The Reagan myth

Allan Barra reviews “The Man Who Sold the World” (also with reference to Will Bunch’s new book on the creation and sustenance of the Reagan myth)

“The aftermath of Reagan’s presidency,” Garry Wills wrote in a famous introduction to his 1987 book “Reagan’s America,” “has proved, over and over, that Reaganism without Reagan is unsustainable.” In the two decades since Wills’ book was published, a significant portion of the press and public seems to have forgotten that. William Kleinknecht is on a mission: In “The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America,” he is out to demonstrate that Reaganism with Reagan never worked.

…“The Man Who Sold America” has much in common with another recent scathing indictment of the Reagan administration, Will Bunch’s “Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future.” Both books cover much of the same territory: Contrary to the nearly two decades of idolatry from the right, Reagan was no more popular than numerous other modern presidents (as Kleinknecht notes, just 27 percent of eligible voters elected him in 1980, a year which saw a record-low turnout at the polls), the legacy of the famous 1980 tax cut was an era of deregulation that spawned CEO and Wall Street greed, and, most important, the Reagan revolution did not do what it set out to do, namely to reduce the size of government (“Big government,” writes Kleinknecht, “was not stripped away in the Reagan years; it was just redirected to the needs of private enterprise”).

As John Dewey observed, “Politics is the shadow cast by business”.  Absolutely the case as regards the modern Republican party.


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