February 6th, 2020


Ronald Reagan's Birthday

On February 6, 1911 (109 years ago today), Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, was born in Tampico, Illinois. Prior to his presidency, he had served as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, and before that he was a well-known film and television actor.


Reagan was raised in Dixon, Illinois and attended Eureka College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology. After graduating, Reagan moved first to Iowa to work as a radio broadcaster and then, in 1937, to Los Angeles where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later in television. Some of his best known films include Knute Rockne, All American (1940), Kings Row (1942), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). He served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and later became the spokesman for General Electric. He got his start in politics during the time that he worked for GE. Originally he had been a member of the Democratic Party and was an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But his positions began shifting to the right in the 1950s, and he became a member of the Republican Party in 1962. As Reagan later stated, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left me."

Reagan delivered a very memorable and rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964. He was persuaded to seek the GOP nomination for Governor of California and he was elected to that office two years later. He won re-election in 1970. Reagan sought his party's nomination for President in 1968, but finished third behind Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. He tried again in 1976, losing to incumbent President Gerald Ford. Persevering, he won both the nomination and the Presidency in 1980, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter.

As president, Reagan was proactive both politically and where the economy was concerned as well. His supply-side economic policies (called "Reaganomics" by the media) advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing the size of the federal government. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, only 69 days into his term. He also took a hard line against labor unions, threatening to fire striking air traffic controllers if they didn't return to their jobs. He also announced a "War on Drugs" and ordered an invasion of Grenada.

Reagan was re-elected in a landslide in 1984, running on a campaign which declared that it was "Morning in America". He won every state except for his opponent's home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. His second term was primarily concerned by foreign policy matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran–Contra affair. He publicly called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and supported anti-communist movements worldwide. He moved away from his first term the strategy of détente, and ordered a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty which decreased both countries' nuclear arsenals.


Reagan left office in 1989. Five years later, in 1994, the former president disclosed, in a public letter (shown above) that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier that year. He dropped out of the public eye and died ten years later on June 5, 2004 at the age of 93. He remains a conservative icon, and generally ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents. He is credited for bringing about the end of the cold war with the Soviets, with generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right and for bringing the nation out of one of its worst economic periods, a time when interest rates were extraordinarily high and public morale was extraordinarily low.

Presidential Primaries and Caucuses: The 1968 New Hampshire Primary

Eugene McCarthy was first elected to the US House of Representatives in the 1948 election unexpectedly returned Harry Truman to the White House. At the time, McCarthy was a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. He served five terms before winning a seat in the United States Senate in 1958. He came to national attention with his speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in support of the unsuccessful campaign for Adlai Stevenson. In 1964 when Lyndon Johnson ran for President, Johnson considered selecting McCarthy as his running mate, but instead Johnson chose Senator Hubert Humphrey, also from Minnesota.


McCarthy was one of the most vocal and vehement opponents of the Vietnam War, something that would come to strain his relationship with his President and party leader. In early 1967, McCarthy hinted that he would challenge President Johnson for the Democratic nomination because of his contrasting views with the president on Vietnam. An organization called the Americans for Democratic Action announced that they would support McCarthy's campaign if he decided to run. Privately, Johnson became concerned about a potential challenge from McCarthy. He confided to some Democratic congressional leaders about his fear that McCarthy could gain the support of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Spock. He worried that the party might splinter, as it had in 1948. McCarthy had $100,000 pledged to him for the New Hampshire and Wisconsin primaries, not a small sum at the time.

McCarthy privately discussed his intentions with his former Senate mate, the now Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The two had represented Minnesota in the Senate together for nearly two decades. McCarthy told Humphrey that while he did not believe he could win, he had "lost interest" in the Senate and felt "very strongly about the war." McCarthy stressed the principles behind his decision, but Humphrey believed that it was more about ego, stating that McCarthy was "more vain and arrogant than his supporters wanted to admit".

On November 30, 1967, McCarthy entered his name into four Democratic presidential primaries. In making his announcement, he said:

"I run because this country is now involved in a deep crisis of leadership; a crisis of national purpose – and a crisis of American ideals. It is time to substitute a leadership of hope for a leadership of fear. This is not simply what I want, or what most of us want. It is, I believe, the deepest hunger of the American soul."

He added that it was important to prevent President Johnson's nomination as a means of halting the continuation of the war. He referred to there being a "deepening moral crisis" in the nation leading to the rejection of the political system by citizens, and an overall feeling of helplessness among the populace. He said that he hoped to alleviate this as president.

A few days later, the Johnson administration made an announcement on the war in Vietnam committing to remaining in the war. McCarthy said that the announcement would only strengthen his own campaign. Meanwhile in the White House, rumors began to spread among the president's staff that the McCarthy campaign was a tactic to weaken Johnson and make it easier for Senator Robert F. Kennedy to defeat him. Kennedy had previously announced that he would not challenge Johnson for the nomination, but prior to challenging Johnson, McCarthy encouraged Kennedy enter the race.

In January of 1968, McCarthy floated the possibility of a potential challenge to the president on the Florida primary ballot. He reaffirmed that it was his goal to defeat the president in New Hampshire. He appeared as the first guest of the half-hour ABC news series Issues and Answers, and discussed his views on pertinent campaign issues. On the show, he stated that the North Vietnamese government was willing to negotiate, and that any further bombing should be halted to forge an end to the hostilities. President Johnson was scheduled to make his annual State of the Union Address, and McCarthy requested equal time from television networks. His request was rejected.

