THE MAKING OF A FEARFUL LEADER
“Where’s the Rest of Me?”
When Ronald Reagan wrote his autobiography in 1964, he entitled it Where’s the Rest of Me? in order to indicate, he said on the opening page, that he had lived most of his life with the feeling that part of him was missing.
The moment when he felt most acutely that part of him was missing, he wrote, was in 1941, during the filming of the motion picture, King’s Row. The first description he gives in his autobiography is his growing terror while making the film.
My key scene was to be played in a bed. This environment was the result of the plot which had me injured in an accident in the railroad yards. Taken to a sadistic doctor (who disapproved of my dating his daughter and felt it was his duty to punish me), the doctor had amputated both my legs at the hips.
It was the portrayal of this moment of total shock which made the scene rough to play. . . . A whole actor would find such a scene difficult; giving it the necessary dramatic impact as half an actor was murderous. I felt I had neither the experience nor the talent to fake it. I simply had to find out how it really felt, short of actual amputation.
I rehearsed the scene before mirrors, in corners of the studio, while driving home, in the men’s rooms of restaurants, before selected friends. At night I would wake up staring at the ceiling and automatically mutter the line before I went back to sleep. I consulted physicians and psychologists; I even talked to people
|“WHERE’S THE REST OF ME?”||37|
who were so disabled, trying to brew in myself the cauldron of emotions a man must feel who wakes up one sunny morning to find half of himself gone.
I got a lot of answers. I supplied some more for myself. None of mine agreed with any of theirs. Theirs did not agree with each other. I was stumped. I commenced to panic as the day for shooting came nearer.
The night before I could not sleep. I appeared wan and worn on the sound, stage, still not knowing how to read the line. Without hope, with make-up pasted on and in my nightshirt, I wandered over to the set to see what it looked like. I found the prop men had arranged a neat deception. Under the gay patchwork quilt, they had cut a hole in the mattress and put a supporting box beneath. I stared at it for a minute. Then, obeying an overwhelming impulse, I climbed into the rig. I spent almost that whole hour in stiff confinement, contemplating my torso and the smooth undisturbed flat of the covers where my legs should have been.
Gradually the affair began to terrify me. In some weird way, I felt something horrible had happened to my body. Then gradually I became aware that the crew had quietly assembled, the camera was in position, and the set lighted . . . There were cries of “Lights!” and “Quiet, please!” I lay back and closed my eyes, as tense as a fiddlestring… I opened my eyes dazedly, looked around, slowly let my gaze travel downward. I can’t describe even now my feeling as I tried to reach for where my legs should be. “Randy!” I screamed . . . “Where’s the rest of me?”(1)
That the “sadistic doctor” had cut off the legs of his daughter’s boyfriend as punishment for his sexual desires was made explicit in the movie,(2) so it.was understandable that the scene could be an upsetting one for an actor to play. Yet the portrayal of the punishment of a young man by a father figure for his erotic wishes was hardly a unique theme in the theatre. Why did having to say a single line throw Ronald Reagan into such a “panic”? What personal meaning did it have for him that he chose to use it as the title of his autobiography, that he referred to it hundreds of times in his speeches since then, and that he even asked to have the movie’s theme music played at his Presidential inauguration? Why has it been so difficult for him to separate himself from the movie character who screamed out “Where’s the rest of me?”
From the description he gives of his emotions during the filming of the scene, it appears that for some personal reason he was unable to separate
the portrayal of this “castration” scene before the cameras from his own castration fears. Yet to say he had “unconscious castration fears” is only to begin to understand why he was so panicked by the scene. Every man, to some degree, has unconscious castration fears, and every woman, to some extent, fears of body mutilation. What must be asked is what was special about Ronald Reagan’s life to that point which might make him so identified with the movie character who had his legs cut off? What family background, what personality development and what cir-cumstances in his life in 1941 can help explain why this one line has remained identified in his mind with his self-image for the rest of his life?
