No American president is more mythologized by modern politicians than Ronald Reagan, and as Paul Kengor points out in the introductory notes to his book on Reagan’s legacy, this is somewhat understandable. Popular in his time and considered by many to be one of America's greatest presidents, Reagan's presidency was preceded by immeasurable failure--LBJ's Vietnam policy, Nixon's corruption, Ford and Carter's electoral defeats--and followed by much of the same, including George H.W. Bush's failed reelection bid, Clinton's impeachment, and George W. Bush's disastrous policies and near historically low approval ratings. Reagan was elected to two terms, both times by historic margins, and oversaw huge economic growth while also remaining relatively free from scandal.*
However, this narrative, which is at the heart of Kengor's short volume, is one written not only by Reagan's millions of supporters, all of whom lived through the 80s with relative ease and never felt the sting of Reagan's actual policies, but by contemporary conservative Republicans hoping to capitalize on the president's mythologized legacy to gain higher office and enact sweeping legislation that is regressive, authoritarian, and far from anything Reagan himself ever signed into law. By outlining eleven "principles" that supposedly personify a modern conservative, Kengor has added to the fallacy that Reagan was anything other than a typical Republican whose policies benefited his political cronies while damaging the rest of the country for decades--and generations--to come.
When Kengor writes of Reagan's commitment to freedom, his meaning is twofold: freedom from political leaders and ideological doctrines that enslaved millions and curtailed personal liberty, and freedom from the burdens of unnecessary taxation--that is, freedom for people to spend more of the money they earned by giving less to the government.
The first argument, which is less ludicrous than the second, is based primarily on Reagan's response to the Soviet Union's totalitarian control over its satellite states, especially Germany and Poland, where Communism had empowered ruthless dictatorships for decades. Kengor is correct when he asserts that Reagan was in the White House during the gradual collapse of not only the Soviet Union--which was dissolved in 1991, under Mikhail Gorbachev--and its dominance in Germany, which ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1990. However, the leap that many Republicans make--that Reagan and his policies were directly responsible for these events--is not only flawed but ignorant of events years in the making.