Nation: Meet the Real Ronald Reagan

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career ebbed. More than that of any other major politician on the national scene, Reagan's present has been shaped by his private past: he bases his attitudes toward public policy on successes and disappointments experienced long before he began campaigning for public office, which he did not do until he was 55, a year younger than Jimmy Carter is now.

One thing that must always be remembered about Ronald Reagan is his reverence for his roots, his childhood in Dixon, Ill. For all the family's financial problems, his older brother Neil, now 71 and retired after a long career as a Hollywood advertising executive, says of their boyhoods: "You could draw a pretty close parallel with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. We never had a worry in the world that I can remember." True, the family moved five times in 14 years by Neil's reckoning. Before Ronald left for college, the Reagans never lived in a house they owned. And yes, the father, Jack, drank a lot and gambled as well, switched jobs often (he was a shoe salesman, mostly) and was sometimes short when the rent was due. But the mother, Nelle, a strong woman of enduring good cheer, managed to keep it all together, teaching her sons that "God will provide."

His progress from those beginnings to success on the screen and in politics has made Reagan a sunny optimist. He has great confidence in the individual's ability to make his way in the world, if only the individual is worthy and will put forth an effort, because he did it. And he has a misty nostalgia for the way things were before the Government got big and intrusive, a generalized longing for a simpler world where there were no forms to be filled out in triplicate.

A line he uses often pops out when a group of wholesome-looking youngsters is close at hand. He will pause during a speech, glance at the high school band and say, "They're what this election is all about. I'd like them to know the freedom we knew when we were their age."

To a euphoric audience at Louisiana State University in mid-September, he recalled that in those days one did not need a driver's license: you drove when Dad thought you were up to it. In an interview two weeks ago, he reminisced about a summer job helping to remodel houses at age 14: "At the end of the week, all the contractor had to do was reach in his pocket and take out the cash to pay me. No auditors, no bookkeeping, no withholding of funds."

Reagan hastens to add that he is not proposing to do away with drivers' licenses, Social Security or withholding taxes. He acknowledges that his rosy evocations of the past are selective, that blacks, for instance, were not exactly free (in fact, the Klan was active in Dixon during his youth). He even maintains, "I don't want to go back to the so-called simple life. It wasn't simple at all." But he says that only after he has been backed into the corner that is reality. On the stump, the message is unadorned. As he told a rally in Paterson, N.J., "My idea of the way to start [as President] is to take Government off the backs of the people and make you free again!"

Reagan's whole general move to the right, like his evocation of good-old-days nostalgia, is closely bound to his personal experiences. He started out, in his own words, as "a bleeding-heart liberal." In

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