Ronald Reagan

For Reagan speaking was a way of bonding with his audience, aligning them behind his political agenda and mobilizing their support. As he said in his farewell address, he tried to be “a communicator of great things”–the values and the ideas that he thought would renew America’s greatness. Stories were a means ofbringing the values to life. He wove them into every speech. They were part of a broader narrative. He was seeking to retell the American story and to restor tradition. He was using his stories to remind people what they once believedand to encourage them to velieve again. None of this would have worked had he not struck his audiences as authentic. Most people (not all) believed that the sentiments came from within, that the man embodied the message. He practiced the politics of conviction, and people saluted him for it.

Through experience, Reagan also knew that his audiences were more interested in hearing about themselves than about him. He kept the focus away from himself by identifying heroes among ordinary Americans such as Lenny Skutnik. He knew how impoartant communal experiences were for a national audience, and he retold the stories of what peoapl had seen on their television screends to shape the meaning and memory of events like the Challenger explosion. Audiences stayed with him, as well, beacuse he laced his appearances with humor and knew how to give an appealing speech–brisk, pointed, well paced, well illustrated, and a strong closing line.

His critics like to dismiss Reagan as Bonzo as the White House. He didn’t seem to mind. His acting years, he came to realize, were almost as important as his political years in preparing him for the post. Indeed, men over the centuries have discovered that theatrical talent is indispensable to public leadership. What Reagan had–an engaging style, a guiding philosophy, an inspiring story, an enveloping humor, a theatrical touch–he put to good use. (Excerpted from Eyewitness to Power)

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