President Reagan: The Triumph Of Imagination, by Richard Reeves
Richard Reeves, at least according to his wikipedia page, is irritated when people call him an elitist liberal . The friend of mine who gave me this book, of course, is quite fond of liberal writers , and yet the fact that Reeves is an admittedly biased person makes a big difference in this book because the author is praised on the cover by a blurb from the New York Times that says that the book is scrupulously fair, which it is not. In fact, reading this book in light of the Obama presidency is a rather jarring experience, in that the very same things that Reeves critiques Reagan most harshly for–his focus on rhetoric and vision while being somewhat cold and remote towards others, his desire to present himself as a candidate of hope and change and optimism in a cynical world, his tolerance of high budget deficits on a historic level, and the way that his cabinet officials engaged in illegal behavior involving arms trading and illegal e-mail servers –are precisely those areas where a conservative of an opposite bias to the author’s would excoriate Obama for, with at least equal fairness to the author. This book is not scrupulously fair; rather, it represents the efforts of an openly avowed left-wing thinker to seek to capture what was most noteworthy about President Reagan in the attempt that such rhetorical skill and success with the masses could be repeated by a suitable leftist candidate.
While it is fairly unsurprising that the contents of this book would reek with leftist bias, so much so that it is not even worthwhile to begin to document such matters with any kind of detail, given the extent to which the author seeks to use every primary source possible about the president and subject it to the most tortured and liberal interpretation possible, the bias of the author is even more notable in the structure of the book itself, which is worthy of comment. Ostensibly, the book consists of 23 days of the Reagan presidency, more than half of which are chosen in the second term, where a president can be more safely viewed as ineffective and irrelevant due to the lame duck effect. Even more than this, though, the dates are somewhat arbitrary, in that even though they represent some sort of turning point or important event, like President Reagan being shot, or election day, or various important meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev, or the day that Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork lamentably got borked, the author feels entirely free to ramble on like a senile elderly writer in need of focus about whatever strikes his fancy, even as he continually needles Reagan on being senile himself. Pot, meet kettle. That happens a lot in this book, to an irritating degree that makes it far less worthwhile as a source, and far less pleasant to read for anyone who is not drinking the same kool-aid as the author.
So, ultimately, what is one to make of this bloated book that weighs in at 490 turgid pages of biased reportage? For those on the left side of the political spectrum, this is the sort of work to read as a way of insulting the American populace for electing and then re-electing Reagan over Carter and Mondale, while pretending that this sort of work is scrupulously fair and even-handed in its approach. Even so, for those who do not find anything useful or worthwhile in the author’s bias, this book is still noteworthy in that it provides an opportunity to remind oneself that it is not a good thing to idolize any political leader or place them on a pedestal. The author wisely notes towards the close of the book that the office of the presidency is more than anyone can bear on their own, and that those who serve the president, any president, need to avoid doing anything that brings discredit to someone who holds that noble office. The advice is wise advice, even coming from a disreputable source. Those who seek to defend the legitimacy of authority have a responsibility to act in such a way as to bring glory and credit and honor to those above them. We ignore the need to build others up at our peril, and if this book is largely a waste of good paper, it is not entirely without value, despite its authors best efforts.
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