Profile of a Great Persuader: Ronald Reagan

40th President of the United States

1911 – 2001

Ronald Reagan was a persuasive speaker. He had a genuine relationship with his audiences as is shown in his audiences’ responses. Although this chapter emphasises largely the positive aspects of Reagan’s communication style, this positive approach should not be taken as an agreement on the author’s part with his policies but rather as a commentary on the power of persuasive communication. Ronald Reagan set out to persuade his audiences and not just to inform them. In doing this he had to create his credibility, which was something he failed to achieve with a minority of the electorate. However, with the majority of the electorate, and especially the ‘blue collar’ vote, he created a high level of both personal and professional credibility. It was this credibility that made him successful in communicating his message. If Reagan’s credibility had been in doubt by the majority of the electorate, how successful would he have been in communicating his message?


 When Ronald Reagan left the White House, his ratings placed him as one of the most popular presidents in the history of theUnited States. For many, he left office with his reputation intact as a charismatic, charming and successful leader. By the end of his presidency, in 1989, theU.S.was enjoying prosperity. In foreign affairs, he maintained a strong anti-communist policy and declared war on international terrorism. At the same time, he had negotiated an anti nuclear treaty with the Russians. He left office and retired to his home inCaliforniawith one of the highest ratings ever for a retiringU.S.president. But for a minority it was quite the opposite. They saw him as a cunning actor turned politician with little content and little command of detail.

But this case is not about Ronald Reagan’s political fortunes; it is about his communication skills as a charismatic leader with a clear economic, social and political message. It is about the uncertain environment of the pre-Reagan era which provided him with the right situation to offer leadership, his ability to forge and communicate a vision to the electorate, and how he developed the skill to engage people, to persuade them of his message. Finally, it is about how this outsider with a clear vision captured the central prize of the insiders, the presidency of theUnited States.

 An uncertain environment

Crisis or disenchantment is the usual situation in which charismatic leaders emerge.  They often emerge to offer a new anti-establishment way of solving the main problems of the day. They offer an alternative to the uncertainty of the times. The period from the assassination of Jack Kennedy to the arrival of Ronald Reagan was a time of great political and social instability in theUnited States. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Lyndon Johnson refused to stand for a second term due to his inability to find a solution toVietnam, while Vice-president Spiro Agnew and President Nixon were both forced out of office due to corruption scandals. Many cities and campuses all over theUnited Statessuffered from unrest and riots. Then came Ronald Reagan with his clear message which he communicated with an effective emotional style and to which the majority of Americans, as history shows, responded positively.

His message was simple and understandable and appealed not only to conservatives but to many ‘blue collar’ Democrat voters as well. He repeated what he had done at state level inCaliforniain 1968 where he brought together a sizeable Republican and Democratic coalition. His message and personality provided a sense of certainty after decades of chaos.

 He communicated this sense of certainty to an audience uncertain of its future.  His professional credibility lay in what he had done inCaliforniaand his personal credibility lay in that people liked him, and generally thought him trustworthy in a very uncertain world.

 Forging of a vision

Commentators such as Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo coincide in the opinion that authentic charismatic leaders communicate a ‘strong belief’ in their own vision to their audiences.[1] The emphasis here is on the term ‘strong belief’. It is the combination of the strength of their ideas and the passion with which they hold them that can give such leaders that magnetism that makes them charismatic. But the formation of vision takes time to develop.

This strength of belief may appear to contradict the evidence provided in the literature which shows that all successful leaders have always manifested a practical and pragmatic side. But, it should be remembered, the issue is not between one extreme and the other. Charles Handy is quoted as saying that a complete pragmatic person can never be a transactional leader. Being pragmatic and, indeed, practical, if guided by personal integrity, we can become truly transactional leaders.

