Book review: The Age of Reagan

Steven F. Hayward’s The Age of Reagan – The Fall of the Old Liberal Order is dense as a good history should be.  It covers what the change from JFK to LBJ wrought, and, using the same facts offers an alternative narrative to Cronkite’s about the era – from Vietnam to the election of Reagan.

Some things I didn’t know, some it was just good to revisit.  I’d forgotten just how reasonable Moynihan could be, what an arse John Sears was, what a Gergen Gergen was, and what a flawed candidate Reagan was (“pro-choice”, “tax-raising” Guv of a blue state).

  • The North was nearly as segregated as the South, although the North didn’t publicly codify this… [they] were much too clever to segregate openly.  Instead they resorted to subtle measures, such as Robert Moses deliberately designing bridge overpasses on the roads to Long Island beaches to be too low for buses to pass underneath. (p.31)
  • Pat Moynihan:  “Societies, no matter where they are, are mostly organized around the problem of how to get people from 14 to 24.”  (p.147)
  • [The hippie experience] was mostly a demographically exaggerated expression of the Rousseauian romanticism that erupts in nearly every generation… Like most enthusiasms for recapturing the “authentic” existence of sinless natural man, the hippies offered the latest iteration of the idea of “free love.”  …The creation of the “new man” always presupposed the reshaping of consciousness at some level, but now the chemical means were available.  (p.148)
  • Churchill had compared the strategic position of the Soviet Union [no warm water access to ocean travel] to “a giant with both nostrils pinched.” (p.604)
  • When Reagan hit the campaign trail on behalf of Republican candidates in the fall of 1976… It was typical for the entire staff of the hotel where he was staying to line up to say goodbye when he checked out in the morning.  Off-duty policemen would show up volunteering to serve as an escort, forming impromptu motorcades.  (p.613)
  • [Reporters and biographers struggle] to comprehend that the authentic Reagan was right in front of them the whole time.  The root of the problem is perhaps best captured by an aphorism of Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote that there are two kinds of people in the world, the simpleminded and the muddleheaded.  It might be said that Reagan was indeed simpleminded, while journalists are muddleheaded.  (p.621)
  • The joke Reagan told: “How do you tell a Polish guy at a cockfight?  He brings a duck.  How do you tell the Italian guy?  He bets on the duck.  How do you know the Mafia is there?  The duck wins.”  (p.636)
  • Herbert Asquith once told a young Winston Churchill that the first essential for a chief executive is the ability to be a “good butcher.” (p. 643)
  • Whatever the provenance, the Carter materials [debate books] were a considerable embarrassment when they turned up in David Gergen’s White House filesin 1983.  (Gergen had been on Reagan’s debate preparation team.)  (p. 703)
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