President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview

7
HALCYON DAYS

How we begin will significantly determine how we govern.

INITIAL ACTIONS PROJECT REPORT, JANUARY 29, 19811

THERE WAS MORE TO Ronald Reagan than his script. He did not know one missile system from another and could not explain the simplest procedures of the federal government, but he understood intuitively that the political success of his presidency would be closely linked to his acceptance in Washington. In this he was the opposite of Jimmy Carter, who knew far more and understood far less. In 1976, after a term and a half of Richard Nixon and a half term of Gerald Ford, Carter had shrewdly exploited the accumulated suspicions of Washington in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam and won election as an outsider. Running against Washington is acceptable political behavior to the Washington community, which stoically endures denunciations of the federal government during election campaigns as a necessary requirement of populist politics. But Carter shocked Washington after he became president by demonstrating that his outsider pose was genuine. He took his campaign rhetoric seriously--indeed, he seemed to take everything most seriously--and freely expressed disdain for the political and social rituals of Washington. Reagan did not repeat this mistake. While he had built his political career on ridicule of Washington, which he once described as "the seat of a buddy system that functions for its own benefit," 2 Reagan was not one to allow such rhetoric to ruin his evenings or his opportunities. Indeed, he made it clear even before he took office that he intended to be part of the system and share in its rewards. He realized that Washington was a company town, and he had been a company man since his Hollywood days. 3 Since the company business in Washington is politics, Reagan acted the politician and sought out the pooh-bahs of the federal city. His natural charm and self-effacing cheerfulness appealed to a community that Carter had refused to court and that tends to distrust either somberness or aloofness in its politicians. Two weeks after his election the Rea-

-78-

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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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