The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
"Until Next Week": The Saturday Radio Addresses of Ronald Reagan
Robert C. Rowland & John M. Jones, Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2002

[This is an abridgement]
Reagan giving radio address from Camp David

This article analyzes President Ronald Reagan's radio addresses by placing them into seven categories: general defense of the administration, domestic issues, foreign policy, defense policy or anti-Soviet, social issues, epideictic, and campaign, as well as several subcategories. Based on this categorization, the study argues that Reagan's rhetorical practice was both more inclusive and more moderate than has been realized and that Reagan was an involved principal in the creation of the radio speeches.

There are two competing camps concerning the rhetorical legacy of Ronald Reagan. The dominant interpretation in the media and also among academic scholars is that Reagan was a skillful presenter of other people's speeches, a master at using often maudlin stories to oversimplify complex issues in support of an extremely conservative agenda....Revisionists argue in contrast that Reagan's rhetoric was quite substantive, that it skillfully mixed together various themes to appeal to the widest possible audience, and that Reagan himself played a key role in the creation of his rhetoric. Some revisionists also argue that in his rhetoric at least, Reagan took far more moderate positions than has been recognized. In this article, we use an analysis of the 330 brief radio addresses that Reagan delivered every Saturday for more than seven years of his presidency to support the revisionist interpretation.

Reagan's Rhetorical Legacy

The dominant interpretation of Reagan's rhetoric among both academics and the media has been to treat Reagan as simply a skillful announcer for the conservative cause. In this view, Reagan mouthed an essentially unsubstantive rhetoric, focusing on happy narratives about the greatness of America to support an extremely conservative political agenda....Advocates of this perspective can be quite harsh in their assessment. For example, Richard Pious argued that for Reagan, "personalities became more important than issues; metaphor, analogy, and storytelling become more important than inconvenient facts; emotion displaced reason in political argumentation." In a review of Edmund Morris's biography of Reagan, Steven R. Weisman referred to Reagan's "habitual denials of reality" and "eccentric standard of belief" as if these positions were universally accepted. In addition, those who uphold what might be labeled the conventional wisdom concerning Ronald Reagan treat him as either captured by or a representative of the most conservative wing of the Republican party. In this view, Reagan's views were essentially indistinguishable from far-right politicians of the late nineties and the early years of the twenty-first century such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Dan Quayle, and so forth. Put most simply, the conventional wisdom is that Reagan's legacy could be summarized as extreme conservatism, showmanship, and a rhetorical practice empty of serious ideas.

The competing revisionist view of Reagan is quite different. Advocates of this perspective argue that Reagan was not an empty suit, that he was in fact the primary author of the core ideological positions of his administration. Revisionists also argue that Reagan was an adaptable rhetorician, not the simplistic teller of false stories depicted in the work of many who take the dominant perspective. Some revisionists go so far as to argue that Reagan himself was a skilled wordsmith and one of his most effective speechwriters.

Some but by no means all of the revisionists also argue that Reagan was not a far-right extremist. Rather, in their view, he supported his agenda by assuming the role of a practical reformer who wanted to rein in excesses in Washington and often took moderate and even progressive positions. For instance, Gary Woodward noted surprising parallels between Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt, including "their attitudes ... that government can act in predictable and decisive ways" to improve the nation. Woodward particularly emphasized Reagan's use of the phrase, "there's nothing wrong with America that together we can't fix"; and he added that "this liberal article of faith was preached many times along the campaign trail, leaving conservative thinkers such as George Will with the conclusion that Americans today are more conservative than Reagan." Thomas Preston noted that while Reagan disparaged "government" as the culprit responsible for America's economic problems, his disdain for government ceased when it came to matters of national defense:

In passages pertaining to defense, the terms "waste" and "inefficiency" disappeared entirely from association with government expenditure. Although the term "government" did not appear in these passages, government expenditure was advanced as a cure for America's weakness and was suddenly no longer at the sufferance of the American taxpayer.

In Preston's view, Reagan wanted to cut domestic programs that he thought were wasteful or counterproductive but was not inherently antigovernment....

The battle between the dominant and the revisionist views of Reagan was, oddly enough, one of the key issues in the 2000 Republican primary election contest between George W. Bush and John McCain. Both candidates claimed to be the heir to Ronald Reagan and his revolution, but they took very different tacks in their view of that revolution....

Commentary on the early days of the Bush administration indicates the continuing influence of Reagan on Republican politics. A number of conservative commentators have noted that Bush combines conservative policy positions with a sunny optimistic rhetoric and concluded that he is enacting the perspective of Ronald Reagan far more than of his own father. One of Reagan's primary advisors, Martin Anderson, pointed out that in relation to military policy, Social Security, educational vouchers, and tax policy, Bush's positions were quite similar to Reagan's. Walter Williams said simply, "Voters may have thought they were electing Bush II, a moderate Republican, but they elected Reagan II." Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said that the Bush administration was "more Reaganite than the Reagan administration." Steven Thomma summarized this view, arguing that "Bush follows in footsteps of Reagan, not his father." Some saw similarities between the Bush administration and Reagan's two terms based on style as well as policy....

The continuing importance of Reagan in Republican politics makes it especially important to nail down his rhetorical legacy. Chait has observed that "reflexive Reagan worship" and a tendency to treat Reagan as "an omniscient figure" dominate conservative politics, a view that explains the movement to place a monument to Reagan in each county in the nation and carve his face into Mount Rushmore.

The rhetorical legacy of Ronald Reagan is a sharply contested issue. Moreover, the rhetorical legacy of Ronald Reagan speaks to larger issues relating to the status of public talk and the role played by rhetoric in democratic decision making. If Reagan's undeniable rhetorical and political successes can be traced to a positive but essentially empty rhetorical practice, it indicates the presence of grave structural problems in the public sphere. On the other hand, if Reagan's rhetoric was neither empty nor as conservative as most commentators seem to believe, then his role in American political life may have been quite different from the conventional wisdom.

In this article, we use a close analysis of the more than 300 short radio speeches that Reagan delivered at noon each Saturday to support the revisionist interpretation of Reagan's rhetoric. The radio speeches cover nearly the entirety of Reagan's two terms and include talks on virtually every issue of public concern in the 1980s. Having been inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, Ronald Reagan followed in his footsteps fifty years later by using radio as a medium to better connect with the American people. Beginning in 1982, President Ronald Reagan presented 330 weekly Saturday radio addresses to the American people, concluding nearly every address with his trademark phrase, "Until next week, thanks for listening."

The radio addresses are an appropriate site to test the two interpretations of Reagan's rhetoric because they were presented during virtually the entire period of his presidency, included talks on all of the major issues that defined his presidency (and many other subjects as well), and were aimed at the nation as a whole rather than a particular interest group....

