Since Ronald Reagan left office—and particularly after his death—his shadow has loomed large over American politics: Republicans and many Democrats have waxed nostalgic, extolling the Republican tradition he embodied, the optimism he espoused, and his abilities as a communicator.
This carefully calibrated image is complete fiction, argues award-winning journalist William Kleinknecht. The Reagan presidency was epoch shattering, but not—as his propagandists would have it—because it invigorated private enterprise or made America feel strong again. His real legacy was the dismantling of an eight-decade period of reform in which working people were given an unprecedented sway over our politics, our economy, and our culture. Reagan halted this almost overnight.
In the tradition of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, Kleinknecht explores middle America—starting with Reagan's hometown of Dixon, Illinois—and shows that as the Reagan legend grows, his true legacy continues to decimate middle America.
Crime writer Kleinknecht (New Ethnic Mobs) turns his attention to a different kind of organized crime in this critical reassessment of the lasting influence of Ronald Reagan's presidency and his hand in the current economic crisis. According to the author, Reagan and his ideological fellow travelers abdicated the government's regulatory role to oversee banking, manufacturing, telecommunications, the media, mining and public welfare, leaving Americans without protection from the avarice of shortsighted corporations. While well-documented and forceful, the book has a strident tone that might put off the very people Kleinknecht tries to persuade those who have lionized Reagan as the people's president. More crucially, the author tries to lay everything from the decline of America's image overseas to the 2008 meltdown of the global banking system at Reagan's feet, and it is often unclear whether Reagan was the mastermind or simply the figurehead behind which other agents carried out their own plans independent of the president's will. Whatever Reagan's complicity, the policies carried out in his name and under his leadership clearly changed the relationship between the American people and their government, and rarely, the author shows, for the better.