From a look at Reagan’s career, it soon becomes evident that the castration theme has always been a major concern of his. To begin with, he often refers to himself as “bleeding,” from his oft-repeated description of himself as once having been “a hemophilic liberal-I bled for ’causes'” to his regular use of such phrases as “I bleed real blood for the unemployed” and “no fighter ever bled as I did.” Even his favorite childhood poem contains the bleeding image in its opening line, “I will lay me down for to bleed a while.” Sometimes this preoccupation with himself as bleeding expresses itself in the negative, as after the Carter debate, when he said to a reporter, “I’ve examined myself and I can’t find any wounds.”(3) But usually his castration imagery is overt, references to the “cutting and slashing’ of “hemorrhaging budgets” having been part of his political language since the beginning of his career.
|Typical Reagan doodle shows
himself with hinds and legs missing.
|The castration anxiety shown in his choice of language extends to his drawings. Although Reagan is an excellent graphic artist, he has difficulty in drawing hands, legs and horse’s hooves in his sketches and doodles. Most of his drawings show his preoccupation with castration in some way, and his self-portraits usually come out looking like graphic illustrations for the “Where’s the rest of me?” scene, with his hands and legs often missing.(4)|
In addition to just his choice of words in his speeches, Reagan will often work open references to mutilation into conversations, usually in connection with the issue of capital punishment. For instance, when he became Governor of California in 1967, he refused to give clemency to Aaron Mitchell, a black man who had been given a death sentence for having shot a policeman during a robbery. When asked by a group of civil libertarians why it was necessary for Mitchell to die, he startled them with a detailed, graphic description of “one of the most macabre cases in California annals. . . which involved the sexual mutilation
|DREADED SEXUAL MUTILATOR||39|
of the male victim,”(5) even though the mutilation case was totally unconnected with Mitchell. A few days later, in a speech before the National Sheriffs Association, he changed to a graphic description of the bloody mutilation of a ten-year-old girl, who, he told the sheriffs, “had been stabbed 60 times and had been mutilated in a savage and depraved manner,”(6) again a case unrelated to the topic of his speech. The reason he related the story, he told his listeners, was to show that sexual mutilations were so commonplace that misdeeds must be followed by “punishment immediate and certain.”(7)
The original version of this dreaded sexual mutilator who so haunts the life of Ronald Reagan, the childhood source for his overly severe castration fears, was his father, John Edward Reagan. This connection is shown by the fact that immediately after relating the “Where’s the rest of me?” scene in his autobiography, Reagan turns to his relationship with his father and his father’s life-long alcoholism. Even though Reagan always tried to avoid talking about his father to interviewers-one biographer said that when asked about his family life he would “talk nonstop about his mother” but never mention his father(8) -he relates in the autobiography how as a child he would be “pretending sleep” during his father’s “week-long benders,” and how he would “fill myself with grief for my father” when he found him “spread out as if he were crucified” on the front porch.(9) The father, a violent Irishman, who was later described by his son as having lived a life of “almost permanent anger and frustration,”(10) used to kick young Ronald “with his boot” and often “clobbered” him and his brother.(11) From even the few memories which emerge in his scattered comments about his father, it is evident that Ronald’s relationship was filled with frequent episodes of terror and a longing for closeness, feelings which he shared with many others of his generation (he was born in 1911) due to the generally much harsher childrearing practices then common.(12)
His overwhelming fear of his father made young Ronald a “good” boy, a “loner,” who was “afraid of the dark,” someone who suffered since childhood from various phobias, or irrational fears of various kinds.(13) The first phobia he mentions in his autobiography is his fear “to the point of hysteria” of being piled upon by “the mass of writhing, shouting bodies” in a football game.(14) Although he always loved the physical violence of football-enjoying the “clean hatred. . . where two men can literally fling themselves bodily at one another in combat”-he said he always panicked when he felt trapped by the pileup.(15) His claustrophobia, his fear of being trapped in an enclosed space, was a “lifelong” problem, he told one biographer.(16) Most of the time it indicated fears of physical closeness, usually with men, as when he had a “claustrophobia problem” when filming a movie in a submarine in close quarters with other male actors.(17) Other phobias would be temporary,
depending on his life situation, as when he was afraid to fly during his eight years of speaking engagements for General Electric, when he had to write a clause into his contract guaranteeing his travel would be only by train,(18) or as in his avoidance of New York restaurants because the tables were so “close together . . . your shoulders are virtually touching the fellow’s shoulders at the next table.”(19)
In all cases, however, Reagan’s phobias are similar in purpose to those of other phobics in helping him to avoid any situation which might lead to a loss of control over his feelings, positive or negative. This avoidance is necessary whenever any situation might tempt him to express emotions of love or hatred too directly, and thus invite punishment by “the father in his head,” his extremely severe conscience.(20) Reagan shares with others who have phobias the fear of loss of control and the over-concern about humiliation and being made to feel worthless, situations which might force him to show his rage and invite punishment, symbolically, by castration.