 From Democrat to Republican

 In 1947, just ten years after graduating from college, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the union of movie actors, the Screen Actors Guild. As president of the Actors Guild, Reagan became embroiled in many political disputes over socialism and communism. Many members of the Actors Guild at that time were Democrats and they saw communism or some form of socialism as a solution to a bankrupt international political system that had seen and endured two world wars and the depression. Reagan came to oppose this view as he saw communism and socialism as un-American, as they advocated the primary role of the government over the individual; in other words, the collective predominating over individual freedom.

 These disputes inHollywoodin the immediate post-war years began to shake his belief in the Democratic Party which he had been brought up in. As he listened to the debates among the movie actors, he moved more and more towards a belief that a centralised government which overpowered freedoms would destroy American inventiveness. He gradually came to support what he considered a more patriotic American stance, built on the principles of the Founding Fathers that people should be free to decide for themselves (after all, that is why so many of them came to the United States in the first place – to get away from autocratic government). He believed this was in the interests of everyone. It was a slow change on Reagan’s part, as he searched for an answer.

This process of change was egged on by his older brother who, although not in active politics, had already switched parties and joined the Republicans. Their parents remained Democrats right to the end. Nevertheless, Reagan campaigned for the Democrat, Harry Truman, in the presidential elections of 1948, but two years later he formally switched parties and supported Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential elections of 1952. Campaigning now as an official Republican, he supported Vice-President Richard Nixon against Jack Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.

 His vision and how it was formed                      

 It was Ronald Reagan’s activities in the Actor’s Guild and his later speech-making activities that forced him to research the ideas of such people as Friedrich Hayek and the liberal minded economists from theChicagoSchoolled by Milton Friedman. He had to respond to those advocating the more ‘collective’ agendas with some degree of credibility. On one side, he took his ideas from such political philosophers as Edmund Burke.  Burke’s ideas on society and the benefits of slow change began to appear in his speeches. This message was also tainted by patriotism, individual responsibility, and a touch of fundamentalist Christianity. So his vision gradually developed into a combination of free market economic views and social conservatism. With each speech he gradually formulated his messages into one vision. Reagan obviously had no intentions of being just another pragmatic politician who happened to speak well.

 Time to step out on his own

It was    during the 1964 presidential campaign in support of Barry Goldwater, the Republican hopeful, that he made his famous ‘A Time for Choosing’ speech.[2]  This speech communicated his vision to the American electorate. A taste of this speech is given below:

“So we have come to a time for choosing. Either we accept the responsibility for our own destiny, or we abandon the American Revolution and confess that an intellectual belief in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves.  You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We can preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we can sentence to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.”[3]

He set out, I believe, to persuade people to accept his neo-conservative message. This is where Reagan’s genius lay, and why many called him “The Great Communicator”. He was able to persuade people to accept this message by speaking to their hearts and then to their minds. He engaged his audiences. He engaged people partly with his attractive baritone voice, his ceremonial speech style, and his immediate likeable character and polite behaviour.  It was through his non-verbal language, the passion with which he communicated his message, his consistency, and his life-style, that he was able to communicate his integrity.

Developing his engaging persuasive style

Ronald Reagan’s communication style, when he came on to the political platform in 1964, suited the situation he found himself in. It was clear, energetic, and, for many people, easy to understand and identify with. It offered an answer in a divided society. However, Reagan was different not only from his opponent, Pat Brown, the incumbent governor of California, but from most of his own party colleagues as well. Here we will see how style must fit the situation and how his early life and professional experience influenced it.[4]

Style must suit the situation

Would Reagan’s style have suited every situation at that time? For example, would Ronald Reagan’s style have suited a parliamentary system of government as existed in most Western European countries? Would Reagan’s style have suited the situation of the White House in the post-war years? These are speculative questions but they open up the question of style fitting the circumstances.

Indeed, if we take the example of Dwight Eisenhower, a former Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces during the Second World War, we can see clearly the importance of ‘situation’ to successful leadership. Eisenhower was the darling of the international press, especially during the final months of the War. His style suited press conferences where questions were submitted days before, and everything was prepared beforehand. General Eisenhower always appeared relaxed and joked with the press corps.