The Radio Addresses

According to the press, Reagan turned to the radio addresses out of frustration with the treatment his administration was receiving in the media. He hoped to take his message directly to the people. While the exact audience for the radio addresses is unknown, they clearly reached a sizable group of people either directly or through media reporting about the addresses. Press Secretary Larry Speakes's "guess" that the number of stations carrying the addresses was roughly one thousand may have been inflated, but it seems clear that a significant audience heard many of the broadcasts. Approximately one quarter of the Mutual Broadcasting Service stations carried the first series of speeches, reaching an estimated audience of 1.5 million, and both NBC and ABC also made the broadcasts available to affiliates. While Reagan's audience in any given week probably was in the low millions, over the course of his two terms, he undoubtedly reached a significant segment of the American people. Moreover, the broadcasts were designed to shape the headlines in the Sunday newspapers and draw broadcast media coverage, functions that clearly were fulfilled. A study by Howard Martin found that Reagan "succeeded in securing substantial attention from the same-day evening news reports of the two networks with Saturday news broadcasts, CBS and NBC and from the New York Times the next day."

Originally, Reagan planned to present a series of ten radio addresses mostly focusing on his administration's economic program. However, the first series of addresses quickly led to a second, which then led to the institutionalization of the Saturday radio address, a practice that continued unbroken through the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations. From April 1982 to the end ofhis presidency, Reagan presented radio addresses on nearly every significant (and some that were not so significant) policy controversy of the time and on a host of ceremonial topics....There are 178 drafts of radio addresses containing everything from handwritten edits to complete scripts in the Handwriting Files, Speech Drafts Collection, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The Handwriting Files consist of speeches that contain notes, edits, or any other direct input from President Reagan. Surprisingly, the radio addresses have received little critical attention. They are not even mentioned in the foremost study of genres of presidential discourse....

In the remainder of this article, we use a critical analysis of the radio addresses to draw conclusions to test the dominant and revisionist interpretations of Reagan's rhetorical legacy. We analyzed the speeches via a two-step process in which we first placed each address in a thematic category and then identified the primary strategies and support materials that were used to support that theme. Given that Reagan presented more than three hundred radio addresses, close analysis of stylistic or other textual details was not appropriate. Moreover, the contested issues involving Reagan's rhetoric relate not so much to how he presented his message but more directly to what he said. Was Reagan's rhetoric defined by extremely conservative policies presented in a kind of happy-talk style that was empty of serious ideas? Reagan's mastery of style is well known; oddly, the key question relates to whether there was any substance to go with that style and, if so, what that substance was.

To answer that question, we first did a thematic analysis of each address by placing it in one of seven categories....Second, we isolated the strategic patterns and support materials found within each thematic category. Previous analyses of Reagan's rhetoric have focused on five primary strategic categories: narrative (including myth), value-laden symbol use, ideological appeals, rational persuasion, and role-definition strategies based on Reagan's persona....

Based on the identification of themes and the strategic patterns found in the radio addresses, we draw several conclusions that, considered as a whole, strongly support the revisionist interpretation of Reagan's rhetorical practice. First, the radio addresses do not reveal a conservative ideologue. Reagan took consistently conservative positions on foreign and defense policy, but on domestic questions he largely avoided issues of greatest concern to conservative Republicans and defended his program as moderate. Even on defense policy, the radio addresses reveal considerable ideological flexibility. Second, the radio addresses were not defined by an empty-headed positive talk. Foreign and defense addresses were shaped by a few ideological principles in relation to whatever was the issue of the moment. In contrast, talks on domestic issues were defined by a heavy reliance on statistics and other support materials. Third, Reagan defended his approach as reforming government rather than as opposition to government. Fourth, Reagan's rhetoric was defined by an inclusive worldview in which all Americans were included within the American dream. In contrast to the stereotype that Reagan appealed primarily to angry white males, a surprising number of the radio addresses were addressed to women and members of minority groups. Fifth, a review of the radio addresses included in the Handwriting Files indicates that especially in his first term, Reagan was an involved principal in the creation of the radio speeches and a skillful writer himself

Thematic/Strategic Analysis

The Saturday radio addresses were quite short, averaging approximately five minutes in length. The limited time available for the addresses constrained Reagan to target almost all of the addresses on a single theme. In the earliest period, a high percentage of the addresses focused on a general defense of his administration's economic program. After the initial series of ten speeches was completed, Reagan broadened his coverage of issues. Over the following seven years, he focused on any number of specific foreign, domestic, and defense issues and gave general speeches on foreign and defense policy. He also often spoke about the meaning of holidays or other ceremonial matters....

A thematic breakdown of Reagan's radio talks is quite revealing. For example, it seems likely that Reagan's failure to focus on defense issues in 1984 indicated his recognition of the fact that many Americans had doubts about his anti-Soviet policies. It is significant that following the 1984 election, Reagan once again focused on the anti-Soviet themes that had been common in 1983 but had been absent leading up to the general election.

In the following subsections, we briefly summarize the thematic/strategic analysis in six of the seven primary thematic categories....

General Defense of the Administration

Reagan began the radio addresses as part of an advocacy campaign to win support for his administration's economic program. This first thematic category was the starting point from which all of the other categories developed. After Reagan saw the value of using the brief Saturday addresses to defend his administration's policies, he branched out to use the same form in other contexts.

In the addresses defending his administration's program, Reagan focused on three subthemes: general defense of policy; issue management, which includes both explanation of the ideological support for a position and an indication of what new policies the government should embrace; and a claim that progress was being made. All three of these subthemes were evident in the first of his Saturday addresses, "Economic Recovery Program," which was presented on April 3, 1982. In that talk, Reagan began by stating that his goal was to provide the people with answers about how "to get our economy back on track." He then explained that his administration's core ideology was "based on the belief that high taxes had deprived people and business of incentives to the point that we'd lost much of our ability to produce.". Later, he cited a reduction in interest rates to prove that his program was beginning to work. He also defended his economic program against those who were calling for higher taxes by arguing for "stay[ing] the course," claiming that his program could not have been expected to completely turn the economy around since "it hasn't really started yet."

These three subthemes were evident in the radio addresses throughout Reagan's two terms. Early on, Reagan focused on defending his economic program and arguing that progress was already occurring. For example, on May 8, 1982, he pointedly denied that his program would "reduce Social Security payments" and noted that his budgets had not cut social programs at all but only the rate of growth in social expenditures. On October 23, 1982, he refuted six "myths" about his economic program. On October 30, 1982, he attacked those who were calling for a major public works program to cut unemployment by asking, "Isn't that what we tried in all those seven other recessions since World War II?" His goal in these addresses clearly was to reassure the people that his program was not radical. By July 9, 1983, he was defending his program against the charge that it unfairly cut services for the poor. He argued in relation to food assistance that in fact "more people are being served, and the grants for the neediest have been increased."

