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The combination of showmanship and privacy is unusual, but the combination of that sense of control with genuine good nature is extraordinary. Conventionally, a severe sense of control is used to harness rage or malice; Reagan seems incapable of either. The effect of that combination, however, is not entirely sanguine. Twenty-five years ago, Neil dreamed up an elaborate and touching Christmas present for his kid brother. He found an impoverished family with a father who was a drunk and out of work, and Neil took the wife and child on a shopping spree. The parallels to the Reagans' own childhood are evident, and whatever moved Neil to emphasize the parallels remains obscure. But the gift was one of immense ingenuity and generosity—because the shopping spree was given in Ronald's name. Yet when it was presented to Reagan, along with a poem Neil wrote for the occasion, Ronald reacted by saying, "Gee, that's keen." It is difficult to know if he was moved or not, but he certainly did not wish to give the impression (satisfaction) of having been moved.
When Campaign Manager John Sears was determined to get Mike Deaver, one of the closest friends of both the Reagans, out of the 1980 organization, Reagan let it happen. He said he did not like it, but he went along anyway, choosing pragmatism over loyalty. There are other examples of cool calculation that seem out of place in what is patently a good heart. The feeling one takes from a conversation with Reagan—and it is very quiet and faint—is that his geniality is equal to his fears. What, specifically, he is afraid of is a secret, as it is with most successful people. But there is no secret about his ability to do a kind of stylistic judo on a potential threat. The voice softens to music; the eyes grow helpless, worried.
TIME: "You were quoted as having said that you had read Norman Podhoretz's The Present Danger and thought it was a very important book. Is that accurate? Did you admire that book when it came out?"
REAGAN: "I read it. [Backs off at once; eyes are shy with surprise; sounds as if he's being accused of something, or as if he is about to be tested.] I don't recall ever having anything to say about it. [Hesitates, but seeing no traps, relaxes slightly.] But I did read it [some firmness now] and do believe that it makes a great deal of sense [confidence restored]."
None of this is to suggest that Reagan resembles a haunted or threatened man. In a lifetime one does not encounter half a dozen people so authentically at ease with themselves. Reagan is a natural; he knows it. His intuitions are always in tune, and he trusts his own feelings. All his political opinions have been born of feelings—the passionate antagonism toward Big Government resulting from his boyhood observations of Dixon and his own experiences with the progressive income tax once he returned from the military; his staunch anti-Communism from his days with the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, when he packed a pistol for self-protection. He will read up on a subject once it has initially been proved on his pulses, but he