President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview

6
HEROIC DREAMS

I have always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.

RONALD REAGAN, APRIL 9, 19861

REAGAN ARRIVED IN Washington for the first act of his presidency quipped with a familiar script of his own devising 2 and accompanied roduction team that was determined to make him a star. The team included experts in the arts of polling, politics, and public relations, most of them secure in their specialties and mindful of Reagan's reliance on offstage assistance. But it was the script that was compelling, and it was Reagan who wrote it. While he would become the most highly managed president in the history of the republic, Reagan did not depend on his managers for political inspiration. He had found his ideas for himself, drawing on the resources of his life and the requirements of his performances, and shaped them into a story that would become the screenplay of his presidency.

Most of the shaping of these ideas had occurred in the 1950s, when Reagan played host for television's popular General Electric Theater and toured the country giving speeches at GE plants. Reagan's weekly television appearances kept him visible to an older cinematic audience from which he was beginning to fade in memory while making him known to a younger generation that had never seen his movies. Reagan often compared General Electric to "the cavalry [riding] to the rescue," 3 complete with bright lights and a panoply of electrical gadgets for his Pacific Palisades home.

GE's most important contribution to Reagan's political apprenticeship was not built-in appliances but built-in audiences. By his own estimate Reagan spent two of his eight years with General Electric on the road (traveling by train, because he was afraid to fly), visiting all of GE's 135 plants and speaking to 250,000 employees. The script that emerged from

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