The American Experience: Reagan (1998)
In 1988, after two terms in office, Ronald Reagan left the White House one of the most popular presidents of the twentieth century -- and one of the most controversial. A failed actor, Reagan became a passionate ideologue who preached a simple gospel of lower taxes, less government, and anti-communism. One by one, his opponents underestimated him; one by one, Reagan surprised them, rising to become a president who always preferred to see America as a "shining city on a hill." On the eve of his election, Ronald Reagan was asked, "What is it, Governor, that people see in you?" He responded, "Would you laugh if I told you that they look at me and they see themselves?"
Ronald Reagan was America's most ideological president in his rhetoric, yet pragmatic in his actions. He believed in balanced budgets, but never submitted one; hated nuclear weapons, but built them by the thousands; preached family values, but presided over a dysfunctional family. His vision of America divided the nation, yet no matter what people thought of him politically, Reagan always won them over personally. "People don't reckon with the power of charm," says son Ron Reagan. "When my father turns the high beams on, even somebody like Gorbachev tends to melt." A seemingly simple man, Ronald Reagan was consistently underestimated by his opponents; one by one, he overcame them all.