Sunday 6 February 2011

Little Big Man

Today happens to be the hundredth anniversary of one of the outstanding political figures of American history, arguably the greatest president of the previous century – Ronald Reagan, born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois.

As a political operator my preference is for Richard Nixon, the Cesare Borgia of the While House. But there is no denying that, despite his many achievements, he was one of the most divisive figures ever to attain senior office. Reagan may not have had the intellect or the guile of Nixon, but he was the man for the times, a decent, uncomplicated man, one who helped cure the wounds left over from Watergate and Vietnam.

What a contrast he is compared with the present incumbent of the White House. He came to office in 1981 with none of the political advantages of Barack Obama. The Democrats controlled the House and the Republicans had the slimmest of majorities in the Senate. The economy was in bad shape, the worst since the 1930s, with an unemployment rate of 7% and inflation running in to double figures. In the international sphere the Soviet Union was looking more dangerous than it had for some time past. Things could not really get much worse.

Now fast forward to 1989, two terms completed. The economy was buoyant and communism, the whole of the Evil Empire, in a state of collapse. Retiring to Bel Air, Reagan left behind him an approval rating of 64%, the highest of any departing president since FDR.

There is so much to account for this, simple things going beyond success in foreign and domestic policies. He had the kind of charisma and charm that is so obviously beyond Obama, little more than a deflating gas bag, issuing windy rhetoric and nothing besides. Reagan had a quality of sincerity and moral decency, just the thing that America needed after the nadir of the presidency in the aftermath of Watergate, followed by the fumbling incompetence of the Carter years. He gave the country a new sense of direction, a renewed belief in itself. Nothing was impossible, he said; ordinary people can achieve so much by themselves if only government gets out of the way, the only message one wants to hear from a politician; the only message I ever want to hear.

Folksy, straight-talking, down to earth, he was everyman, the little guy who became a giant, for once proving that the American dream is not always an illusion. A natural actor, his greatest role was as the 40th President of the United States, a performance for which he deserved an Oscar.


  1. Ronald Reagan and Adm. Rickoff broke the Soviet union and ended the division of Germany. He was blamed for a bad economy, but most people do not realize that this took a lot of money to do.

  2. Ana,
    If you are able to catch this
    on one of its re-broadcasts later this week - I really can't recommend it highly enough.

    Remarkably even-handed, a fine and appropriate selection of interviewees (Ron Reagan Jr stood out clearly, but Pat Buchanan also)...and incredibly revealing of the character of Reagan, for good and for bad (clearly his actor's skills were finely honed: he could lie, brazenly, blatantly, I think more than any other politician I can recall - precisely because he seemed sincere and straightforward). But a first rate documentary.

    It is typically annoying - even if unsurprising - how the conventional opinion of Reagan in much of British society during his presidency (and since) was that he was a stupid, simple, dangerous, man. He was nothing of the sort - despite being an idealist.

  3. Dominic, thank you. I'll check that link.

  4. I think it will be some time before the full reckoning of Ron's America can be made. There are many lies and myths that must be unmade. Presidents and premiers are often praised or blamed for events quite beyond their control. His greatest virtue, I thought, was that he was unashamedly American and proud of American actions and accomplishments, even in the face of virulent hostility from other nations. I'm not entirely convinced he was aware of what the 'covert state' and his nefarious VP were up to during his tenure.

  5. Calvin, there are some leaders, I would say, who ride the times and others who are ridden by the times. Reagan was most definitely among the former.

  6. It's 'Reagan' (not 'Regan'). I think I made this already clear once. Anyway, this time you just called him once 'Regan', which is an improvement.

  7. M, so you did! Once again I ask for your indulgence in point of a vowel. :-)

  8. My least favorite actor became my favorite President. Go figure.

  9. Posted on behalf of Ike Jakson

    Ike said...


    My personal favourites for the Great Ones have always been Reagan and Coolidge, and Andrew Jackson from the previous Century.

    You have taken the words from my mouth for the Great man Reagan but I also want, with your kind permission; submit a flagrant plug for another Blogger. He seems a quiet private man just Blogging along on Coolidge but for the occasion you mentioned added something about Reagan. Read it please; it is a precious little jewel; don’t miss his one comment to me.

    The latter was so much like the man Reagan. And please note that the incident that the Blogger refers to took place during Reagan’s first few months in office.

    Here is the link. I promise you will love it:

    And finally, Yes, Former President Ronald Reagan receives my Oscar.

  10. Bob, I don't think I've seen any of his movies. I'll see if I can track any down.

  11. Ike, I'm sure I shall. Jackson was one of the greats. I'm intrigued by your choice of Coolidge, not generaally rated very highly, at least not by Dorothy Parker. :-)

  12. Reagan was popular in China too. I still remember one of my friends kept mentioning how he was moved by his lecture when he left White House.

  13. Yun Yi, I'm sure the government approved of him, given his tough anti-Soviet line. It's interesting to know that ordinary people did too.