Friday, May 09, 2008

The Left Starts to Rethink Reagan

Ronald Reagan has been considered a successful American President by most Americans since during and after his presidency from 1981-1989. This has not always been believed by those on the left of the political spectrum. This may be changing. Newsweek has an article online titled The Left Starts to Rethink Reagan. The article is by Evan Thomas and recounts an interview with Sean Wilentz (Left) and George Will (Right).

Here is the quote that got my notice. It is from Wilentz. He said, "It's no secret that intellectuals, generally being liberals, didn't think much of Ronald Reagan at the time. Unlike Roosevelt, who got covered right away—as soon as he died there were books out about [him]—it took people a long time to catch up with Ronald Reagan. But I think that now they can no longer ignore him. His impact on the world and country, whether you like it or not, was so important that to ignore him is to ignore an entirety of American politics."

Obviously, this quote can be taken in many ways. However, the rest of the article shows that Wilentz believes Reagan was a successful president even if he does not agree with everything that Reagan did.

It is tough to judge a President who was in office in our lifetimes. Our own political interests cloud our judgements. This is true of historians as well. It takes time to determine how successful a president was whether they be ultimate failures or successes or somewhere between.

Wilentz has just published a book titled The Age of Reagan. It looks like a good book to read. I will buy a copy for my library. Whether you liked Reagan or not, it looks like it may be a good read.


1 comment:

Scott said...

George Will is the only writer that I know who can make reading about baseball worse than watching paint dry. In fact, I would rather watch paint dry and smell the fumes than being forced to read "Men At Work" again.

According to Will, "[Reagan] said that when the American people are happy, good things happen: they invest, they save, they have children. So he thought that getting America back to cheerfulness was an intensely practical program." What he does not say that once the rose colored glasses were knocked off in October 1987, Reagan and his idealistic administration were not prepared to deal with the harsh reality of a down cycle.

Will then compares the concept of an "effective leader," meaning Reagan, to Margaret Thatcher. What Will does not recognize is that as Prime Minister, Thatcher and her successors are members of Parliament and expected to participate as a representative of their district. Thatcher was very hands on and willing to make enemies to clean up the British government. The result was that the country was governed from 10 Downing Street and not from Westminster Castle or the party offices. Reagan allowed his appointees to make policy to the detriment of the environment (remember James Watt?), those of us who were in college at the time who lost their student loans, the traveling public (remember PATCO?), and Iran-Contra, to name a few.

Not to keep picking on George Will, Sean Wilentz said, "I don't think, though, that it was simply a matter of his personality. Ronald Reagan was much more serious than people have given him credit for." I found this interesting after reading interviews from Mikhail Gorbachev and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who were not complimentary of Reagan's "engagement" during their meetings.

And lest we forget that Ronald Reagan propped up the Saddam Hussein regiem to fight against Iran. Saddam was supposed to rid of the US of the Iranian problem. In the mean time, the Reagan administration was selling arms to Iran after arm-twising Israel to be the "middle-man" and divert some of the funds to the Contras in Nicaragua--after Congress passed a law (and Reagan signed) that said the US would not fund the Contras. Iran-Contra showed how out of touch Reagan was with the working of his own administration.

But Reagan was an actor and looked directly into the camera and turned on his concerned face and Hollywood charm that sold whatever garbage he was selling to his adoring fans surrounding the virtual red carpet. He was the kind old uncle that would tell us everything was Ok even when we knew it was not. He fooled a lot of people much of the time because the failures of his administration were more catastrophic than the success of the successes!