Here we are halfway through 2020, and what is the latest finding on the achievements of President Ronald Reagan in office? Well, they come from an Oxford University emeritus professor of politics, so they have a great deal of heft behind them. The prof is one Archie Brown and he says …. Well, he says the same thing that learned professors of history and leading journalists were saying throughout the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was an airhead.
President Reagan could not have won the Cold War. He spent his time waltzing around the White House. As the prof says, “he used stories and ‘quotations’ that came from very unreliable sources or from the recesses of his own mind, often drawing on films he had acted in or seen …. For Reagan, whether they were actually true or not appeared less important than the part they played in his narrative.” Professor Brown, in other words, has not learned anything about Ronald Reagan in the 32 years since the president vacated the White House.
Actually, his assessment of the president sounds very much like Anthony Lewis and the rest of The New York Times writing stable circa the 1980s or like John Kenneth Galbraith. He might even be guilty of plagiarizing from these spouters of the conventional wisdom, but since the spouters of conventional wisdom turned room temperature a lot has happened in terms of scholarship on Reagan.
The president’s diaries have been published and books of his speeches, and columns and related writings. There are serious works of revisionist history by the likes of H.W. Brand, Steven Hayward, John O’Sullivan and Paul Kengor. All such work refutes Professor Brown’s lazy rechauffe. The president was well-read and kept up with current events reading daily The Washington Times and monthly, according to his press spokesman Larry Speakes, The American Spectator.
He also wrote competently. Reagan was comfortable with ideas, and even the prof admits that he had read Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.” How many other presidents read Hayek, Professor Brown? Actually, I was asked by President Reagan in his first administration to put him together with writers and in his second administration to hold a dinner for him with writers.
The claim that Reagan was oblivious to ideas or indifferent to ideas is pure bosh. That it can endure today, 32 years after his presidency, is unconscionable. Professor Brown actually compares him unfavorably to Jimmy Carter, the man he swamped in the 1980 election. Mr. Carter was the author of the worst economy since the Depression, America’s hostage embarrassment in Iran and a failing proxy war with the U.S.S.R. all over the world from Angola to Afghanistan.
Our Oxford don, whose last book, “The Myth of the Strong Leader” (2014), suggests that he probably has problems with the Great Man or Great Woman theory of history, has come up with his candidate for the man who ended the Cold War without firing a shot. He is Mikhail Gorbachev. Why? Well, Mr. Gorbachev comes across almost as a “pacifist,” according to the historian Andrew Roberts, who reviewed the book in The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Gorbachev had, says Professor Brown, “bold leadership,” “new ideas,” “formidable powers of persuasion,” and — allow me to add — he could count, or at least his generals could count.
Ronald Reagan, presumably after conferring with his generals, increased his military budget by $25.8 billion, almost overnight. He ordered his secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, to build the 600-ship Navy that put the U.S.S.R. on the defensive all around the world. He insisted on going ahead with Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) also known as “Star Wars,” that increased the Soviets’ anxiety.
Mr. Gorbachev’s generals counted all this up, noted that their engineers could not even be counted on to make machine parts, and advised that Moscow throw in the towel. Professor Brown considers this another victory for pacifism. I consider it a victory for peace through strength.
That this Oxford don steadfastly refuses to take into account the last 32 years of research into the life of the man who won the Cold War and revived the American economy is no surprise. The left can be seen as an energetic producer of lies. The claim that Ronald Reagan was an airhead is a lie. He is one of the great men of the 20th century.
A president who changes the course of history in one area is a great leader. A president who changes his country’s course both domestically and in foreign affairs is a very great leader. In the 20th century, Franklin D. Roosevelt accomplished this and Ronald Reagan did too. Both are very great men. Would a shill like Professor Brown ever expect a conservative such as me to call FDR great? It is unthinkable.
• R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.
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