Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hearing "Dutch"

Edmond Morris' Novelography of Ronald Reagan received a lot of critical reviews when it was first published, both for the style (it is written as a novel) and for the content.  A lot of Reagan fans argued that Morris was harsh on the former communicator.  Some other thought the format for the book was inappropriate.

I recently downloaded the book from Audible and listened to it on the last couple of flights.  In my mind, whether Morris' characterizations of Reagan are accurate is one of those judgment calls that I think ultimately should be left to the author.   Most of us knew Reagan only from a distance, so how one person reacted to him (even a person who did a lot of research) tells as much about the author as the person.  I was also not bothered by the narrative style - it conveyed a lot of information in a very readable (or in my case listenable) story.

My negative reaction to the book is based on a key interest.   When Reagan became president, in my opinion, he had a couple of goals.   As Morris points out some of these goals came from earlier things in his life.   The Printer of Udell's is one that some other authors have identified and it remains a powerful, if dated, book.   But among the goals were reducing the size of government, improving the tax system, re-establishing the American defense system and re-invigorating the American spirit.

Morris deals mostly, at least in the Audible presentation, with only one - the defense issue.   And there may not be much to say about reducing the size of government - which he slowed growth but did not reduce it.  There is some discussion of the spirit issue.   But his discussion of tax issues, where the President took a lead role twice (1981 and 1986) is cursory at best.   Look at other discussions of the Reagan role in both of these landmark acts.   The 1981 Act is well covered in several memoirs and the 1986 act is less well covered.  But, for example, in Showdown at Gucci Gulch, Jeffrey Birnbaum did an excellent job of showing Reagan's initial and continuing role in making the simplification of taxes work.  That would be a lot like doing a book on baseball strategy and forgetting to mention that there are nine people on the team.

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