Twenty-five years after Ronald Reagan became president, Richard Reeves has written a surprising and revealing portrait of one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century. As he did in his bestselling books President Kennedy: Profile of Power and President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Reeves has used newly declassified documents and hundreds of interviews to show a president at work day by day, sometimes minute by minute.
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination is the story of an accomplished politician, a bold, even reckless leader, a gambler, a man who imagined an American past and an American future—and made them real. He is a man of ideas who changed the world for better or worse, a man who understands that words are often more important than deeds. Reeves shows a man who understands how to be President, who knows that the job is not to manage the government but to lead the nation. In many ways, a quarter of a century later, he is still leading. As his vice president, George H. W. Bush, said after Reagan was shot and hospitalized in 1981: “We will act as if he were here.”
He is a heroic figure if not always a hero. He did not destroy communism, as his champions claim, but he knew it would self-destruct and hastened the collapse. No small thing. He believed the Soviet Union was evil and he had contempt for the established American policies of containment and détente. Asked about his own Cold War strategy, he answered: “We win. They lose!”
Like one of his heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, he has become larger than life. As Roosevelt became an icon central to American liberalism, Reagan became the nucleus holding together American conservatism. He is the only president whose name became a political creed, a noun not an adjective: “Reaganism.”
Reagan’s ideas were so old they seemed new. He preached an individualism, inspiring and cruel, that isolated and shamed the halt and the lame. He dumbed-down America, brilliantly blending fact and fiction, transforming political debate into emotion-driven entertainment. He recklessly mortgaged America with uncontrolled military spending, less taxation, and more debt.
In focusing on the key moments of the Reagan presidency, Reeves recounts the amazing resiliency of Ronald Reagan, the real “comeback kid.” Here is a seventy-year-old man coming back from a near-fatal gunshot wound, from cancer, from the worst recession in American history. Then, in personal despair as his administration was shredded by the lying and secrets of hidden wars and double-dealing, he was able to forge one of history’s amazing relationships with the leader of “the Evil Empire.” That story is told for the first time using the transcripts of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings, the climax of an epic story—as if he were here.
"Memorable set pieces. The meetings with Gorbachev read like a political thriller. But the one that stands out is the event that forged the Reagan legend: his brush with assassination in 1981...As doctors fought to save the president, blood bubbling out of his mouth, a Secret Service man prayed: 'Oh my God, we've lost him.' Meanwhile back at the White House, his staff haggled over who should run the American government —little realizing of course that the one who did was the genial old man hanging on to life in George Washington University Hospital." The Economist
"President Reagan is a compelling read, fast-paced and scrupulously fair. The account of the Iran-contra affair is particularly gripping. Anbody who is interested in the extraordinary Reagan Presidency needs to reckon with Reeves... There are plenty of other gems... If Reeves were in the thriller business, he would be accused of stretching the bounds of credibility; as things are, readers will have to keep pinching themselves, checking Reeves's footnotes and realizing that, yes, all this really happened." Adrian Wooldridge, The New York Times Book Review
"It is refreshing to read a presidential biography in which the man's public actions — not his private psyche — are the primary focus... Reeves captures Reagan's undeniable charm, presidential aura and ability to inspire Americans with his own vision of an earlier America when things seemed simpler and better. That those times, in reality, were not better for large numbers of Americans did not faze Reagan... He had an old man's strengths: He knew what he believed, and he really didn't care what his opponents thought of him." Deirdre Donahue, USA Today
"Celebrated journalist Richard Reeves takes the same vivid, fly-on-the-wall approach he's previously applied with such success to Nixon and Kennedy, and uses it just as skillfully to take us inside the administration, mind and character of Ronald Reagan... Reeves is particularly strong at portraying Reagan's almost organically intuitive approach to management. Here we have the Gipper's artful delegation of details along the road to fulfilling his short list of grand goals..." Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
"What separates this book from so many others is that Mr. Reeves very subtly has written a post-9/11 assessment of the Reagan Presidency... Putting together a narrative of a much-chronicled Presidency is not for the faint of heart. Richard Reeves, one of the finest journalists of his generation, is made of sterner stuff, and our understanding of Ronald Reagan is the better for it." Terry Golway, New York Observer
"Long one of America's finest political reproters, Richard Reeves has also become one of of the best political biographers. His books, about John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and now Ronald Reagan are indispensable reading for anyone interested in the modern U.S. presidency..." Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News
"In President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, master political journalist Richard Reeves provides a marvelous behind-the-scenes look at how that performance came together. Using a net work of contacts and sources built up over five decades, Reeves, who previously wrote much-praised chronicles of of the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, spins a fly-on-the-wall, at times day-by-day tale of the power of one man's imagination...." Mark Schogol, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Readers are in Reeves's debt for this entertaining, deeply reported and revealing portrait of a man destined to be in death what he was in life: a figure of enduring fascination." Jon Meacham, Washington Post
LOS ANGELES — Just about 30 years ago, I wrote a "Reporter at Large" article for The New Yorker magazine about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living, illegally and legally, in Southern California. The Mexican and Chicano population of Los Angeles was the second-largest Mexican city in the world, behind only Mexico City itself.
LOS ANGELES — Times are tough. Do the numbers: Chief executive officers (CEOs) of the country's biggest companies experienced pay increases of a minuscule 15 percent in 2012, compared with the 28 percent their pay rose in 2011.
LOS ANGELES — A very wise man, Harvard philosopher George Santayana, said more than a hundred years ago: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
LOS ANGELES — When ATMs, the cash machines, began to appear on the outside walls of banks in the 1970s, I refused to go near them. My mother was a teller at the Trust Company of New Jersey on Journal Square in Jersey City, and I knew the machines were designed to eliminate her job.
