Morning in America JPG (28K)
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The Weekly Standard, June 6 2005, p. 5.

Morning in America JPG (28K) To the Editor,

Historians are supposed to balance competing data, even contradictory pieces of information - a skill often lacking among professorial ideologues on the left and think-tank warriors on the right. It is ironic that Steven Hayward caricatures my book Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (Princeton University Press) as an attempt to "keep [my] faculty club membership in good standing," then proceeds to impose his own rigid test of conservative political correctness. ("Reagan in Retrospect," in the Weekly Standard, May 23, posted on HNN, May 26).

Hayward misleads readers by segueing into my book after invoking the stereotypical liberal rhetoric about the 1980s as the "decade of greed" and the 1990s as "the fortunate decade." I repudiate that caricature in a section titled "The 1990s: What the Critics Feared the 1980s Would Be?" I write, "compared to Clinton's nineties, Reagan's eighties appeared more tempered, guilt-ridden, politically engaging and equitable."

Hayward also misleads by claiming I bash Reagan's "celebrity presidency." Noting that many historians applauding John Kennedy's symbolic leadership mock Reagan's, I reject the "liberal caricature of Reagan as a snake-oil salesman." Reagan reminded Americans that the bully pulpit is important. Less churlish conservatives would agree that "tone counts."

Readers can decide whether "Morning in America" is "contradictory" (and yet, paradoxically, also "churlish"), or "nuanced," as other reviewers concluded. But I stand by my contention that to understand Reagan and the 1980s we need more balanced views mixing criticism and praise rather than applying simplistic ideological tests.

And if Hayward thinks that writing a book which acknowledges any Reagan strengths will pass muster in faculty lounges, he is more out of touch than critics thought Reagan was. Writing about Reagan is neither for the faint-hearted nor the untenured because too many academics dismiss any praise of Reagan, just as some conservatives cannot tolerate any Reagan criticism.

My title Morning in America focuses on Reagan's signal political and cultural achievement: restoring American optimism during the 1980s. But just as honest liberals need to acknowledge that Reagan was a more agile, effective, and inspiring leader than partisan caricatures suggest, true conservatives should examine some of the toxic cultural and social effects of Reaganite individualism and materialism. Patriotism -- even presidential boosterism -- should not require intellectual Stalinism, left or right.

Gil Troy, Montreal, Canada