But later, as President Eisenhower, his press conferences were not as comfortable. His style obviously suited situations where everything was prepared, but not situations where questions were taken spontaneously. Reagan’s style suited the political world of the 1980s. His style was personal, engaging and ideological.

Building style: Influence of early years

Reagan inherited his early story telling style from his father, Jack Reagan. Even though Jack Reagan suffered from alcoholism during Ronald Reagan’s teenage years, Jack Reagan was, according to many authors, a charming man. He had a way with words, knew how to treat people well, and had the ability to tell a good story.[5]  

He taught his two sons to judge people as individuals, and not to hold a prejudice against anyone for their race or religion. It was from his father (who was the son of Irish immigrants) that he inherited this strong belief against ethnic and religious bigotry. For example, there is a well-known story told about Jack Reagan when he was out selling around small towns in Illinois. On one particular night, rather than stay in the only hotel in town, which refused to accept Jewish customers, he slept in his car during a winter blizzard. [6]

According to author Stephen Graubard, Ronald Reagan was liked and was noted throughout his life for his politeness. This was something that many people noted about him during his lifetime; he never looked for revenge, never unduly criticised others or fell into bigotry of any kind. For example, he never criticised his father over his alcoholism and the problems he had brought on the family.[7]

On the other hand, it was his mother who introduced him to his religious ideas, from which he developed his identification with the founding fathers, and his notion that the American tradition was founded more on individual freedom and personal responsibility than on state interference.

Building style: Influence of professional career

In looking at the development of Ronald Reagan’s persuasive skills, some mention must be made of his social and professional experiences and how they also were an influence on his ability to communicate his message successfully.

Reagan was never called to the Bar, and nor did he graduate from one of the country’s leading law schools. He graduated in economics from a small local college inIllinois.   He was far from being an insider in any shape or form. In this, he was unlike his later vice president, George Bush Sr., and many other “insiders” who surrounded him. He was from the beginning to the end an “outsider” to theWashingtonestablishment, as his career path demonstrates.  His achievements were earned.

Some five years after leaving college, in 1937, he moved from local broadcasting inIllinoistoCalifornia, where he took a job with a major network as a sports commentator. It was during this period that he took a screen test at Warner Brothers. He certainly wasn’t a great success, although over the next twenty-seven years he appeared in more than fifty films, usually in secondary roles. Why didn’t he succeed in reaching the top inHollywood? Many authors, such as Kenneth Walsh, feel Reagan was not good at being other people, and simply didn’t have that ability to play different characters. He was too much himself forHollywood. His style wasn’t flexible enough.

From early childhood he had developed a particular story-telling communication style along with a pleasing baritone voice. This was probably due to the influence of his father, as we said earlier, whom many have reported to have been an excellent story-teller. This style served him well as a radio sports commentator where audiences were interested in a consistent way of reporting. ButHollywoodstudios had only limited opportunities for one-part characters.

Then an opportunity arose outside acting. It was this new opportunity that effectively began his political life; his gradual move from theHollywoodstudio to the political forum. He was asked to run for the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild. In 1947 he took up his job as president of the union.

Reagan’s apprenticeship in politics

Life is often said to be made up of our knowledge and experience. If one part of Reagan’s vision was developed over the years he spent researching and delivering his own speeches, it was his practical experience as president of the Screen Actors Guild (the actor’s union), that complemented it. Reagan became embroiled in disputes over the issue of communism in the film industry. He found himself face to face with a bunch of pretty smart people on all sides. On the one hand, he had to negotiate with Studio bosses on behalf of the actors, and, on the other hand, he had to face the internal debate in the union which mostly had to do with politics. He became embroiled in many of these disputes and it served as a good political training ground.

Dealing with tough studio bosses brought him into contact with the business side ofHollywood.  And dealing with intelligent, ideologically motivated screen actors brought him into contact with those who favoured socialism, social democracy, and communism. Indeed, it introduced him to the political arena. Kenneth Walsh tells us that Reagan was forced to think out his position regarding the American way of life, socialism and communism and how he saw the future. Walsh also informs us that it was this experience that caused Reagan to shift his political views from the Democrats to a Republican view. As these arguments became fiercer, and more personal, Reagan began to look elsewhere for a job, but where?

