The Return of the Gipper
Reagan biographer Craig Shirley has written a hagiographic account of how Ronald Reagan rebounded from his defeat at the Republican convention in 1976 to his nomination four years later. Shirley has written a breezy telling of what happened with lots of inside baseball. Reagan, of course is the hero and the villain of the piece is John Sears his campaign manager who deliberately kept Reagan out of the limelight in 1979. That gave rise to serious opposition, especially from George H.W. Bush. The unsung hero of the Republican return to power is party chairman Bill Brock who picked up the pieces after the narrow defeat of 1976 to Jimmy Carter and an across the board loss in the congressional elections of that year.
My problem with Shirley’s account is that there are too many errors in the book. Among those errors is his view that the economy was weak in 1978. To the contrary, the economy was in an all-out boom. That is the reason the Republicans made only marginal gains in the House and Senate races. He pays lip service to the roll of California’s Proposition 13 which set off a wave of tax cutting in the states and it help legitimize the Kemp-Roth tax cut the Republican were advancing. Without Proposition 13 there would be no Kemp-Roth. He also omits the Steiger Amendment which lowered the capital gains tax in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress in 1978. Change was in the air and Reagan knew it.
Shirley also misstates Lyndon Johnson record on civil rights. To be sure Johnson was slow to civil rights, but it was through his efforts that the first civil rights legislation since reconstruction passed in 1957 and 1959.
Shirley spends a great deal of time on Reagan’s opposition to the Panama Canal Treaties which became a cause celeb among the Republican right. The treaties passed and now 40 years later nothing really bad has happened. He should have noted that it was a political gimmick from the beginning. But it worked.
Finally although breezy reads well, the book needed much better editing and fact checking. Thus I can only rate it a modest three stars.
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