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, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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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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5 Responses to “Reagan at 100: A study in myth-making”

  1. Take away the lies and Reagan looks pretty bad. Those who hold him in high regard are usually pathological liars. They lie to make Obama look bad and to make Reagan look good.

  2. James McPherson said

    I agree that Reagan offered more bad than good, but I’d consider most of his fans to be not so much pathological liars as delusional Americans typically ignorant about history. Those on talk radio and cable “news” who sing his praises and who should know better are more likely to fit into the category you’ve ascribed, of course.

    By the way, I’d forgotten how funny your Drudge Retort blog is, so I’m glad your comment reminded me to check on it. I’ve added it to the links at right. Thanks, Ben.

  3. […] news. Even sadder, as columnist Kathleen Parker (once considered a conservative, though now even Ronald Reagan wouldn’t qualify) has pointed out, the relative ignorance common to heavy watchers of Fox […]

  4. […] his speech. However unfair, we live in a television age; as the Republicans who keep idolizing a misremembered Ronald Reagan should know, staging […]

  5. […] as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than […]

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