Morning In America


I am honored to have been asked to emcee the Reagan Day Dinner in Minnesota’s 2nd District on June 13th, 2014 at The Wilds Golf Club, in Prior Lake. This is big doings in the 2nd, with 2nd District Congressman John Kline on hand as well as Republican endorsed candidates for Governor and US Senate in Minnesota, and Keynote speaker Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute.

Some people may not know that Congressman Kline was the Helicopter Pilot for President Reagan and carried the proverbial nuclear ‘football’. I’ve always enjoyed Congressman Kline’s stories about his service with the President. Now, Kline actually has real stories about Reagan.

Some Republicans these days like to invoke Reagan’s name in speeches whether they have any connection to him or not. This is something I have criticized. To be fair, I think candidates believe if they mention Reagan, it’s shorthand for ‘I believe all the stuff he did’.

My wish is for Republicans not to invoke Reagan’s name so much as to develop their own substantive understanding of freedom, economics and limited government. The fact is, in transitioning from actor to politics, this is what Ronald Wilson Reagan actually did.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, according to those who knew him, lunch with Reagan meant politics, politics, and more politics. Politics was all Reagan wanted to talk about then. Hollywood was just as vacuous then as it is today, so you can imagine how lunch with Reagan went over.

Between 1954 and 1962 Reagan worked for General Electric as host of “GE Theater” on the new medium of television. During this time, GE executive Lemuel Boulware became Reagan’s political and ideological mentor. Boulware’s tough stance against Unions and his corporate strategies to win over workers are as legendary as his belief in Free Market fundamentalism, anti communism, lower taxes, and limited government.

Lem Boulware believed it wasn’t enough to win over company employees on narrow labor issues. He wanted to make sure they understood free market and limited government ideas enough to pass them on to others. In hiring Reagan, Boulware’s idea was to get a smooth presenter of these ideas; A corporate communicator. The show was supposed to be a jumping off point, after which Reagan would tour GE plants and make speeches that expanded on the topics of the TV show.

When Reagan began his work with GE, he was a New Deal Democrat. He himself described this period as a ‘conversion’ experience. Those who would later denigrate Reagan as a ‘dumb-actor’ obviously did not know he read and became conversant with von Mises, Lenin, Hayek, Sun Tzu and the great Henry Hazlitt. Reagan traveled with a bookcase on wheels containing the works of these writers, and others including Milton Friedman. The pages of those books were  dog eared from Reagan’s reading, rereading and making notations in the margins.

My favorite story about Reagan during these years concerned the speaking tours at GE plants all over the country. A simple actor would have shown up, given the speech, shaken a few hands and left.

Not Reagan.

Boulware was delighted to see Reagan spending quality time with the workers after his visits, often staying and talking politics and labor issues with them until he had talked to the last man. Only then would he leave. In this time the future Governor and President developed a deep understanding of the economics and philosophy behind the conservative movement. He read and thought deeply about what he had learned, talking about it almost every night with American workers on factory floors.

Reagan called it his “post graduate work in political science”. Not only did he hone his ability to reason with people who did not agree with him, it also allowed him to develop a base of everyday American workers who later might vote for him in a national race. Might they have been the future ‘Reagan Democrats’?

Of course I didn’t know any of this when Reagan became President. Like everyone else, I knew the Carter years had been miserable. The United States groaned under the burden of the  effects of statism from a long term democrat majority in Congress, to Nixon’s wage and price controls, to Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis and malaise speech. We experienced inflation, high interest rates, and recession. You can talk macrame and shag carpeting all you want, the 1970’s — especially the later 70’s — were not ‘The Good Times’ for anyone.

We thought it wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, fixed. Then came Reagan, with a sunny disposition and a belief he knew what was wrong and how to fix it.  He knew it because he had lived and breathed it night after night on factory floors, read it on long train and plane trips, and spoke it famously in his Goldwater nomination speech in 1964. Later he would fight for these ideas in two presidential campaigns before he won in 1980.

More importantly, Reagan had the courage to implement a few of these free market, limited government ideas. The results were stunning; a reverse image of the statist polices of today and their results. If you were a young person just starting out in those days, you felt the effects of robust economic growth immediately. It was heady. It was fun. It was a great ride. The future was so bright, we had to wear shades.

Today’s problems aren’t so different from the late 70’s. We have a ditherer in chief as president, seeking to enlarge and enhance the power of a feckless federal government with predictable results. Our future seems dim, maybe even dark. People are angry, confused, frustrated. We’re starting to turn on each other. Again, people think it won’t be, can’t be, fixed.

No one is wearing shades because the future is bright.

I know republican candidates across the ideological spectrum mention Reagan in an effort to remind people of a happier time. Wouldn’t it be great if they also actually followed in Reagan’s footsteps; Reading and understanding the masters of free market economic theory, and developing the courage to fight for and implement those ideas, rather than just mentioning Reagan in their speeches.

If republicans did this, it might be their names on our lips rather than Reagan’s. Men and women who become great congressmen, senators, governors, justices and even presidents, because they saved our country from ruin.

And then it really would be morning in America.