Once More, with Feeling
11/19/1984 at 01:00 AM EST
It was Ronald Reagan's last election, the final victory of a charmed public life, and fittingly, perhaps, a landslide of startling proportions. Citizens flocked to the polls to bestow upon the 73-year-old Chief Executive a resounding vote of confidence: a mandate for four more years of the avuncular, low-key stewardship and conservative ideology that have stamped the Gipper's first term in the White House.
The people's verdict reflected deep satisfaction with the Reagan program, which, despite mounting deficits and Cold War rhetoric, has given the country newfound pride and a resurgent economy. As the voices recorded on the following pages show, Reagan's reelection turned as much on image and personality as it did on the issues. The President is seen as an appealing mixture of vigor, strength and affability: a natural leader.
Beth Becton, 23, Americus, Ga. Working at a little bank in Plains, across the street from the railroad depot Jimmy Carter made famous, Becton contrasts the two Presidents: "Jimmy Carter brought a lot of publicity to Plains and the Carters are wonderful people. But Ronald Reagan has brought a lot of patriotism to the whole country." Reagan stands for her values. "I think dependence on government has gotten way out of hand. Small government is important to the strength of democracy." The President's age is a nonissue for Becton: "I don't think he's senile," she says. "He's very intelligent and vigorous."
Elizabeth Gray, Cadiz, Ohio. "I'm a Reagan girl through and through," boasts Gray (with customer Louisa Slates, 96, and Gray's husband Harvey, 82). "We have a lot in common—we're both as Irish as Paddy's pig." In business for 50 years, she feels that "Reagan is going to bring us back. The deficit is no fault of his. He inherited a lot and he's done everything to keep us on an even keel. Rome wasn't built in a day."
Investment banker Thomas
Peretti, 46, San Francisco. "I didn't choose to be gay, but I chose to be a Republican," says Peretti, a gay activist and president of Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights. "There is a common misconception that all gays are leftists and liberals. We're not a monolithic block." Peretti says he's "not happy" over Reagan's alliance with Jerry Falwell, the leader of the antigay Moral Majority. "But Reagan believes in limited government interference in the lives of individuals, and that's what most gays are looking for."
Lance Porter, 27, Madera, Calif. After serving 15 months for his third drunk-driving conviction, Porter was released four days before Election Day. On Nov. 6 he headed straight to the polls to cast the first vote of his life—for Ronald Reagan. Porter credits the President's policies with fostering his own upbeat mood. "Hell, I couldn't wait to get out of there," he says. "I've got three job offers to pick from—two in construction and one in sheet metal. It wasn't like that four years ago. Things just keep getting better."
Mike Hennenfent, 39, Gilson, Ill. A family farmer whose wife and three children help him to raise hogs and grow corn and soybeans on 1,100 acres, Hennenfent says he's better off under Reagan. "In the 70s, under Carter," he explains, "we planted fence row to fence row with the idea of feeding the world. Then he hit us with the embargo." Reagan lifted the embargo, curbed inflation and best of all, in Hennenfent's view, reduced government controls in agriculture. "In the Corn Belt we'd like to see a return to the supply and demand market," he says.
Charlton Heston, 60, Beverly Hills. "I voted for Ronald Reagan before most people could," boasts Heston. "In the early '50s I helped elect him president of the Screen Actors Guild." Over the years Heston has also supported Democrats like Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy, but now he feels the party has moved "significantly to the left of the American electorate, while the Republican Party has moved slightly to the center." Heston compares Reagan to John Kennedy, saying, "He has that ability to kindle enthusiasm in people. His skills as a communicator are widely dismissed as an actor's trickery, but people fail to recognize that the performance factor is a large part of a successful political leader's job. Winston Churchill partly won WW II because of his performance skills. Consider de Gaulle and Castro—both great performers." Of Reagan he adds, "Obviously he's a much more successful President than he was an actor. He was only a modestly successful actor."
Robert, 63, and Kathryn Dare, 59, Chinatown, San Francisco. Reagan's get-the-government-off-the-people's-backs philosophy has hit home with the Dares, second-generation Chinese-Americans, whose parents emigrated from Canton at the turn of the century. "We just want to be left alone to find it within ourselves to improve business," says Robert, a former engineer who has labored with his wife for 25 years to build their shop into a profitable enterprise. The self-made couple, who have five children, also share the President's disdain for handouts. "America is a land of opportunity," says Kathryn, "but you have to go out and get the opportunity yourself." Besides, as Robert explains, "Reagan never played the bad guy in the movies. It's ingrown in us that he's always going to be the good guy."
Al Hahn, 42, Madera, Calif. "My grandfather would probably turn over in his grave if he knew I were voting Republican," says Al Hahn, a captain in the county sheriff's department. Hahn, married with three children, cites the economic upswing as his primary reason for backing Reagan this year. "My dollar seems to go a lot further than it did four years ago," he declares. Reagan's "leadership aura" also appeals to Hahn. "I don't think a President has to be superhuman," he says. "I've got lieutenants and sergeants around who advise me, too."
Mary Strawsma, 37, Otterbein, Ind. Strawsma welcomes the attention Reagan has focused on schools and teachers, although she parts company with the President on school prayer: "I don't want to be responsible for teaching other people's children prayers." But Strawsma supports Reaganomics. She's watched both the unemployed parents of her students and her husband, Larry, find jobs under Reagan.
Charles Shaw, 41, Napa Valley, Calif. Six years ago he left his banking job in Houston and purchased a 50-acre vineyard. It now grosses $1 million a year and in Shaw's mind vindicates Reagan economics. "This idea of 'trickle down' sounds terrible," he says. "But by God, it works. My operation supports 20 employees and 60 family members." Shaw, who with his wife, Lucy, has five children, aged 1 to 15, says the Gipper's effectiveness as a team manager makes up for his failure to grasp the minutiae of the Presidency: "I admire the courage he has in choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong."
