Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. – Review – book reviews
Richard S. Glowaki
Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. By Dinesh D’Souza. (New York: The Free Press, 1997. Pp. x, 292. $25.00.)
As the tenth anniversary of the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency is at hand, there is bound to be an increase in the number of historical works on his two terms in office and the legacy that many say still actively influences legislation to this day. Dinesh D’Souza should know about Reagan, as he served in his White House for two years as a Senior Domestic Policy Analyst. He has also authored two highly readable and thought-provoking books on education and racism and is currently a research scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Upon learning that D’Souza was part of the Reagan White House, one might instantly dismiss this book as a one-sided debate in Reagan’s defense. By that argument, books by other former White House insiders, such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., or Theodore Sorenson, would have been ignored.
Perhaps to assert his objectivity, D’Souza repeats Reagan’s self-effacing joke that his Cabinet chair should note: “Ronald Reagan slept here,” though the author is quick to point out there is no evidence Reagan ever really napped at work. The author also quotes P. J. O’Rourke, recalling nostalgically, “the days when sleeping with the president meant attending a cabinet meeting.” National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, observed that “Reagan knows so little and accomplishes so much.” And, as speech writer Peggy Noonan put it, Reagan’s life was proof that “the unexamined life is worth living.”
Studying the criticisms of Reagan and his presidency, D’Souza ultimately paints a portrait of a president who did perhaps more than any other leader in the second half of the twentieth century to shape the world. D’Souza confesses that he used to admire Reagan’s personal qualities more than his intellect or administrative skills, but now he sees a Reagan that “has faults as an individual but was driven by moral indignation. Reagan lived in a world of good (capitalism and democracy) and evil (communism and socialism) and had no doubt good would prevail.”
D’Souza also accurately notes how Reagan understood more about compromise than Newt Gingrich and more about conviction than Bill Clinton. The author concludes that if Reagan does not fit our preconceptions of what makes a great leader, then we must rethink our understanding of both greatness and leadership.
It will take more than this book to unravel the Reagan mystery and legacy, but D’Souza has written a valuable initial step in the process of unlocking and understanding the fortieth President.
Richard S. Glowaki
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