The Rise of Ronald Reagan | The Nation


The Rise of Ronald Reagan

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Peculiarly, his tenure as G.E. spokesman overlapped the years in which the great electrical industry price-fixing scandal was going on. While Reagan extolled the virtues of free enterprise in front of the logo, G.E., along with Westinghouse, Allis-Chalmers and other giant corporations, was habitually controlling the market by clandestine price fixing and bid rigging agreements, all of which led, in 1960, to grand jury indictments, in what was characterized by the Justice Department as the largest criminal case ever brought under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Three G.E. executives pleaded guilty and went to jail. The company was fined, and some people to this day think Ralph Cordiner, the chairman of the board, himself narrowly escaped prosecution. Reagan, of course, was totally innocent of all of this; and there is no indication his innocence was ever shaken by the news.

About the Author

E.L. Doctorow
E.L. Doctorow’s All the Time in the World: New and Selected Stories was recently published in paperback.

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Even now, as the Republican candidate for the Presidency, he would probably be shocked if it were suggested to him that today the Horatio Alger hero is a multinational corporation. William Safire quotes him as saying that he doesn't want to use the word "ideology" in his speeches because the American people think it's a "scare word," More likely he doesn't think he should be unfairly tagged with having one. The pictures of him in the newspapers as often as not show him in his prewar pompadour, smiling somewhat quizzically at age 69, as if not quite understanding why others don't perceive the rational, logical, inevitable, but above all descriptive American truth of his politics.

Those journalists who have studied his years as Governor of California find Reagan's record was not all that bad--surprisingly moderate in many areas, and certainly within the normal range of the politics of compromise, the giving and taking between executive and legislative branches that keeps most governments of this country, state as well as Federal, in centrist balance. That may be encouraging to some, but of all his previous job experiences, as sportscaster of invisible ball games, studio actor, Culver City commando, television salesman, the governorship of California probably has least relevance to his Presidential candidacy. His own accounts of what he did in California are charmingly demagogic, as though he is seeking to prove that he was more conservative in office than he is given credit for. Some reports have it that he did not act like a Governor, that he went home at five o'clock in the afternoon and forgot the job until the next morning. He scrupulously kept his private life private--very odd in the American political tradition, where one's spouse, children, parents, sisters and brothers, medical problems and psychological difficulties are all grist for the mill. The impression is that he turned his Governor's persona on and off with a ventriloquial indifference.

The candidate has chosen not to travel abroad in the only available time before the campaign begins in earnest, because he doesn't want to give his opponents the chance to accuse him of trying to acquire instant expertise in his weak department, foreign policy. Always image-conscious, he has not thought, nor, apparently, have his advisers, that by going abroad he might possibly learn something.

In any event, the nomination is his who has pursued it giving pep talks and doing dinners and shaking hands and smiling and raising money and speaking simplistic fantasy for most of his adult life. One could write of the people behind Ronald Reagan, but that is another story. He has beaten the best the Republican primaries have had to offer--Senators and Governors, Cabinet officials, Congressmen--and the party that honored us with Richard Nixon will now offer him. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the next President of the United States.

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