The forgotten book that launched the Reagan RevolutionRoundup
tags: Ronald Reagan, books
Craig Fehrman is the author of the new book “Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote,” from which this essay is adapted.
In the spring of 1965, Ronald Reagan slipped into a ritzy Los Angeles restaurant. He was there to meet Stu Spencer, a political consultant he hoped would join his potential campaign for governor.
The year before, Reagan had famously stumped for the GOP’s presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, who proved way too extreme for American voters. Spencer was worried the same was true of Reagan, but he found him to be flexible and smart. In fact, he found him to be downright literary. “I wrote a book,” Reagan told Spencer near the end of their meeting. “How’s that going to fit?”
Rather nicely, it turned out. Although it’s been forgotten today, in its own time “Where’s the Rest of Me?” was a big seller and a key artifact of California politics. The book also proves that Reagan was never just an actor, reciting the lines of Spencer-style political pros. Even in the early 1960s, Reagan was defining his image and defending his philosophy all by himself.
Reagan has never received enough credit for his intellectual side. As a child, he devoured books, and he was so taken by King Arthur tales he named his cat Sir Lancelot. As an actor, he spent his on-set breaks reading, often boring his costars with current affairs facts. Reagan eventually was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild more than once, before moving to TV and “General Electric Theater.” At GE factories he gave speeches based on books by economists whose views transformed him from an FDR-style Democrat to a conservative. He began to consider running for something bigger than the SAG presidency.
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