Television and the political speaking circuit

Like most people, Reagan’s career and personal life had its ups and downs. His first professional change from his union job in Hollywoodwas to Las Vegas. It was a disaster for him. Then he found a job as a Sunday night T.V. host. According to Graubard, this made him more famous than all his years in Hollywood.[8]

“…his youthful appearance, spontaneous manner, courtly relations, and gentle repartee with his many famous guests made him an appealing personality, familiar to millions of viewers” .

 He also began to accept invitations to speak on behalf of GE at their plants all over the country. In his eight years with GE he spoke at 135 such plants.             

But as his speech-making activities flourished, the political climate changed, with the election of a Democrat to the presidency. A conflict of interests arose for GE in that Reagan’s message was at odds with the line of the new administration (Kennedy’s election). So, rather than abandon or change his message, Reagan came to a mutual decision to part ways with GE in 1962.

Building professional credibility

Reagan’s public speaking career further developed when he joined the professional speech circuit. He became widely known not only inCalifornia, but through much of the country as well, as a popular ‘conservative’ speaker. It was a profitable business, as he earned $10,000 per speech.

During this time Ronald Reagan researched and wrote all his own speeches. Until he officially ran for office, he is said to have given thousands of speeches to groups such as the American Legion, Elks, the Mouse (a family fraternity organized in lodges across the United States) and other such organizations. In 1961, ‘Time Magazine’ described him as a “remarkably active spokesman for conservatism”. 

Developing his non-verbal style over the period

Kenneth Walsh says “As an actor, Reagan had been trained to operate from a script. He preferred to make news under carefully controlled circumstances; mostly in speeches and brief announcements”.[9] “What TV viewers saw”, continues Kenneth Walsh, “was someone in charge and in control, principled and steadfast”[10]. Indeed, he had a self-confidence about him that attracted people.

Kenneth Walsh quotes Michael Deaver, a media strategist working for the White House during Reagan’s first term, as saying, “Unlike Bill Clinton, President Reagan was comfortable with himself … You felt his feet were on the ground and he knew where he was going.[11] Similarly, Bill Pante of CBS reported in Walsh’s book, “Reagan did well because he was comfortable in his own skin to begin with, and utterly certain that what he was saying was right”.

Not everyone thought well of either Reagan or his vision forAmerica. One description I saw spoke of him in the following way:

 “A one-time actor, he became a passionate ideologue who preached a simple gospel of optimism, lower taxes, less government, and anti-communism. Often underestimated, his success in office surprised many.”  [12]

The academic and writer, Stephen Graubard, suggests this idea that Reagan’s superb acting skills and a very simple message won him his political success, but others differ in their appraisal. Others doubted whether his vision could be implemented.

An opportunity to implement his vision

For leaders with a clear vision of where they want to go, there is always a doubt about their ability to implement this vision. It is especially a problem for ‘outsiders’.  Two years after the Goldwater speech in 1966, Reagan had his opportunity to prove his credibility. He was invited to run against the incumbent Governor of California, Pat Brown, as the Republican candidate.

Pat Brown was a very popular governor, but many had become uneasy about both the economic situation inCaliforniaand the social unrest of the mid sixties. It was the epoch of student rebellion and of race riots which affected not onlyBerkeleyandLos Angeles, but many other Californian cities as well.

The interesting aspect of this election was that Reagan won mainly because of his appeal to the ‘blue collar’ workers. It was the Democratic vote that put him intoSacramento. They bought into his neo-conservative vision. They found his message credible and his personality attractive. This was greatly helped by the situation: the grave socio-economic crisis facingCalifornia. It provided Reagan with the opportunity to show his ability to implement.

Reagan managed to balance the budget within a year. He brought the National Guard in to confront the rioters and to control the campus protests. It was a baptism of fire and the majority of voters, especially the ‘blue collar’ Democrat voters, supported him. It gave him the opportunity to put his social and economic ideas into force. He served as Governor of California for two terms. In1975 he decided not to run for a third term.