Charles Larry, 39, Houston. "I catch a lot of heat in the black community for liking Reagan," admits Larry, a senior marketing specialist with Exxon. "I was called down from the pulpit of my church once for being a Republican. The pastor implied I was a traitor." But Larry—who grew up among working-class people in Florida, graduated from Tennessee State University and has been holding down jobs since age 9—identifies with the President's devotion to the work ethic. "I agree with Reagan's philosophy of people helping themselves," explains Larry, who is married : and has a new daughter.
Frank Marcino, 38, Steubenville, Ohio. "People want something for nothing and we're gonna drown ourselves," warns Marcino, who is married with four children. Reagan, he says, epitomizes a much-needed free enterprise spirit of "keeping going and doing things. He doesn't make people financially better, but he makes them mentally better." Union concessions have cut Marcino's salary by nearly $12,000. He's taken a part-time sales job, invested in a grocery co-op and beauty shop, and isn't sure he can hold onto what he has. Still, he defends Reagan's way—"giving big business a break"—as the right way. "A lot of guys just don't know how to take their lumps," says the part-time football coach whose goal is to own a business and put 5,000 people to work.
Kelly Adams, 22, Newman, Ga. Kelly's father set her up in business a year and a half ago, but she credits Reagan and an improved economy for her success: "Everything is thriving. Reagan brought down the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. I wouldn't have this," she says, pointing to a small fleet of bicycles in her shop, "if he weren't in office. It's not just what he's done, but how he's done it," she adds, praising Reagan's optimistic style. "When he took charge, things were kinda on the downside. Carter just seemed to be down on everything. Now people can be proud of this country again." Kelly also approves of Reagan's conservative approach to foreign aid: "You just can't keep giving money to little countries," she says.
Dusty Hoaglund, 20, Eagle, Colo. Out of work with a broken leg, Hoagland is giving up on ranching and heading for Phoenix in search of a job to support his wife-to-be, Brenda, 17, and their 19-month-old son, Michael Warren. Yet he still likes the "old-style traditional values" of a President who takes a strong stand on abortion and defense, and rides horses: "He reminds me of my grandpa when he tells stories about when he was young. Reagan can teach us how to get the job done."
Jim Littlefield, 47, York, Maine. After 33 years of fishing 10 hours a day, Littlefield takes a decidedly ornery view of politics. He dislikes the Democrats' promises: "I don't like their theory that no one's gonna die and everyone's goin' to heaven," he says. "You gonna dance, you pay the fiddler." Littlefield, who is married and has a son in college, was for Reagan, but with sharp reservations. He disagrees with the Administration's policy on abortion and especially on its encouragement of the nuclear arms buildup, explaining, "I don't care to see everything around the country go up in a puff of smoke."
Richard Butterworth, 49, Shrewsbury, W.Va. A veteran of three failed marriages, Butter-worth says, "There ain't no way I would vote for a woman for Vice President. I've never come across a woman yet who could keep a clear head when she gets excited. If there was a crisis, she'd just get mad and say, 'Take that, you sons of bitches,' and we'd wake up in the middle of a nuclear war." Secure in his $30,000-a-year job, Butterworth doesn't blame Reagan for high unemployment: "If a man wants to work, he just has to look." A registered Democrat, he voted for Reagan in 1980, "though I wasn't too happy at first about having a movie star President." Now he says, "The man needs another four years. He's done some good and he tries. That's all I care about."
Sheryl Osgood, 22, University of New Hampshire. Sheryl, a senior political science major, reflects the new, conservative mood on college campuses. Last August she changed her registration from independent to Republican, attracted, she says, by Reagan's firm leadership. She calls the Soviets "untrustworthy," lambastes welfare recipients who "snow" the government and praises Reagan's policies as a symbol of a "more stable, moral time." She hopes his second term will help curb the excessive drinking and casual sex that she sees and deplores on college campuses. On the abortion controversy she says: "I don't want the government to pay the expenses for people just because they made a mistake."
Carolyn Farb, 43, Houston. A wealthy socialite who won a $20 million divorce settlement from real-estate magnate Harold Farb last year, Carolyn is active on the charity circuit, writes for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine and is a prominent fund raiser for the Reagan-Bush campaign. "People should be able to hold on to what they have," says the svelte blonde. "But the Republicans are not a party just of the wealthy. Reagan's policies benefit everyone—the poor included. People attack him for not supporting the ERA—but look at Elizabeth Dole, Margaret Heckler and Sandra Day O'Connor. The country stands up proud now as a result of Reagan."
David Cobb, 54, Plymouth, Mass. Like many other cranberry farmers in the state, Cobb is enjoying a fruitful harvest in 1984. "After starving for 30 years, we're making money now. All of us can buy new pickups, says the ex-college teacher. "The President is making it less difficult for small businessmen to exist. But sometimes he's wrong. He's wrong on the deficit. I don't agree with him on abortion, either. He's wrong to yell at the Russians all the time. I don't agree with him on some big issues, but he's a heck of a man!"
Bob Eller, 42, Otterbein, Ind. "In my business I've seen a lot of sharp old people," says Eller, a staunch Reagan fan who professes himself unconcerned with the President's age. Although Eller's barber shop has hit the skids, he supports the President's economic policies, blaming his bad fortune on the hairstylists who have stolen away his customers. Eller, who is married with two small children, also agrees with Reagan on military spending. "It's time to build up our defense," he says, "and use it if we have to."