Biography of U.S. President Ronald Reagan Part 5 Governor

About the United States President Ronald Reagan, biography and history of his early career as a California Governor.


40th President



On the Way to the White House: Reagan's rightist politics came into full flower during the 1960s, when issues concerning inflation and recession, the war in Vietnam, student revolt, and racial tension plagued American society. The speech he had honed at GE had by now become a fixture on his Republican after-dinner speaking circuit. In 1962 Reagan managed the unsuccessful primary campaign of Lloyd Wright, an ultraconservative Californian running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Wright, a John Birch Society--supported candidate who advocated a "preventive war" with the Soviet Union, lost to the moderate Republican incumbent, Thomas Kuchel.

In 1964 Reagan became California chairman of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater's campaign for the presidency. A few days before the election Reagan made a nationally televised 30-minute speech to boost Goldwater's dim prospects of victory. Entitled "A Time to Choose," it was essentially the GE speech raised to a fine pitch of emotionality. Audiences were electrified and sent in nearly $1 million in campaign contributions. The world also took notice of Ronald Reagan as a political speaker, and so did a group of powerful Republican California businessmen: oil magnate Henry Salvatori, chairman of Union Oil A.C. "Cy" Rubel, and auto dealer Holmes Tuttle. They formed the "Friends of Ronald Reagan" committee and in 1966 encouraged him to run for governor of California.

With money, advice, and support, Reagan's committee of friends sponsored a sophisticated campaign, offering their gubernatorial candidate as an idealistic "citizen-politician" whose views on inflation, welfare, taxes, unemployment, and riots provided the necessary fresh perspective. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown was accused of aiding the enemy in Vietnam and condoning welfare cheats. Reagan overhauled the GE speech once again, and the taxpaying public loved it. At last there was a candidate voicing their frustration with a system that they believed in but that had turned away from them in favor of blacks, students, and welfare cases. Reagan went on record for free enterprise, law, order, morality, the family, the death penalty, a state hiring freeze, tax cuts, elimination of "waste" and "fraud" in government, the war in Vietnam, and a balanced budget. From his movie and television days he had acquired two invaluable assets, especially in media-oriented California: a public identity and familiarity with TV as a medium of persuasion. Nevertheless, he earned criticism for his cavalier views on certain issues (he called unemployment insurance "a prepaid vacation for a segment of our society which has made it a way of life") and for his tendency to mangle statistics and distort facts. Asked about his qualifications for the office of governor, Reagan replied, "Gee, I don't know. I've never played a governor before."

In Chico, Calif., in 1966, reporters questioned Reagan's stand on discrimination in public housing and his opposition to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. After giving a confusing answer, Reagan continued, "I'm not sure I know what I'm talking about, I'm so pooped. You're boring in on me, aren't you? You're boring in because you know you've caught me so pooped that I don't know what I'm doing." Said Governor Brown: "What are his excuses? One time he laughs boyishly--no mean trick at our ages--and says he 'goofed.' Another time he admits to being too 'pooped' to think straight, and this was at 3:30 in the afternoon. You can't afford a governor like that. You don't get retakes as governor."

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