At the same time that he was using the addresses to dispute objections to his program, Reagan also claimed that his administration was making great progress in fixing economic problems. On May 22, 1982, Reagan cited a decline in government spending, a major reduction in inflation, increased personal spending, and increased savings as evidence that his program was working. By February 5, 1983, he was pointing to a 3.9 percent inflation rate; a nearly 50 percent cut in interest rates; increases in automobile sales, factory orders, and timber production; and reductions in unemployment. On June 4, 1983, he told his audience, "Yes, unemployment is too high. But it fell slightly again in May and it will fall further." A few weeks later, he argued that "even the gloomiest critics have had trouble denying that things are getting better for you and your families.". And by October 15, 1983, his tone was extremely positive: "Some very good news is sneaking up on you. The quality of American life is improving again." In his second term, Reagan continued the focus on progress. For example, on October 24, 1987, shortly after the stock market correction, Reagan cited a variety of economic statistics indicating "strong growth with a slight rise followed by an encouraging drop in inflation." Even late in his second term, Reagan continued to focus on the economic progress that had occurred in his administration. In an address on June 18, 1988, he spent two long paragraphs detailing all of the ways in which the economy had improved since 1980.

Reagan also used the speeches to manage his issue agenda. These speeches functioned in a manner very similar to Roosevelt's use of the "fireside chat" to explain the New Deal. In fact, Reagan drew an explicit comparison between his goals and those of Roosevelt in his October 16, 1982, address "The Economy." In a March 5,1983, talk on "Employment Programs," Reagan explained the difference between cyclical and structural unemployment to support further action by his administration and justify to the public why unemployment was lagging behind other economic indicators.

Reagan also used the short speeches to make the public aware of future policies that his administration would be supporting. For example, on November 6, 1982, immediately after the 1982 midterm election, Reagan laid out five legislative priorities that he said were needed to continue making economic progress. Similarly, on January 29, 1983, he responded to those who feared massive future budget deficits by calling for the creation of a "standby tax" that would go into effect if the deficit rose to "greater than 232 percent of the gross national product."

Domestic Issues

Over the course of seven years, Reagan devoted more than seventy of his Saturday radio talks to domestic issues. He covered any number of specific issues in this time period, including student loans, crime and justice, drugs, the environment, energy policy, space policy, agriculture, welfare reform, counterterrorism, judicial appointments, scientific research, school violence, education, highway construction, and catastrophic health insurance. Despite the apparent diversity of the subjects covered, a review of these talks reveals three subthemes: issue management to set the stage for future action, defense of the administration, and a general subtheme that the policies of his administration were moderate and reasonable.

Reagan used many of the radio talks to bring an issue to the nation's attention. For example, on September 11, 1982, he focused on "Crime and Criminal Justice Reform" in an attempt to focus public attention on his administration's proposed crime bill. On November 27, 1982, he spoke about a proposal to expand the interstate highway system. On March 12, 1983, he laid out his administration's education agenda, which included support for tuition tax credits, a voucher system, educational savings accounts, and other reforms. He continued to use the radio talks to lay out his agenda throughout his two terms. For example, he devoted several of the addresses in 1985 and 1986 to the topic of tax reform as part of an advocacy effort that eventually resulted in the passage of a major tax reform act in 1986.

The second subtheme, defense of the administration, is evident in any number of the radio talks. On April 10, 1982, Reagan defended his administration's record on education policy by arguing that cuts in a student loan program would not impact loans, only administrative costs. He devoted the June 11, 1983, address to a discussion of "Environmental and Natural Resources Management," claiming that he supported a "sound, strong environmental policy." He also spent several paragraphs denying that then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt had implemented policies that threatened the environment.

While Reagan sometimes defended his administration's domestic policies against attacks that had been leveled against them, he also often picked topics that were designed to show that the policies of his administration were not extreme but moderate and reasonable. For example, on January 7,1984, he focused on violence in schools. He first discussed a growing trend toward violence in schools and then talked about how the federal government could help teachers and administrators "restore order to their classroom." There is not a hint of a conservative agenda in this talk. For example, some conservatives argue that corporal punishment is the key to preventing school violence or claim that prayer in school or posting the ten commandments would result in safer schools. Reagan did not mention such conservative proposals. In fact, in calling for the Department of Education to "study" the problem and for the Department of Justice to establish a "National School Safety Center," he sounded more like a moderate Democrat than a conservative Republican. Exactly the same point could be made about a May 19, 1984, talk in which Reagan advocated a "Targeted Jobs Tax Credit Program" to help employers hire more disadvantaged youth. Reagan used noncontroversial policy positions (such as being against school violence and for summer youth employment) to define his administration as moderate and reasonable. The unstated assumption behind these talks was that government action is sometimes needed to confront social problems.

While the domestic policy talks were similar in most ways to the addresses defending his administration's economic program, there was one important difference. The domestic policy talks were, in the main, less ideological than addresses on economic policy. And they became less ideological and more pragmatic over time. While early in his administration Reagan focused on a conservative agenda on education, including tuition tax credits and school vouchers, that approach largely disappeared by the mid-1980s. For example, on September 8, 1984, he focused on the progress that had been made in school reform. He cited statistics indicating that reform was being successful and called for continued action to improve SAT scores and decrease dropouts, but he did not mention vouchers, tuition tax credits, or any other education issue on the conservative agenda. A February 6, 1988, talk on drug abuse also illustrates the decline of ideology over time. In this address, Reagan supported drug treatment as opposed to drug prosecution for drug users identified in government or business drug-testing programs. In taking such a position, Reagan actually endorsed a more liberal policy than that supported by many Democrats.

One final point is evident in Reagan's radio talks on domestic issues. He clearly understood the importance of husbanding his rhetorical resources on important issues. For example, as part of his effort to get a tax reform act passed, Reagan devoted eight radio addresses to this topic in 1985 and 1986 as opposed to three talks on tax policy in the previous three years. Once the reform act had passed, the topic disappeared from the Saturday addresses. The topics covered on domestic policy suggest that Reagan only talked about an issue if he was trying to push it to the forefront of the national agenda, if his administration was under attack, or if it was an issue that he was not pushing but could use to define the administration as moderate.

Social Issues

One of the most revealing results of this analysis of Reagan's radio speeches is that he did very little to support the agenda of the extreme right. Reagan presented a total of four addresses on social issues from 1982 to 1984. After that, he ignored social issues altogether. In relation to social issues, Reagan gave two talks advocating tuition tax credits to assist families in sending children to private schools. (He also mentioned this subject in passing in other early talks on education.) And he gave two additional talks defending prayer in school. It is striking that he did not devote a single radio address to abortion, pornography, the decline of moral values, or other issues of particular concern to conservative activists.

