Un-rewriting Reagan

Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, former Reno reporter who covered the Reagan White House for the Washington Post, has coauthored a new book with his son, Carl Cannon, who covered the White House for the National Journal. Reagan’s Disciple/George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy by the two Cannons is published by Public Affairs Press. The book goes a long way toward restoring a realistic view of Reagan after years of social conservatives rewriting him. Bush, the Cannons write, idolized and emulated a Reagan caricature who never existed.

The book then surveys numerous Bush actions and policies (Bush claimed Reagan as a mentor) and assess whether they reflect the Reagan style of governance. Bush has substantially reinforced the Reagan legacy on domestic policies, immigration, and judicial appointments, they write. But Reagan would not have demonized and forced out U.S. military leaders who disagreed with him, as Bush has. Nor did Bush ever show Reagan’s political deftness—"the blend of principle and pragmatism” that kept him out of political trouble.

The Cannons argue that the invasion of Iraq fell outside the Reagan guidelines for use of force, which involved using proxy armies funded by the U.S. and cutting and running when U.S. troops on the ground encountered disaster in Lebanon.

Lou Cannon is the author of seven books, five of them on Reagan. His journalism career began when he wrote the Reno High School column for the Nevada State Journal, predecessor to the Reno Gazette-Journal. Carl Cannon is the author of two books and is now Washington bureau chief for Reader’s Digest.