Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Reagan Enigma

Certainly a very apt title for a new book that charts the "enigmatic" years of Reagan from 1964-1980.  Thomas Reed claims to be a "Reagan insider" so what we get is the "definitive treatise on Reagan's mind," according to the Heritage Foundation.  Not surprisingly, this book has not been reviewed outside right wing foundations and blogs, because most historical scholars regard Lou Cannon as the definitive biographer of Reagan, having written five well-respected books on the Gipper, including The Role of a Lifetime.

Reed has a chapter on the acrimonious relationship between Reagan and Bobby Kennedy, which focuses on the 1967 debate held between the two in front of an "international town hall."  They get grilled by an English student in this segment on the Vietnam War.  Conservatives naturally feel that Reagan got the better of Kennedy in that debate, which some saw at the time as a precursor to a potential 1968 Presidential general election.  The National Review goes as far to say there was total agreement that Reagan "won" this debate.  Reed makes the comment that Kennedy was so pissed off afterward that he said "don't ever put me on stage with that sonofabitch again!" quoting some ambiguous source.

Reed takes back this bitter rivalry to 1962 when Kennedy purportedly had Reagan audited to find out if the Gipper had been cutting some shady deals while President of the Screen Actors' Guild between 1952-55.  The primary sources appear to be Michael and Maureen Reagan, his son and daughter from his first marriage to actress Jane Wyman.  Michael and Maureen distinctly remember their Dad telling them he had lost his job as presenter of General Electric Theater due to Kennedy's skullduggery.

Kennedy was known to be pretty hard on his political opponents, and Reagan was one of the names being floated out there for President in 1967, but Reagan was fired from GE in 1962.  That's quite a pre-emptive strike, especially since Reagan wasn't even Governor of California yet, an election he won in 1966.

Reagan had been a Democrat up to 1962.  Maybe this bitter experience led him to switch parties?  It's all a little bit before the time Reed sets in his book, but I suppose he needed some back story to help explain the 1967 debate.  Whatever the case, when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in 1968, Reagan and his wife Nancy expressed their condolences and offered help to Ethel Kennedy in a short letter penned by hand.

This book looks like the kind of hagiography we have come to expect from the conservative press.  Most of the advance publicity is coming from the chapter Bobby Kennedy: The Nemesis.  You can read an excerpt if you like.

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