08/03/05 - early reagan

In today's excerpt  - the evolution of Ronald Reagan, from anti-big business to anti-big government. Reagan, who had theretofore been a Hollywood actor, has been hired by General Electric—even then a corporate behemoth—to be their corporate spokesperson:

"Employing Reagan as a 'corporate ambassador' was the brainchild of the visionary president of General Electric, Ralph J. Cordiner, who had pioneered in decentralizing his vast company and in promoting the role of GE as 'corporate citizen.' ...

"Once GE found that Reagan could speak, the company wouldn't let him stop. By Reagan's account, he gave as many as fourteen speeches a day and spent a total of two years of the eight he was under contract to General Electric on the road, visiting every one of the company's plants and meeting all of its 250,000 employees. Since he was afraid to fly, Reagan's contract specified that his travel would be by train. ...

"Reagan had 'Middle America' inside of him long before he heard of General Electric, but the tours were nonetheless a useful political training ground. Langley recalled that after one tour Reagan said to him: 'When I went on those tours and shook hands with all of those people, I began to see that they were very different people than the people Hollywood was talking about. I was seeing the same people that I grew up with in Dixon, Illinois. I realized I was living in a tinsel factory. And this exposure brought me back.

"On tour, Reagan learned the economics of campaigning: how to conserve his voice and how to fill his martini glass with water until the last reception of the day. He made mental notes about which jokes succeeded and which statistics served to make his points. Many of the questions asked him by his corporate or service club audiences focused on government excesses. In responding to these questions, Reagan gradually became more critical of government. No one told him to do this, but Reagan paid attention to his audiences. Reagan was already a company man when he began his GE tours, but he was still a nominal Democrat who had been raised to be suspicious of Big Business. Over time, on tour for General Electric, these suspicions diminished and were replaced by distrust for Big Government."


Lou Cannon


Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power


Public Affairs Press


Copyright 2003 by Lou Cannon


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