- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

By Steven F. Hayward
Crown Forum, $35, 753 pages

This sequel to “The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980” is, at 753 pages, only 58 pages shorter than its predecessor, but just as detailed in its examination of its subject.

Before launching into a full discussion of all the Reagan White House years, Steven Hayward gives the reader a succinct prologue with telling insights into Ronald Reagan’s approach to governance.

He writes, “Reagan understood instinctively that modern liberalism represented a rejection of the constitutional premises of self-government. … Hence the core of Reagan’s political purpose was recovering an appreciation for the Founder’s understanding of the principles and practice of American government.”

In the growing recognition of Reagan’s pivotal role in ending the Cold War, the author contends that many historians pay little attention to his approach to domestic issues but that “there was a seamless quality” in both.

Throughout the book, we read of examples of Reagan’s often surprising sense of timing (e.g., in the air traffic controllers’ strike, his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) announcement and his Berlin Wall speech with the famous line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”).

The president’s work to restore appreciation for the Founding principles of the republic, along with his deep belief in the dynamism of the American people and sunny optimism (never verging on Pollyanna or Dr.Pangloss), confounded establishment liberals in academia, the media and politics. Hence his sobriquet, the Teflon President.

Although the book is long, like its predecessor, it is never slow reading. For both those who lived through those years and those who were then too young to remember them, we are presented with a panorama of eight years that gave us a vigorous foreign policy, a determined strategy to end the Cold War, major tax cuts that lead to a long economic expansion and a determined (but not always successful) campaign to curb growth of the federal government.

Liberals, particularly in the news media, had bought themselves an early image of Reagan as being lazy or “out of touch.” This was based on scraps of information as well as superficial readings of his actions.

It was not until recent times that many earlier skeptics have begun to understand that a good part of Reagan’s success as president was that large swaths of the American people hungered to feel good about their country again.

The Vietnam War and Watergate had cut deeply into the can-do spirit and upbeat morale of the nation. Reagan, with his frequent references to the greatness and energy of the American people, was a huge restorative. Mr. Hayward captures the ways and means by which he accomplished this.

The author seems off in his timing of one key Reagan topic, supply-side economics. He seems to date Mr. Reagan’s adoption of across-the-board tax costs to a meeting of his advisers in Los Angeles in December 1980, weeks before his inauguration, at which then-Reps. Jack Kemp and David Stockman argued the case for legislation to create the supply-side cuts.

He does not mention that Reagan came out for the Kemp-Roth tax cuts bill in 1978. This was essentially the bill that Reagan caused to be passed in 1981. After endorsing it, he promoted it vigorously both as a private citizen in his radio commentaries and newspaper columns, later as a presidential candidate.

Economist Arthur Laffer, whose famous “Laffer Curve” on a paper napkin is often cited as the emblem of supply-side tax cuts, first met with Reagan and his advisors in Beverly Hills in 1975. To be fair, the author covers much of this supply-side history in his earlier book, but it would have been useful to new readers if he had reconnected all the dots in this one.

On balance, this is an admirable book and a good addition to the growing library of studies of a remarkable president.

Peter Hannaford was closely associated with President Reagan for a number of years. He is the author of five books about the 40th president, including “Recollections of Reagan.”



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