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Ronald Reagan, "Reagan" By Lou Cannon

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Cannon, Lou. Reagan. New York: Putnam, 1982.

Lou Cannon has covered Ronald Reagan for thirty-six years, first as a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, later as the White House correspondent for the Washington Post. He began with covering Reagan's first campaign for governor of California in 1966 and continued until Reagan's recent death in 2004. His other books on Reagan include Ronnie and Jesse: A Political Odyssey, Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power, and several others.

After following and working closely with Reagan, Cannon forms an obvious relationship and opinion of him. Cannon admits that he "like(s) and respect(s) Ronald Reagan while remaining skeptical that his actions will achieve the results he intends," (Cannon, 1981, 15). Cannon writes that he was at first skeptical of Reagan's abilities to perform as president; specifically with foreign policy and his economic theories. However, Cannon argues that Reagan's presidency may mirror his governorship, "he started ineptly but soon evolved into a competent governor who was willing to sacrifice ideology for political achievement," (Cannon, 1981, 15). Because this book was written during Regan's first year as president, Cannon is unable to record complete evidence to support his own theory, although he accomplishes this in his following books about President Reagan. Cannon, an obvious conservative supporter of Reagan, includes criticisms and shortcomings of Reagan as well as praise. Cannon does not let his personal relationship skew his writings and has thus become known as Reagan's definitive biographer.

Cannon's mission to provide an in depth biography of the nation's fortieth president and his ability to lead, begins by tracing Reagan's origins, his hopes and dreams, fears, achievements and failures. Cannon provides the reader with insight to Reagan's childhood and adolescent years and attempts to explain the beginnings of Reagan's motivations, optimism and determination. Cannon argues that much of Reagan's optimism, determination and political motivation spur from living through the Depression. Reagan sees the Depression as a national tragedy, not a personal one, and forever becomes enthralled with President Roosevelt's ability to renew self confidence and courage in the American people during the national crisis. Reagan works through college to able to attend and while at Eureka College, Reagan has his first personal taste of both politics and acting.

As a young man, Reagan is cast as a 'B -list actor', goes through a public marriage and divorce, and serves on active duty in WWII. Cannon uses these experiences as evidence in Reagan's development as a driven individual. Cannon demonstrates Reagan's drive and political prowess in an example involving Reagan as the Screen Actors Guild President where he famously attempts to eliminate Communist's involvement in film. Reagan testifies against communists controlling the film industry and comes across sensible and restrained; an advantage Cannon believes Reagan uses throughout his life.

Cannon stresses that Reagan's governorship performance, and run for the nomination in 1968 serve as preparation for what is to come. Reagan's ability to "turn on the charm" (Cannon, 1981, 152), is perfected during his governorship and his losses in the presidential campaign of 1968, "helped prepare him for the victories which lay ahead," (Cannon, 1981, 165). During these two influential times of his life, Reagan forms relationships and networks that he falls back on eight years later.

As president, Cannon shares that Reagan has no intentions of being an overburdened president. Reagan pushes back the entire daily schedule so that he was able to sleep in. Reagan is not one to pay attention to details and chooses to delegate jobs and supervise. Cannon shows the president as having "an innocence about him," and "not taking himself seriously" (Cannon, 1981, 305). Cannon describes these attributes as those suitable for a president in order to maintain his psychological balance. Cannon portrays the president as humble, unchanged by becoming president; Ronald Reagan always can "remember where he came from," (Cannon, 1981, 306), which, in Cannon's examples, could work both in his favor and against.

Cannon's argument that Reagan is well suited to be president is marred by Cannon's approach of compensating for personal friendship by enforcing high standards to judge Reagan. Cannon puts more emphasis on critiquing and showing Reagan in a less than perfect light; however, it is not all negative.


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