Chapter 7 – The Revolution Begins: The 1980 Election Campaign and the Reagan Coalition

Army and Actors Guild—1941–1948. As a lieutenant of the U.S. Army’s Special Services organization during the Second World War from 1941 to 1945, Reagan acted in over four hundred educational training films in support of America’s global war against the extremist ideologies and imperialistic aggression of National Socialist Germany and Imperial Japan. His work led him to understand the totalitarians’ histories and the required U.S. moral and strategic responses exceptionally well. After the war, Reagan was elected president of Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild in March 1947 and was subsequently reelected to five more consecutive one-year terms. As a union leader, he experienced the importance of America’s free and independent labor unions, legally protected worker rights, corporate perspectives, and labor-corporate negotiations that led to mutually satisfactory outcomes. He also directly encountered examples of extensive Communist Party subversive efforts that sought to gain control not only of the union he led, but other American unions and institutions, including the Hollywood film industry. In October 1948 he testified on these issues before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities.

Reagan Becomes a Republican—1952 to 1962. Reagan’s political affiliation shifted gradually from support of the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. In the 1948 elections he supported the incumbent Democratic president Harry Truman, but in 1950, though still a Democrat, he supported the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, for the U.S. Senate against a far-left Democrat. In 1952, still a Democrat, he supported the Republican presidential candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, and did so again in 1956. In the fall of 1962 Reagan officially changed his party registration to Republican. His encounters with Communist subversion in the United States and outright Soviet aggression abroad, and his concern about the U.S. government’s increasing bureaucratic regulation and control of private life and business, led him from being a “New Deal” Roosevelt Democrat to a “Lincoln Republican” in the Republican Party. As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s, Reagan sought a responsible U.S. international path combining idealism and realism—rejecting both the “moral equivalence” and even positive views toward the Soviet Union on the part of the American Left and the shoulder shrugs of isolationists in the Republican ranks. He was clearly working his way toward policies of peace through strength in meeting U.S. Constitutional imperatives “to provide for the common defense” and “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Public Speaker—1950s to mid-1960s. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Reagan increasingly spoke as a national lecturer and columnist, addressing threats to America’s democratic political system and free-enterprise economic basis under attack at home from “big-government” powers and elites, and abroad from the totalitarian Soviet regime. He knew the long historical record of the regime based on a political, economic, social, and cultural monopoly of power by a Communist Party that was aggressively spreading Communist ideology and influence abroad. From 1954 to 1962, Reagan was a speaker for the General Electric Company, and met with thousands of its workers throughout the nation. Delivered from notes, Reagan’s “The Speech,” as it became known, witnessed to the power of the American freedom idea and purpose, and a forward path focused on the positive strengths of political democracy, civil society, and free enterprise as compared to Soviet totalitarian collectivism that controlled all aspects of life through an absolutist, ever more intrusive bureaucratic state. Like America’s founders, Reagan affirmed God-given inalienable rights for its individual citizens that no government could take away, but that could instead be peacefully expanded, as in the areas of civil rights including race. His philosophy of government was one whose size and power must be determined by the consent of the governed, a Constitution and law, and the separation of powers, including those constitutionally held by the states and the people at large.

Reagan as a Republican and Governor of California: 1967–1975. In the spring of 1962 Reagan ended his General Electric lecture tour and that fall, as noted above, changed his party registration to Republican. His nationally televised Address to Republican Meeting on October 27, 1964—also known as his “Time for Choosing” speech—endorsed the conservative Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater and launched Reagan’s political career. From his position as a well-known public speaker, Reagan ran for and was twice elected to serve as governor of the state of California from January 1967 to January 1975. In 1966 he defeated the popular incumbent Democratic Party governor, Edmund “Pat” Brown, in a landslide and in 1970 he defeated Jesse Unruh, the Democratic Speaker of the California State Assembly. With thirty million people, California was an innovative and prosperous magnet that drew millions who sought to live the American Dream. If ranked as a country, it would have been among the more populous and its economy would have been the sixth largest in the world.

[Book pg. 151]