Phobias are one of the most thoroughly understood neurotic symptoms, going back as far as Sigmund Freud’s accurate analysis of a phobic in his early work, The Interpretation of Dreams, an analysis which has a direct relevance to Reagan’s phobias and even provides a clue to what was really going on in the crucial scene in King’s Row. Freud says:
I had an opportunity of obtaining a deep insight into the unconscious mind of a young man whose life was made almost impossible by an obsessional neurosis. He was unable to go out into the street because he was tortured by the fear that he would kill everyone he met. He spent his days in preparing his alibi in case he might be charged with one of the murders committed in the town. It is unnecessary to add that he was a man of equally high morals and education. . . . After his father’s painful illness and death, the patient’s obsessional selfreproaches appearedhe was in his thirtyfirst year at the timetaking the shape of a phobia transferred on to strangers. A person, he felt, who was capable of wanting to push his own father over a precipice from the top of a mountain was not to be trusted to respect the lives of those less closely related to him; he was quite right to shut himself up in his room.(21)
Freud’s account provides the solution both to Reagan’s phobias and to the mystery of his castration anxieties during the “Where’s the rest of me?” scene. First, we must take into account Reagan’s personal circumstances during the filming. He had just gotten married, in January of 1940, and had just had his first child, Maureen, in January 1941, both
|THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER||41|
dangerous actions on his part, revealing that he had sexual wishes and inviting punishment from his father. Then-though this date is mentioned neither in his autobiography nor in any of his biographies-his father died four months later, on May 18,1941.(22) Like Freud’s patient, Reagan felt that ever since he was a child and was kicked and beaten by his father, he had wished for his father’s death. When his father really died, in 1941, Reagan unconsciously felt he should be punished, as the King’s Row character was punished. During the filming, a few months after his father’s death, when he found he had to portray a scene showing that his legs had been cut ‘off, he panicked. It was too real, an almost exact duplication of his personal situation at that time. When he looked at the flat covers “where my legs should have been,” he “felt something horrible had happened to my body” because he felt he himself deserved castration, for marrying, for being sexual, for becoming a father himself, for having wanted his own father dead.
After the death of his father and the making of King’s Row, Reagan went into the army. When he got out, his personal life quickly began to slide downhill. He first spent six months doing nothing but building model boats. Then he went back to work in such a depressed mood that he spent most of his time quarreling with his studio and avoiding his wife, Jane Wyman, by spending all his free time at Screen Actors Guild meetings. His need to sabotage his marriage soon became so severe it led to a divorce. In the court proceedings, Jane Wyman stated that the mar-riage had ended because his union activities took all his time. But perhaps more to the point was her remark to Gregory Peck, after the hearings, that the reason why she left Reagan was that “I just couldn’t stand to watch that damn King’s Row one more time.”(23) Reagan obviously had continued to be obsessed by the castration scene, viewing it repeatedly in an attempt to master its personal meaning for himself.
By 1947, Reagan’s despair about his life reached its climax. He began carrying a loaded pistol-ostensibly, he said, as protection against mutilation threats,(24) but also as a return to his earlier having owned guns as a child and in his twenties.(25) He let his physical condition run down so badly he came down with pneumonia, went to the hospital and became aware that he wanted to die. While in bed, he hallucinated that Hum-phrey Bogart was in the room with him (Bogart was a father-figure to him at that time.) He describes the hallucination in his autobiography:
Humphrey Bogart appeared, and we played an interminable scene exchanging and wearing innumerable trenchcoats, and trying to say lines to each other, always with a furtive air of danger in the surrounding darkness. Someone else can take a crack at analyzing what this Freudian delirium meant. This was evidently the night-“Big Casino, bet or throw in.” . . . I decided I’d be more comfortable not breathing.(26)
Reagan had become so depressed, he felt he wanted to “exchange trenchcoats with Bogart”-that is, exchange places with his dead father (trenchcoat = shroud). His guilt at outliving his father, his conviction that his wishes had actually killed him, had grown to such a point that only the ultimate punishment, his own death, would suffice. At that moment on the hospital bed, he was thrown back to his childhood, when he sometimes used to feel so depressed that he wished for death, once writing a poem extolling death as a salvation from “life’s dreary dirge.”(27) If a devoted nurse had not coaxed him to continue breathing, he said, he would have quit living then and there.(28) Something would have to change in himself if he was to go on living with his guilt.
