So was Reagan a political genius? Some would say yes, some would say no. However, I would say yes, he was. He was a widely welcomed change for the American political system and the people of the Unites States of America absolutely loved him. Even if you do not agree with anything that Ronald Reagan did politically, there is no denying the fact that he brought hope to the American people. Through his upbeat attitude, he gave them a fresh outlook and work ethic. He encouraged their growth and prosperity and gave new life to a nation that was becoming somewhat stagnant in its economy and attitude.
In conclusion, Ronald Reagan was a fantastic actor. He enchanted people with his love of all things and enthusiasm. He may have started out slow, but he rose to fame quite quickly once he was given a push by his then wife. Even after serving in the United States forces, Reagan came back and produced movie after movie. He made hits and classics that are still viewed today, and his name is so iconic that one mention of it not only inspires images of a presidential nature, but a cinematic one as well. He was the star of his time, loved by many and wholly good. He captured the imagination and his services as an actor were in high demand.
Arguably more important than that, however, is the statement that he might have been a good actor, but he was an even better president. But how would one go about proving this? Surely the political standings of myself and the president match up, so much so that it would be almost traitorous to myself to deny them. However, when we take a look at what others have to say about him, we see that I am not the only one who hold Reagan’s presidential administration in such high respects. Burt Folsom stated that “No president of the 20th century had a more positive and enduring influence than Ronald Reagan, who was born 99 years ago today. Other presidents, from Wilson to FDR, exceeded Reagan in their impact, but much of it was negative. Sure, they won wars, but they almost destroyed the American economy as well. Reagan, by contrast, won the Cold War and also revived the American economy from decades of abuse. He was successful both at home and abroad.” (Folsom). A poll by www.Gallup.com shows quantitative evidence that the larger part of Americans believe that Ronald Reagan is not only a great president, but the greatest president of American history (Newport). In yet another poll, 25% of Americans agreed that Reagan has been the greatest president of the 20th century (Wires).
Love him or hate him, there is no denying the numbers. A large part of Americans view Reagan as the best president of all time. I myself view him as one of the greatest. It is undeniable that he had a huge positive influence on the country, for the better. Truly he was a man that America needed in order to attain an uplifted spirit, an uplifted economy, and an uplifted state of mind. Indeed it can be easily said that Reagan gave all these things to the American people, and left this country in better shape than it was before he made the leap to the presidency.
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Collender, Stan. n. page. .
Flynn, Mike. "Gay Activists Know Nothing About Reagan, History." http://www.breitbart.com. N.p., 22 Jun 2012. Web. 18 Jul 2013.
Folsom , Burt . "Why was Ronald Reagan the greatest President of the 20th Century?." http://www.freerepublic.com. (2010): n. page. Web. 18 Jul. 2013. .
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