Rossinow (History/Metropolitan State Univ.; Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America, 2007, etc.) revisits the 1980s and finds things both to admire and disdain in the president, the culture and the rest of us.
In a work that will not completely please Ronald Reagan’s vast choruses of admirers and detractors, the author, who has written frequently about the choreography of history and politics, declares that he offers “a sober evaluation of Reagan and the era of American politics that he dominated.” But as the text unfolds, Rossinow’s disgust with the excesses of the period—the lies, the deceptions, the neglect of the helpless—grows ever more edged. After sketching Reagan’s rise, the author revisits many of the personalities and events whose names continue to evoke strongly partisan reactions 35 years later. Margaret Thatcher, cocaine and crack, “Just Say No,” David Stockman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Falklands, the PATCO strike, Ed Meese, the Beirut bombings, Bonfire of the Vanities, Ivan Boesky, Rock Hudson and AIDS, Bernhard Goetz, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, Oliver North and Iran-Contra, Chernobyl, Michael Dukakis, Willie Horton—these and numerous others appear throughout. Rossinow is hardest on Reagan (and his circle) for the neglect of the poor, the ill (especially AIDS victims) and the nonwhite, but he also gives Reagan credit for his hard stance with the Soviets and for restoring American confidence, though he reminds us that the Strategic Defense Initiative—the “Star Wars” missile protection system—was daffy from the outset. He suggests that Reagan escaped a possible impeachment (Iran-Contra) due to the declining mental acuity that ended in Alzheimer’s, and he devotes some pages to Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush and to the nastiness of campaigns.
A thoughtful analysis that will annoy and please readers on both sides of the aisle.