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Ronald Reagan: ‘Salesman’ Over Substance

That sound you just heard was the collective explosion of Sean Hannity and
Ann Coulter’s heads exploding. If only.

Long before former President Gerald
Ford left the mortal plain, he let fly and Tom DeFrank got the story and has
been making the rounds, first on “Meet
the Press.”
This exchange on Ronald Reagan is going to freak out the
Reagan fanatics.


MR. RUSSERT: Let me move on to Ronald Reagan. Because this was very striking
in your book, Tom DeFrank, and we’ll bring in Bill Safire on this and
get his sense of the public and private man. Here’s what Tom DeFrank
writes about Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford: “Three days after Ronald
Reagan died Ford joined millions of his fellow Americans in mourning the country’s
heartfelt loss. ‘He and I became very good friends,’ Ford told
CNN’s Larry King. ‘Let me be’” “‘forthright:
I think Ronald Reagan was a first-class president, and I treasured my relationship
and association with him.’

“Baloney. Ford neither liked nor respected the former Hollywood
actor. He considered Reagan a superficial, disengaged, intellectually lazy
showman who didn’t do his homework and clung to a naive, unrealistic,
and essentially dangerous worldview.” How do you know that?

MR. DeFRANK: I know that because he told me that several times, and there’re
lots of quotes from the books that, that back that up. At one point he said,
“I have to say he was not a technically competent president, but he
was a hell of a showman, he had a hell of a flair.” And he also says
at one point—told me at one point that, that foreign leaders had told
him the same thing. President Ford said “Foreign leaders have said they
were appalled by Reagan’s lack of, of knowledge of the issues. On the
other hand, they all agree with me that he was one hell of a salesman.”

So, he said it many, many times. … ..

This is important as we come into the ’08 elections, because it shows how people
vote. Whether we like it or not, when you put substance against salesmanship,
the latter comes out ahead every time. People vote on emotions not issues. They vote on how a politician makes them feel, not their best interests.

Reagan’s presence was strong in 1980 and made people feel strong when compared to Jimmy Carter’s image, especially after the Desert One debacle. It made me a Reagan Democrat (though not for long). Again, we’re talking perception, which is what moves people; facts rarely do, though sometimes both collide. The Iran hostage crisis, coming in the midst of an energy crisis that had me standing in line in New York City for gas, pushed me away from Jimmy Carter.

It’s why wingnut radio is so dangerous. Logic, facts and issues have nothing to do with it. Revving up emotions gets the job done. Anything less will fall short. It’s what also makes negative attack ads work, even as people decry they hate them. It also explains why in primaries negative attack ads often backfire. People reacting viscerally, emotionally, because there is something unseemly about attacking your own unless it’s on issues; simple mudslinging is seen as back stabbing.

As for Reagan, Ford certainly nails him. He was quite a salesman. Clinton was a salesman, too, but he was also competent. Maybe it’s because Democrats believe government has a purpose and care that it’s effective, while Republicans get elected to use it to serve their friends.

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.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong