About this blog

This isn't designed to be a blog per se, but just a place to store things I've written for easy reference. Most of it will be book reviews, with a few random essays about the stuff that interests me outside work (i.e. nothing on politics and government).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review of The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

Amazon Review of The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction
Gil Troy
2009, 168 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

In THE REAGAN REVOLUTION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION professor Gil Troy asserts that Ronald Reagan is our most significant President since FDR.  Trying to explain seeming contradiction of a so-called right wing conservative President pursuing a “revolution” leads Troy to reinterpret Reagan and what his administration was about, analyze the extent to which Reagan succeeded, and evaluate how much of his legacy remains with us today.  Troy is mostly persuasive in his judgments but can occasionally make grandiose claims both for and against Reagan without always convincing his readers, many of whom will likely be disposed toward their own strong views on the subject.
"The PATCO showdown... a
turning point in America’s
economic, psychic, and
patriotic revival."
Troy does a nice job of setting the stage by explaining Reagan’s upbringing and personality (a task so daunting to official biographer Edmund Morris that Morris felt the need to invent a fictional character who could interact with Reagan as a character in a work of supposed non-fiction).  Reagan was a “loner who knew how to charm a crowd,” concludes Troy, the result of an upbringing in a lower middle class household that was constantly on the move.  His father’s alcoholism and the other turmoil in his youth led him, out of necessity, to create the sunny optimism that sometimes only he could see, but also could blind himself to others’ struggles.  Troy also provides a succinct history of the trajectory of American government in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how Reagan came to view those events, that led America to the sorry state in which it found itself in 1980.  Such history is important, in Troy’s view, because Reagan was not so much trying to revolutionize America so much as “recover” a period in our history before he thinks we took a wrong turn.
While Troy seems to like Reagan personally and freely credits his political savvy (strongly rejecting the “amiable dunce” caricature popular during Reagan’s presidency), he also seems sympathetic to the views of Reagan’s opponents on many issues.  For instance, Troy credits the New Deal with helping to lift the working class into enough economic comfort that it would eventually become the base for Reagan’s triumph, the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”  Both Reagan critics and admirers will find much to like and dislike in Troy’s account, which does a very nice job covering every significant aspect of the Reagan years in the very limited space allotted by the “Very Short Introduction” format.
Reagan remained an ardent fan of
FDR -"The press is trying to paint me
 as trying to undo the New Deal.… I'm
trying to undo the Great Society"
 - Ronald Reagan.
Troy can contradict himself however, particularly when it comes to Reagan’s true goals.  Sometimes he is sensitive to Reagan’s continued support for New Deal fundamentals, but other times he notes that Reagan was unable to undo the New Deal.    Troy also asserts at length Reagan’s policies and values “personified” a “consumer-driven, celebrity-oriented, and selfish society” but then he points out that such trends both pre and post dated Reagan, undercutting such criticism.  He also seems surprised that Reagan and crew did nothing to roll back the civil rights gains of the 1960s when the only assertion that they would try came from Reagan’s opponents.  There proof may be there for some of Troy’s conclusions but he does not always “show his work.”  He does a better job explaining the seeming contradictions in Reagan’s foreign policy and in explaining how in both domestic and foreign policy, Reagan would surprise both his supporters and critics, proving himself more flexible and pragmatic than the rigid caricature that both sides saw him as.
"Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan remains
 the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt."


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