The Enduring Reagan. Edited by Charles W. Dunn. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009. 178 pp.
In the volatile ex-presidents' stock market charting of the ebbs and flows of post-White House reputations, Ronald Reagan has become a hot commodity. After the first few years of Reagan's retirement, when even his own vice president and designated successor George H. W. Bush boasted about being "kinder and gentler," Reagan's historical reputation has boomed. Still, for those of us who remember the harsh attacks and dismissive mockery Reagan endured during the 1980s, contemporary rhetoric about Reagan's legacy is surprising. Liberal historians describe the "age of Reagan" stretching into the twenty-first century. Barack Obama aspires to be a transformational president-just like Reagan. And the nine contributors to this volume repeatedly use words like "romance," "poetry," "enduring," "consequential," and "great," while comparing Ronald Reagan to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and, most frequently, Franklin Roosevelt.
Although each contributor offers his own particular list, the case for Reagan pivots around what James Ceaser calls "The Big Four" (p. 44). For starters, after a string of failures, Reagan showed that the presidency could function properly and that the nation could be governed effectively by one strong visionary leader. The journalist Michael Barone elegantly summarizes Reagan's vision as "markets work, morals matter. America must be strong in the world" (p. 161). Comparing Reagan's two elections to the excruciating close elections before and after his, Andrew Busch notes that Reagan won "94 percent of all electoral votes" in contention in 1980 and 1984, the highest percentage in the twentieth century (p. 133).
Second, Reagan brought the conservative movement to power, even if, as the volume's editor Charles W. Dunn argues, Reagan's populist and patriotic instincts moderated him, so that, ultimately, he "sprinkled conservative seasoning on the center of American politics" (p. 7).
The third pillar propping up Reagan's reputation is the 1980s' economic boom. Busch even absolves Reagan of blame for the huge deficits and growing inequality, arguing that "it is well-documented that income inequality in America began rising around 1973 and has been rising more or less steadily ever since," no matter who served as president (p. 127).
Finally, the clearest claim centers on Reagan's foreign policy, especially in defeating the Soviet Union....