What Reagan changed was his life goal itself. After his pneumonia episode, he suddenly decided to become an anti-communist. As for many Americans, anti-communism was for Reagan a perfect solution for his parricidal wishes. It solved the problem of his guilt for his father’s death by putting his disturbing wishes into the communists. Without being consciously aware of why, he found that his new anti-communist activities made him feel better, saying to himself, in effect, “It’s not me who wants to kill daddy. It’s the commies who want to destroy all authority. And if I fight them, I’ll be able to control my own wishes in them.”(29)
His conversion from acting as a career to being an anti-communist politician was, Reagan said, like finding “the rest of me,” like moving from a “monastery” into a life of action.(30) Now, rather than accepting the self-image of a passive boy, guilty of his father’s death, he could assume the active role as a fighter against those who want authorities dead. Rather than staying at home and endlessly watching himself on the screen without legs, he could-like FDR, another man who had used politics to conquer the loss of his legs-take action against those who now embodied his dangerous wishes. The moment he switched from being a liberal Democrat to a crusading anti-communist, he not only found the rest of himself, he solved the problem of guilt in his life, by taking all the things he felt guilty about and putting them into an “enemy.” At the age of 36, Ronald Reagan had finally found how to live without crippling anxieties.
His new defensive mechanism even enabled him to remarry without conscious guilt. In marrying Nancy Davis, he was able to repeat the crucial mutilation scene from King’s Row . . . except that this time the outcome was one of triumph rather than defeat. Nancy’s father, like the sadistic father in the movie, was also a surgeon, and Reagan made sure he repeated the film’s sceneno as closely as he could by arriving for their first date on crutches, having broken his leg in a baseball game.(31) This time, however, he could marry the surgeon’s daughter because he was able to externalize his guilt for his sexual wishes by putting his guilt-
|BLATANT SEXUAL MISBEHAVIOR||43|
provoking wishes into the communists, “the most evil enemy mankind has known in its long climb from the swamp.”(32)
For Reagan not only saw communists as parricides, but also as extremely active sexually-completely in contrast to the actual sexual code in most communist countries. For instance, when he ran for Governor of California, one of the central themes of his campaign was “the mess at Berkeley,” a place where, he said, they held “sexual orgies so vile I can-not describe them to you,” promising if elected to “investigate the charges of communism and blatant sexual misbehavior on the Berkeley campus.”(33) A good part of the reason why he was elected was that, as one biographer put it, “hidden away in the hearts of parents was the fear that their own children might one day go away to college, grow beards and march against authority.”(34)
Reagan promised these voters that his first targets as Governor would be the students at Berkeley, “advocates of sexual orgies, drug usage, and filthy speech,” who wanted only to “disrupt the academic community” and who therefore must be brought under control immediately.(35) The situation at Berkeley, he told a woman’s club in April of 1966, was now so bad that their “morality gap is so great that we can no longer ignore it.” He had proof, he said, that the Alameda County District Attorney had just investigated a student dance which had turned into “an orgy,” where they had displayed on a giant screen “pictures of men and women, nude, in sensuous poses, provocative, fondling.”(36) Since Reagan had waved a piece of paper in the air during the speech, saying that he had the report of the DA’s investigation “in his hand,” curious reporters later asked the DA for a copy, only to be told that “my office made no investigations of the college dance.”(37)
This typical incident illustrates one of the problems with using politics as a way of solving internal problems. For those who externalize their own anxieties, action is more often taken to solve current personal problems than to deal with actual situations in the real world. A vast gulf separates the anti-communist crusade of Reagan and others and rational actions taken to reduce real threats by communists and others. The crusading anti-communist sees dangers when his or her own feelings are about to get out of control rather than when reality is actually becoming dangerous. Orgies at student dances could hardly be considered one of the major dangers to the State of California in 1966. Reagan’s political actions are far more likely to stem from current dangers in his own inner life than from dangers in the real world. Because of his severe personal problems-ones which he shares with many Americans-he is likely to overlook reality conditions which need attention in favor of situations which represent wishes of his own which are giving him problems.
