Monday, June 07, 2004

I never voted for Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980 presidential election, I was the only person in Newtonia to cast a ballot for independent John Anderson. In 1984, I held my nose and voted for Walter Mondale.
The Democrats made a mistake that year by nominating Mondale instead of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. Of course, I am a bit prejudiced about that. I was Barton County coordinator for the Hart campaign. That was an interesting experience which I will write about at another time.
This blog entry is about President Reagan. Though I never voted for him, President Reagan had that intangible quality that politicians would almost kill for...he was a natural born leader.
In June 1993, I conducted an interview with former Congressman Gene Taylor at his museum on the square in Sarcoxie. It ran as a five-part series, "Presidents I Have Known." In each installment, Congressman Taylor spoke about one of the presidents who served while Taylor was representing Southwest Missouri in the U. S. Congress from 1973 to 1989. Part three featured President Reagan and was printed in the June 17, 1993, Carthage Press.

By Randy Turner
Some of the most important men in the nation's capital were in the White House dining room on a night midway through President Reagan's second term.
In addition to the president himself, guests included Senators Howell Heflin, Alabama, and Alan Simpson, Wyoming, House Republican leader Bob Michel, Illinois; and Congressman Gene Taylor, a former Sarcoxie auto dealer who now had been brought into the president's inner circle.
He and the other men in that room, another four or five in addition to those mentioned, were at the White House for one reason and one reason alone.
"We were all storytellers," Congressman Taylor said. We'd meet at the White House about 6:30, eight or 10 of us, eat, then when the waiters left, the president said, "All right, let's hear some stories."
Anyone who has read Charles Nodler's book, "Bracing the Cornerpost," a collection of stories told by and about Congressman Taylor, knows the man can spin a story.
He wasn't the only one.
"All of those men at those dinners were great storytellers," he said. "President Reagan is a great storyteller."
The former president's stories had an extra dash to them that his political friends' stories did not. "He could tell those Hollywood stories," Taylor said, referring to President Reagan's colorful career as a Hollywood leading man in the 1940s and 1950s.
"Now he was a great fan of John Wayne," Taylor recalled, but not of Errol Flynn. One of the stories the president told was about a photo shoot one time that involved Errol Flynn.
"Flynn was not a tall man, so he hunted a high piece of ground, then piled up dirt. He spent 15 minutes so he'd look taller
"President Reagan had a lot of Hollywood stories."
Ronald Reagan was saddled with that Hollywood image, but anyone saying he lacked substance was dead wrong, Congressman Taylor said.
"He is a brilliant man. He knew exactly what he was doing. The most important thing about him is he stood fast for national defense."
The breakup of the former Soviet Union came on President George Bush's watch, but that event and the fall of Communism around the world can be attributed to Bush's predecessor, Congressman Taylor said.
"Reagan's strength was that when he said something, people knew he meant it. He increased the strength of our nation by spending more on defense.
"Reagan's insistence on a strong defense ended the Cold War."
Eighteen years have passed since Ronald Reagan held a Southwest Missouri audience in the palm of his hand at a fund raising dinner for Gene Taylor at Howard Johnson's in Springfield.
The former California governor, less than six months out of office, was positioning himself for a run against the unelected incumbent, Gerald R. Ford, for the Republican presidential nomination.
A Carthage Press account of that speech indicates more than 1,000 attended and heard lines that the future president was to use to his advantage time and time again during the coming years.
"We can all have a bigger piece of pie if the government will get the hell out of the way and let the free enterprise system make a bigger pie."
He said America was becoming "increasingly alone in a hostile world while the Democrats in Congress continue to cut defense spending."
Ironically, one of the people at the head table with Governor Reagaan was Missouri Governor Kit Bond.In 1976, Bond allied himself with President Ford and alienated many Missouri Republicans who backed Reagan.
That decision is believed to have weighed heavily in Bond's upset loss to Democrat Joe Teasdale in November 1976.
President Reagan's two-pronged formula for building a better America, cutting taxes and increasing defense spending was referred to as "voodoo economics" by George Bush when Bush was running against Reagan in the 1980 presidential primaries.
When Bush was chosen as Reagan's running mate, voodoo economics disappeared from his choice of terms.
Whatever it was, Congressman Taylor says, it was what America needed at that time.
"You can't build a strong economy by taxing people to death. He put money in the hands of the people. That did more for the economy than anything."
Many of the things the future president spoke of during his fundraising stop for Gene Taylor in 1975 came to pass.
He accurately projected what turned out to be a major part of the electorate that put him into office, noting that a survey had shown that views of Republican leaders were closer to the views of the rank and file Democrats than their own party leaders.
He also noted that young voters were registering as independents because of the fear of increasing governmental interference in their lives.
"We have what the people are seeking," Reagan said to the applause of the partisan Republican audience. His foreign policy attitude was also one that Americans wanted to hear in 1980. He delivered the same messsage in 1975.
"We want peace. We will meet anyone genuinely interested in peace. But let us say that we will never again give away the freedom of other lands which is not ours to give. And let us resolve that never again will the young people of this nation be asked to fight and die in a foreign war without mobilization of our natural resources to support them."
The influence of Ronald Reagan's presidency continues to this day, Taylor said.
"When Desert Storm came, we had the power. That was because of Ronald Reagan." That lesson should not be lost on President Clinton, Taylor added. "The Cold War is over, but there may be a lot of little Cold Wars now. We can't let our guard down.
"A strong defense is the best protection we have."

Eleven years have passed since that article was written. It is interesting to ponder what might have happened if someone like Ronald Reagan (instead of someone who thinks he is like Ronald Reagan) were in the Oval Office. Though I begrudgingly credit Reagan as a great leader who did bring about the end of the Cold War, I would still prefer to have someone like Harry S Truman in charge.

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