LOS ANGELES — I thought I had said all I had to say last week about the accelerated change in American attitudes toward gay marriage and "illegal" immigration. But there are a lot of other folks out there examining the accelerated politics of the day and generally coming to the conclusion that, after years of moving right, Americans are moving left again.
LOS ANGELES — As the Supreme Court debated last week over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 17-year-old law barring same-sex marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia noted the number of states that are permitting gays and lesbians to marry. "There has been a sea change," he said, "between now and 1996."
LOS ANGELES — If you Google "Afghanistan," you get your choice of occupiers. There's "Occupation of Afghanistan by British," "Occupation of Afghanistan by Russians" and "Occupation of Afghanistan by United States."
LOS ANGELES —- "What if they gave an election and no one came?" That's a paraphrase of a war or anti-war cry of the 1960s. More than 40 years later in Los Angeles, the nation's second city, the cliche came alive in reports of last Tuesday's municipal election, where turnout has dropped to 16 percent, half the number of people who turned out for local elections only eight years ago.
LOS ANGELES — I do have an office, at the University of Southern California, but except for actually teaching, I have been working at home for most of my life. Naturally, I'm interested in the controversy generated by Marissa Mayer, the new boss at Yahoo, when she ordered all that company's employees to report to a regular company office.
LOS ANGELES — If I were a Republican activist, I think I would give up reading political journalism for a while. I might even turn to reading history, say the history of whatever happened to the Whig Party.
LOS ANGELES — President Obama said "jobs" 47 times in his State of the Union message last Tuesday night, so we know what's on his mind.
LOS ANGELES — I was standing in line for a movie years ago on Lexington Avenue in New York, when an unmistakable voice came from near the front of the line. "Hey, Dick! Hey, Dick! It's Ed Koch!" Who else? He kept on speaking at the top of his voice — he did not have a bottom — over a couple of dozen people, asking me or telling me about some problem at City Hall or maybe complaining about the newspaper, The New York Times, of which I was then City Hall bureau chief.
LOS ANGELES — The 30th president of the United States, who was not such a bad guy, sometimes seems to be remembered only for a single quote: "The business of America is business."
LOS ANGELES —- When I saw my friend Avery Corman, the novelist, for the first time after his wife, Judy, died eight years ago, I was, of course, at a loss for words. I blurted out the first thing that came into my head: "How's your work going?"
LOS ANGELES — On Feb. 1, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially signed an order allowing Japanese-Americans to fight in the U.S. Army. Only a year earlier, the same president had signed an executive order to evacuate 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans living near the West Coast into "relocation camps" in desolate, barren areas from east of the Sierra Nevada to Arkansas.
LOS ANGELES — Is there a wave of nostalgia for the 1930? I wouldn't have thought so, at least not until the Republicans of Michigan passed the bucket of anti-union legislation last week. The procedure they used to pass "right-to-work" was pretty sneaky: no hearings, no public readings, voting by a lame-duck legislature and signature by a governor who had given the impression that such doings and law were not part of his agenda.
LOS ANGELES —- It was Yogi Berra who supposedly said, "It's very hard to predict things, especially about the future." But then he also said, "I never really said all the things I said." He even talked about politics and the presidency: "You know Texas has a lot of electrical votes."
LOS ANGELES — I did not always agree with her politics and most of her policies, but I must say that I always felt a thrill when I saw television pictures of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arriving in some capital, the name of which most Americans could not pronounce. This gigantic jet would roll to a stop and various local leaders would stand in all their military finery at the base of the stairs. The door to the big bird would swing open and out would pop what the Irish would call "this mere slip of a girl."
LOS ANGELES — The 2012 election is all over but the shouting, and the shouting this time seems extraordinarily loud and revealing of the future of American politics.
LOS ANGELES — Mike Allen, for those who don't know, is Washington's insiders' insider. Every morning, sometimes as early as 4 a.m., the Politico.com editor sends out, via e-mail, a newsletter called the Political Playbook, a heads-up for the capital's political junkies.
LOS ANGELES — It was a dark and stormy night over most of the Eastern states, and all through many houses, not a creature was stirring. Water rushed around and nasty politics were forgotten for a bit. In New Jersey, the sting-tongued Republican governor, Chris Christie, said only good words about Democratic President Barack Obama and the federal response to the hurricane invasion of his state. It seems the president called him at midnight Monday and said: "Anything you need. Just call."
WASHINGTON — Beneath his cool exterior, there is passion and a trash-talking crudeness hidden in President Obama.
LOS ANGELES — Assuming that neither man faints on the stage at their final debate on Monday, the Obama-Romney race now depends on three smoking guns rarely discussed by candidates: geography, demography, and getting out the right vote.
LOS ANGELES — For at least the last couple of decades, the Republican Party has been anti-modern, but Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, is modern, even post-modern. I don't mean that as a compliment. The man is a serial liar in a society that increasingly tolerates lying and cheating.
LOS ANGELES — Score one for Mitt Romney, at least on style. He did what he had to in the Denver debate, though truth was not his strongest suit. President Obama barely showed up, but he was, overall, a good deal more truthful, especially when he said he'd rather be home celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary.
LOS ANGELES — While President Obama was talking tough at the United Nations and being charming "eye candy" with Barbara Walters and her gang on "The View," the former prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, was being wise on a round of appearances on American political shows. His message: "The United States ... should sort of give up on being loved."
LOS ANGELES — I once wrote, about Gerald Ford, that an honest politician is one who lies only when he has to. Ford, a pretty straight shooter, is gone now. He has been replaced by Mitt Romney the ignorant and Paul Ryan the liar.