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
The International Herald Tribune is gone after more than 125 years as the American paper in France and then all over the world. Two months ago, it was renamed The International New York Times. That's a bit sad for someone like me who began at the New York Herald Tribune before it folded in 1966. Luckily, I was picked up by The Times, so my loyalties are split.
NEW YORK — Twenty-five years ago, I asked Charles Bartlett, a syndicated columnist, about his old and close friend John F. Kennedy. I have seen his answer published and broadcast dozens of times these past weeks as the nation marks the anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president.
NEW YORK — It was the usual suspects taping the Charlie Rose show last Monday: a quartet of writers who had written books about the life or the presidency of John F. Kennedy — Robert Dallek, Michael Beschloss, Jeff Greenfield and me, along with Jill Abramson, the editor of The New York Times.
LOS ANGELES — The president knew. Presidents always know, but are supposed to be protected from what they saw, heard and did when the best-laid plans hit the fan.
LOS ANGELES — Perhaps those tea party guys are smarter than they look. After all, these men and women in Congress came to Washington determined to cripple big government — or even destroy it. They, 30 or 40 bent Republicans, were mad as hell at where the country is going and how it is governed. Now, with a minimum of sabotage, millions and millions of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, share their hatred of Washington.
LOS ANGELES — Several years ago, Mike Pence, then a Republican congressman from Indiana, told Andrea Mitchell that Medicare was a failure because its costs had exceeded 1965 actuarial estimates. So they have, because Americans are living longer, largely because of Medicare and Medicaid.
WASHINGTON — If the Republicans in Congress are unable to prevent the United States from paying its bills later in this month of shutdowns and deficit limits, I assume their next move will be an attempt to impeach President Obama.
LOS ANGELES — Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reported on a meeting recently at the Heritage Foundation, the very conservative "think tank" in Washington, to discuss the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
LOS ANGELES — "It might be called the age of the genius machines, and it will be the people who work with them that will rise. One day soon we will look back and see that we have produced two nations — a fantastically successful nation, working in the technologically dynamic sectors, and everyone else. Average is over."
WASHINGTON — Syria: We're damned if we do, damned if we don't.
WASHINGTON — The power of historians and of the press is that they get to choose which events will be remembered and which fade into obscurity. Our choice concerning the events of Aug. 28, 1963, made with the help of news film, is the elevation of the performance and words of Martin Luther King Jr. and the obscuring of the fear that gripped the nation that hot and sunny day.
NEW YORK — Five years after Richard Nixon resigned as president, I did a long interview with him in his hideaway office in a downtown federal building. We were talking about the travels and writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of "Democracy in America." I was then seeking out the current counterparts of the Americans who talked with Tocqueville during his nine-month journey through the new and democratic United States in the 1830s.
LOS ANGELES — Fair warning: This column is about gigabytes of data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, focusing mainly on Gini coefficients for the 34 member nations of the OECD. The purpose of this exercise, is to try to use OECD data and analysis to determine whether life in the United States is getting better or worse by studying statistics on inequality in our nation.
LOS ANGELES — A Republican pollster named Jon Lerner, who usually works for the most conservative of his party's candidates, did a poll this month for Fwd.us, the pro-immigration lobby financed by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.
LOS ANGELES — In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, the young Frenchman traveling in the United States to research what many think is still the best book on America and Americans, was seated next to former President John Quincy Adams at a dinner in Boston. They talked:
LOS ANGELES — In the days following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began arresting, without charges, Japanese immigrants in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii who were on government lists as possible threats to national security.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — "Give us also the right to our existence!" was a prayer that ends "The Well of Loneliness," an English lesbian novel by Radclyffe Hall, published in 1928. Tame by today's standard, the semi-autobiographical book was banned in Great Britain and had great trouble finding an American publisher.
LOS ANGELES — If you walk into a Barnes & Noble store — yes, there are actual bookstores here — you are more or less surrounded by tables and shelves marked "Beach Reading." But if you're not going to the beach anytime soon, there are three very good books farther in the back. The titles are enough to make your head hurt:
SAG HARBOR, N.Y. — In a place of honor on my office wall is a photograph of me relieving myself in the bushes alongside the field where some of us here play softball on summer Saturdays. It is, happily, taken from the back.
PARIS — An estimated (by police) 150,000 people took to the streets of the French capital last Sunday to protest "le marriage pour tous." That is "marriage for everyone," the same-sex legislation signed into law last week by President Francois Hollande. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, the Palme d'Or, the highest honor of the Cannes Film Festival, was awarded to a film called "Blue Is the Warmest Color," a long and very explicit film about a teenager's wakening lesbianism.
SIENA, Italy — Here's a modest idea to break the gridlock, the stupidity, the meanness, the partisan lying and irresponsible ineffectiveness of modern Washington. We should consider returning to the Middle Ages.
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."