Philadelphia Daily News senior writer Will Bunch has been down the political briar patch many times as a reporter. This experience and shrewd reportorial analysis has enabled him to write "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future."
While many authors of sundry nuances have analyzed Reagan's political years and record, what invests Bunch's "Tear Down This Myth" with tour de force originality is that he goes beyond this point and demonstrates the level to which the mythological, augmented by astute political consulting skills, held such wide influence long after Reagan left the political scene.
Having grown up in Southern California and cut my teeth in local and California state politics, a spark of familiarity arose as I read Bunch's account of Reagan's political career and influence.
In the early pages Bunch skillfully documents the facts so that even someone who studied Reagan's meteoric rise to the California governorship sees that period in fuller perspective.
Bunch correctly asserts that the early Reagan served as an attack dog for what has been called "the upperdog" in distinction to underdog. He frequently brandished a scowl. All this would change after one of the shrewdest political consultants ever entered the scene.
Stuart Spencer by the time he encountered Reagan was already a veteran as well as legend of California politics. What Spencer did was accomplish a makeover from Reagan, a frequent John Birch Society speaking guest as well as the proponent of privatizing Social Security and a militant crusader of Dr. Fred Schwarz's "Christian Anti-Communist Crusade" to a smiling and congenial "moderate."
After Reagan served two terms as California's governor and sought the presidency, the same kind of makeover was achieved while seeking the votes of Democrats, moderates, and independents and simultaneously sending out coded messages to garner votes from those angry over civil rights activity during Democratic administrations.
This effort was a continuation of the "Southern Strategy" employed in Richard Nixon's 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns.
The most sorrowfully memorable of Reagan's strategic Southern Strategy ploys came when he opened his 1980 general election campaign against President Jimmy Carter in Philadelphia, Mississippi, little more than a stone's throw from where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered with a "states rights" message.
When it was time for Reagan to seek a second term in 1984 his telegenic skills were linked to a well financed public consulting effort featuring scripted messages declaring that it was "Morning in America."
In reality the uptick that the nation experienced beginning in 1983 resulted from a combination of falling oil prices combined with a 25 percent across the board tax cut in 1981 that would sow the seeds of a tripling of the national debt under Reagan.
New York Governor Mario Cuomo in a stirring keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention contrasted the buoyantly orchestrated Reagan feel good message with reality. He took aim at the concept of a symbolic "city on the hill" that Reagan and his campaign highlighted:
"But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining city; the part where some people can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate."
Cuomo's words were etched in supportive facts. While more billionaires would be created during Reagan's eight years in office and certain millionaires would economically graduate to the multimillionaire plateau, there was a corresponding downward economic spiral for others.
More citizens who had been occupants of the middle class joined the ranks of the poor, crime increased, particularly in America's largest cities where the economic shift was more acutely felt, and homelessness became an increasingly prevalent factor.
It was appropriate as well as symbolic to complete his work on Reagan's impact during his time in public service and impact well beyond at the Reagan Library in Simi, California.
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