Was Reagan really as dumb, sleepy and oblivious as he seemed?
I recently read Ian Halperin's book The Governator: From Muscle Beach to his Quest for the White House, the Improbable Rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It contained an excellently concise overview of Ronald Reagan's progression from actor to politician. I'm sure people on the right would dispute this account, as the man's been lionized by conservatives since his death (they strangely ignore the multiple tax increases and massive swelling of the US's national debt under his watch). So I'll read a full biography on him and see if a more extensive look agrees with this summary, but in the meantime, here, in short, is the story of how a dopey, undistinguished actor became the most powerful man on the planet, and why.
-1962 - a small cable of wealthy California businessmen hears B-list actor Reagan mention that he's a Republican - something as unusual in Hollywood then as it is today.
-The cabal, led by a used car salesman named Holmes Tuttle, approaches Reagan asking if he'd be interested in running for state senate to take over the seat of a retiring Republican. He declines, preferring the higher wages of movie acting.
-1963 - a public relations man from New Jersey founds the United Republicans of California (UCO), dedicated to establishing a far-right ideology in the US.
-1964 - Reagan gives a nationally televised speech at the republican convention endorsing far right candidate Barry Goldwater, who ends up squaring off against LBJ that November.
-this speech makes Reagan the right wing's golden boy, anxious as they are to take the Republican party back after the moderate policies of Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller.
-1966 - the UCO promotes Reagan as candidate for the governor's race against liberal Pat Brown. Brown runs a negative campaign highlighting Reagan's lack of qualifications. Reagan runs a genial campaign, full of optimism and cliches.
-Reagan's the surprise winner, and by a landslide.
-The businessmen who elected Reagan know he's easy to control and he proceeds to do their bidding, instituting free-market friendly policies, making his masters millions and millions.
-Reagan cuts government spending, taunts anti-war activists, cuts social programs and undoes the state's public university system, regarded as the jewel of the nation.
-Reagan's cabal already knew what his aides soon learn: he isn't very bright. He spends most of his time watching movies in the governor's mansion while businessmen run the state without his involvement or interest.
-Years later, Margaret Thatcher, his close friend and ideological ally, says "Poor dear. There's nothing between his ears."
-1980 - many of the same members of that same cabal get Reagan to run for president. He wins. These men continue to use Reagan as their willing marionette. They become known as the "kitchen cabinet."
-Under Reagan's two presidencies more conservative ideology and free-market policies are implemented, benefitting Reagan's businessmen/puppeteers beyond their wildest expectations.