Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader

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Simon and Schuster, 23 lut 1999 - 304
How can we square Reagan the man with the astonishing events of the Reagan era? The mystery of Reagan is best summarized in the remark that National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane made to Secretary of State George Shultz: "He knows so little, and accomplishes so much." In Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, Dinesh D'Souza solves the mystery of Reagan by showing how this "ordinary" man was able to transform the political landscape in a way that made a permanent impact on America and the world. Through firsthand reporting and interviews, D'Souza portrays the private side of Reagan - the man behind the mask - and reveals the moral sources of his vision and leadership.

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Recenzja użytkownika  - JohnPhelan - LibraryThing

This is one of the best biographical books I've ever read. By the end it had accomplished something all such books should aspire to; to make you feel as though you have spent time with the subject ... Przeczytaj pełną recenzję

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Recenzja użytkownika  - LisaMaria_C - LibraryThing

How people regard this biography seems to reflect how they regard the subject. That's rather understandable. I think it's far too early really to evaluate Reagan (or Carter or Clinton) very ... Przeczytaj pełną recenzję

Spis treści

The Wise Men and the Dummy
Why Reagan Gets No Respect
The Education of an Actor
Mr Reagan Goes to Washington
A Walk on the Supply Side
They Dont Call It Reaganomics Anymore
Confronting the Evil Empire
Making the World Safe for Democracy
And the Wall Came Tumbling Down
The Man Behind the Mask
Spirit of a Leader
The Road Not Taken
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Chapter One
Why Reagan Gets No Respect
Ronald Reagan did more than any other single man in the second half of the twentieth century to shape our world, yet his presidency and his character remain little understood and often grossly misunderstood. Any intelligent examination of Reagan must begin with the recognition that he was a mystery personally and politically. Most people find this difficult to believe, because during his two terms in office Reagan established an intimate television rapport with us. Whether we approve or disapprove of his policies, we think that we know him. Yet we forget that he was an actor.
Lou Cannon, who has covered Reagan journalistically since the 1960s and written three books about him, told me, "I regard Reagan as a puzzle. I am still trying to understand the man." Virtually everyone who knew Reagan well or observed him closely would agree. They are familiar with the public Reagan, but their efforts to discover the individual behind the mask have proved frustratingly elusive. Historian Edmund Morris, Reagan''s official biographer, confesses that from a personal or human point of view, Reagan is the most incomprehensible figure he has ever encountered. Reagan''s chief of staff, Donald Regan, who felt an Irish affinity with the president, writes that despite his best efforts, he couldn''t figure out his boss at all.
Even Reagan''s family found him enigmatic and impenetrable. His four children confess that, in many ways, he was a stranger to them. "I never knew who he was, I could never get through to him," remarked Patti Davis. "You get just so far, and then the curtain drops," Ron Reagan told a reporter. "He doesn''t like to open himself up, even with us," Maureen Reagan wrote in her autobiography. Reagan''s adopted son, Michael Reagan, revealingly titled his book about his relationship with his father, On the Outside Looking In. The conventional view is that Reagan had such a close relationship with his wife that even the children felt excluded. Yet Nancy Reagan also felt that there was a part of Reagan that was inaccessible to her. "There''s a wall around him," she writes. "He lets me come closer than anyone else, but there are times when even I feel that barrier."
Peggy Noonan, a shrewd observer of Reagan and one of his star speechwriters, told me that his life was "paradox all the way down." Here was a man who had the most important job in the world, yet he seemed relaxed, even casual, about the way he went about it. He seemed determined to transform the size and role of the federal government, but he seemed curiously detached from its everyday operations. Even though he was the most ideological man to occupy the White House in half a century, he was the furthest thing from an intellectual. Indeed, he provoked the derision of the intelligentsia and many in the press; even his own aides condescended to him; yet he laughed it all off and didn''t seem to mind the scorn. He was comfortable consorting with aristocrats and playing golf with millionaires, who considered him one of them, yet he was equally at home with miners and construction workers, who were convinced that he shared their values and had their interests at heart. Few other presidents have enjoyed greater public accolades and affection, yet none of it appeared to satisfy a deep emotional need in him; he was far too self-contained for that. He was gregarious and liked people, yet he allowed virtually no one to get close to him. As president, he often spoke of God and championed a restoration of spiritual values in American life and politics, but he didn''t go to church. He was an avid exponent of "family values," yet he was divorced, had strained relationships with his children, and rarely saw his grandchildren.
