Politics & Policy

Reagan, Unplugged

The Reagan of my youth.

Whenever people ask me how I came to the free-market movement, it’s easy and joyous to reply.

In the late 1970s I was a frightened teenager. President Carter’s malaise, the energy crisis, the rise of Khomeini and the fall of Somoza were among the many things that scared me. I sincerely believed that it was just a matter of time before America would face hostile troops in the People’s Republic of Mexico.

About then, I began hearing a confident voice on the radio. As I got dressed each weekday morning to go to Paul Revere Junior High School in Los Angeles, KABC AM broadcast a daily commentary by Ronald Reagan. The former California governor addressed a wide range of themes: the folly of unlimited government at home, the dangers of Communism abroad and the importance of having decent virtues within.

“The man makes a lot of sense,” I remember thinking after a few weeks.

I contacted Deaver & Hannaford, Mike Deaver’s and Pete Hannaford’s agency that handled much of Reagan’s public relations from a skyscraper in Westwood. The firm kindly sent me scripts of the radio commentaries, complete with Ronald Reagan’s smiling photo emblazoned across the top.

In October 1979, I volunteered for the Reagan for President campaign, about a month before his formal announcement. I went on to the 1980 GOP Convention, stood just yards from Nancy and Ronald Reagan at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles when he was elected president that November and watched in person as he was inaugurated the following January 20. I was barely a 10th grader and had entered the movement I proudly call home today.

The Free Press today will publish Reagan, In His Own Hand, a compilation of many of these radio scripts as well as other works by America’s 40th president. The 549-page text was edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and longtime Reagan aide Martin Anderson of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

This book is composed of manuscripts Reagan wrote, literally, in his own hand. It will come as a crashing disappointment to Reagan’s detractors who have claimed for four decades that he was merely a handsome actor who artfully delivered his lines. This “amiable dunce,” as Clark Clifford once dismissed him, actually wrote many of those lines.

And he wrote them well. At a time when politicians cannot even pick out their shirts without consulting their advisors, Reagan’s rhetoric is as crisp and bracing as witch hazel on a freshly-shaved chin.

“Communism,” he wrote in May 1975, “is neither an ec[onomic] or a pol[itical] system — it is a form of insanity — a temporary aberration which will one day disappear from the earth because it is contrary to human nature. I wonder how much more misery it will cause before it disappears.”

For an April 16, 1979 broadcast, he wrote: “Regulations are like spores of a fungus — they settle anywhere & everywhere and create more spores.”

And here’s this from March 13, 1978: “Gifts to public office holders have become a pol[itical] no-no associated with chicanery & wrongdoing.”

Reagan writes about air pollution, day care centers and even the Fisheries Conservation & Management Act of 1977 with incredible clarity, humor, and the support of facts, figures and expert opinions. It’s also noteworthy that the numerous manuscripts reproduced in cursive in the book (all are presented, of course, in readable type) show little to moderate editing. Most of Reagan’s words poured from his mind, through his pen, and — more or less untouched — reached listeners by way of his voice.

The book also contains non-radio-related items including several of Reagan’s presidential addresses that he largely composed despite his access to one of the best speech writing teams that ever worked in the White House.

A 30-year-old statement by then-governor Reagan comes across as timely advice now that a new Republican president has settled into office. Reagan lamented to members of Young Americans for Freedom on September 5, 1971 that people who shared their ideas had allowed Richard Nixon to drift to the left.

“We who think of ourselves as Conservatives have sat back critically observing, but doing no pressuring in behalf of our own views,” Reagan wrote. “Be critical, be vocal and forceful in urging your views on the Pres. He needs that input to counter the constant pressure from the opposite side; he needs the arguments you can provide. In all of this, we have fallen short.”

I recall driving through California’s San Joaquin Valley late one summer evening with Richard Miniter, a fellow libertarian who now works on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal Europe. Somewhere in the depths of the 1991 recession, we had nothing better to do than visit a friend in San Francisco. While playing a mixed music tape around 2:00 a.m., the song to which we were listening abruptly stopped. Suddenly, Ronald Reagan’s voice filled the car speakers, discussing national security as I recall. Somehow, I accidentally taped one of Reagan’s radio commentaries over some rock tune or another. Even after he had been out of office for three years, there were few sounds as comforting or reassuring on a pitch-black night as the voice of the man whose 90th birthday America celebrates today.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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