Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader

Book Cover: Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary LeaderRonald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader is a great book by Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst for the Reagan administration. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and particularly, the leadership principles that can be gleaned from Reagan’s words and actions.

After being shot in a failed assassination attempt, Reagan was visited by Mother Teresa who said, “Because of your suffering and pain you will now understand the suffering and pain of the world. This has happened to you at this time because your country and the world need you.” (p. 207) Reagan was a rare and effective leader, the type of which the world needed at that time. While there may never be another Reagan, the world could certainly use more leaders like him, now and in the future. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Reagan’s Personality

  • “Here was a man who had the most important job in the world, yet he seemed relaxed, even casual, about the way he went about it. He seemed determined to transform the size and role of the federal government, but he seemed curiously detached for its everyday operations…He was comfortable consorting with aristocrats and playing golf with millionaires, who considered him one of them, yet he was equally at home with miner and construction workers, who were convinced that he shared their values and had their interests at heart.” (p. 8 )
  • Reagan was undeterred by other’s opinions: “In 1994, Peggy Noonan wrote Reagan a letter, asking how he felt about the attacks on his reputation. Reagan replied that he wasn’t going to lose sleep over them.” (p 22)
  • “Instead of having superpower relations conducted exclusively through official communiques, Reagan preferred private exchanges in which he could meet Soviet leaders face to face.” (p. 187)
  • “Frequently Reagan would be moved by someone’s tale of distress and, without checking to verify the circumstances, would send a care package or write a personal check.” (p. 216)
  • “He did not sound like a politician,” author Richard Reeves observed, “which made him a great politician.” (p. 249)
  • “Reagan succeeded where countless self-styled wise men have failed because he had a vision for America, he was not afraid to act, and he believed in the good sense and decency of the American people.” (p. 264)

Reagan’s Leadership

  • “This study seeks to solve the mystery. In the process, I have turned my early impression of Reagan on its head, Previously I admired the man but had doubts about his leadership. Now I see that he had his faults as an individual but was an outstanding statesman and leaders.” (p 23)
  • “On Reagan’s watch, dictatorships collapsed in Chile, Haiti, and Panama, and nine more countries moved toward democracy.” (p 27)
  • “He understood the importance of the big picture and would not be distracted by petty detail…He had a Churchillian tenacity about his moral and political beliefs; no matter what anybody said, he would never give in.” (p 29)
  • “We meant to change a nation, and instead we changed the world.” (p. 32)
  • Visiting the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, he honored the victims of the Holocaust saying, “Here, death ruled. But we have learned something as well. Because of what happened, we found that death cannot rule forever … We are here because humanity refuses to accept that freedom, or the spirit of man, can be extinguished … Out of ashes–hope; and from all the pain–promise.” (p. 234)
  • “One of Reagan’s most remarkable leadership qualities [was] his ability to maintain his course and not to be deterred even in the face of intense opposition.” (p. 235)
  • “Reagan didn’t seem to mind having people on his team who did not share his views … A weak minded man or an inflexible ideologue would have surrounded himself exclusively with like-minded people. Reagan, by contrast, valued multiple channels of information.” (p. 240)

Reagan’s Government and Political Philosophy

  • Reagan is famous for, at least partially and convincingly, setting the expectation that “a president is responsible for the things that happen during his tenure.” When running for president in 1980 against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, Reagan posed the question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” (p 9)
  • To Reagan, the government’s approach to the economy could be summed up in the following way: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” (p. 53)
  • In his view, the most dangerous words in the English language were: “Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” (p. 53)
  • Reagan would point out that even FDR attacked the government handout as a “narcotic” and a “subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” Roosevelt himself promised that government “must and shall quit this business of relief.” (p. 61)
  • When Reagan was informed that a growing economy was bringing in surplus revenues for the government, his immediate reaction was: “Give it back to the taxpayers.” (p. 67)
  • Reagan said he had no intention of hiring people who wanted a job in government; he wanted people of accomplishment from private enterprise who had to be persuaded to join the public sector. (p. 88)
  • “It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment…It is not my intention to do away with government. it is rather to make it work–work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.” (p. 98)
  • Reagan described Washington D.C. as “an island, surrounded on all sides by reality.” (p. 219)

Reagan’s Results

  • “For eight consecutive years, the Gallup Poll pronounced him the most admired man in the country. When he left office, his approval rating was around 70 percent, the highest of any president in the modern era.” (p 10)
  • “Economist Robert Barro issued an economic report card for presidents, based on who did the most to boost economic growth and reduce inflation, unemployment, and interest rates…Reagan’s record on this score is the best of all postwar presidents.” (p 26)
  • “In 1983, the final year that the Reagan tax cuts went into effect, the U.S. economy commenced a seven-year period of uninterrupted growth…the biggest peacetime economic boom in U.S. history.” (p. 109)
  • “As for the middle class, Reagan’s critics are quite right that this group became measurably smaller during the 1980s…They moved up rather than down…During the 1980s, millions of middle-class Americans disappeared into the ranks of the affluent.” (p. 113)
  • “The top 5 percent of income earners, who paid 35% of the Treasury’s tax revenue in 1981, bore 46% of the tax burden in 1988…The Reagan tax cuts, which were attacked as a bonanza for the rich, actually extracted a bigger share of tax revenue from upper-income taxpayers.” (p. 116)
  • Senator Ted Kennedy, who opposed nearly every Reagan initiative, said, “Whether you agree with him or not, Ronald Reagan was an effective president. He stood for a set of ideas … and he wrote most of them not only into public law but into the national consciousness.” (p. 228)

