Tags: Presidential History | biography | ronald reagan | depictions | change

Biography of Ronald Reagan: How Author Depictions Have Changed Through Years

By    |   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 02:55 PM

The public opinion of Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States, has changed dramatically since he first took office in 1981. Biographies of Reagan and how he is portrayed in popular culture have also changed, either in response to — or leading — the changing public memory and attitudes toward The Great Communicator.

During the Reagan Presidency
According to a review of Reagan's approval rating over the years by the Gallup organization, Reagan had generally better approval ratings than his three predecessors: Carter, Ford, and Nixon. He averaged 53 percent during his presidency, compared to Nixon's 49 percent, Ford's 47 percent, and Carter's 45 percent. However, his successors have had generally higher ratings while they were each in office.

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From Current News to Historical Perspective
Chester Pach said in "How Do Historians Assess Ronald Reagan" in 2000 that more records have become available to historians from the Reagan Library due to the Presidential Records Act changing the record release schedule. These have changed opinions about how Reagan led the administration and the country during his presidency.

Pach says Reagan was previously notorious among academics for being hands-off and disengaged, but new records releases were challenging that in the early 2000s. “Reagan's newly opened files show that the president answered much of his correspondence himself, not just to longtime friends but occasionally to ordinary citizens who sent letters of praise or complaint,” Pach wrote.

1994 Alzheimer’s Diagnosis and 2004 Death
By the time Reagan died in 2004, public polls placed him as one of the top three presidents in history, according to Gallup's review. Only John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln scored higher.

The biographies and fictionalized representations of Reagan and his presidency have led to more attention to the practices of the biographers themselves than of the president. Biographer Edmund Morris, who wrote “Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” was criticized for writing fictional characters into his 1999 book. “Most have insisted that the book, which is populated by made-up characters and bolstered by fabricated documents, should have been marketed as fiction, not biography,” wrote Kate Masur in the American Historical Association's Perspectives on History.

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The movie “The Butler” was similarly criticized by Michael Reagan, the president's son, for fictionalizing the life of a longtime White House butler and his father's opinions and actions on race and discrimination. A Washington Post op-ed by Reagan historians took the moviemakers to task for getting the record wrong. “We are especially concerned because many Americans readily accept Hollywood depictions of history as factual,” the four historians wrote.

The seeming contradictions of Reagan's personality and policies impact the president's ongoing historical perspective. “The historical makeover which Reagan is undergoing dwells heavily on his amiability as something more than a pleasant personal habit,” wrote Russel Baker in “Reconstructing Ronald Reagan” in the New York Review of Books in 2007. It was part of the president's political armament that was essential to his success, Baker wrote.

As more primary source materials come from the Reagan Library on its hill in Simi Valley, California, historians and political fiction writers will continue to process the legacy of the Reagan era and try to understand the man behind it.

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The public opinion of Ronald Reagan has changed dramatically since he first took office in 1981. Biographies of Reagan and how he is portrayed in popular culture have also changed, either in response to — or leading — the changing public memory and attitudes toward The Great Communicator.
biography, ronald reagan, depictions, change
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2015-55-24
Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 02:55 PM
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