The death of Ronald Reagan is going to produce a flood of verbiage, and we need a good word for it: Reaganalia. I thought of it this morning, but Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, thought of it first, so he has to get credit, too.
My only truly fond memory of Ronald Reagan was the day of the Challenger explosion. Reagan's address to the nation was piped into the cafeteria where I was eating lunch, having just heard the news in class that morning. He spoke briefly, but everything he said was just right, in tone, in content. It was a sad, sad day and he captured the sense of it beautifully.
Otherwise, I think the man was a president much like George W. Bush: full of a few ideas, but not very clear on how to carry them out. [clarification: the preceding is not an attack on their intelligence, but a comment on the relative simplicity of their agenda and tendency to leave substantive planning and details to subordinates. I think both Reagan and Bush choose to appear less intelligent than they are, so they get underestimated, and I'm still not sure they were smart enough as president, but that doesn't mean either is/was stupid] Reagan picked a better time to be president, seemed to have better subordinates, though, and his positive approach was much more sincere and effective than our current chief executive.
UPDATE: Actually, I had a few more thoughts about Reagan's place in World History. Whether you like him or hate him (or both, as so many of us do), he is an important person, a pivotal one, even.
One of the things I really enjoy about teaching the big surveys is the clarity it sometimes brings. Sometimes it is a false clarity essential to the meta-narrative survey. Sometimes it isn't. The idea of Reagan as a component of the"1980s Coalition" had its start in my time living in Nakasone's Japan, seeing the relationship and parallels between Nakasone and Reagan. It really came together when I started teaching Western Civ surveys and has sharpened over the last five years as the globalization issue has become more prominent and I've shifted to World History.
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Hugo Schwyzer - 6/6/2004
I'm glad you clarified this, Jonathan -- there is a world of difference between a "simple man" and a complex man with a common touch and a "simple agenda". Very wise folks often have simple agendas. I didn't like Reagan's much myself.