The political mystery surrounding Reagan was well expressed by his national security adviser, Robert McFarlane, in a conversation with Secretary of State George Shultz. "He knows so little," McFarlane said, "and accomplishes so much." Richard Nixon made the same point at the opening ceremonies for the Reagan Library in 1991. Earlier, Nixon had visited Reagan in the White House and tried to engage him in a discussion of Marxist ideas and Soviet strategy, but Reagan simply wasn''t interested; instead, he regaled Nixon with jokes about Soviet farmers who had no incentive to produce under the communist system. Nixon was troubled to hear such flippancy from the leader of the Western world. He wrote books during the 1980s criticizing Reagan''s lack of "realism" and warning that "the Soviet system will not collapse" so "the most we can do is learn to live with our differences" through a policy of "hard headed détente." Yet two and a half years after Reagan left office, Nixon admitted that he was wrong and Reagan was right: "Ronald Reagan has been justified by what has happened. History has justified his leadership."
The American electorate did not regard Reagan as an enigma. During his two terms in office, he was a beloved and popular man who was also seen as an effective leader. In evaluating Reagan''s leadership, most people used a simple "before and after" rule that seems to apply to all presidents: What was the world like when he came to office? What was it like when he left? For better or worse, a president is held responsible for the things that happen during his tenure. Most people considered Reagan a successful president because the world seemed a better place in 1989 than it did in 1981. For practical people who don''t follow politics closely, this fact was decisive. Reagan himself endorsed this crude standard when in 1980 he posed the question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
Reagan won the affection of the American people because he seemed like a "regular guy," and they identified with him. Young people thought of him as a national father figure. Even those who disagreed with his policies were quick to concede that he brought dignity and aplomb to the presidency and that he had a twinkle in his eye and laughed a lot. How could you dislike a man who was asked whether he was too old to run for reelection at the age of seventy-three and replied, "What the devil would a young fellow like me do if I quit the job?" People understood that Reagan wasn''t an intellectual, but this only confirmed his identification with the average person. Sure, he made mistakes, but that showed he was normal.
Yet this public understanding of Reagan as a good-natured typical American, which predominated throughout the 1980s, solves neither the personal nor the political mystery of the man. Here was the son of the town drunk who grew up poor in the Midwest. Without any connections, he made his way to Hollywood and survived its cutthroat culture to become a major star. He ran as a right-wing conservative and was elected governor of California, the largest and one of the most progressive states in the country. He challenged the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, for the Republican nomination in 1976 and almost beat him. In 1980 he defeated Jimmy Carter to win the presidency in a landslide. He was reelected in 1984 by one of the largest margins in history, losing only his opponent''s home state of Minnesota and winning 525 electoral votes to Walter Mondale''s 13. For eight consecutive years, the Gallup Poll pronounced him the most admired man in the country. When he left office, his approval rating was around 70 percent, the highest of any president in the modern era -- higher than that of Eisenhower or Kennedy. He was one of the few presidents in this century to bequeath the office to a hand-picked successor, George Bush, who was elected president in 1988 largely on the strength of Reagan''s success. With the election of many of Reagan''s ideological offspring to a new Republican majority in both houses of Congress in 1994 -- one of the most stunning developments in modern political history -- one may say (as political pundit William Kristol put it) that Reagan won his fourth term. Television reporter Sam Donaldson, who sparred with Reagan throughout his presidency, recently told me that if not for constitutional limitations and his physical condition, Reagan could have been president for life. Moreover, Reagan was more than a mere occupant of the White House. Throughout the world, his name was identified with a coherent philosophy and outlook that people called "Reaganism." He thereby defined a whole era; the 1980s would be inconceivable without him. He changed both his country and the rest of the world, and his legacy continues to loom large over the landscape of contemporary politics, dwarfing politicians of both parties.
How many ordinary fellows have accomplished all of that?

To the intellectual elite -- the pundits, political scientists, and historians -- all of this speculation about the mystery of Reagan''s success is sheer nonsense. To the degree that Reagan accomplished anything, the wise men attribute it to "incredible luck," in the words of economist and Nobel laureate James Tobin. Overall, however, the wise men do not believe they have to resort to blind fate to account for Reagan''s success. Many of these professionals argue that, taken as a whole, Reagan''s record is one of embarrassing failure. They contend that his short-term gains are greatly outweighed by the long-term liabilities with which he burdened the country. Even accomplishments directly attributable to his administration, they charge, are not his work but those of his aides, who handed him a script and stage-managed his performance.
In this view, Reagan was a thoroughly inadequate and inept chief executive. Like Peter Sellers''s character Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There, Reagan was a cheerful simpleton who had no idea of what was really going on, but happened to be in the right place at the right time and somehow m

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