In the 1940s and 1950s, Autry was a Top 10 Box Office star, and he remained super popular until his death. In fact, his popularity was astounding. What made Autry so popular? To put it simply, Gene Autry was essentially impossible to dislike because he came across as genuinely nice and he came across as someone who actually cared about everyone. Indeed, he always smiled, no matter what the circumstances. And he always remained relentlessly positive. Even when he faced the bad guy, he still smiled and chose to counter the villain’s conduct good-naturedly rather than with anger.
More importantly though, he cared about everyone. No issue was too small for him to want to help and there wasn’t anyone he was unwilling to help. In fact, in his films he rejects racism, classism and genderism. At one point, he created a Cowboy Code which he shared with tens of millions of kids and that code specifically said that a genuine cowboy “must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.” It also said that a genuine cowboy must “respect women,” may not take unfair advantage, must always tell the truth, must help people in distress, must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals, and must never go back on his word.
Right now, I can hear some people mocking him as “a Boy Scout,” but that says more about their cynicism than anything about Autry if they dislike people who display all the virtues we claim to prize.
Anyways, he was forgiving too and never acted in anger. Indeed, Autry never gave up trying to talk the villain out his plan because he wanted the best solution for everyone, not just victory. He would use violence sometimes, but only in genuine self-defense (not fake self-defense like modern heroes). Interestingly, he was also the kind of guy who would race to save a villain who had fallen over a cliff and would beat himself up for failing to save the villain from falling to his death.
Compare that with modern “heroes” who are cynical, nasty, and presume the worst. They only seem happy when they are kicking ass or killing bad guys. Autry never did that. Autry simply wanted to help people. He was the kind of guy who never failed to give the shirt off his back at the first sign of need. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. He had tremendous patience and was always willing to forgive. He was humble, honest, and he genuinely cared about everyone. This is what he projected on film and all indications are that this is who he really was.
Ok, so why am I telling you this? Because this is what made Autry irresistible to the American public. They loved him.
Now look at Ronald Reagan. How did Reagan come across to the public? He came across as humble and honest, and he genuinely seemed to care about everyone. He talked about making “all boats” rise, not just those of his friends, his donors, his voters, or people of a certain color or class. He spoke proudly of all Americans of any gender, race or religion. He never tried to section people off under the law and he never sold his policies as hurting or getting even with people he didn't like. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. Even as Tipp O’Neil and the MSM savaged him and tried to destroy him, Reagan kept his sunny disposition and treated them as friends.
And do you know what? The public loved him! He became the most loved politician this country has ever produced. Just think back to his funeral and you’ll see that. Think back to the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out to see his body, who lined the streets, and who openly cried that a man they hadn’t seen in 20 years had died. That is an amazing emotional connection, the same connection Autry achieved.
This is the lesson. It’s no secret how to be popular. When the public believes that you care about everyone equally, and that you do genuinely care and want to help people... when the public sees you as humble, honest, and decent... the public will love you. Ronald Reagan, just like Gene Autry, won over a massive majority of the public because the public knew that these were decent men who cared about everyone and wanted the best for everyone. That created the trust which caused the public to give Reagan a chance and to stick with him. If we want to regain the public’s trust, that is the course we need to take. It’s not about ideology, it’s about attitude.
To put a fine point on this: if conservatism wants to win back the public, it needs to learn to care about all Americans again, not just those it likes. Drop the anger, drop the exclusion, and drop the cynicism that is the essence of talk radio. Embrace America. Embrace Americans... every American. This is the greatest country on earth and her people are amazing. Give them the opportunities and trust them to excel. Be someone the public will love and respect and the public will love and respect you. It’s that simple. Remember this the next time a candidate tells you what his goals are.