President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview

4
THE ACTING PRESIDENT

And believe me, Bedtime for Bonzo made more sense than what they were doing in Washington.

RONALD REAGAN, MAY 25, 19821

RONALD REAGAN'S CINEMATIC visions and theatrical gifts were better suited to the grander stage of Washington than to Sacramento. He had skated through as governor, relying on his charm and negotiating skills and upon aides who had survived by learning the ways of the legislature. On balance he was a good governor, though not a great one. His second term, which ended in 1974, was marked by constructive welfare, education, and tax legislation that owed at least as much to these no-longer-novice aides and to the Democratic leadership of the legislature as to his own abilities. But eight years as governor had taught Reagan that he performed best when he attended to larger visions. Once he settled in as governor, he became indifferent to the everydayness of government and unconcerned about his lack of fundamental civics knowledge. He learned to let others, particularly Edwin Meese III, do the heavy lifting and to rely upon his directors, as he had done in Hollywood. Reagan saved himself for the big scenes. By the time he reached the White House in 1981, after three tries at the presidency, Reagan felt free to draw upon the themes, examples, and anecdotes of his movie days. He had real-life movies in his head and a surer sense of his own role in the production of the Reagan presidency. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to be. What he wanted to be, and what he became, was an accomplished presidential performer.

Reagan never forgot the gibes about his acting that he endured during his first campaign for public office and periodically throughout his political career. He owed a debt to his acting experience, but he was circumspect about acknowledging it. Not until his final weeks in the White House, when no one any longer cared if he was role-playing, did Reagan publicly

-31-

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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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