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Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future


Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future Cover

ISBN13: 9781416597629
ISBN10: 141659762x
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In this provocative new book, award-winning political journalist Will Bunch unravels the story of how a right-wing cabal hijacked the mixed legacy of Ronald Reagan, a personally popular but hugely divisive 1980s president, and turned him into a bronze icon to revive their fading ideology. They succeeded to the point where all the GOP candidates for president in 2008 scurried to claim his mantle, no matter how preposterous the fit.

With clear eyes and an ever-present wit, Bunch reveals the truth about the Ronald Reagan legacy, including the following:

  • Despite the idolatry of the last fifteen years, Reagan's average popularity as president was only, well, average, lower than that of a half-dozen modern presidents. More important, while he was in office, a majority of Americans opposed most of his policies and by 1988 felt strongly that the nation was on the wrong track. Reagan's 1981 tax cut, weighted heavily toward the rich, did not cause the economic recovery of the 1980s. It was fueled instead by dropping oil prices, the normal business cycle, and the tight fiscal policies of the chairman of the Federal Reserve appointed by Jimmy Carter. Reagan's tax cut did, however, help usher in the deregulated modern era of CEO and Wall Street greed.
  • Most historians agree that Reagan's waste-ridden military buildup didn't actually "win the Cold War." And Reagan mythmakers ignore his real contributions — his willingness to talk to his Soviet adversaries, his genuine desire to eliminate nuclear weapons, and the surprising role of a "liberal" Hollywood-produced TV movie.
  • George H. W. Bush's and Bill Clinton's rolling back of Reaganomics during the 1990s spurred a decade of peace and prosperity as well as the reactionary campaign to pump up the myth of Ronald Reagan and restore right-wing hegemony over Washington. This effort has led to war, bankrupt energy policies, and coming generations of debt.
  • With masterful insight, Bunch exposes this dangerous effort to reshape America's future by rewriting its past. As the Obama administration charts its course, he argues, it should do so unencumbered by the dead weight of misplaced and unearned reverence.

    About the Author

    Will Bunch, currently a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and the author of a popular political blog called "Attytood," which has a progressive bent and a national readership, has been covering presidential races since Reagan’s re-election in 1984. He has won numerous journalism awards, sharing the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting with the New York Newsday staff. He is author of one previous book, and his writings have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, American Prospect, Mother Jones and elsewhere.

    Table of Contents

    Chapter One Ronald Reagan Boulevard
    Chapter Two A Man Before Myth
    Chapter Three An Untaxing Burden
    Chapter Four Warrior Defused
    Chapter Five Prospero Unmasked
    Chapter Six Rolling Back Reagan
    Chapter Seven Enter the Mythmakers
    Chapter Eight The Great Misinterpreter
    Chapter Nine Reagan's '08 Campaign
    Chapter Ten Exorcising Gipper's Ghost


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    OneMansView, April 6, 2009 (view all comments by OneMansView)
    Even-handed look at the orchestrated Reagan myth

    The central concern of the author is that the very serious economic, environmental, social, and foreign policy problems of this nation are either going unaddressed, or worse exacerbated, because we the public and political opportunists in particular cling to a set of beliefs and policies, supposedly held and enacted by former President Ronald Reagan and now unassailable after a two-decade long campaign to raise him to sainthood, that are grossly ideological, bare only faint resemblance to the Reagan presidency, and most importantly cannot and will not work.

    The mythologizing began in earnest in the mid-90s, when it was announced that Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s, by Republican operatives who were seeking a way to counter the Clinton presidency. According to the myth, government is too large and is our essential problem; large tax cuts, especially for the rich, will have broad economic benefit and will result in budget surpluses; social and environmental problems are either nonexistent or overstated, but will miraculously work themselves out regardless; the U.S. must dominate the world militarily, unilaterally if necessary; and most fundamental is that unregulated, laissez-faire capitalism is the only viable economic system. This belief system gains credibility when it is presented in the context of Reagan’s sunny personality and profound optimism and his handlers’ astute usage of props and the media in packaging it all.

    What is most ironic is that while personally popular, the American public had grown weary of Reagan by the time he left office. Economic inequality had substantially risen and the public gave Reagan a pass on the Iran-Contra affair, for which he could have probably been impeached. Perhaps it says much about myth-making in our era of mass communications.

    While Reagan did subscribe to much of that ideology, the author painstakingly shows that Reagan deviated substantially from those ideals and invited failure when he did not. His approach was practical, though perhaps reluctantly, in many cases and was not driven, as are modern right-wing ideologues, to roll back the New Deal. It is painful for modern Republicans to learn that Reagan raised taxes at least six times in his two terms, at least partly to shore-up social security. Government spending and the size of government grew tremendously under Reagan resulting in increases of the federal debt of over two trillion dollars. It seems to be little remembered in our era that his administration’s failure to regulate the S&Ls resulted in a bailout of investors by taxpayers of at least 200 billion, certainly a forerunner to the bailout of Wall Street today.

    The author shows that the costs of blindly following the Reagan myth are best seen in the presidency of GW Bush. At a time when the U.S. attempted to wage war on two fronts, Bush elected to dogmatically enact a huge tax cut disproportionately skewed to the rich, resulting in deficits far larger than those of Reagan. His blind insistence on invading Iraq was contrary to Reagan’s very tactical withdrawal from Lebanon. Perhaps the largest failure of the Bush era is the belief that huge financial firms making as much money as possible regardless of manner will be a benefit to the U.S. economy. His lack of concerns about global warming and alternative energy is as misguided as Reagan’s rollback of mileage standards for car manufacturers.

    Despite the failed, ideological presidency of GW Bush and devastating economic realities, it is not clear that the Reagan myth has been much diminished. The Republican candidates for president in 2008 made great efforts in attempting to cast themselves as the person most able to carry out the mythological Reagan principles. It could be contended that perhaps Bush did not follow the prescription well enough. The election of Obama to the presidency is at least a small sign that the Reagan myth is just that: a myth. But myths die hard.

    The author’s book is a reasonable look at the huge discrepancy between what Reagan supposedly did and his actual performance. It is not Reagan bashing, though certainly some much-needed balance is achieved in assessing Reagan’s presidency. He is most assuredly correct to suggest that if we are to have a chance at a bright future, we must, at the very least, move beyond myths. The book does tend to be a bit wordy and repetitious. It’s unfortunate that those who could best benefit from the book won’t read it. They’ll simply see it as an attack on a sacred icon. It’s too bad, because probably at least 47 percent of the electorate believes a good bit of the Reagan myth – not a comforting thought.
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    Product Details

    How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future
    Bunch, Will
    Bunch, William
    Free Press
    Political Process - Political Parties
    Public Affairs & Administration
    Political Parties
    History & Theory - General
    Political Ideologies - Conservatism & Liberalism
    Symbolism in politics.
    United States Politics and government.
    Politics - General
    Publication Date:
    Grade Level:
    9 x 6 in

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    History and Social Science » US History » Presidents » Reagan, Ronald

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