Know Thy President

Reagan the Man, the President

by Hedrick Smith and Adam Clymer and Leonard Silk and Robert Lindsey and Richard Burt
Macmillan, 186 pp., $9.95

The Real Reagan: What He Believes, What He Has Accomplished, What We Can Expect From Him

by Frank van der Linden
William Morrow, 288 pp., $11.95

Ronald Reagan: A Political Biography

by Lee Edwards
Nordland Publishing Co, 297 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Reagan in Pursuit of the Presidency

by Doug Wead and Bill Wead
Haven Books, 240 pp., $2.95 (paper)

Where's the Rest of Me? The Autobiography of Ronald Reagan

by Richard G. Hubler
Karz Publishers, 316 pp., $12.95

Ronald Reagan: His Life and Rise to the Presidency

by Bill Boyarsky
Random House, 205 pp., $12.95

The Future Under President Reagan

edited by Wayne Valis
Arlington House, 194 pp., $12.95

Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action

by Bruce Bartlett
Arlington House, 229 pp., $14.95

Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has been put to the hundred-day test, so Ronald Reagan got measured by the same standard. Articles were duly written putting his first hundred days in the White House up against the fabled first one hundred days of the New Deal. Reagan regularly gets likened to FDR on other grounds also, for he too is now seen as a “watershed” president, a figure leading and signifying major and abiding changes in the currents and patterns of our politics.

We know the end of the Roosevelt story whereas we’re still living the plot of the Reagan movie, so comparisons can be very misleading. But there are obvious differences that subsequent events aren’t going to smudge over. The biggest of them is that Roosevelt didn’t have a clear or consistent idea about what he was going to do when he took the oath of office. Reagan did. The New Deal was concocted, invented, evolved by a company of ardent, worried, and energetic men (plus a few women) who didn’t share a common vision, who weren’t bound together by a creed. The Fast Shuffle or whatever name may be given to the Reagan administration is the opposite. Reagan’s people said that when they took office they would, to use their paramilitary-police expression “hit the ground running.” They did. They knew what they wanted to do beforehand and they’re doing it.

The group FDR brought into office with him was a self-contradictory mélange of socialists, traditional balanced-budget, big D Democrats, technocratic central planners, anti-trust free enterprisers, and bleeding-heart pragmatists of no fixed ideological persuasion who only wanted to make the economic oowie go away. They hit the ground splattering and bickering. To this hour, historians are unsure about how to categorize this zigzagging administration of inconsistent and lapsed policy, of broad-hearted empathy and bewildered understanding.

Contrast that with Reagan. Reagan enters office as the symbol and expositor of a bundle of tied-together doctrines, supported by a growing library of theoretical and polemical literature. Magazines like Human Events, Commentary, The Conservative Digest expand and expatiate on these ideas for every educational level. Nothing like this existed when Roosevelt took the oath if only because the New Deal was invented after the Democrats took over in 1933, and even then they spent much of their leisure time the next eight years arguing with each other.

So different from the Reaganauts. They know one another immediately. They have their orthodoxy and they have no trouble distinguishing those who are not of it. They are trained into their political economy in a way that the enthusiastic but confusedly heterodox academic Roosevelt recruited weren’t. The New Deal could not draw from alligator egg hatcheries like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Affairs. The multimillion-dollar reptile nurseries that have trained Reagan’s cadres were as unknown to the 1930s as are the new administration’s organizational auxiliaries, be they YAF or the Moral…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.