When Reagan needs to dump his wishes into others, it often leads him to actions which violate his own conscious sense of fairness. For instance, one month after Reagan became Governor, he received a $2 million gift from Twentieth-Century Fox, disguised as a payment for some land he owned which had cost him little and which was so “barren and craggy,” according to The Wall Street Journal article revealing the affair, that the county real estate appraiser said the sale was obviously “not a fair-market sale.” The president of Fox’s real estate unit told a reporter who later asked about the incident, “Why should we want to air those dirty linens? It would just dirty Fox’s name. Maybe management decided they owed Reagan a favor. Who knows? Who cares?”(38)
Whatever the motives behind the $2 million gift and whatever its con-nection to the real-estate backers who had asked Reagan to run for Governor, the money made Reagan rich for the first time in his life. But the satisfaction of such forbidden wishes made him feel guilty. Someone would have to be punished for his own greedy wishes. Part of that “someone” turned out to be needy and retarded children. The very same day that Reagan received the $2 million gift from Fox, he was drafting a budget which increased his own pay and that of other state executives, but which also cut out virtually all funds for the Needy Children’s School Lunch Program and which also cut the 79 cent a day meal allowance for retarded children in state mental hospitals. The allowance contained a main meal, before the proposed cut, which was described as “watery navy beans, cole slaw, one thin slice of bologna dry around the edges, one slice of bread and a cup of milk.”(39) That Reagan felt bad about hav-ing to cut the 79 cent meal allowance of retarded children was obvious from his defensiveness about the cuts, claiming that they would actually “improve” the meals.(40)
Now Ronald Reagan was clearly not personally cruel toward children in his life. Even though he distanced his own children somewhat by sending them to boarding schools, he was certainly not abusive toward them. He even gave money for the poor to charity every year. How, then, could he cut a 79 cent a day meal allowance for handicapped children?
The answer to this recurring puzzle-as always when public action deviates so markedly from private morality-is that once a personal defense system is established which depends on dumping disavowed feel-ings into political objects, people no longer have a conscious choice over their actions. Those weren’t real children who were being made to suffer, they were symbols, symbols of Reagan’s own “greedy” desires. The children’s very real suffering had to be denied because the children con-tained parts of Reagan which he had to disown. His own personal feelings toward children were secondary. He had to cut the 79 cent meal allowance in order to punish “the greedy child in himself” for having
|GOVERNMENT IS LIKE A BABY||45|
become so rich. Only by punishing an appropriate scapegoat could he feel relieved. The retarded children just happened to be one of the appropriate scapegoats available.
This mechanism extended to all of his budget-cutting efforts. That he was little interested in actually reducing the total expenses of the State of California was obvious from the fact that the state budget more than doubled during his term. Real budget control is a tedious, demanding job, one which requires real expertise, which Reagan was uninterested in acquiring. Yet because he himself had become a rich and powerful man, he-like so many rich and powerful people-had to advocate a rhetoric of asceticism in government in order to still his own guilt about his per-sonal condition. That he mainly chose to cut budgets for the poor and helpless-symbolically, children, symbols of his own childish wishes-made little difference to his surface political image as a budget-cutter. In fact, hidden beneath this surface image was the known fact that he was actually a big spender, who at the same time could be counted on to sacrifice the poor and helpless as magical guilt-reducing devices.
