President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview

8
KIDDING ON THE SQUARE

It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure why take the chance?

RONALD REAGAN, MARCH 28, 19871

REAGAN'S SENSE OF HUMOR was a key to his character. He was the resident humorist and gag writer in a White House where nearly everything else was done for him while he engaged in governance by anecdote. While adversaries interpreted his heavy reliance on anecdotes as a telltale reflection of a deficient intellect, Reagan treasured humorous stories and knew that his willingness to poke fun at himself was a vital component of his popularity. A sense of humor was essential to the role Reagan had created for himself in Hollywood and politics and, in humorist Bob Orben's phrase, the basis for the "balance of goodwill" 2 upon which he drew in time of trouble.

Reagan came to this role quite naturally. His father, Jack Reagan, had a gift for storytelling, common among Irish-Americans and useful for any salesman. And his mother, Nelle, nurtured Reagan's interest in dramatics, for which he had a natural flair. Reagan's appreciation for anecdotes was further honed in Hollywood, where the self-deprecating jokes that form an essential characteristic of Jewish humor were deeply embedded in the film culture. One of Hollywood's most valued ceremonies is the "roast," an entertainment at which celebrities are feted with an exchange of personal insults that concludes in sentimental tribute to the guest of honor. Reagan was an adept participant in such events, and he was pleased to learn in Sacramento that the roast also prospers in politics, perhaps because of the respite such events provide from the ferocity of daily political combat. As president, Reagan exploited his mastery of this art form, fully matching Washington reporter Owen Ullmann's description of him as "the Johnny Carson of national politics, the Joker-in-Chief of the United States." 3 Reagan quipped, kidded, and bantered in nearly every White House meeting,

-95-

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President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Also by Lou Cannon ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the 1991 Edition ix
  • Preface to the 2000 Edition xi
  • 1 - Back to the Future 1
  • 2 - A Reagan Portrait 16
  • 3 - The Acting Politician 20
  • 4 - The Acting President 31
  • 5 - Offstage Influences 45
  • 6 - Heroic Dreams 66
  • 7 - Halcyon Days 78
  • 8 - Kidding on the Square 95
  • 9 - Hail to the Chief 115
  • 10 - Passive President 141
  • 11 - The Loner 172
  • 12 - Staying the Course 196
  • 13 - Focus of Evil 240
  • 14 - Freedom Fighters 289
  • 15 - Lost in Lebanon 339
  • 16 - An Actor Abroad 402
  • 17 - Morning Again in America 434
  • 18 - Turning Point 488
  • 19 - Darkness at Noon 521
  • 20 - Struggles at Twilight 580
  • 21 - The New Era 663
  • 22 - Visions and Legacies 711
  • Notes 765
  • Bibliography 820
  • Acknowledgments 835
  • Index 843
  • About the Author 885
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