John Fund: The Roots of Ronald Reagan's Ambition





[Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.]

Ronald Reagan's status as a mythic figure was demonstrated on Sunday as 1,500 guests gathered at the Reagan Presidential Library to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday. Liberals have come to accept his strengths and even acknowledge some of his accomplishments, while conservatives have raised even higher his pedestal. Yet unanswered questions about the Gipper linger.

His son, Ron Reagan, notes that even though his father was on public display his entire adult life, for "even those of us who were closest to him, [there was a] hidden 10% that remains a considerable mystery." One mystery: How could a boy who spent much of his youth alone, was picked on by bullies, and was so nearsighted that he was chosen last for playground games, acquire the ambition to run for president four times?...

When Reagan was 11, his mother gave him an inspirational novel called "That Printer of Udell's," the story of a young man who combines a belief in "practical Christianity" with Horatio Alger-like grit. Reagan biographer Edmund Morris noted in a 1999 interview in the American Enterprise magazine that the novel's central character, Dick Falkner, is "a tall, good-looking, genial young man who wears brown suits and has the gift of platform speaking and comes to a Midwestern town just like Dixon, Illinois, and figures out a workfare program to solve the city's social problems. He marries this girl who looks at him adoringly with big wide eyes through all his speeches, and eventually he goes off with her to represent that shining city in Washington, D.C."...

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