This Week’s Mtg: Assessing Reagan’s Presidency

Ronald Reagan usually barely cracks the top 20 in lists of best American presidents when historians and scholars do the ranking.  Yet much of the public reveres the man and he towers over our era.  Why?  Is it mainly hagiography and nostalgia on the part of conservatives, or do Reagan’s accomplishments – whether you like them or not – merit iconic status?

That depends on what he actually achieved, of course, including some accomplishments that have been largely forgotten.  These include the man’s work in building a new governing coalition and changing the language we use to talk about our national problems.  These purely political accomplishments may count as much or more 30 years later.  We also have to consider the environment Reagan had to operate in.  For example, he had a Democratic Congress, a moderate Republican wing, and no conservative media machine that had his back on everything.

On Thursday I’ll update everyone on the hunt for a new permanent location.  Then, I’ll (1) summarize the big Reagan accomplishments, focusing on the less well-remembered ones that still have a lot of relevance today (like immigration reform); and (2) list a few of the big differences in between the 1980s political environment and ours.  I’ll be brief, because we’ve had a lot of lectures lately and most of us lived all this history.


  1. What did Reagan accomplish in his presidency in (a) domestic policy and  (b) foreign policy?
  2. How did Reagan change our politics:  (a) building a new political coalition, (b) changing the way we think and talk about politics and our national problems?
  3. How did he do all this?  How was his political environment different from today’s?
  4. What did he succeed and fail at?  Fail can mean either things he wanted to do but could not, or things he did get done but that failed the country, in your opinion.
  5. How “conservative” was Reagan?  How conservative would he be considered today?  How about if he had what modern GOP leaders have: The Movement, the conservative media, the Christian right, the vastly wealthy donor base?


  • I’m still looking for a simple summary of Reagan’s accomplishments.  It’s hard to find good straightforward stuff on Reagan’s achievements.
  • Summaries of Reagan’s domestic and foreign policy accomplishments.  (A little overly generous, IMO).   I recommend you skim both for forgotten stuff.
  • The Reagan’s Presidency: Myth Versus Reality.  I recommend.
  • Reagan the Moderate — Jeb Bush and others say he would not be the party’s leader today.  Reagan would not be welcome in today’s GOP (from a conservative and former Reagan Administration official).

Call either me or Carl if you have trouble finding the new place.  I found it pretty easily.


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