It is also striking that in the four speeches on social issues, Reagan went out of his way to appeal to the moderate middle of the nation. For example, he began his September 18, 1982, talk on "Prayer in Public Schools" with a reference to Rosh Hashanah. He then discussed the "rich and varied religious heritage we Americans are blessed with" and noted that immigrants from "the first Thanksgiving ... to the boat people of Southeast Asia-came with prayers on their lips and faith in their hearts." Reagan next emphasized that he supported "voluntary" school prayer and argued that his proposal would protect the rights of nonbelievers as well as believers. While school prayer is a major issue mostly for Christian evangelicals, Reagan did not focus on that audience but rather on reassuring others, especially Jews, that he was concerned with protecting their rights.

The lack of focus on social issues and the moderate tone with which he discussed those issues on the rare occasions that he considered them indicate that Reagan viewed the radio addresses as a chance to broaden his support rather than as a chance to energize his base.

Foreign Policy

In his first term, President Reagan focused his attention in the Saturday radio addresses heavily on domestic policy, especially defense of his administration's economic program. In the second term, in contrast, he devoted much more attention to foreign policy in general and, as his second term progressed, foreign trade in particular.

Reagan's foreign policy talks focused on four subthemes: trips, trade, foreign policy reports, and the Western Hemisphere. Reagan often used a presidential trip as the backdrop for a discussion of foreign policy toward a particular country or region of the world. For example, on June 5, 1982, in his first foreign policy address, "Trip to Europe," Reagan reported from the Palace of Versailles about a meeting with the other industrial powers in the world. He presented a number of other similar addresses.

By Reagan's second term, his focus clearly shifted toward trade. Reagan had discussed the subject earlier in his presidency. In fact, Reagan's first radio address on trade came on November 20, 1982. He used the talk to defend the free market system, explain the dangers posed by protectionism, and clearly state his defense of free trade. The speech was both explanatory, in that he explained how free trade would benefit the United States, and heavily ideological, in that he developed a strong free trade position. Over the next six years, Reagan talked about trade seventeen more times, in each case hitting almost exactly the same themes as in his first talk on trade. His final foreign policy radio address, delivered November 26, 1988, focused on almost exactly the same main positions about foreign trade as had his first talk on the subject. The one difference between the early and the late addresses on free trade is that Reagan spoke on the topic far more often at the end of his presidency than he had at the beginning. Twelve of Reagan's eighteen Saturday addresses on trade were presented in 1987 or 1988.

The third subtheme in the area of foreign policy might best be labeled a foreign policy report. Reagan sometimes used the Saturday addresses to report to the American people about his foreign policy goals. For example, on August 27, 1983, he spoke about the "Situation in the Middle East." In that talk, he summarized U.S. peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula and outlined other foreign policy initiatives in the region. A few weeks later, on October 8, Reagan focused an entire talk on the "Situation in Lebanon," discussing the reasons for the presence of Marines in that nation.

The final subtheme in Reagan's foreign policy radio talks was an emphasis on the Western Hemisphere. Reagan often talked about U.S. relations with Canada, Mexico, and Latin America. These talks generally focused on the status of current relations between the United States and nations in the Western Hemisphere. For example, he used a trip to Mexico in 1988 to set the stage for a discussion of what he labeled the "constructive and friendly" relations with Mexico and other nations of Latin America on February 13, 1988.

It is important to note that Reagan's radio talks on foreign policy were not as data driven as the domestic policy addresses. With the exception of some of the talks on trade, which did contain a lot of statistical and other data, Reagan did not cite anything approaching the same quantity of evidence in discussing foreign as he did in domestic policy. Instead of relying on data, Reagan's foreign policy talks tended to be explanative in two different ways. His focus was both on explaining what the U.S. policy was in a given region of the world and on the reasons behind that policy. In this way, the foreign policy talks were both heavily ideological and aimed at tapping into basic American values such as freedom, peace, the value of the free market, the importance of fair play, and so forth. Clearly, Reagan attempted to recast public understanding of his administration's foreign policy. In essence, he was saying that his administration was not radical but simply right. His March 7, 1987, "Radio Address to the Nation on Regional Conflicts," illustrates Reagan's approach. In the talk, he boiled down American foreign policy goals in Central America to basic value/ideological principles with which nearly all Americans agreed: "Democracy, progress, and security-those are our goals in Central America." Reagan then justified support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua based on an analogy between Nicaragua and Afghanistan. He explained that his goal was to help the people of Nicaragua get "a chance" to "live without fear of aggression, a chance for their people to choose their own destiny." Finally, he linked freedom for Nicaragua to the larger goal of peace: "How much safer the world will be when the Soviet leaders see Americans standing behind such a firm policy for peace."

Most of Reagan's foreign policy rehetoric can be reduced to two simple, value-laden ideological principles:

* The United States should oppose tyranny.

* A strong foreign policy is the best guarantee of peace in the world.

Given these principles, evidence was much less important than in other contexts. Once one knew the facts of a given case, the ideological principles dictated the policy. This does not mean that Reagan's foreign policy rhetoric remained static. It evolved in relation to the particular issues on which he focused. The much greater emphasis on trade in 1987 and 1988 than previously is evidence of this conclusion. At the same time, shifts on an issue such as trade reflected a changing policy environment and not a change in the essential ideology of the administration.

Defense Policy or Anti-Soviet

In many ways, the least interesting of Reagan's Saturday radio addresses were those that focused on defense policy or the Soviet Union, topics that in the Reagan era were essentially synonymous. These talks were quite consistent. Reagan used a particular event or issue to lay out the administration's position. That position invariably was based on a very few premises: tyranny (and therefore the Soviet Union) is evil and must be opposed at all turns, freedom defines a good society, and a strong defense policy is the best guarantee of peace.

The rhetorical pattern we have identified was evident on a host of different topics. For example, on October 9, 1982, Reagan spoke about "Solidarity and U.S. Relations with Poland." The particular subject of the address was a decision by the government of Poland to outlaw the Polish labor organization Solidarity. In addressing that subject, Reagan labeled Poland's action as "another far-reaching step in their persecution of their own people" and claimed that in the United States, "We are free by divine right." He placed the ultimate blame for the situation on the Soviets, who he said had applied "severe outside pressure" to the government of Poland; and he defended tough actions by the United States, including immediate suspension of most-favored-nation status for Poland. Reagan focused on the specifics ofwhat had happened in Poland and the U.S. response to it, but he did so in a manner perfectly consistent with the basic premises of his anti-Soviet position.

The same pattern is found again and again. On December 11, 1982, Reagan supported "Production of the MX Missile" because the missile was needed to counter a mounting Soviet buildup. But by building the missile, the United States could strengthen deterrence, lessen the likelihood of war, and increase the chance of real arms reductions. "And to achieve the arms reductions we want, we must give the Soviets the incentive to negotiate." Five and one-half years later, on May 28, 1988, he attributed the successful negotiation ofthe Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to "Western firmness and resolve." In the period between these two speeches, Reagan touched on any number of specific defense issues, including the nuclear freeze, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet action in shooting down KAL flight 007, support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and so forth. But aside from specific details, his approach was quite predictable.

