“Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.”
–President Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981
Hero. It was a word most Americans weren’t using much in 1980. As they waited on gas and unemployment lines, as their enemies abroad grew ever more aggressive, and as one after another their leaders failed them, Americans began to believe the country’s greatness was fading.
Yet within two years the recession and gas shortage were over. Before the decade was out, the Cold War was won, the Berlin Wall came crashing down, and America was once more at the height of prosperity. And the nation had a new hero: Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Reagan’s greatness is today widely acknowledged, but his legacy is still misunderstood. Democrats accept the effectiveness of his foreign policy but ignore the success of his domestic programs; Republicans cheer his victories over liberalism while ignoring his bitter battles with his own party’s establishment; historians speak of his eloquence and charisma but gloss over his brilliance in policy and clarity of vision.
From Steven F. Hayward, the critically acclaimed author of The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, comes the first complete, true story of this misunderstood, controversial, and deeply consequential presidency. Hayward pierces the myths and media narratives, masterfully documenting exactly what transpired behind the scenes during Reagan’s landmark presidency and revealing his real legacy.
What emerges is a compelling portrait of a man who arrived in office after thirty years of practical schooling in the ways of politics and power, possessing a clear vision of where he wanted to take the nation and a willingness to take firm charge of his own administration. His relentless drive to shrink government and lift the burdens of high taxation was born of a deep appreciation for the grander blessings of liberty. And it was this same outlook, extended to the world’s politically and economically enslaved nations, that shaped his foreign policy and lent his statecraft its great unifying power.
Over a decade in the making, and filled with fresh revelations, surprising insights, and an unerring eye for the telling detail, this provocative and authoritative book recalls a time when true leadership inspired a fallen nation to pick itself up, hold its head high, and take up the cause of freedom once again.
Hayward offers his examination, from an unabashedly conservative perspective, of American history from 1964 through the 1980 inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president, in the first part of a two-volume account. Senior fellow at the conservative Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, he argues that liberalism reached its peak in 1964, and that the hollowness of liberal thought, played out in the flawed presidencies of Nixon, Ford and Carter, creating a political atmosphere that allowed Reagan to preside over a fundamental change in the direction of American government. In Hayward's Manichean universe, opposite the rightness of Reagan's conservatism is the wrongness of all things liberal. Labeled with the "l word," among many others, are the war on poverty, feminism, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, d tente, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, the movie Dr. Strangelove and the "chattering class" of intellectuals. Hayward forwards many provocative opinions, among them that the Vietnam War was a success, delaying the fall of Saigon long enough to convince Communists that Southeast Asia could not be easily won; Hayward also believes that Watergate was an ideological dispute over whether the executive branch or Congress would have supremacy. The author assembles a wide variety of facts; unfortunately, he often includes them indiscriminately and tediously, as in his minute-by-minute description of the 1976 presidential primary. In the end, this is an ultraconservative polemic masquerading as history.