Top positive review
on May 3, 2013
By far the most challenging biography of Reagan, John Patrick Diggins was not a conservative necessarily, but a fair-minded, opinionated intellectual, who dug deeply into Reagan's religious and Emersonian roots to discover why he acted as he did rather than dwell on the actual effects of the Reagan Revolution.
The key question is how Reagan, for the most part, succeeded without paying much attention to detail, when others, like his utterly failed predecessor, Jimmy Carter, created domestic and foreign policy disasters. Principally, he had faith in the overall goodness of the individual, who sought to please God by doing well.
The only President since George Washington to literally avoid war with a threatening major power, Diggins claims it was his fear of a nuclear confrontation, rather than a desire to win the Cold War,that drove Reagan to push for, and ultimately win, a nuclear arms reduction treaty. What this fine historian missed I think, is that Reagan knew the Cold War was soon to end if he enforced an arms buildup, gave circuitous aid to the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, and broke government's tight hold on the U.S. economy,giving it room to bloom. All of this crippled the Soviet mindset. He did not abandon anti-Communist conservative thinking, as the author claims. It was necesary he knew, to remain tough and resolute. Only when Gorbachev emerged as Communist Party Secretary and Premier, and was greatly stunned by Chernobyl, did Reagan feel the time was right to negotiate. And after one failure over Reagan's insistence that the Stategic Defense Initiative not be scrapped, arms reduction was achieved when Gorbachev collapsed like a folding chair, giving in on every point of the eventual Treaty.
Reagan was personally unconcerned about his legacy. He was too modest a man to take credit. 18 million new jobs. Spurring millions upon millions to freedom from the Evil Empire. If you asked him about it, he might say what he did days before he left office. "On the whole, not bad." And think of what more he could have done if the Republicans had gained control of the House of Representatives. The Frankenstein Monster that is the federal government today might actually function within its proper constitutional limits.
This is a thought provoking book, which ought to be read in conjunction with Lou Cannon's fine biography, Ronald Reagan: Role of a Lifetime.