The reason in retrospect was clear. Just two years after becoming Governor in 1968, Reagan’s higher ambitions had emerged when he had entered his name at the Republican National Convention against Richard Nixon. Nixon had made a comeback from his disastrous bid for the governorship ofCaliforniain 1962 to regain the support of his party.

Reagan’s bid for the White House

So it wasn’t surprising that in 1976, just one year after leavingSacramento, he entered the race against incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, for the Republican Party’s nomination. Ford won the nomination, but only just. Ford then went on to lose the presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

However, Reagan easily won the Republican nomination for the 1980 election four year later to run against the incumbent President, Jimmy Carter. In his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention he told them:

“Can you look at the record of this administration and say, ‘Well done’? Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Carter administration took office with where we are today and say, ‘Keep up the good work’? Can you look at our reduced standing in the world today and say, ‘Let’s have four more years of this?”[13]

Reagan hammered Carter’s record again and again both before the convention delegates and on T.V. Reagan’s neo-conservative message was easily understandable by the majority of people and with Carter’s failure to impress, he  repeated what he had done in California in 1967. He won by a landslide majority with huge ‘blue collar’ support.Middle America had made him president.

Self confidence, engagement and wit

Where did Reagan’s self-confidence come from? It came from his belief that all men are equal, his belief in his own message, and from his positive outlook on the world.

Reagan always saw himself as equal to others. Equality and respect for others were noted aspects of the legacy he received from his parents. He was polite and gentle and even his retractors would agree with this. Also he learnt that the world was a place of opportunities. He sought his opportunities and in so doing so he used his ability not just to talk to people but to engage them.  

In his formal speeches, this tendency to engage his audiences, which is essential to persuasion, is clearly to be seen, especially in the way he used his baritone voice and body language. We hear and feel his natural friendliness and warmth and we find his text (content) geared to his audience’s need. His audiences were important to him. This personal approach is shown in hisBerlinspeech made during his tour ofEuropein 1986:

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakeable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberation: come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”[14]

If we look at the ‘Challenger’ speech, we see it all. His message of sympathy goes out to the families and children ofAmerica, but his message also includes the will to continue the space mission. This speech only took some minutes to deliver and has about 640 words but it was a tremendous success. It followed a clear simple structure and he used his naturalness as if to engage us in a conversation.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

Reagan concluded his speech with a quote from a young unknown poet, John Magee, which lifts the speech onto a higher plane.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, or the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”.[15]

His ‘Normandy’ speech is another excellent example of personal engagement. Here there was no oratory, but a conversation between his immediate audience and himself.

Regarding his natural wit, all of the commentators reviewed for this chapter support the view that he possessed a tremendous natural wit. In March 1981, for example, he was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt. He told his wife on waking up in hospital, “Nancy, honey, I forgot to duck”. When they were wheeling him into the operation theatre for surgery, he said to the doctors, “Please tell me you are Republicans”[16]. Even in these tense moments of an assassination attempt, his excellent communication habits were at play. They were as much part of him as the habit of walking is to most of us.

When Reagan spoke, people knew where they stood with him, whether they agreed with him or not. George Bush senior called it “the vision thing”. He communicated pictures or a vision with words and feelings. He was able to communicate to the heart first and then to the mind. So why were so many people critical of him, especially those inEurope?

The test of his personal commitment

Bob Woodward in his book, “Shadow”, tells us that in 1974 the Supreme Court of the United States ordered President Nixon to hand over 64 White House tape recordings to the special prosecutor. Woodward went on to tell us that “Two of these tapes, once released, were going to undermine Nixon and show he ordered the Watergate cover-up” [17] The rest, of course, is now history, and the Special Prosecutor recommended the President’s impeachment.

 A Special Prosecutor was also nominated in the early days of the Carter administration to look into alleged misconduct by senior government officials. Allegations had been made againstHamiltonJordanby some unsavoury characters. They had to be investigated, but nothing came of it.