Government, to Reagan-as to many of his supporters-was not seen as an adult, helpful or harmful as the case may be. Government was a place where one could dump one’s childish wishes and then attempt to control them. “Government is like a baby,” he said, “an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. If you keep feeding it, we’ll be up to our neck in something… oh yes. Debt.”(41) Government is the place we put our “greedy baby” wishes, and if we feed them, we’ll drown. Government, like the communists, is “the enemy,” and it is a mistake to think it might help people. As Reagan put it in his campaign, “The time has come for us to stop being our brother’s keeper.”(42) Even if one becomes the government, one must deny it. “We belong here only so long as we refer to government as ‘they’ and never think of it as ‘we,’ ” he told his staff after taking office.(43)
Once Reagan dumps his dangerous feelings into the political arena, his central problem is to bring under control situations which threaten to get “out of control.” As he puts it, those who support him agree with his deepest feelings that there is “a panic fear in the air, partly due to a feel-ing of helplessness, a feeling that government is now a separate force beyond our control. . . “(44) The more his disturbing inner feelings could be injected into the political scene, the better he felt-even if to an out-side observer the situation hardly seemed something to feel good about. For example, students were easy to provoke in the Sixties, and thus were excellent containers for his inner rage. Therefore, as one of his biographers, Bill Boyarsky, put it, “As governor, Reagan used to revel in confrontations with students.”(45) The more chaotic the situation on
California campuses, the happier Reagan appeared to feel. In 1969, during the student riots in which Reagan would blurt out his famous statement that “if it’s a blood-bath, let it be now,” a typical work day was described as follows:
Then he prepared a statement, called a press conference a day ahead of schedule, and told hastily assembled reporters he was proclaiming a state of emergency and calling out the California Highway Patrol to protect the university from “criminal anarchists” and “off-campus revolutionaries.” “Students have been assaulted and beaten as they attempted to attend classes,” Reagan said. “Streets and sidewalks providing access to the campus have been physically blocked. Classes have been disrupted. Arsons and fire-bombings have occurred and univer-sity property has been destroyed.” Reagan was happy about what he had done, saying to his press secretary, Paul Beck, on the way back to his office, “I’ll sleep well tonight.”(46)
In contrast to the night before the King’s Row filming, when he “could not sleep” because he was trying to deal with chaotic feelings inside himself, now he would .”sleep well,” because the chaos was safely out-side himself.
Unfortunately, this process of dumping internal problems into the political arena is only effective if the people around the leader share his delusions on some level and agree to help him control his feelings. As one author puts it,
persons with anxieties create an atmosphere of anxiety around them and feel better if this anxiety is outside themselves. This also may have a double-edged character; if they succeed too well, and discover that everyone around them is really frightened, they may feel they have destroyed their potential protection, are endangered by retaliation, and suddenly become extremely frightened themselves.(47)
The formula “turmoil outside equals peace inside” therefore has its limits, for Reagan as well as for others like him who use politics to solve personal problems. When they finally make everyone around them so frightened that the outside world no longer seems able to safely contain their disowned feelings, the situation is suddenly then seen as terribly threatening. In order to restore their inner balance, they may then have to take violent action to destroy “the enemy” who now seems to be “out of control.”
|HIS OWN PERSONAL DUMPING PROCESS||47|
It is precisely at this point where the personal psychology of the leader intersects with the shared fantasies of the nation. When the nation feels “strong,” during the honeymoon period early in the leader’s term of of-fice, people idealize him and tell him how wonderful his programs will turn out. He is convinced that he can keep the nation (and his own dangerous wishes) “under control” through his ability to sacrifice such groups as “welfare cheats” and others who are imagined to contain all the nation’s bad, “greedy” wishes. But when these minor sacrifices appear to fail, when the leader appears to be weakening and the nation collapsing,” the leader unconsciously feels it is his own personal dumping process which is getting “out of control.” He then is tempted to im-agine an “enemy”-generally foreign-who is “on the move.” What is newly threatening, of course, is internal; it only appears to be external. But it seems to be terribly dangerous just the same.
That the dangerous “enemy” is in fact our own feelings is our most deeply denied truth. Yet it is made obvious by the unnoticed fact that we never go to war in the first year of a presidency, only when our leader’s authority appears to have collapsed.(48) This “collapse” state has no actual relationship to reality conditions, only to internal shared fantasy states. Most of the “dangerous” periods in our history have been based on fantasy, not reality. This is particularly true of our anti-communist fears, beginning with The Truman Doctrine, which was proclaimed in 1947 when America enjoyed an atomic monopoly and Russia lay prostrate from World War II damage, but which Dean Acheson nevertheless saw as the time of greatest threat to America in our entire history.(49) These “collapse” fears soon led to the bloody, protracted Korean War against communism. This was followed by the generally peaceful and less fearful Eisenhower years, when-although in reality Russia had gained enormously in military strength and nuclear missile development-we felt for internal reasons much less threatened. So, too, the inner feelings of “collapse” during the turbulent Sixties , which led to the Vietnam War, had their origin more in our own internal state of mind than in anything which had happened in Asia.(50)
There are times of growth and stability when the nation chooses a personality like that of Eisenhower, who would in the middle of a crisis go out to putt on the White House lawn, saying to reporters that “the mere fact that some little incident arises is not going to disturb me. I have been scared by experts, in war and in peace, and I am not frightened about this.”(51) There are other times, in reaction to a period of rapid economic growth and important personal and social change, when America chooses a personality like that of Truman or Johnson, both of whom share with Reagan a need to inject their personal desires into outside enemies in order to control them.(52) This explains why, when Reagan
first began to run for the presidency, in 1975, his candidacy produced little response from a nation busy revitalizing its economy, expanding its social welfare programs and changing its family and work conditions through major women’s rights and sexual revolutions. The second time around, however, in 1979, the nation, reacting to the vast changes produced by the previous four years, was in a different mood altogether. When Reagan announced his candidacy this time, despite one observer’s worries that “a man approaching seventy is going to have a hard time giving a new speech when he’s given the same speech two hundred nights a year for twenty years,”(53) America was in a completely different mood. This time, we needed someone who mirrored our inner anxieties about the personal, economic and social changes which had so much affected our lives. This time we needed Ronald Reagan.
