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Coverup - Behind the Iran-Contra Affair (1988)

The Ronald Reagan Years - The Real Reagan Record
by Mark Tracy


The Real Reagan Record

The Cowboy Myth

Reagan Years - The Cowboy

"You'd be surprised how much being a good actor pays off."
--President Reagan, responding to a question from students at Shanghai's University of Fudan as to which experiences best prepared him for the presidency, April 30, 1984

Ronald Reagan was not born a cowboy; he decided to assume the role.  Reagan grew up in a non-cowboy, manufacturing town, Dixon Illinois.  During his Hollywood years, he learned to ride horses and even played a cowboy in the western films "The Bad Man," 1941 and "Law and Order," 1953.

When Reagan turned to politics, in the early 1960's, he seemed to sense that a cowboy persona would benefit him politically.  To cultivate this image in the mind of the public, he often donned cowboy boots and jeans. 

In 1974, as Reagan was planning his first presidential bid, some of his wealthy friends bought him a ranch.  During his tenure as president, he made frequent visits to the ranch.  It was here that he relaxed, staged photo ops and did cowboy things like:  clearing brush, chopping wood, and going for morning horseback rides.

In politics, Reagan was able to capitalize on the romantic notion that cowboys and country folk are straightforward and trustworthy.

However, Reagan's "straight-shooting" cowboy persona, like so many other things about him, was contrived.  It was during the Iran-contra scandal of 1986-87 that the public got a keen sense of Reagan's dishonesty.  (see Foreign Policy)

In November 1986, it was disclosed that the Reagan administration had been bargaining with terrorists by selling arms to Iran.  Reagan went on television and vehemently denied that any such sale had occurred.  He retracted this statement a week later, insisting that the sale of weapons had not been an arms-for-hostages deal.  In March 1987, Reagan was forced to issue a second retraction, admitting that the deal had been arms-for-hostages after all.

Shipping arms to Iran violated an arms embargo against that country, and bargaining with terrorists violated Reagan's campaign promise never to do so.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken at the time, 62% of the public said that Reagan had lied about Iran-contra.  A New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that Reagan's popularity had plummeted from 67% to 46%--the largest one-month drop ever recorded.

With Iran-contra, as author Mark Green wrote, "...the Reagan era effectively came to a close.  Yes, he could still veto bills and give speeches behind the presidential seal, but his magic spell was finally broken."

Green went on to say, "Looking back, it was something of a miracle that Reagan's credibility and sway survived even six years.  From day one his standard operating procedure, as illustrated by his initial answer on arms to Iran, was a blend of ignorance, amnesia, and dissembling.  Like a panicky passenger lunging for a life preserver, he would, under stress, concoct almost any fact or anecdote to advance his ideological beliefs.  Ronald Reagan brought to mind Will Roger's comment that 'It's not what he doesn't know that bothers me, it's what he knows for sure that just ain't so.'"

The Ronald Reagan Years - The Real Reagan Record
by Mark Tracy