Later in January, after the State of the Union, McCarthy delivered a speech in front of 6,500 students at University Park, Pennsylvania, in which he criticized the Johnson administration for being "afraid to negotiate" with the North Vietnamese. At around the same time, Robert Kennedy had said in response to a reporter's question that he would support Johnson as the nominee, even though his views more closely resembled McCarthy's. Kennedy told the reporter that the campaign would have a "healthy influence" on Johnson. Kennedy predicted that despite the tension over this issue, Johnson would ultimately win the nomination.

Near the end of January, McCarthy campaigned in St. Louis, where he continued to stress his anti-war message. He said that the Vietnam War was against "American tradition", and added that "no nation has a right to destroy a nation" for the purpose of "nation building." He also discussed his support for normalized relations with Cuba.

McCarthy planned to visit Miami. In response, members of the Democratic Party establishment decided to stage their own rally in the state, likely with direction from the White House. These rallies and other diversionary tactics were used to draw attention away from McCarthy's appearances. Democratic Party officials scheduled a meeting of their own on the same day that McCarthy was making his appearance in Tallahassee. The purpose of McCarthy's visit was to campaign and begin discussion about the presidential nominating slate for the May 28 Florida primary. McCarthy also raised the issue of civil rights during the trip. He said that "it would take 30 to 50 years of constant action and concern to carry out all promises to the emancipated Negro who has been treated as a colonial people in America." Following this speech, the Conference of Concerned Democrats unanimously decided to award him pledged delegates from the state of Florida.

McCarthy gained the formal endorsement of the Americans for Democratic Action. The group had never failed to support an incumbent Democratic president in the past 20 years. McCarthy also announced that he would take part in the Pennsylvania primary, and he turned in 3,400 signatures on the filing deadline. His campaign received a number of celebrity endorsements including from playwright Neil Simon, and actors Paul Newman and Tony Randall. Only one member of Congress, Representative Don Edwards of California, formally endorsed McCarthy at this time.

As McCarthy drew support, he also attracted criticism. He was criticized for his tardiness to the Senate floor, and was accused of being too late to prevent a Southern filibuster against a civil rights bill drafted by his fellow Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. Despite this, three precincts in Minnesota elected McCarthy supported delegates to caucuses, causing embarrassment to Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. President Johnson decided not to contest the primary in Massachusetts, giving 72 delegates to McCarthy.

But the state that McCarthy really wanted to win was in New Hampshire. He had spent a large amount of time campaigning in the state, hoping to improve his standing there before the state's critical primary. To counter McCarthy's growing popularity there, Johnson's campaign used the slogan that "the communists in Vietnam are watching the New Hampshire primary. Don't vote for fuzzy thinking and surrender."

Opinion polls prior to the New Hampshire primary showed that McCarthy's support stood at only 10 to 20 percent. McCarthy decided to pour most of his resources into New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election. He was boosted by thousands of young college students who volunteered throughout the state, who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be "Clean for Gene."

Although McCarthy did not win the contest, he stunned the pundits as well as the President. On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote, finishing in second place, to Johnson's 49%. This was an extremely strong showing for such a challenger, and one which gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. It also showed the president to be more vulnerable than initially believed. Media outlets described the results as a "moral victory" for McCarthy.

Four days after the vote, in a move that surprised many people, on March 16, Robert F. Kennedy renounced his earlier support for Johnson and declared his own candidacy for President. McCarthy and his supporters criticized the move and described it as opportunism. This would lead to a lasting bad feeling between the two campaigns.

A poll in Wisconsin showed McCarthy beating Johnson badly, with Johnson only getting 12% of the vote. Kennedy claimed that this had influenced his decision to enter the race. But Kennedy's announcement did not affect McCarthy's campaign. He remained committed to his supporters, and told reporters that he was "better qualified to run for the presidency" than Kennedy. McCarthy set his sights on Wisconsin and began to prepare for the state's April primary.

Johnson now faced two strong primary challengers. Facing bleak political forecasts in the upcoming primaries, Johnson concluded that he could not win the nomination without a major political and personal struggle. On March 31, 1968, at the end of a televised address regarding the War, the President shocked the nation by announcing that he would not seek re-election. By withdrawing from the race, he hoped to avoid the stigma of defeat and keep control of the party machinery.

After Johnson's withdrawal, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey entered the contest but avoided the primaries. McCarthy and Kennedy battled in the primaries, while Humphrey used "favorite son" candidates as his stand-in to help him win delegates to the Democratic National Convention. On June 5, after winning the California primary, Kennedy was assassinated, passing away the next morning. This left Humphrey as McCarthy's main challenger. Humphrey's organization was too strong for McCarthy to overcome, and his anti-war campaign was split after the late entrance of United States Senator George McGovern of South Dakota just ahead of the Democratic National Convention. Despite winning the popular vote, McCarthy lost to Humphrey at the convention amidst protests and riots.


McCarthy refused to endorse Humphrey, but at the end of October, McCarthy announced that he would vote for Humphrey, but would go no further than that. In the presidential election, Republican Richard Nixon won the election, and McCarthy received 20,721 write-in votes in California and 2,751 in Arizona. McCarthy also ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972, but soon dropped out. He mounted an independent campaign in 1976 and received over 700,000 votes. He went against his party in 1980 when he gave his public support to Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter. McCarthy tried twice again for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 1992. He died on December 10, 2005 at the age of 89.