Bob Herbert: Reagan and Reality





[Bob Herbert is a columnist for the NYT.]

Early in Eugene Jarecki’s documentary, “Reagan,” you hear the voice of Ronald Reagan saying, “Someday it might be worthwhile to find out how images are created — and even more worthwhile to learn how false images come into being.”

Indeed. The image that many, perhaps most, Americans have of the nation’s 40th president is largely manufactured. Reagan has become this larger-than-life figure who all but single-handedly won the cold war, planted the Republican Party’s tax-cut philosophy in the resistant soil of the liberal Democrats and is the touchstone for all things allegedly conservative, no matter how wacky or extreme.

Mr. Jarecki’s documentary does a first-rate job of respectfully separating the real from the mythical, the significant from the nonsense. The truth is that Ronald Reagan, at one time or another, was all over the political map. Early on, he was a liberal Democrat and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan’s family received much-needed help from the New Deal during the Depression....

What we get with Reagan are a series of disconnects and contradictions that have led us to a situation in which a president widely hailed as a hero of the working class set in motion policies that have been mind-bogglingly beneficial to the wealthy and devastating to working people and the poor....

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