The mood of the nation after the anxiety-producing changes of the Seventies-and after Carter had refused to purge these anxieties through a large-scale Iranian invasion-was summed up by Henry Kissinger in the fantasy language of his Keynote Address to the 1980 Republican Convention:
weakness… impotent… upheavals… disaster… painful… fear slid… shocked… chaos… feeble… fear… upheaval… paralysis… humiliation… disaster… slipping… weakness… crash… fears… whipsawed… unraveling… impotence… chaos… despair… crushing… turmoil.. lost… disasters… war… impotence… war… war… fears… dark forces
No greater contrast could be imagined between this language of “disaster” and “humiliation” and the hopeful feelings of the 1976 Democratic Convention which had nominated Jimmy Carter. The nation was now looking for an entirely different kind of personality, someone who could reflect their sense of “impotence” and “chaos,” someone whose personal problems forced him, like the nation, to see “turmoil” and “dark forces” where none existed. During the campaign, Carter’s restrained personal style was simply overwhelmed by Reagan’s flood of castration language emphasizing “bloody cuts,” “despair” and “pollution.” The contrast can clearly be seen in their respective responses to the questions put to them in their October 28th television debate.
|PROVIDE US WITH SCAPEGOATS||49|
|Q: War? Paralysis? Cuts?|
|R: Heart… falls… war…war… wars… bleed… bloody cuts… cuts… cuts… cut… cutting… war… cut||C: Injection|
|Q: Shocks? Shock? Cutting? Cut?|
|R: Plague… cut… lick… grinding… flooding… cutting… wiping out… cuts||C: Cut|
|R: Bombed-out… great gaunt skeletons… smashed out… despair… bulldozed down… bully… dead… witch doctor… burn… clean… pollution pollution… rug pulled out… frighten… destroy roof fall in||C: Despair… deteriorating sex… purity… eggs… pollution|
|R: Misery… misery… heart lonely… off the backs… turn loose||C: War.. war… weakness… war… lonely|
Try as hard as he could, Carter could not match Reagan’s deep feelings of death, despair and destruction. An ABC poll found Reagan the winner of the debate by a 2-1 margin.(54) We had found someone who felt about himself what we felt about ourselves, someone who agreed that the changes of the past decade had made everything seem to be “out of control,” someone whose monetary policies promised to provide us with scapegoats who would be punished for our desires. For most of Reagan’s
actual abilities mattered little to us – that because of his emotional problems his grasp of reality was so damaged that he was a poor administrator, that he knew little about economics, that his phobic work habits were so poor that he had to be fed digests of complex problems on one-page summaries and fell asleep at important meetings whenever he felt too trapped by their intimacy.(55) Nor were his considerable personal charm and his ability to communicate on television important in producing his landslide election victory. What elected Ronald Reagan was two promises he made to us:
(1) that he would bring to a halt the growth and disturbing changes of the Seventies by producing a recession which would sacrifice people who were appropriate symbols of our greediness, and
(2) that if this internal sacrifice should fail to make us feel better, he, unlike Carter, could be counted upon to provide us with an external sacrifice, a military action which would at last give us an object for our rage and wipe out the “enemies” who represented our dangerous wishes, the communists.(56)
With these crucial unconscious promises uppermost, Reagan’s America could begin to accomplish the historical task of the early Eighties: what to do with the anxieties produced by the new vision of personal and social life that had evolved during the Sixties and Seventies.