Later, in Ronald Reagan’s second term, a Special Prosecutor, Howard Baker, was nominated to look into what is now known as the Iran-Contra affair. It was a case that could easily have left the Reagan presidency in a shambles, as impeachment loomed on the horizon. However, Reagan survived it with credit.

The Iran-Contra investigation concerned the sales of the arms (arms-for-hostages deal) toIran. Here Bob Woodward quotes President Reagan’s justification,

“You know, if your kids were kidnapped you would pay somebody to help you get your kids back, not the kidnappers, but you’d hire somebody to go help you get them back.” [18]

Reagan insisted that he never dealt with the kidnappers but with pro-Western Iranians who offered to help. For writers like Woodward, “It was clear and simple in the President’s mind”. The special prosecutor believed Reagan’s story that he believed he wasn’t dealing with the Iranian government. The second issue concerned whether Reagan knew and approved of the profits from this arms deal with the Iranians being sent to the Contras inNicaragua. Reagan insisted, as he had done from the beginning, that he had not known about the diversion of funds. Again, the special prosecutor concurred with Reagan’s explanation.

In each of these two cases, Ronald Reagan’s sincerity was accepted, although for many people, it was logical that he must have known about the activities of such people as William Casey, the head of the C.I.A., Admiral John Poindexter, national security advisor, and Lt. Colonel Oliver North, the operations officer for theIraninitiative. After all, Shultz, according to Woodward, spent a lot of time warning the president about all of the pitfalls.

The issue for us is that the special prosecutors searched for evidence that Reagan was involved in discussions and that he eventually authorized the initiative. They found none. They also found Reagan believable when he said that he could not remember any authorization or discussion on the issue. As far as Reagan was concerned, he did not authorise this operation. The decision to believe the President was not just based on facts alone, but on the feeling that Reagan was telling the truth. Reagan communicated sincerity and honesty. The special prosecutor, speaking the language of ‘meaning’, as we would expect, accepted Reagan’s sincerity and honesty when he replied that ‘he could not remember’.  The Reagan presidency was saved by his credibility.


In Ronald Reagan’s case, his communication style was a style that developed naturally as a child and later as an adult as he went through life. He learnt to see and feel what he wanted to say. This, it must be stressed, is the key to understanding Reagan’s style. He also learnt at an early age how to be a good story teller and create the right emotional environment while telling the story.  The combination of these skills along with an open character and his baritone voice gave him a trustworthiness which was the underlying feature of what went to make Ronald Reagan.  Stephen Graubard writes,

More than any other president in the twentieth century, he used stories – narratives he mastered – to bring himself closer to ordinary men and women. He was equally at home on television and radio; the country believed him to be just an ordinary American … [19]  

He communicated in a different style from John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill or Charles De Gaulle. These speakers communicated with an oratorical style, while Reagan spoke in a persuasive engaging and personal way.  Reagan’s style was more prosaic and more pragmatic than Kennedy’s visionary style, for example. This difference can be seen clearly by comparing theirBerlinspeeches.

Many have called him ‘The Great Communicator’ but perhaps it would be more accurate for posterity to describe him as ‘The Great Persuader’.


1. Reagan entered an uncertain political environment.

2. He developed a clear vision based on the study of liberal economics and social conservatism and his messages consistently reflected this.  From this he gained part of his professional credibility.

3. The situation was right for this message and style.

4. Reagan possessed personal credibility based on his sensitivity to others (he never spoke badly of people, for example).

5. He demonstrated his ability to implement his vision as Governor of California.

6. He mastered the ability to communicate to his audiences through many years of practice.


How good are we at engaging the hearts and minds of our audiences? Ronald Reagan was a conviction speaker with a clear message which he thoroughly believed in. Do we communicate in such a manner that our audience perceive us as sincere?  Do we communicate likeability as Reagan did? Are we better at motivating people or inspiring them to do something, as Kennedy or Churchill did so well? Or do we find both of these exercises difficult?