The thematic analysis of the radio addresses on defense and the Soviet Union suggests that Reagan had two primary goals when he focused on these subjects. One goal was broadly explanative. As in the case ofhis foreign policy rhetoric, Reagan wanted both to explain what his policy was and provide the justification behind it. A good illustration of the explanative character of the defense policy rhetoric can be found in Reagan's October 22, 1983, address on "Arms Control and Reduction." In that talk, Reagan first affirmed his "deep desire... to reduce nuclear weapons and to make our world more safe" (1987, 152). He then detailed what he viewed as a major Soviet buildup in intermediate-range nuclear weapons and the failure of the Soviets to agree to reasonable arms limitations on those weapons (ibid.). His conclusion was that given this situation, NATO must deploy more weapons to achieve the "parallel goal of deterrence and arms reduction." In this talk and many others, Reagan tied an explanation of the development of U.S./Soviet policy to the ideological premises we have identified. Clearly, Reagan assumed that the majority of the American people shared his value/ideological premises concerning the Soviets and believed that if his views were cogently explained, public support would follow. A review of relevant polling data suggests that he was right.

Reagan's other goal was to show the American people that his administration's position on defense was neither dangerous nor extremist. In many talks, he went out ofhis way to express his commitment to arms control. This goal was especially evident in Reagan's only two defense policy talks in 1984. On February 11, 1984, Reagan emphasized that "avoiding war and reducing arms is a starting point in our relationship with the Soviet Union." Five months later on September 29, he argued that "our two countries have no more solemn responsibility than to reduce the level of arms and to enhance understanding" (1987, 248). In these two talks and many others, Reagan focused on convincing the American people that the characterization of him as a warmonger was inaccurate.

Reagan's anti-Soviet and defense policy speeches remained quite consistent over his two terms, but they did show evolution in one important way. By the end of his administration, Reagan was suggesting that the Soviet Union might be changing. On May 28, 1988, Reagan cited encouraging developments in the Soviet Union relating to glastnost and perestroika, including the release of prisoners of conscience from the Gulag, greater opportunities for dissent, and emigration. But he then went on to note that "the basic structure of the system has not changed in the Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe." Reagan concluded that talk by arguing that the only ultimate guarantee of peace would be to transform the Soviet Union into a democratic society. Clearly, Reagan's view ofthe Soviet Union evolved, but he remained deeply distrustful of it and never wavered in his support for the basic ideological premises we have identified.


Going back to Aristotle, rhetorical theorists have recognized the importance of epideictic or ceremonial discourse for reinforcing widely shared values and setting the stage for deliberative rhetoric. For example, Oravec argued that epideictic serves a prepolicy function by providing "advice upon the future action of the audience," and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca noted that epideictic "strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds." No American political leader of the past half-century has used epideictic more skillfully than Ronald Reagan. In the radio addresses, Reagan demonstrated his mastery of the genre, the close linkage between epideictic and policy discourse, and that his rhetorical practice was far more inclusive than has been recognized by many commentators.

Reagan's epideictic radio addresses focused on four topics: celebration of holidays, special events such as the beginning of the Olympics, value-laden topics such as the importance of community or volunteerism, and the meaning behind a particular trip. Of these topics, most of the Saturday addresses focused on a particular holiday. In 1982, for instance, Reagan spoke about Armed Forces Day, Labor Day, and Christmas Day. In 1983, he spoke about New Year's Day, Easter and Passover, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, the holiday season, and Christmas. In other instances, Reagan focused on a special event, such as the beginning of the Olympics (two talks) and the fortieth anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific or on special topics such as drunk driving, organ donation, the status of women in American life (two talks), the status of minorities in American life, and the American Red Cross. On just a couple of occasions, he used a trip abroad as the backdrop for a ceremonial address.

On these topics, Reagan developed a number of themes. First, he both reinforced basic American values and linked his administration to those values. For example, in the first of his epideictic addresses, "Armed Forces Day," which he gave on May 15, 1982, Reagan focused on patriotism, referring to American soldiers as "the ultimate guardians of our freedom." Many similar examples could be cited.

It is important to recognize, however, that Reagan both reinforced basic values and drew on those values to redefine how people should look at his administration. The most revealing talk illustrating that point was presented on January 15, 1983, on the subject of"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." In the address, Reagan attacked discrimination and bigotry and strongly praised King, Rosa Parks, and others within the civil rights movement for their courage and commitment to equality. He spoke of progress that had occurred in civil rights but admitted that "traces of bigotry and injustice still remain." This address, it is important to note, predated the creation of the King holiday. In his talk, Reagan reinforced values like justice and equal treatment. But in so doing, he also tried to link his administration to those values and redefine how African Americans viewed him. Surely, many African Americans would have objected to Reagan's comment that only "traces" of bigotry remained, but this false note aside, Reagan's use of epideictic as a means of redefining Reaganism as pro-civil rights was important.

The second and third themes in Reagan's epideictic addresses both relate to public policy. Reagan used the ceremonial talks either to lay the groundwork for policy advocacy or directly to support policies of his administration....

A good illustration of how Reagan used epideictic to lay the groundwork for policy advocacy is found in his talk about "Easter and Passover" on April 2, 1983. Characteristically, Reagan linked the two holidays so that he could speak to the broadest possible audience of the American people. In the first few paragraphs, he discussed the meaning of the two holidays, concluding, "This is a time of hope and peace, when our spirits are filled and lifted. It's a time when we give thanks for our blessings-chief among them freedom, peace, and the promise of eternal life." Reagan then moved from this value affirmation to a discussion of the bravery of the Polish people and their leader Lech Walesa. He told the story of how an East German family had taken grave risks to escape to the West. Reagan next told the story of how the crew of an American warship had donated a day's leave to help the people of an Australian town rebuild their community. Reagan then drew these incidents together in concluding that the United States remains "a force for good, the champion of peace and freedom." In this speech, Reagan indirectly supported his anti-Soviet policy by linking it to basic American values, especially religious liberty.

Reagan's radio talks illustrate the key relationship between value reaffirmation and policy advocacy. Our analysis suggests that epideictic discourse often will be directly linked to the deliberative conclusion that policy action is justified. That is clearly what happened in many of the Saturday addresses. Reagan routinely began the epideictic Saturday addresses with value affirmation in relation to a particular holiday or special event, moved to a deliberative section in which he used the now-reaffirmed values to support a policy judgment, and then returned in his conclusion to the value-laden meaning of the holiday. This pattern was skillfully adapted to maintaining the broadest possible support among the people for his administration.


