Ronald Reagan was a son of the Midwest, but it’s only natural that he would find and make his home in California.
Reagan’s California, from the 1930s to the early 1990s, was a place for dreamers and innovators. A place where Hollywood visionaries and Silicon Valley engineers could create abundance, where farmers and ranchers didn’t conquer the land–but they could tame it.
It should come has no surprise that one collection of Reagan’s early speeches as Governor put together in book form was titled “The Creative Society.” More than California’s natural resources or it’s monetary capital, Reagan believed it was the creativity of people that generated wealth and prosperity.
It was Reagan’s experiences in California that molded him into the President he would become: a champion of creative entrepreneurs, an optimist about the future, and a believer in genuine individualism. Reagan’s California was a place where Central Valley farmers and ranchers could coexist in the same state with San Francisco liberals, Hispanic immigrants, and East Coasters who had migrated to Los Angeles. It was true diversity.
Reagan counted on those very qualities when he plotted his strategy to win the Cold War. Let’s get the Kremlin in an arms race they can’t win, he posited. No way they can keep up with Silicon Valley innovators who can dream of a weapons system that could shoot down ICBMs. Let’s deal the story of freedom and individualism on the global stage, just like the Golden Age of Hollywood steered world culture. If we tell the story right, people will choose freedom and reject communism. And most of all, like the innovators in Palo Alto garages or Burbank studio lots, let’s have confidence in what we believe and take the risks necessary to win. We can win the Cold War; we don’t have to coexist with Soviet Communism for the next 100 years.
Reagan’s California Spirit served him well. But alas, California is a very different place today. It still features remarkable scenery and a diverse population. But the spirit of the place seems so different.