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Ronald Reagan 1911~2004

The Reagan Style

Reagan giving acceptance speech during the 1984 Republican National Convention

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Right or wrong, he was likable

(CNN) -- The transformation began when former actor and governor Ronald Reagan vowed to "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States." It was January 20, 1981 and the beginning of what became the "Reagan Revolution."

Site selection for the inaugural ceremony -- the terrace of the West Front of the Capitol -- was a first. And it melded style and substance, the combination that came to characterize Reaganís two-term tenure.

With simple messages and a quick-wit that deflected his shortcomings and produced across-the-board chuckles, Reagan made Americans feel better about themselves and their nation. That counted for a lot.

He kept his messages simple. To get elected, he asked, "Are you better off now than four years ago?" The complicated quagmire of the Cold War was reduced to black and white: the Soviet Union was the "evil empire."

Managing the media

The Reagans brought back many of the formal ceremonial trappings that had been discarded during the Carter years. The public went along with a lot of it, taking pride in a more polished national image. But the multimillion-dollar White House renovation overseen by first lady Nancy Reagan sparked controversy, even though private donations were raised.

Despite his wife's noted extravagance and the Republicans' traditional association with the rich and privileged, Reagan himself still seemed like a regular guy.

Using a favorite trick to deflect unwanted questions, Reagan strains to hear reporters over the roar of a helicopter  

The leader of the free world gave the impression that he was as happy on horseback at his beloved California Rancho del Cielo as he was at the White House. He kept jellybeans on his Oval Office desk, and he told jokes everybody would get -- often to his political advantage.

When his age of 73 was an issue in the 1984 campaign, he turned it on its head in a debate with Democrat Walter Mondale. "I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," Reagan quipped.

Former Democratic Rep. Patricia Schroeder once called him the Teflon president, meaning that nothing Reagan did wrong seemed to stick to him. Even this criticism didn't stick. Instead, it became a point of admiration.

Reagan was dubbed the "Great Communicator." His staff did its best to control his image and the media's access, and its mastery of such tools as the "photo op" influenced the way politicians of all stripes presented themselves.

Image-building opportunities didn't always work out as intended.

In 1984, Reagan joked as he prepared for a radio address with an open microphone, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

His indiscretion was not broadcast, but news of it filtered out and drew a strong rebuke from Moscow.

His administration's reputation took a blow when it became public in 1987 that the president's schedule was influenced by the advice of Nancy Reagan's astrologer.

By and large, though, the advance planning of Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver paid off. He worked three months ahead to refine presidential speeches and events, using a formula: make a single point and repeat it, and set up pictures with a single subject and a complementary backdrop.

He handled the media deftly, often taking questions over the din of the presidential helicopter, smiling and waving. The questions were inaudible, and no answer could be expected.

Giving his acceptance speech during the 1984 Republican National Convention  

And at a photo opportunity in 1987, he feigned laryngitis when asked about polls suggesting his credibility was damaged by the Iran-Contra scandal.

Reshaping the GOP

More substantively, Reagan's name was on the masthead as the modern Republican Party emerged.

In a number of ways, Reagan emulated his youthful hero, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both built coalitions of different groups, but their objectives were different, noted CNN political analyst Bill Schneider.

Roosevelt's supporters were united in the hope of getting something from the federal government, while Reagan's supporters had a grievance against Washington.

Reagan Country
With the election of Bush, Reagan fans hoped "the revolution" would continue  

They included business interests wanting less government regulation, religious conservatives wanting school prayer and restricted abortion rights, and middle-class voters wanting lower taxes. The Republican Party still counts on this disparate base of backers today.

Reagan's projected image had its contradictions.

The "Great Communicator" could flounder without a script. The figurehead of fiscal conservatism left the nation with a massive budget deficit. And the man whose party championed family values had strained relations with his kin.

But the ideological simplicity he offered was irresistible to voters burdened with the complexities of a changing economy and the Cold War. They liked his good sportsmanship amid political victories.

"The disciplines of Reagan's life," wrote biographer Lou Cannon, "had taught him to separate ideology from individuals, beginning with the childhood training of his mother's church that Christians should 'hate the sin but love the sinner.'"

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