The analysis of Reagan's radio speeches reveals several important implications for understanding the rhetorical practices that defined the Reagan administration. These implications strongly support the revisionist interpretation of Reagan's rhetoric. First, in the radio addresses, Reagan was anything but a conservative ideologue. Reagan took consistently conservative positions on foreign and defense policy, but on domestic questions he largely avoided issues of greatest concern to conservative Republicans. The dearth of speeches on social issues is particularly striking. Reagan has the reputation ofbeing heavily influenced by the most conservative wing of the Republican party, Christian fundamentalists. His rhetoric, both in substance and style, reveals little to support this judgment. In the radio addresses, despite his promises to the religious and others on the far right, he really made very little effort on social issues such as pornography, school vouchers, and abortion. Reagan rarely talked about the issues of greatest concern to Christian conservatives, avoided the topic of abortion altogether, and consistently reached out to all people of faith, not any particular sect.

It is not merely that Reagan avoided issues of concern to the Christian right. In fact, Reagan's domestic policy advocacy in the radio addresses was relatively moderate in two important ways. On a number of subjects, notably education reform, support for drug treatment, youth employment programs, and even the environment in some cases, Reagan defended policies that were surprisingly moderate. Reagan's January 29, 1983, call for passage of a standby tax that would go into effect if the deficit rose to "greater than 22 percent of the gross national product" is a notable example of this point. Even on tax cuts, Reagan was willing to compromise.

Even more important, Reagan consistently defended his economic and other domestic policies as moderate and reasonable. He pitched his economic program as a long-overdue reform of a government that had gotten too large. The explicitly antigovernment rhetoric that has been so common among conservatives since the "Gingrich revolution" in 1994 was notably absent. The fact that Reagan defended his policies as moderate does not necessarily mean that they were in fact moderate. In many cases, they in fact were quite conservative. But Reagan clearly understood the need to present his policies in such a way that they could appeal to the largest possible portion of the American people. In this way, Reagan's domestic policy advocacy might be compared to President Bill Clinton's famous comment that "the era of big government is over." Clinton clearly understood that liberal or neoliberal policies could be defended to the public only if those policies were presented as fundamentally different from an earlier, "big government" liberalism. Similarly, Reagan defended his positions as fundamentally moderate and quite different from antigovernment conservatism.

Even on defense policy, the radio addresses reveal considerable ideological flexibility. Reagan consistently defended a strong defense policy as needed both to confront the Soviet Union and also to preserve the peace. In that way, he claimed that his views were anything but adventurous. Rather, he was the real advocate of peace. At the end of his second term, Reagan also demonstrated a willingness to suspend disbelief concerning developments in the Soviet Union. At a time when many conservatives were calling Gorbachev's reforms a sham, Reagan said, wait and see. In that way, he demonstrated a pragmatic streak, both in relation to policy and rhetoric that was absent in the policies advocated by many conservatives.

Many Republicans talk about their party as a "big tent" encompassing many interests but aim their message at the religious right and business interests almost exclusively. Reagan was different. He took conservative principles and tried to make them as widely applicable as possible. It seems likely that this inclusive approach is one reason Reagan was able to win landslide victories at a time when Democrats still controlled a sizable majority in the House of Representatives.

It is conceivable that Reagan consciously used the addresses to counter the perception of many that he was an extreme conservative. It is well known that Reagan was aware and concerned with what history would say of him. It is possible that Reagan used the radio addresses to shape both public and historical perceptions ofhis administration's ideology.

Second, the radio addresses were not defined by an empty-headed positive talk. In the domestic policy addresses in particular, one is immediately struck by the fact that Reagan relied very heavily on rational argument in general and statistical proof in particular. One common stereotype of Reagan is that he was a gifted storyteller but not intellectually able to rely on other forms of proof, such as statistics. The radio speeches do not bear out this conclusion. In fairness, Reagan occasionally used personal examples in these addresses. For instance, on August 28, 1982, Reagan cited the example of Patricia Morgan, who evidently had written to him about unifying the nation around his economic plan. And Reagan also sometimes used argument by authority. However, more than any other kind of support, Reagan relied on statistics. In the same speech that cited Ms. Morgan, Reagan used more than a dozen different statistics. This address is representative of Reagan's defense of his administration's basic economic program throughout his presidency. For example, in "Economic Recovery" on March 10, 1984, he cited ten statistics, one expert, and several comparisons. Similar evidence usage can be found in many of the addresses defending his administration's record. On April 9, 1988, he cited more than fifteen examples, statistics, and references to authorities in support of his record. On September 10, 1988, in his "Radio Address to the Nation on Education," Reagan cited statistics on both test scores and attendance to argue that education had been improving over the eight years of his presidency. The radio addresses were anything but empty fluff.

Rather than fluff, Reagan's radio speeches demonstrate considerable rhetorical adaptability, especially in relation to strategy choice. The radio speeches definitely refute the idea that he was merely a skillful teller of tales. Reagan did use narrative in the radio talks, especially in the epideictic addresses. However, the most important conclusion in relation to strategy choice is that Reagan enacted the Aristotelian principle that a skillful persuader should discover "in any given case the available means of persuasion." In relation to domestic policy and defense of his administration's economic program, as we already have noted, he relied heavily on statistical proof The defense and foreign policy addresses tended to be more ideological, with particular examples of actions linked to basic value. In contrast, in the epideictic addresses, he did rely more heavily on narratives and myth. The variation in strategies used among the main topics considered in the radio addresses indicates considerable rhetorical adaptability.

The 330 radio addresses as a group reflect both a consistent ideological worldview and considerable adaptation on specific policy positions as events occurred. Across the seven years of the radio addresses, Reagan consistently defended the free market, supported reduced government regulation and fiscal conservatism, and advocated a tough defense policy. Aside from those basic principles, however, there was considerable adaptation. By the end of his administration, he was even arguing that the Soviet Union might be changing, a conclusion that certainly was proved correct....

Third, Reagan defended his approach as reforming government rather than opposition to government. We touched on this point earlier when we discussed the moderate positions found in many of Reagan's addresses. The important point is not just that Reagan tried to depict his policies as moderate but that he consistently defended his approach as reformative of government, not in opposition to government. In his first inaugural address, Reagan famously argued that government was itself "the problem" that must be confronted to energize the American economy. In the radio speeches, in contrast, Reagan did not attack government per se. Rather, he described his approach as reforming excesses in government. He was committed to removing unnecessary bureaucracy, eliminating unneeded regulation, and cutting wasted spending. But Reagan's radio addresses did not utilize the extreme antigovernment rhetoric that has been so common among conservatives who claim his mantle. It is clear that in the post-Reagan years, the Republican party turned to the right of their hero. As Mark Barabak has noted,

Indeed, in Reagan's absence, conservatism has become increasingly associated with a series of negative stances-against abortion, against gun control, against environmental protection-and with angry messengers like two-time presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan and the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson. The adversarial approach was manifest in the 1995 shutdown of the Federal government, a political disaster from which Gingrich-and the image of the GOP-led Congress-never completely recovered.

