The Ticket invited one of the nation's top presidential scholars, Prof. Robert Schmuhl of the University of Notre Dame, to examine the political legacy of Reagan as he relates to others of his generation, exclusively for Ticket readers.
(Scroll to bottom for Schmuhl's biography and book information.) We've also included several videos by and about Reagan.
This item is Part I of Schmuhl's writing.
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-- Andrew Malcolm
Politics came late in life
Born a century ago, on Feb. 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan took the political stage well into his 50s after a multimedia career performing on a variety of other stages. Broadcaster, actor, public speaker, Reagan understood the importance of effective stagecraft long before he became, in his phrase, “a citizen-politician.”
Yet Reagan first captured the public’s attention as a political player by doing what he’d mastered years earlier as an entertainer-endorser.
Delivering a speech supporting Sen. Barry Goldwater for president in 1964 wasn’t that different from serving as General Electric’s spokesman in appearances across the country and as host of TV's “General Electric Theater.” (Watch Reagan's practiced television skills in this 1979 announcement of ...
... his candidacy for the 1980 election against Democrat Jimmy Carter.)
Reagan’s 1964 oration, approving Goldwater and defending conservatism, was nationally televised near the end of the campaign. Though Lyndon Johnson soundly defeated Goldwater and Reagan’s name doesn’t even appear in Theodore White’s “The Making of the President 1964,” that one speech proved to be the political springboard for Reagan personally and for the movement he eventually led.
Smiling, jaunty, avuncular, Reagan then and later was always more complicated than he seemed. He was a political man with definite ideas and more than a modicum of ambition.
Indeed, just two years after his 1966 election as California’s governor, he won his state’s ...