By James Rosebush
Center Street, $27, 288 pages
“This is the book that Ronnie couldn’t write about himself,” Nancy Reagan said shortly before she died.
As someone who considers it one of the great blessings of his life to have been a friend and political ally of Ronald Reagan‘s, I, too, am grateful to author James Rosebush for giving us what is without a doubt the most insightful work yet about this truly great president who ranks among the world’s top leaders of the 20th century. If you yearn to understand Ronald Reagan — what exactly was it deep down inside that made him such a great leader? — read “True Reagan.”
Ronald Reagan, an intensely private person, not only was not one to speak boastfully he was also reticent to even talk about himself, especially if it might be too revealing of his innermost thoughts and feelings, deliberately and skillfully avoiding doing so to an extent absolutely remarkable for someone who spent most of his life in the public eye.
Such careful guardedness combined with his genuine humility and surprising shyness made the inner Reagan an enigma even to most of those quite close to him. It explains why his official biographer, Edmund Morris, who had authored such a brilliant Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt and was afforded unparalleled access to Mr. Reagan, utterly failed to capture him in the bizarre volume he produced, making the ludicrous excuse that Mr. Reagan was “one of the strangest men who’s ever lived.”
In fairness to Mr. Morris, producing an accurate and truly insightful portrayal of Ronald Reagan is one of the most challenging tasks a biographer could undertake. It explains why — while there are many good books covering some specific phase of Mr. Reagan’s life or zeroing in on such central topics as his religious faith or his long crusade against communism and while aides and friends and his two sons have written informative recollections about him — there are only a couple books that can truthfully be labeled a biography and not yet a great one.
Many books about Mr. Reagan are good renderings of what Mr. Reagan said and did and explain how it was received and what impact it had, as does this book, but what makes “True Reagan” so very special, such a must-read, is that no other work to date is anywhere near as insightful.
James Rosebush came into the White House at age 32 to direct a program that was a pet project of President Reagan’s and for six years as deputy assistant to the president, chief of staff to the first lady and senior White House advisor, positions he held simultaneously, he was in near-daily close proximity to Ronald Reagan. He had never met Ronald Reagan before joining his administration and was insatiably curious to understand the leader he served.
At Mr. Reagan’s side in Washington and around the world, often alone with him as the two together waited for a limousine to reach its destination or Mikhail Gorbachev to arrive for a meeting or just sitting waiting for Nancy, Mr. Rosebush must have asked the right sort of questions because over time Mr. Reagan little by little revealed much more of his inner self to him than was his usual practice.
To the great benefit of history, the author has extraordinarily keen skills of observation and interpretation. Over the years as he witnessed up-close and thought about how Mr. Reagan handled his presidency he developed an unusually perceptive understanding of what made Mr. Reagan the man he was and why he thought and acted as he did.
Books authored by persons who worked alongside a famous figure tend to greatly tout the author’s insider status and tend to focus considerable attention on the author. Not this one. Other than the necessity of reporting that he was there and briefly explaining why this came to be, Mr. Rosebush makes himself invisible. His book’s focus is all about Mr. Reagan, never about himself. This is an “inside” look that strives strictly to help us understand Ronald Reagan inside deep down just as the author attempted to do so he could better serve him. His conclusions and insights are absolutely spot on.
“The more I analyzed what he stood for, what he thought, said, and accomplished,” writes Mr. Rosebush, “the more impressed I was with his exceptional contributions — morally, spiritually, politically, and historically.”
The case that Mr. Rosebush convincingly makes in this well-written, insightful and inspirational book is that “it was Reagan’s personal character and particular belief systems that accounts for his success as president.” He packs the book with compelling examples illustrating Mr. Reagan’s character and strongly held convictions, how he came to them and how he applied them.
“He is attaining a higher stature in world opinion where many of the traditional features of leadership he bore are rapidly disappearing,” Mr.Rosebush notes sadly. “True Reagan” should be read not only as a fond memory of the great leader we once had but also as a guide to the sort of character and values we must once again require in anyone who seeks to lead America.
• Fred J. Eckert is a former Republican congressman from New York and former U.S. ambassador whom Ronald Reagan called “a good friend and valued advisor.”
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