THE ACTING POLITICIAN
When I was governor and wanted to return a tax surplus to the people my finance director said, "It's never been done." And I said, "Well, you've never had an actor up here before either."
RONALD REAGAN, JULY 10, 19861
WHAT REAGAN APPEARED TO BE was an actor. He spent the best years of his life in Hollywood, that real and imaginary world where he learned his acting craft, honed his skills as a platform speaker, formed his political ideas, and achieved an enduring identity. Hollywood and its environs were the scenes and sources of his professional triumphs and defeats, of his marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and of his transformation into a man of means. His children were born in Southern California, and parents and friends came there from Illinois and Iowa to be with him. It was in Hollywood that Reagan learned about trade unions, organized crime, Communists, and congressional investigations. The entertainment industry framed his entrance into public life and his departure from it. Asked what kind of governor he would be, Reagan quipped, "I don't know, I've never played a governor."2 And when he left the White House twenty-three years later and came home to California he told Landon Parvin, "Some of my critics over the years have said that I became president because I was an actor who knew how to give a good speech. I suppose that's not too far wrong. Because an actor knows two important things--to be honest in what he's doing and to be in touch with the audience. That's not bad advice for a politician either. My actor's instinct simply told me to speak the truth as I saw it and felt it."3
The last phrase is interesting because what Reagan saw and felt as an actor and a politician frequently did not correspond to the facts. Reagan recognized this and, in a conflict between feelings and facts, usually gave greater weight to his feelings. If an actor did not believe in his part, no one else would believe in it. If a political speaker did not believe in his message,