As we have indicated, Reagan's discourse, by contrast, reserved a clear, though limited, role for government in areas ranging from education to help for the needy.

Fourth, Reagan's rhetoric was defined by an inclusive worldview in which all Americans were included within the American dream. In contrast to the stereotype that Reagan appealed primarily to angry white males, a surprising number of the radio addresses were addressed to women and members of minority groups. In the radio addresses, Reagan consistently aimed his appeals at the entire American family. In a very early talk, "Economic Recovery Program," on May 1, 1982, Reagan emphasized that his goal was to "be fair to all our people." He then asked "where was the fairness in those bankrupt spending policies that gave us double-digit inflation, record interest rates, and a trillion dollar debt?" Reagan also consistently expressed compassion for those who were facing difficult times. In "Economic Recovery Programs," delivered October 30, 1982, he began by expressing his "feelings of sorrow for those bearing the burden of unemployment." In a March 5, 1983, address on "Employment Programs," he focused on two groups that had not been strong supporters of his administration-African Americans and the elderly. Reagan explained to his audience that fixing structural unemployment was important because "behind those dry terms are people-black teenagers who desperately want a first job and older workers grappling with the adjustment of losing their life's work." In his July 27, 1985, "Radio Address to the Nation on Economic Growth and Minorities," he went further and argued that his administration's economic policies could provide opportunity, what Reagan called the "freedom train" so that "everyone who wants to work can find a real job." Similarly, in the "Radio Address to the Nation on Education" that was delivered on September 10, 1988, Reagan first cited Thomas Jefferson and other founders who believed that "education and democracy" go "hand in hand." Reagan then said that this "precious heritage" must be preserved for all Americans. "Whether of Asian, Hispanic, or African descent, no matter what color, every American is the inheritor of our great cultural tradition."

In addition to defending his administration's policies in an inclusive fashion, Reagan aimed a surprising number of the radio addresses directly at members of minority groups or women. Reagan's address on Martin Luther King's birthday in 1983 is particularly instructive. One year before the official creation of the King holiday, at a time when many conservatives still were deeply distrustful of King, Reagan strongly embraced his legacy. In addition to the 1983 talk on the meaning of Martin Luther King's life and a 1985 address on civil rights, he spoke again about these subjects on January 18, 1986, the occasion of the first national holiday celebration of King's birth. He spent part of this talk arguing that his administration's economic policies had aided African Americans, but the bulk of it was spent praising King and reaffirming the value of equality. According to Reagan, "our country will never be completely free until all Americans enjoy the full benefits of freedom." Reagan used the same tactic when he spoke about "Opportunities for Women," on March 31, 1984. In this talk and others, Reagan preached an inclusive message to groups such as African Americans and working women who, to say the least, had not been strong supporters of his administration.

In the various radio addresses aimed at minority group members and women, Reagan both embraced broadly inclusive values and argued that his administration's policies would assist members of the groups in question. Reagan did this at a time when he was getting very few votes from members of minority groups. For example, in 1984, Mondale received 90 percent of the African-American vote. And while Reagan received relatively strong support from women, it seems fair to guess that this support was not because women perceived him as a strong supporter of women's rights.

Why, then, did Reagan take such an inclusive perspective? One clue lies in the consistent value positions that are found throughout the radio addresses. Reagan tied his administration's policies to basic values such as freedom, opportunity, hard work, and so forth. And those values in turn were tied to what might be labeled Reagan's mythic view of Americans and American destiny. A number of scholars have discussed Reagan's mythic view of America. Moore described Reagan's rhetoric as a "quest story" of this nation's endless search for freedom. "While emphasizing the greatness of all Americans," Reagan gave "the highest praise to the so-called `regular folks.' " Moore quoted Reagan on these heroes, "You know they're Americans because their spirit is as big as the universe and their hearts are bigger than their spirits." Since every American was capable of "boundless, limitless achievement," it naturally followed that every American, regardless of ethnicity, belonged to Reagan's "family" as a potential American hero. Similarly, Craig A. Smith has written of Reagan's community of "extraordinarily ordinary Americans." "Mister Reagan's Neighborhood," according to Smith, is composed of people of all demographic identities grouped together under the canopy of "We the People." As heirs of a proud heritage based on freedom and a self-evident morality, these heroes could accomplish the impossible. The keys to their success lay not in the individual's ethnic origin or creed but in "faith in our heritage and the willingness to act boldly upon that faith."

The crucial point is that within his mythic worldview, all Americans, regardless of race, creed, religion, and so forth were viewed as heroic as long as they were committed to the basic values at the core of the mythic system. Reagan spoke in an inclusive fashion to all Americans because all were in his mythic system. Thus, Reagan was at his very rhetorical core a more inclusive leader than other conservatives, who have defended policy positions serving business, the wealthy, and other interest groups. Reagan's policies helped those groups, but the mythic core of his rhetorical system included all Americans.

Some have compared the so-called "compassionate conservatism" of George W Bush to the optimistic and inclusive view found in Reagan's rhetorical practice. There would seem to be one major difference in their approaches, however. Bush's compassionate conservatism was by all accounts a tactical response to the perceived excesses of Gingrich and others. Compassionate was simply an adjective added to conservative to make policies that most commentators have characterized as consistently conservative seem more attractive. In contrast, Reagan's very worldview was inclusive. If you fell into the category of American, then by his standards you were special as long as you embraced the values that defined American heroism. Reagan's rhetoric indicates that he genuinely saw his policies as consistent with an inclusive worldview. None of this proves that Reagan's policies were in fact inclusive. Some of his administration's policies may in fact not have been inclusive at all. In fact, a review of the radio speeches raises the possibility that Reagan's inclusive mythology may have served as what Kenneth Burke refers to as a kind of terminological blinder, a "deflection of reality" that prevented him from understanding that his policies did not aid all Americans equally. At the same time, the inclusiveness of Reagan's rhetorical practices, as evidenced in the radio addresses, is itself notable. At a time when many conservatives were aiming their rhetoric at white elites and some were continuing to take positions that verged on racism, Reagan defended an inclusive view that privileged the category of American over any race, creed, or other division. Given this rhetorical practice, it is unsurprising that Reagan has been a particular hero to many black conservatives such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and Shelby Steele.

