The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

1
The Reagan Administration's Challenge, 1981-82

PRESIDENT RONALD W. REAGAN and his key advisers entered office with confidence and optimism. While seeing a formidable Soviet challenge manifest in various forms around the world, they believed that a reinvigoration of American will, a reestablishment of American power, and a reaffirmation of American leadership of the Free World would meet that challenge. Not only the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter but also the Republican administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford were believed to have been on the wrong track in foreign policy, above all by coming to terms with the Soviet Union in détente in the 1970s.

President Reagan's personal confidence had another source. He had long believed the American presidency was essentially inspirational, indicating broad general directions for policy rather than deciding concrete policy measures and carrying out policy. All modern presidents to some extent have seen the presidency as a political stage or arena, but only Reagan conceived of the president's role as essentially that of an actor, an actor for whom others arranged not only the production but also the script. Reagan "acted" the presidency for eight years.1

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Reagan's political rise, starting with his first step as an actor giving a political speech for presidential candidate Senator Barry M. Goldwater in 1964, through his experience with a delegated administration of governance of California from 1967 to 1975, and in bids for the presidency as a marginal contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and a serious one in 1976, had earlier showed the power of a good public presence and scripted-speaking ability.

Several of Reagan's political biographers have developed the point about his treatment of the presidency as an acting assignment, sometimes reflecting this theme in the titles of their books. See, for example, Bob Schieffer and Gary Paul Gates, The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound ( E. P. Dutton, 1989); Michael Paul Rogin, Ronald Reagan, The Movie ( Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,

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