Twenty-five years after Ronald Reagan became president, Richard Reeves has written a surprising and revealing portrait of one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century. As he did in his bestselling books President Kennedy: Profile of Power and President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Reeves has used newly declassified documents and hundreds of interviews to show a president at work day by day, sometimes minute by minute.
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination is the story of an accomplished politician, a bold, even reckless leader, a gambler, a man who imagined an American past and an American future -- and made them real. He is a man of ideas who changed the world for better or worse, a man who understands that words are often more important than deeds. Reeves shows a man who understands how to be President, who knows that the job is not to manage the government but to lead the nation. In many ways, a quarter of a century later, he is still leading. As his vice president, George H. W. Bush, said after Reagan was shot and hospitalized in 1981: "We will act as if he were here."
He is a heroic figure if not always a hero. He did not destroy communism, as his champions claim, but he knew it would self-destruct and hastened the collapse. No small thing. He believed the Soviet Union was evil and he had contempt for the established American policies of containment and détente. Asked about his own Cold War strategy, he answered: "We win. They lose!"
Like one of his heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, he has become larger than life. As Roosevelt became an icon central to American liberalism, Reagan became the nucleus holding together American conservatism. He is the only president whose name became a political creed, a noun not an adjective: "Reaganism."
Reagan's ideas were so old they seemed new. He preached an individualism, inspiring and cruel, that isolated and shamed the halt and the lame. He dumbed-down America, brilliantly blending fact and fiction, transforming political debate into emotion-driven entertainment. He recklessly mortgaged America with uncontrolled military spending, less taxation, and more debt.
In focusing on the key moments of the Reagan presidency, Reeves recounts the amazing resiliency of Ronald Reagan, the real "comeback kid." Here is a seventy-year-old man coming back from a near-fatal gunshot wound, from cancer, from the worst recession in American history. Then, in personal despair as his administration was shredded by the lying and secrets of hidden wars and double-dealing, he was able to forge one of history's amazing relationships with the leader of "the Evil Empire." That story is told for the first time using the transcripts of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings, the climax of an epic story -- as if he were here.
Celebrated journalist Reeves (President Nixon: Alone in the White House) takes the same vivid, fly-on-the-wall approach he's previously applied with such success to Nixon and Kennedy, and uses it just as skillfully to take us inside the administration, mind and character of Ronald Reagan. As usual, Reeves's omniscient form of narrative requires him to delve deeply into oral histories and other first-person accounts from key participants, mining them for details concerning scores of meetings, negotiations, pranks and tragedies. Reeves is particularly strong at portraying Reagan's almost organically intuitive approach to management. Here we have the Gipper's artful delegation of details along the road to fulfilling his short list of grand goals: the destruction of world communism, the downsizing of taxes and government, and a revival of nearly jingoistic American patriotism. Reeves detects the subtle craft of a shrewd actor within Reagan's apparent wide-eyed naivete: the wily political performer playing a carefully calculated role-innocent patriot, Boy Scout grown big, the model Mr. Smith going to Washington. This is the imagined president, the facade emerging triumphant after eight years in office, affecting the sense-more contrived, some said, then real-of great battles won and great beasts slain. 100,000 first printing; first serial to Reader's Digest. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
December 04, 2006
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Excerpt from President Reagan by Richard Reeves
Chapter One: January 20, 1981
The thirty-ninth President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, had not slept for almost forty-eight hours when he telephoned the President-elect, Ronald Reagan, just before seven o'clock on the morning of January 20, 1981. "We have good news on the hostages," he said to the Reagan assistant who answered the phone, Michael Deaver.
Carter had spent those sleepless hours in the Oval Office and in the subbasement Situation Room of the White House, personally supervising intricate negotiations between diplomats in Washington, Tehran, and Algiers, and bankers in New York and London, attempting to free fifty-two American hostages held in captivity in Iran for 444 days. The last step was a complex series of bank cash transfers releasing $12 billion in Iranian assets seized by the United States government after the diplomats, their staff, spies, and Marine guards were taken at the embassy in Tehran in November of 1979. At 6:47 a.m., the last transfer was done and planes were waiting on the runway of the Tehran airport to take the Americans out of Iran.
Reagan was sleeping just across Pennsylvania Avenue, in Blair House. Deaver told President Carter that Reagan had left orders that he was not to be disturbed unless the hostages were actually free, in the air and out of Iranian airspace. The former governor of California had left a wake-up call for eight o'clock, four hours before he would be sworn in as the fortieth President. At the appointed hour, Deaver knocked on the door. Reagan grunted and Deaver heard him roll over, so he knocked again, saying: "It's eight o'clock. You're going to be inaugurated as President in a few hours."
"Do I have to?" Reagan called back. Then he laughed.
The President called again at 8:30. Reagan was up. Carter said that planes were still on the runway in Tehran. The takeoff was being delayed by the Iranians and it looked as if the planes would not be out of Iran before noon in Washington, the hour at which Reagan would become the fortieth President. Reagan said he was sorry about that and he meant it. The hostage crisis, along with soaring inflation and interest rates at home, had doomed the Carter presidency and the next President did not want it to take over his as well. He told the President what he had told his own men, that he did not want to say anything about the hostages in public until they were all safely out of Iranian airspace. "It's very close," Carter said. Reagan was not unsympathetic to the man he had defeated in November. He thought Carter deserved both the blame and the credit for the Iranian crisis and resolution. The President-elect's major contribution to the negotiations were campaign statements designed to persuade the Iranians that he would be a tougher adversary than Carter, and they would be well advised to release the Americans before he took office. As the conversation wound down, Reagan asked the exhausted President if he would be willing to go to West Germany, to the United States Air Force base and hospital at Wiesbaden, to greet the hostages once they were finally released. Carter immediately said yes.
A couple of hours later the two men rode together side by side in a limousine, up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol for Reagan's inaugural. They did not much like each other and conversation was hard. Reagan took the initiative as he often did; entertainment after all had been his business for more than thirty years. Trying to make his beaten and bitter predecessor feel more comfortable, he rolled out old Hollywood stories, a couple of them about his days at Warner Brothers studios under Jack Warner.