12/06/2005

A Great President

"Very few actors can amke a significant contribution to mature debate. Their professional lives are spent in an environment where their views are treated seriously even when they are talikng rubbish.
The richer they get, the more powerfully that applies. Sadly, it only encourages them to parade their fathomless ignorance of political and economic realities.
I blame Ronald Reagan. If he had not exchanged his career as a B-movie actor for two successful terms as President of the United States, then perhaps other actors would have been less tempted to combine performance and politics.
But Reagan was a mediocre actor who desperately needed a second career."
Those are the thoughts of my occasional correspondent Tim Luckhurst in an offline column entitled 'Time for Sean to give political ramblings a rest' for yesterday's 'Scottish Daily Mail', in which he castigates Sir Sean Connery.
At least he acknowledges that Reagan's terms were 'successful'. However, in other respects I would have to think Luckhurst is being a little uncharitable towards Reagan.
The film critic Andrew Sarris once wrote of Stanley Kramer that although he was not a natural movie director, his record showed that he was not a fake. So it was with Reagan the actor. His performances in King's Row and The Killers show an expressive actor of less than universal range, but more than capable of holding his own in the right part. He was not suited for classical roles and to his credit had enough professional sense never to attempt them.
However, one can take issue with his assessment of Reagan's entry into politics as being motivated by a desperate need for a second career. His critics forget that Ronald Reagan did not join the Republican party until he was in his fifties. Up to that point Reagan had been a New Deal Democrat. He was the archetype of the person of whom it could be said he did not leave the party, but that his party left him.
He was always civically-minded, serving nine terms as president of The Screen Actors Guild, by all accounts a not uninfluential body in Californian public life. In that capacity he did his fellow actors the great service of negotiating the creation of the repeat fee, which has probably done more than anything else to keep them in bread and shoes when out of work. It also says much for Reagan the man that he specifically exempted himself from its operation, in order to avoid the suggestion of a conflict of interest.
He also served two hugely successful terms as Governor of California, working in the Golden State the same magic he later spread over the Union.
In his interregnum between offices, he authored hundreds of magnificent short radio commentaries for O'Connor News Services on all aspects of public life. These have been collected in a magnificent book called 'Reagan, in his own hand'. Ronald Reagan the economist had a way of explaining the most complicated policy matters in a direct and accessible way - perhaps best recorded in the televised speech he gave shortly after taking office when he explained the operation of inflation with the aid of a set of coins on the desk of the Oval Office, and told the American public the bald truth that the Federal government was less than two months away from going bust. That really was the old actor's tour de force.
Ronald Reagan was not just a successful President - he was a great President.
And the current tenant of the Oval Office could do with a fraction of his spirit and intelligence.