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Panel Recalls Reagan Legacy

By    |   Thursday, 02 October 2014 08:06 AM

C-SPAN hosted a panel discussion of the legacy of the Reagan presidency on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's death. The event was sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidency Foundation and Library and was part of C-SPAN's series on The Presidency on American History TV. Former Reagan Speech Writer Peggy Noonan moderated the panel at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

This writer has previously expressed misgivings regarding the celebration of the Reagan presidency, a view that is the flip side of Chris Mathews' praise of this period as a time "when government worked." This writer would rather say that it worked for liberals and lobbyists, but for conservatives, not so much, and it set the stage for the Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies that historians may one day recognize as marking the eclipse of the conservative movement and of the Republican Party.

The panel provided an opportunity to hear the views of prominent writers such as Noonan, now a columnist for The Wall Street Journal; Lou Cannon, a Reagan biographer introduced as "the dean of all things Reagan," who this writer new when he worked for the Pasadena Star-News and later The Washington Post, a journalist who was very professional and treated conservatives fairly: Michael Duffy, deputy managing editor of Time magazine and author of two books on the presidency; Steven Hayward, historian, writer, educator and the first Scholar in Conservative Thought at the University of Colorado Boulder; and Craig Shirley, founder of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. Hayward and Shirley have also written books on Reagan.

In her introduction, Noonan called the Reagan presidency "the last unambiguously successful one." She noted that it has been 25 years since Reagan left the White House, 30 years since his 49-state landslide and 50 years since he delivered the speech that launched his political career. Noonan asked the panelists what might have changed in the thinking of themselves, historians and the American people in the last 10 years regarding the Reagan presidency.

After shouting out a credit to his wife Mary as the editor of his books, Cannon responded that his view of Reagan has "deepened" in the past decade because of the experience with the mutual reduction of nuclear missiles with the Russians that was set in motion by Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. He also credited Reagan with the persistent low inflation that has prevailed in the interim and for the cheerful spirit with which he dealt with House Speaker Tip O'Neill.

Duffy credited Reagan with being both principled and pragmatic, and for his ability "to execute compromise," qualities that have been lacking in his successors.

Hayward said he found confirmation in the past 10 years of his belief that there was a lot more depth to Reagan than a lot of people realized, and Reagan should be recognized as "a statesman of the first rank."

Noonan pointed out that Reagan felt prepared to deal with the likes of Gorbachev after having headed the Screen Actors Guild and dealt with the powerful heads of the Hollywood studios.

Shirley, who grew up in upstate New York during the formative years of the Conservative Party, found a greater appreciation for the depth of Reagan's intellect as a result of combing through voluminous documents as part of the research for his books.

For this writer, as a congressional staffer when Reagan was president, when it seemed that every issue of domestic policy was a case of first impression to be fought out by competing policy centers and future lobbyists, the passage of time has heightened an appreciation for the consequences of the "accidental" selection of George H.W. Bush as vice president and Donald Regan as Treasury Secretary and later as White House Chief of Staff, ultimately to be fired by Nancy Reagan.

One recalls Regan being asked whether as Treasury Secretary he would be the chief economic spokesman for the administration. He answered that he, meaning Regan, had not decided yet.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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C-SPAN hosted a panel discussion of the legacy of the Reagan presidency on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's death.
Reagan, Noonan, Republican, president
Thursday, 02 October 2014 08:06 AM
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