Fifth, a review of the radio addresses included in the Handwriting Files in the Reagan Library indicates that especially in his first term, Reagan was an involved principal in the creation of the radio speeches and a skillful speechwriter himself In a surprising number of cases, especially early in his presidency, Reagan may have been the primary author of radio addresses. The Handwriting Files for 1982 contain complete drafts in Reagan's handwriting for five of the first ten speeches. They included the initial address discussing Reagan's economic recovery program, a speech on the Caribbean Basin Initiative, an address on nuclear weapons, a talk dealing with taxes, and one that discussed the federal budget and unemployment. These speeches outlined and defended Reagan's basic programs in both foreign and domestic policy. After the first year, Reagan may have continued to write his own speeches from time to time. For instance, he may have authored the October 6, 1983, speech on Marines in Lebanon. The Handwriting Files contain a complete draft of the speech in Reagan's handwriting. This draft traced the history of American military presence in Lebanon, justified his decision to send in troops, and warned of the consequences of allowing the Middle East to be incorporated into the Soviet bloc, reminding his listeners that the United States depended on Middle East oil. He also pointed to efforts that the United States had made to promote peace in the Middle East but added that the presence of terrorists in Lebanon and five thousand "Soviet advisers and technicians" in Syria made the U.S. presence a necessity. This address and others like it indicate that Reagan was an active participant in the creation and revision of his discourse rather than simply a performer who repeated the words and ideas of others.

The Handwriting Files also indicate that Reagan played a role in the creation of the addresses even when he was not the primary author. Careful examination of the early drafts of Reagan's radio addresses from 1982, for example, reveal extensive inserts, deletions, and interlineations in the president's handwriting. Out of twenty-eight radio speeches presented that year, seventeen were either written or edited by the president. Some of Reagan's edits focused on word changes and other questions of style. He often shortened sections and substituted simpler and more active language for passive or complex constructions. Five of the seventeen speeches contained only these minor edits.

But Reagan's editing extended beyond style and included substantive changes that made the talks more ideologically focused. In 1982, seven early drafts contained this type of editing. An example of this can be seen in his October 9, 1982, speech on Solidarity and U.S. relations with Poland. At the end of the draft, the president inserted a paragraph that summarized the basis for his commitment to freedom-a fundamental component of his ideology:

Someone has said that when anyone is denied freedom, then freedom for everyone is threatened. The struggle in the world today for the hearts and minds of mankind is based on one simple question-is man born to be free or slave? In country after country, people have long known the answer to that question. We are free by Divine right. We are the masters of our fate and we create governments for our convenience. Those who would have it otherwise create a crime and a sin against God and man.

Extending beyond the first year, there are additional examples of Reagan's adding specific ideological substance to his addresses. One such speech is the early draft of his July 9, 1983, address on fairness. A memorandum from Communications Director Aram Bakshian noted that this early draft had "incorporated your notes on the truth about aid to the needy," including a section in Reagan's handwriting asserting that inflation was "part of deliberate government economic planning" that perpetuated poverty. In this talk and a number of others, Reagan focused the ideological content of the address.

All told, Reagan was the primary author or coauthor of 20 of the 330 radio addresses. He made stylistic and ideological edits on an additional 34 speeches and stylistic edits on an additional 104 speeches. Overall, the Handwriting Files reveal Reagan as an active participant in the creation of 158 of the 330 speeches. This data may underestimate Reagan's actual influence on the radio addresses. There are 152 speeches for which there is no draft at all in the Handwriting Files at the Reagan Library. In many cases, these speeches occurred during a foreign trip or while a pressing event such as Gorbachev's 1987 visit to the U.S. was occurring. It is quite possible that Reagan participated in the writing or editing of these addresses as well. It has been the conventional wisdom in the media that Ronald Reagan had a pleasant persona and was a brilliant presenter of other people's words but that in other ways he was not rhetorically skilled. Drafts of the radio addresses contained in the Handwriting Files challenge this view. They indicate that Reagan was a skillful writer and a gifted editor who was concerned with both the style and the ideological substance of his talks. These findings are consistent with other recent scholarship that has focused on drafts that Reagan wrote of editorials and radio talks before he became president.


The analysis of the radio addresses of Ronald Reagan is revealing both in relation to the genre of modern presidential rhetoric and especially in regard to our understanding of the rhetorical practices of the Reagan administration. In Deeds Done in Words, Campbell and Jamieson made two points concerning the deliberative rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. In their analysis of Reagan's State of the Union addresses, they critiqued Reagan for "sharply tilting the character of the addresses toward the ceremonial and away from the deliberative" and cited the views of critics who have argued that Reagan was not willing to risk "his personal popularity to achieve legislative ends." In the following paragraph, they then backed off this judgment, noting that the attention span of the American people in the media age may demand such a ceremonial rather than deliberative approach.

While Campbell and Jamieson may have been correct that the public cannot process extended policy analysis, ceremonial rhetoric by itself cannot fulfill all of the functions of presidential rhetoric. Presidents must use deliberative talk to support their policy agenda. One means of fulfilling the deliberative function without overwhelming the attention span of the average citizen is to package the deliberative agenda of the administration in shorter works. The radio speeches are the most important recurring example of this type of discourse. For almost eight years, Reagan used them to make the public aware of his proposals one or two policies at a time, to influence the media agenda, and also to fulfill ceremonial functions. Since the radio addresses have now endured into a fourth administration, it is arguable that they are functioning as an emerging genre of presidential rhetoric....Based on this study, it would seem that Reagan understood the constraints posed by the mass audience in a media age and helped create a new genre of presidential rhetoric as a way around those limitations.

Ronald Reagan is often described as almost a cartoon figure: extremist ideology, empty talk, skillful presentation but essentially irrational positions, a teller of inspiring but fundamentally deceptive tales, and merely an announcer. The picture of Reagan that we have painted in this article strongly supports a revised view of Reagan's rhetorical legacy. Our analysis of the radio addresses indicates that Reagan endorsed positions that were both more moderate and more inclusive than is generally believed. It also demonstrates that Reagan was an adaptable and skillful rhetoric. Finally, the analysis, in combination with a review of the Handwriting Files at the Reagan library, indicates that Reagan was by no means a passive reader of other writers' copy; he was an involved and skillful speechwriter....

In sum, the analysis of Ronald Reagan's 330 radio addresses reveals a sophisticated and involved rhetorician who skillfully chose among the available means of persuasion to appeal to the broadest possible audience. This portrait strongly supports the revisionist interpretation of Reagan's rhetorical legacy. It also goes a long way toward explaining why Reagan was so successful while many of those who claim his legacy have not achieved the same kind of success. Strong conservatives, either in the religious or secular right, including Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson,Jerry Falwell, many of the Republican leaders in Congress, and others have not be able to achieve the kind of national success for their version of conservatism that Reagan achieved in 1980 and 1984. They have been successful with conservatives, but they have not been able to reach out to others such as the "Reagan Democrats." And they have had very little success against centrist Democrats such as Bill Clinton.

Why the change in political fortunes? Many conservatives blame the people for not listening. But in reality, it is the conservative activists who failed to listen. They claim to be the heirs to Ronald Reagan, but in fact their rhetoric is far to the right of the presidential rhetoric of "the great communicator" and much less inclusive and optimistic. It is a supreme irony that in the debate over Ronald Reagan's rhetorical legacy, it is the conservative wing of his own party that is not listening.

[References available with entire essay, see SOURCE]