James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for February 4th, 2011

Reagan at 100: A study in myth-making

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2011

 It is fitting to remember Ronald Reagan this week; since Super Bowl Sunday will mark would have been his 100th birthday. He was a fascinating character, so much so that I devoted quite a bit of ink to him in both my first book and my second (which includes a chapter titled “Reagan’s Cultural Revolution”). 

As a president Reagan was not as bad as many liberals remember–in fact many of his policies were more like those of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than of George W. Bush (come to think of it, that’s more a criticism of Clinton and Obama than a compliment to Reagan).

But Reagan was nowhere near what many conservatives remember (and to their credit, some conservatives such as Alan Simpson and Ramesh Ponnuru are among those who point out his complexities).

Reagan is perhaps our most mythologized former president, and the Reagan myth has grown in recent years. Perhaps that’s appropriate for a former movie actor who sometimes “remembered” things that never happened, or simply made stuff up.

At a time when the economy may be our most important, problem, however, it would be nice if politicians on both sides noticed where Reagan came down on economic issues. Yes, he cut them–once, in his first year. And then he raised taxes each of the next seven years. He grew the size of government and of the deficit. Every budget he submitted to Congress was larger than the one Congress actually approved.

Perhaps if we stop pretending that Reagan was something he wasn’t, we can also get real about the current budget crisis. Remember, though the Gipper was famous for his quote that “facts are stubborn things,” he also said in his farewell address, “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”

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