Reagan’s Sense of Humor

  • During one of his political campaigns, he happily signed for a reporter a picture of himself in bed with a chimpanzee from Bedtime for Bonzo, writing across the bottom, “I’m the one with the watch.”
  • Referring to some 1960s counterculture protesters, Reagan said, “Their signs say make love, not war. But they don’t look like they could do much of either.” (p. 71)
  • “A recession,” he said, “is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” (p. 82)
  • Reagan was once informed that government subsidies had created 478 millions pounds of surplus butter. Reagan gasped. “Does anyone know where we can find four hundred and seventy eight million pounds of popcorn?” (p. 103)
  • A reporter yelled to Reagan, “You have blamed the mistakes of the past and you’ve blamed the Congress. Does any of the blame belong to you?” Without missing a beat, Reagan replied, “Yes. Because for many years I was a Democrat.” (p. 106)
  • After being shot in a failed assassination attempt and on his arrival at the hospital, he quipped to the doctors, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” (p.206)

Family and Religious Values of Reagan

  • “I’ve always believed that we were, each of us, put here for a reason, that there is a plan, a divine plan, for all of us.” (p. 39)
  • Other stars lived in a complicated and fast-paced social world, but nto Reagan. “When the day’s shooting was over,” Nancy Reagan wrote in her autobiography, “he never stayed behind to have a drink with the fellows in the dressing room. He preferred to come home.” (p. 50)
  • As governor of California, on the way out of the office at 5pm, Reagan will call to his staff, “Hey, guys, get out. Go home to your wives.” When aides asked him who would get all the work done Reagan often replied, “It’s not that important. Go home.” (p. 65)
  • Reagan asked the evangelicals in an audience to “pray for the salvation of all those who live in totalitarian darkness” so that “they will discover the joy of knowing God.” (p. 135)
  • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Reagan once said, are “covenants we have made not only with ourselves, but with all mankind.” (p. 161)
  • “Reagan frequently complained about the vulgarity and sexual explicitness of contemporary films.” (p. 204)
  • After being shot in a failed assassination attempt, Reagan said, “I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him.” (p. 207)
  • Reagan’s greatest regret was that he was unable to do more as president to protect the lives of the unborn and that America would never be “completely civilized” as long as abortion on demand was legal. (P. 212)
  • Aides who worked with Reagan reported “on several occasions he got down on his knees in the Oval Office and prayed with people who came to see him.” (p. 213)

Reagan on Freedom and Socialism

  • “You can’t control the economy without controlling people,” Reagan said in a campaign address for Barry Goldwater. “I suggest to you that there is no left or right, only an up or down: Up to the maximum of individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism, and regardless of their humanitarian purpose, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have, whether the know it or not, chosen this downward path.” (p. 58)
  • Reagan questioned the very idea of government as a catalyst of social good. “Either we accept the responsibility for our own destiny, or we abandon the American revolution and confess that an intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” (p. 59)
  • “The best social program,” Reagan liked to say, “is a job.” (p. 68)
  • “Everyone feels sorry for the individual who has fallen by the wayside or who can’t keep up in our competitive society, buy my own compassion goes beyond  that to those millions of unsung men and women who get up every morning, send their kids to school, go to work, try to keep up the payments on their house, pay exorbitant taxes to make possible compassion for the less fortunate, and as a result have to sacrifice many of their own desires and dreams.” (p. 69)
  • “Freedom is … the universal right of all God’s children. Our mission is to defend freedom and democracy.” (p. 152)

Standing up to Communism

  • Reagan liked to quote Chambers and Solzhenitsyn: “Communism is a false religion that seeks to destroy the family, private property, and genuine religious faith in order to achieve a kind of earthly paradise.” (p. 75)
  • “The Soviet empire is faltering because rigid centralized control has destroyed incentives for innovation, efficiency and individual achievement.” (p. 140)
  • “There was one vital factor in the ending of the Cold War,” Margaret Thatcher said. “It was Ronald Reagan’s decision to go ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative.” (p. 173)
  • Reagan advanced a case for missile defense that was not tactical but moral. Said he, “there was no way I could tell our people their government would not protect them against nuclear destruction.” (p. 190)
  • “Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state, remarked publicly that the Reagan military buildup, which he opposed at the time, placed unsustainable demands on the Soviet economy and thus precipitated the events that led to the disintegration of communism.” (p. 196)

Hatred of Reagan from Media and Intelligentsia

  • “Writing in Harper’s, Ncholas von Hoffman confesses that it was ‘humiliating to think of this unlettered, self-assured bumpkin being our president.” (p 14)
  • “Robert Wright of the New Republic pronounced him ‘virtually brain dead.'” (p 14)
  • “Right when [the elites] were busy sorting out the world’s problems, along came this corny Californian with no credentials or experience, armed with nothing but his own wacky ideas. He was able to oppose them successfully because he enjoyed a rapport with the American public that the elites never really understood.” (p 18)
  • From the New York Times: “The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan’s White House.” (p. 106)
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