The cover of the book has a picture of President Ronald Reagan on it. He is wearing a dress shirt, and a tie, with the shirt neatly tucked into a pair of gray sweatpants.
The photo was taken aboard Air Force One, and a grinning Reagan is holding a bumper sticker that reads: "Rambo is a Republican."
The image says a lot about Reagan as well as the 1980s — so does the book, "The Reagan Rhetoric: History and Memory in 1980s America," by Toby Glenn Bates.
Bates, assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University Meridian Campus, says Reagan would change into sweatpants on Air Force One so that his pants wouldn't get wrinkled before his next stop. He believed he should always look presidential. The photo on the cover of Bates' book was taken in Texas on June 21, 1985, when the film "Rambo: First Blood Part II" was all the rage, having opened in theaters a month before. Reagan even signed his name Ronbo in notes to some.
So, while on Air Force One, someone hands Reagan the bumper sticker, and the President loves it.
"The picture to me shows Reagan's comfort in his own skin," Bates said. "It shows his sense of humor, that he liked to laugh, and could laugh at himself, and that he wanted to share it with people."
Bates says there are only a few U.S. presidents of consequence whose contributions can be summed up on a bumper sticker. To Bates, the Reagan bumper sticker would read: "He made America feel good again."
Bates interviewed Reagan staffers, Hollywood producers, and representatives of the national media as he wrote this book, which — as the back cover describes — "... examines the extraordinary connections between President Ronald Reagan's conversations with the American people and the profound changes that swept the nation under those conversations' influence."
Bates takes the reader through history, through the rhetoric of the day, and through the memory of the times to connect the style, manner, and consistency of Reagan's oratory with the social and cultural settings of the 1980s.
"Through his unique use of words, Reagan offered the nation new interpretations of a myriad of subjects," writes Bates. "Millions of Americans accepted his versions. Throughout his two presidential terms and beyond, American memories of the past and attitudes toward the present were heavily influenced by his rhetoric. Reagan's words always spoke to what was best about America, and many in the country listened to him. He told his audience that America would continue to be great in the future, because of her greatness in the present and past. Millions of Americans remembered — or more important, thought they remembered — the nation he talked about. Reagan played a pleasing melody on the chords of memory. Many Americans instinctively knew the tune (or thought they did), longed to hear it, and wanted to believe him, and therefore chose to believe him."
For those who are old enough to remember the 1980s, the book will remind readers that politics then were different than now. They will be reminded that even those who opposed Reagan's policies, liked him personally, and they will recall Reagan's 1980 appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia.
Bates touches on the tangible changes in the nation from 1980-1989, "that made us feel good."
As a young person Bates said he perceived the American people as being rather indifferent over Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter following Richard Nixon's resignation. But with Reagan, he said people seemed to be excited again.
"I noticed people's attitudes changing," Bates said. "As I got older I wanted to investigate that as an historian."
Bates credits his father and grandfather as the people who have been responsible for his love of history. His father, Jerry Bates, died four years ago. He started a successful trucking company in Mississippi now run by Bates' brothers, Todd and Terry. His grandfather is Joseph Montgomery, now 91 years old, who lives in Tupelo, is a World War II veteran who served on a submarine in the Pacific, and worked for the railroad for 40 years.
"Both taught me old-fashioned patriotism," Bates said.
Bates earned his bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. in history from The University of Mississippi. Currently he is working on another book about a Civil War general.
Bates and his wife, Cathy, who is the marketing director for Bedford Care Center in Marion, have two children, Joey, 17, who attends West Lauderdale High School, and Kelly, 12, a student at West Lauderdale Middle School. Bates dedicated his book to them.
Book Signing Thursday
• Who: Dr. Toby Glenn Bates, assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University Meridian Campus.
• What: Bates will talk about his book, and hold a book signing for "The Reagan Rhetoric: History and Memory in 1980s America."
• When: Thursday, July 14, 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.
• Where: Kahlmus Auditorium at MSU-Meridian, 1000 Highway 19 North.