GE and Reagan

by Steven F. Hayward

General Electric is right to celebrate their connection with Ronald Reagan, as they are doing with a splashy ad campaign. It was during Reagan’s years traveling the nation for GE in the 1950s that he developed his political views, and much of his rhetorical skill, as is recounted well in Thomas Evans’s book, The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism.  (I reviewed Evans’s book along with several others for the Claremont Review of Books when it appeared.)

But there is a gauzy aspect to GE’s recent embrace that obscures some facts we shouldn’t forget. GE dropped Reagan as the host of GE Theater in 1962, the year Reagan formally joined the Republican party, and coincidentally when GE was facing prospective antitrust action from the Kennedy administration. It has always been denied (including by Reagan) that politics had anything to do with it, but one wonders.

According to Federal Election Commission records, in 1980 GE’s political action committee gave $2,000 to the Reagan campaign, but gave Carter’s campaign . . . $3,000.

And in 1982 GE was very unhappy with Reagan when Reagan’s sanctions against the Soviet natural-gas pipeline to western Europe, imposed briefly after martial law was declared in Poland, threatened $175 million in GE equipment sales for the project.

Above all one wishes that GE today were less of a rent-seeking company jumping on the “green energy” bandwagon for government mandates that help them sell otherwise uncompetitive products such as windmills. Reagan wouldn’t have thought that was bringing good things to life.

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