Ronald Reagan presided over the United States from 1981 to 1989. Even though the country was experiencing major economic and social problems, he was popular for the majority of the time he was in office. Throughout his presidency, he and his administration worked continuously to build his image as a true American. Partially because of his image, the public ignored the rise in unemployment, the drop in salaries, the increase of people living in poverty, the increase of children born out of wedlock, and the rising number of people in jail. Reagan was popular because the public was focussing on his image and his promises, not what was actually happening. Ronald Reagans inaugural speech had a patriotic theme.
In it, he stated that the country, which had unlimited potential, was limiting itself by jeopardizing its future. Striving to create a sense of confidence, he pledged to “cut taxes and end deficit spending” and to restore the glory of the United States (35). He sensed what the public wanted, and he promised to achieve it. Throughout his terms, he wanted them to feel that life was improving, whether it actually was or was not. Reagans image played a key role in his popularity. To his oath taking on inauguration day, he wore a formal suit. The public approved of his formal attire; his glamorous image seemed to promise that prosperity and security were in store.
His good looks and sense of humor won over the public, and his self-confidence persuaded them to trust in him. His acting ability allowed him to convince his audience that everything he said would happen; the audience automatically trusted him to take care of them. To give him the appearance of a hard worker, his staff released a daily schedule that showed him working long hours. To protect his image, his staff allowed him to take part in few news conferences. His strong, self-confident image would be shattered if the public saw his confusion that resulted from his partial deafness and the unexpected questions.
When he did not say anything worth printing, White House spokesman Larry Speakes would supply a quote. Reagan increased his patriotic image by hosting a party in celebration of the Statue of Liberty. Leslie Stahl, a reporter for CBS, called him a “symbol of pride in America” (64). Along with his image, the public also fell in love with his personality. They enjoyed hearing his speeches, filled with entertaining anecdotes and jokes.
Knowing that he meant well, they overlooked his factual errors. Most people did not realize that somebody else had written the Presidents speeches, anecdotes, and jokes. His sense of humor also fascinated the public when he joked about John Hinckleys assassination attempt on him. His popularity increased, and he received increased support from both the public and Congress. Reagan had an “instinctive ability to reassure and soothe..grieving Americans” after a tragedy (54).
After the Challenger exploded in early 1986, he gave a speech that emphasized renewal, saying that Americans must move forward and achieve great accomplishments to honor those who died. Reagan also made an effort to meet his promises. In order to lower taxes and to build up the military, Reagan met with Congress about 70 times to discuss the issues. Reagans administration and the media were other key reasons for his popularity. James Baker, Edwin Meese, and Michael Deaver, all three of whom occupied major positions in the White House, “sensed the publics strong desire to see a president succeed and understood that the media could play a critical role in assuring success” (54).
His staff welcomed the media in hopes of controlling them and gave them many opportunities to photograph Reagan working. To appeal to a television audience, Reagan gave many speeches specifically written to appeal to their emotions. An article on television criticized Reagan, contrasting his attendance of the Handicapped Olympics with the reduction of federal support for the handicapped. The article was to his advantage; the pictures of him with the red, white, and blue increased his patriotic image. The viewers saw the pictures of him, glorifying his image and ignoring the message of the article. During the 1984 Presidential Election, Reagans administration concentrated its effort on proving his main opponent, Walter Mondale, appear inferior to Reagan.
On television, Mondale looked gray and had a whiney voice, contrasting sharply with Reagans vitality and commanding voice. Reagans staff used special lighting to emphasize Mondales droopy eyes, making him appear tired. Mondale was a pessimist, while Reagan was an optimist. The public favored optimism, as they wanted to enjoy life and ignore threatening issues. Reagans staff designed commercials that emphasized his patriotic spirit and family values.
When his age was questioned, he implied that it gave him maturity and experience. Reagan easily defeated Mondale in the election. Along with his administration, Reagans wife, Nancy Reagan, helped her husband with his job. After Reagan angered the public by suggesting that all who were killed in the World War II were equal victims of Nazism, she stepped in and arranged for him to give a speech at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Many people felt that “Hitlers true victims had perished” there (63).
The public forgave Reagan, and his popularity resumed. Reagans quest to lower taxes also increased his popularity. Two of his goals were to decrease federal income and business tax rates by 30 percent over three years and to eliminate “bracket creep.” Bracket creep pushed the taxpayers into a higher income bracket, forcing them to pay higher progressive income taxes. In support of Reagan, Congress lowered the taxes 25 percent, which was a staggering percentage. When Stockman confronted Reagan about the growing deficit, Reagan insisted that there was no need to decrease federal spending and to raise taxes.
He blamed President Carter for the deficit, and he said that, in the future, the Treasury would have enough money to begin paying off the debt. Reagan also gained popularity by connecting the government and himself to the public. He would include “ordinary American heroes” in public occasions. The heroes who were honored had dedicated some of their time to helping others. Some heroes had saved a persons life, and some were charity leaders.
Through connecting himself and the government with the public, he created a stronger bond between himself and them, and he made them aware that they could take charge and solve their problems without involving the government. Some of President Reagans decisions increased his popularity. Sometimes he stayed with his original decision, and sometimes he changed his unpopular decision to a more popular one. In August 1981, almost 12,000 air traffic controllers of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike, even though they had agreed not to do so in their employment contracts. Reagan warned the controllers to end the strike, but it continued. He fired them and replaced them with military personnel. Reagans firm stance had increased his popularity and given him a decisive image.
Reagan also had a strong opinion that Martin Luther King, Jr. should not be honored with a federal holiday. However, when he saw that the public supported the holiday, he signed the law to in an effort to keep his popularity. When the economy plummeted in 1981, Reagan blamed it and the increasing deficit on President Carter. However, Reagan, not Carter, was responsible for the growing debt because of his dramatic cut in taxes and the increase in expenditures. Reagan took credit for the improving economy in 1983 to 1984.
Wages were raised slightly, and, according to Reagan, the increasing deficit was not a problem. The public was also in good spirits because the United States had earned several gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics. There was an added sense of national pride, and a slight feeling of superiority overtook the nation. Also during his term, relations with the Soviet Union improved, possibly meaning that the end of the Cold War was nearing. Although Reagan had not caused the relations to improve, he was given credit for the improvement. Both President Reagan and his wife encouraged strict criminal penalties for drug use. They made speeches that described the horrors of drug use, such as the suffering children of drug addicts.
Solving the nations problem with drugs turned out to be difficult. Finally, in 1990, the level of cocaine users had dropped, and part of the public credited the drop to the Reagans efforts. However, the decrease in usage may have happened anyway because of the consumer product style. Reagan went out of his way to keep his popularity from diminishing. When confronted with the new issue of AIDS, he avoided it at first. He was afraid that voicing his opinion, or any opinion, would offend the public and decrease his popularity.
If he confronted the issue, he would have to discuss ways to keep from contracting it. Many of these ways were unpopular, and he feared that suggesting that the public not take part in them would make him less popular. However, after Rock Hudson died of AIDS, the public increased its interest in it. Reagan addressed the issue of AIDS only after he knew that public interest in it had increased. If the public had focussed on Reagans actual achievements rather than on what he promised to do, he would not have been as popular. He promised to end deficit spending, but he actually increased it dramatically with his tax cut and increase of government spending.
To protect his popularity, he blamed the rising deficit on Carter. Reagan also protected his popularity by avoiding issues that might offend the public, causing him to lose support. He captured the public with his image, which was constructed by his administration, and his personality, which allowed him to form a bond with his audiences. His administrations work was a major reason that Reagan was popular.