web analytics
November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Emerging Reagan Consensus


Nearly 20 years since he left the White House, Ronald Reagan has begun taking his place in the small gallery of most consequential presidents. Though his admirers accorded him a prominent spot long ago, the story of recent years has been the gradual recognition of Reagan’s achievements among more liberal-minded scholars.

John Patrick Diggins’s 2006 book Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History ranked Reagan among America’s three greatest presidents, with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Now comes Sean Wilentz’s The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974–2008 (Harper) and Wilentz’s judgment is only slightly less sweeping: “In American political history,” he writes, “there have been a few leading figures, most of them presidents, who for better or worse have put their political stamp indelibly on their time. They include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt – and Ronald Reagan.”

Those words are especially significant because Wilentz is not only a respected historian – albeit of the Age of Jackson – but also a committed political liberal, a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton’s who testified as an expert witness before the House Judiciary Committee against the impeachment of her husband. He also penned a freewheeling article about George W. Bush in Rolling Stone a few years back titled “The Worst President in History?” – one of those rhetorical questions that supplies its own answer.

Wilentz believes that the age of Reagan, like those of Jackson and Roosevelt before him, had a long prelude and lengthy aftermath. He begins his history at the end of the Nixon administration – when a conservative ascendancy looked unlikely, but was in retrospect gaining momentum – and ends it with a brief précis of the presidency of George W. Bush, which, he argues, marks the end of the Reagan era.

While his political views necessarily shape his assessments, Wilentz is mostly fair and judicious. He packs an enormous amount of detail into his brisk volume, and yet he never seems to skimp, covering fiscal, economic, and foreign policy, judicial appointments, election campaigns, scandals, and the American mood with admirable clarity and concision.

His highly readable history offers a challenge to both Reagan detractors and defenders and represents an advance in the Reagan scholarship – which, as he candidly points out, has been slow to develop, thanks to various biases among scholars. (Though he might have shown another scholar some consideration in not copping the title of Steven Hayward’s exhaustive 2001 Reagan book, the first of a projected two-volume study.)

In surveying the gamut of Reagan’s major policies, Wilentz finds much to dislike and much that he bluntly brands “damaging.” Some of his attacks are more effective than others. He makes much of what he sees as the Reagan administration’s politicized screening of judicial nominees, for example, implying that such processes had previously been free of politics. He is harshly critical of the administration’s civil rights record, though a good portion of his criticism involves its enforcement of affirmative-action policies and other controversial federal efforts “to accelerate racial integration and civil equality.”

Wilentz is at his best on the Iran-Contra scandal, presenting a well-reasoned case that the episode represented a constitutional crisis and a challenge to the separation of powers in its “creation of a covert foreign policy beyond the law.”

He emphasizes how both the media and Congress, in its eventual investigation, almost immediately narrowed their focus to the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras from weapons sales to Iran – as opposed to the administration’s decision to trade arms for hostages in the first place and its covering up of the initiative, which he considers more serious offenses.

Finally, Wilentz’s take on the Reagan economic record is highly critical, if familiar, alleging uneven distribution of economic gains, with wealth skewing upward. He acknowledges that the Reagan recovery was substantial, however, and that the U.S. economy was moribund when Reagan took office.

While Wilentz’s judgments on Reagan’s policies are contentious but fairly argued, his characterizations of conservative and liberal political battles over the last 30 years are sharply skewed and often marred by tonal bias. He consistently describes conservative reform efforts as driven by narrow political considerations, while painting Democratic motives as more principled. Somewhat comically, he continually portrays conservative Republicans as wily, ruthless political operators who make political hay out of everything, and Democrats as hapless and lacking stomach for every fight.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Emerging Reagan Consensus”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz delivers lecture.
IDF Chief Rabbi: Nothing is Holy to Muslims on Temple Mount except Al Aqsa
Latest Indepth Stories
Kessim (religious leaders) mark the opening of a synagogue in the village of Gomenge, Ethopia, one of five built in Gondar with JDC aid, 1988
Courtesy of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York.

In a world where people question whether they should be engaged, we are a reminder that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

More Articles from Paul Beston

Nearly 20 years since he left the White House, Ronald Reagan has begun taking his place in the small gallery of most consequential presidents. Though his admirers accorded him a prominent spot long ago, the story of recent years has been the gradual recognition of Reagan’s achievements among more liberal-minded scholars.

It’s a shame that Rudy Giuliani couldn’t have run for president in the fall of 2001.

Back then, voters probably wouldn’t have cared if he skipped not just the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, but all of the Super Tuesday ones, too.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-emerging-reagan-consensus/2008/06/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: