Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

Reassessing an American cowboy: Thoughts on Reagan’s unexpectedly complex legacy

April 1, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 1, 2016

This week, I stumbled upon “Reconstructing Ronald Reagan,” a 2007 article that Russell Baker wrote for The New York Review of Books. Most of the piece is devoted to a review of John Patrick Diggins’s biography, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom and the Making of History, and especially the book’s argument that the nation’s 40th president was strongly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the 19th-century Transcendentalist movement. A secondary concern of the essay, however, is Reagan’s foreign policy legacy: Baker also writes about the books Transforming America: Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years by Robert Collins, The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror by John Arquilla and (much more briefly) the 900-page volume Reagan: A Life in Letters.

Two things struck me about Baker’s article. One was that, writing in 2007, the author could not help comparing the Gipper’s administration with that of the president at the time, George W. Bush, and the comparisons are not kind. A sample:

One hears people formerly contemptuous of [the actor-cum-politician] comment that, having seen Bush, they now rank Reagan with the immortals. It is easy to dismiss this as cynical joking, yet here is the eminently respectable Diggins discussing “the Gipper” in the same paragraph with Lincoln and anointing him as one of American history’s “three great liberators.”

The other thing is that historians give a great deal of credit to Reagan, a fervent anti-communist, for his willingness to engage in diplomacy with the Soviet Union. It turns out that the 40th president had a signal interest in decreasing the likelihood of an apocalyptic nuclear war.

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