Skip to comments.How Did Ronald Reagan Become a Conservative?
Posted on 01/22/2007 9:49:21 AM PST by presidio9
In 1965 the political satirist Tom Lehrer recorded a live concert album featuring musical numbers lampooning the leading public figures of the day. One of the records best songs, George Murphy, took Californians to task for electing a prominent song-and-dance man to the U.S. Senate. The song opened, Hollywoods often tried to mix/ Show-business, with politics/ From Helen Gahagan/ To, Ronald Reagan? At which point the audience breaks into laughter. Of course, Ronald Reagan had the last laugh. The very next year he crushed Gov. Edmund Pat Brown in Californias gubernatorial election.
As Thomas W. Evans reminds readers in his new book, The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism (Columbia University Press, 302 pages, $29.50), by the eve of his first bid for elective office, Reagan was already an accomplished political figure. Rather than ask how a B-grade actor could possibly become governor of Americas largest state, we should wonder how (and why) Reagan made the long march from New Deal liberalism to Barry Goldwater conservatism. The answer, Evans suggests, lies with Reagans eight-year stint, from 1954 to 1962, as a company spokesman for General Electric and, particularly, his political cultivation by Lemuel Boulware, GEs vice president of employee, public, and community relations.
Its widely known that Reagan began his career as a liberal, but its still jarring to see just how liberal he was. As president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s he walked in step with other AFL and CIO officials in opposing the Taft-Hartley Act and right-to-work laws. In 1948 he played a leading role in labors drive to secure a victory for President Harry Truman in California, and that year he also supported Hubert Humphrey, the liberal mayor of Minneapolis and a great civil rights champion, in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate. In 1950 he even backed Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas (with whom he would later be lumped in Tom Lehrers song), the left-wing actress turned congresswoman, in her unsuccessful Senate campaign against Richard Nixon. There was little sign in those days of the man who would become the lion of modern conservatism. Nor was there any sign of the man who would later break the air traffic controllers union, open his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi (the site of the triple murder of three civil rights activists in 1964), and support Richard Nixon in national and statewide elections.
While the standard narrative about Reagans political conversion focuses on his clash with Communist union infiltrators in the 1940s and 1950s and his relationship with the family of his second wife, Nancy Davis, a prominent Republican clan, Evans points instead to Reagans relationship with Boulware, a leading business conservative who oversaw a vast operation aimed at convincing GEs employees that the company, not the union, had their best interests at heart. Though Evanss book relies on fresh sources from the GE archives and examines a period in Reagans life that most biographers gloss over, at times it reads less like a study of Reagan than a biography of Boulware.
Without endorsing Boulwarism, but without offering much criticism of it either, Evans recounts GEs extensive use of employee publications, its efforts to influence the local press in cities that were home to GE plants, its system of book clubs for employees and their spouses (where the reading list invariably featured watered-down works by conservative economists and theorists), and its popular Sunday night television show, General Electric Theater, hosted by Reagan, all of which helped bolster the companys standing with its workers and the general public, to the detriment of organized labor. By the early 1950s, with his movie career in a steep decline (his later features include such unmemorable films as Law and Order and Castle Queen of Montana, and he no longer enjoyed top billing), Reagan was ready to eagerly accept Boulwares invitation to host GEs TV show and tour its plants on behalf of management. In part, he needed the moneya considerable $125,000 a year, later raised to $150,000. The former union president became a company spokesman.
In his presentation of Boulware, Evans tends to overstate his case. Though he tries to paint the man as a management innovator, in fact there was little new about GEs softer brand of union-busting. From Henry Ford onward, business executives had employed various forms of corporate welfare to buy the affections of their workers. What was new about Boulware was that he didnt voice any intrinsic hostility to organized labor (We believe in the union idea, he told a business audience. . . . We think some among even the best of employers might occasionally fall into short-sighted or careless employee practices if it were not for the presence or direct threat of unions.) Instead he, and eventually Reagan, used the language of free markets and negative liberty to argue against high taxes, social spending, and other shibboleths of the nations powerful industrial unions.
Reagan was a popular draw among GE employees, though more than a few were unimpressed. How much are they paying you for this shit? asked one skeptic during a routine plant visit. In 1959, while still the GE spokesman, he became once again the head of the Screen Actors Guild, and he proved a tough negotiator with the studios even as he warned GE workers against the perils of their own union. At the same time he perfected what later became known simply as the Speech. Delivered in 1964 to raise money for Barry Goldwater, the Speech signaled Reagans complete conversion from New Deal stalwart to New Right crusader. In 1962 he had switched his party registration, but it hardly mattered. He hadnt supported a Democratic presidential candidate since 1948.
In the final analysis, Evanss book leaves Reagan as elusive as ever. He was a prodigious writer, but as his aide David Gergen once noted, he tended to spend agonizing amounts of time committing his speeches and policy memorandums to memory. He simply couldnt shake the actors calling. All of which makes Evanss argument a matter of speculation. No matter how well he documents Reagans rhetorical and philosophical shift, its never clear whothe spokesman or his patronswas writing the speech.
This is how to run a cultural campaign. Brilliant:
"Without endorsing Boulwarism, but without offering much criticism of it either, Evans recounts GEs extensive use of employee publications, its efforts to influence the local press in cities that were home to GE plants, its system of book clubs for employees and their spouses (where the reading list invariably featured watered-down works by conservative economists and theorists), and its popular Sunday night television show, General Electric Theater, hosted by Reagan, all of which helped bolster the companys standing with its workers and the general public, to the detriment of organized labor."
I think you guys would enjoy this article
So nice of you to think of me. Other wise I might have mised it ;)
OH NO Problem I didn't know it was NANCY that got him into to be Republican I didn't know that
For the record my mom vote for George Murphy she consider likeable guy he was song and dance man hey some song and dance man are good business men Gene Kelly he own rights all his stuff that tell you something
Come think of it hey I wonder what political satist think of now if we elect Austria bodybuilder as Governor ROFL
Reagan went from a liberal Democrat, supporting FDR in the 1930`s and later Truman in 1948. To voting for Eisenhower in 52&56, Nixon in 60 and Goldwater in 64. The GE years were definitely an eye opener for Reagan. Just about his entire acting career, Reagan paid 90% of his earnings to the Federal government. 20 years of that in your face social liberalism changed Reagan's entire persceptive on life. Made him a staunch fiscal conservative in the 1950`s, and later by the 1970`s a preety strict social conservative.
I was being a wise-ass, because I posted the article, but my take was that it was Lemuel Boulware, not Nancy Davis.
I think Ronnie son Michael Reagan mention that long time ago
The most formidable conservatives are former liberals who've seen the light.
It's not just philosophy, but on-the-job experience in seeing liberals at work - and inner honesty in admitting to the self that the path formerly followed, even if popular, is the wrong one.
The majority of liberals are incapable of this - and even if realizing inwardly their error, they continue down the path of liberalism in vanity and with not infrequent self-loathing which they vent on conservatives, especially former liberals.
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