Book Review — The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s

The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s by Doug Rossinow is a fairly comprehensive look at the Regan Era. Rossinow is a professor of history at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota and is the author of numerous works, including Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Oslo and is past president of the Peace History Society.

The 80s were a golden age for me. I became an adult, spend time in Southern California courtesy of the Marine Corps, traveled the world, and was employed the entire decade. I rocked to Van Halen and later to hair bands. I worked on computers, rode motorcycles, had a bumper sticker that read “I’d rather be killing communists in Central America” and had a great decade. Thanks to modern social media, I have caught up with several friends from back then and we all look back fondly on that time. The future was bright back then. America was back on the rise and we were riding the wave.

I think we all have favorite presidents that captured our imagination. My grandmother spoke highly of FDR. My parents praised JFK. My son loves Clinton. For me, it was Reagan. It’s was morning again in America. Needless to say after college and especially after graduate school my youthful idealism faded with the facts. Rossinow seems to have those same initial feelings: a proud Reagan supporter, who later has second thoughts.

The Reagan Era is not an attack on the former president, but a very well-documented account of the Reagan years concentrating on Reagan and his staff. Investigations of Edwin Meese who seemed to invite scandal became Attorney General before resigning “vindicated” by a finding of “Insufficient evidence to indict.” There were scandals outside the government too. Banks, Savings and Loans, and televangelists all found their way to the headlines. Many people gained power in this era such as William Casey, James Baker III, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and many more.

We had a Red Scare of our own as we saw communists “in our own backyard.” We sponsored freedom fighters in Latin America and Africa. The later without much public attention. Jean Kirkpatrick tried to ease the idea of supporting right wing dictators over left wing dictators (communists) by suggesting the right wing is more open to democratic reforms than the left. We entered an arms race. We built a six hundred ship navy. We developed the MX missile and developed an intermediate range missile just to make the Soviets remove theirs from Europe. Reagan defied the logic of the anti-ballistic missile treaty with a far-fetched Strategic Defense Initiative. America did win the Cold War, but it was not exactly like we think we did. Rossinow provides a great deal of documented information on exactly how it happened.

We like to remember the 80s as a Golden Age and of rebirth of America. Rossinow show us cracks in the facade. In fact, many of the problems we see today have their roots in the 1980s. It was when the 1% grew in wealth and the middle class shrank. Although Reagan is known for his historic tax cut, the tax increases and revenue enhancements are pushed by the wayside. The man who wanted less government increased spending considerably. The Reagan Era covers many aspects of the decade. I just chose a few to mention here. Nearly a quarter of the book is documentation and cited sources. The information is accurate.

Otto von Bismark is credited with saying “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The eighties no matter how much I enjoyed them are rather like Bismark and his sausage. They were great… until I learned how they were made.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Book Review — The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s

  1. I think Reagan was ok compared to Bush and Obama. I hated Bush more but more and more I hate Obama more because he mislead everyone, gave them hope that we would live in a better world with his YES WE CAN!!! Now we definitely got the message (thanks to him) that NO WE CANNOT. The rich will keep on being richer and the poor will keep on being more miserable everyday no matter what and another even worst message got across that the president cannot make a difference even if he wants to. JFK was the last to really try. Carter was the best president we had since the death of JFK. Not only did this idea got across but at the same time that voting or the politicians have no power over what’s going on. Sorry I know that this has nothing to do with Reagan but I had to get it off my chest. Not only did all those very bold and depressing messages got across but now I also know for a fact that what I just wrote went directly to the MSA. PLZ TELL ME I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS LIKE THAT???

    • I would say Ford was the best in the second half of the 20th century…at least in integrity and doing the right thing.

      • Ford is also a very valuable choice. I still prefer Carter. He was more open. He went a bit further than any president before him has ever dared. Ok he was not perfect. Maybe he was the most ”drug related” president ever but I think maybe it would have make him the first to realise this non sense about how the USA war against drugs only makes thwe drug more expensive, the consumer even more distraught, the small time street pusher cost more money to the tax payers, gettinbg caught in the cycle and never again be able to get a decent job, the prison owners richer, the big time wholsallers richer, increasing wars (most of them being financed by narco-dollars) , more people dying I think Carter was a menace to all those people. Imagine he was very much dragged out of the politics because of this stupid killer rabbit incident. Now this is something that caught my interest…I even made a post about it. I would so much like to see what people think about it but no one seems interested about it. Then again…It’s only my opinion but I really think that all this money spent to catch and punish those small time drug related people, most of them small time crooks is such a waste of time, money and effort… In Portugual did you know they put in place a whole different sytem and were very scared of the results but now 10 years later, they have statistics to prove that there are far better ways to fight drugs. Did you know that some local programs managed to set up kids with mental disabilities (autistic) as young as 15 and make them criminals via infiltrated undercover agents. This story really made me so angry… Check this out if you want or if you have time…It really is showing what some of our good people resort to just to keep their allowed budget to fight drugs… Just google Jesse Snodgrass… There’s a clip on youtbe, rather short. I’d love to hear how it made you feel. BTW do you feel the way I do about the message that got across in the last part of my first comment or do you feel entirely different?? or are you afraid to talk about it on here because of the NSA?? Do you think I’m some kind of paranoid activist or do you think I might have a reason to think the way I do?? Even if I go overboard with it?

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