  1. How much of a part do you think that upbringing and luck has to play in our communication successes and failures?
  2. Reagan had a air of self confidence, what was this based on?
  3. Ronald Reagan managed to gain the confidence of many people over the years. How did he build such personal and professional credibility?


  1. Conger, Jay & Kanungo, Rabindra
  2. Graubard, Stephen, The Presidents, Penguin Book, 2004
  3. The American Presidency, Ronald Reagan,


  1. Longley, Clifford, Chosen People: Anglo-American Myth & Reality, Hodder &Stoughton, 2002
  2. Reagan, Ronald, The Challenger Speech,


  1. Woodward, Bob, Shadow: Five Presidents and the legacy of Watergate, Touchstone, 2000

Appendix 1

Reagan’s religious influence

 Like Lyndon B. Johnson and David Lloyd-George, the British Prime-Minister, Ronald Reagan, attended theChurchofGodwhen young. This was a small Baptist congregation (sometimes called the Disciples of Christ or Campbellites). The church held that a mixture of character training and the Bible were the essence of Christianity. It was a puritan church that stressed a mixture of individualism, patriotism and personal responsibility.  It was a church that stressed individual responsibility. Perhaps it was here that he developed his idealism aboutAmerica, individual responsibility, and the divine plan.

 One example of this influence can be found in his references to Americaas the “The Shining City on the Hill”.  “In a sense,” according to the British writer and broadcaster, Clifford Longley, “this is a double typology: borrowing from Winthrop, who was in turn borrowing it from the New Testament. Or even a triple: the words referred to in Matthew are themselves typological: for the hearers would have understood instantly that he was alluding to Mount Zion, the hill on which the city of Jerusalem was founded by King David”. [20]

 Americaas the shining city on the hill for Reagan was no mere metaphor. It was a metaphor with a message – it says what is, but also says what ought to be. During his last days at the White House Clifford Longley reports him as saying:

 “The past few days when I’ve been at the window upstairs, I thought a bit of the ‘shining city on the hill’. The phrase comes from John Winthrop who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we call a little wooden boat; and like other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I have spoken of the shining city all my political life and I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. …”. [21]

 Another of Reagan’s favourite images was that of George Washington praying at Valley Forge, which he called “the most sublime image in American history” [22]. Washington kneeling in the snow, he said in a radio address in 1983, “personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and their Preserver.” “Americans”, Reagan once said, “must seek Divine guidance in the policies of their government and the promulgation of their laws.”[23]

 The American historian Joseph Koterski is quoted by Clifford Longley as writing “It is well to remember that Jefferson and many of his colleagues including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Paine were all Deists, not Christian.”  Reagan, Koterski tells us, “wrongly saw them all them all in same basket”[24]. Clifford Longley tells us, thatWashington, in his view, was more in the deist tradition than in the puritan one of the early settlers which John Winthrop was part of. Did Reagan purposely mix up these two traditions? Or was it part of his glorification of the founding fathers that he saw the two traditions as one?

A Selection of Interesting Quotes


  • “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
  • Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.
  • “Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.”
  • History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.
  • Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not to run their lives.
  • I have wondered at time what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.
  • No matter what time it is, wake me, even if it is in the middle of a Cabinet meeting.
  • Politics I supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
  • Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.
  • The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
  • Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his work.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.
  • “If it is true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?”
  • I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.
  • But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.


[1] Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo, p.159



[4] Stephen Graubard, p 477


[6] Jack Reagan,


[8] Graubald, p 550

[9] Walsh, p 39

[10] Ibid, p 45

[11] Ibid, p 40

[12] Ibid, p 50

[13] Graubard, p 556

[14] Graubard, p 584


[16] Walsh, p. 70

[17] Woodword, p. 90

[18] Ibid, p95

[19] Graubard, p.587

[20] Clifford Longley, p. 88

[21] Ibid, p. 96

[22] Ibid, p. 143

[23] Longley, p.133

[24] Ibid, p.142