Perhaps it is the passage of time, or comparisons with the nixonian pugnacity of the Bush II administration, but liberal-left historians have begun to reassess the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a man they reviled at the time in apocalyptically bitter terms. Or condemned as a cipher, a “B movie actor” or in the words of Clark Clifford, “an amiable dunce” ( arrogant and corrupt, Clifford demonstrated his own intellectual brilliance as a political fixer and respectable front man for BCCI, an institutional vehicle for transnational organized crime networks and rogue states, avoiding Federal prosecution only due to advanced age and ill health).
The release of historical documents and Reagan’s private papers has undermined the “sleepwalking through history” meme, forcing historians to revise earlier opinions. Sean Wilentz, noted historian and a fervent liberal Democratic partisan, is acknowledging Reagan’s significance ( while still condemning all the policies that constituted “Reaganism”). At one time, among a majority of historians, this would have been tantamount to heresy:
Yet, by 2008, the surge of conservative politics that Reagan personified had survived brief interruption and temporary reversal and, like it or not, defined an entire political era–an era longer than that of either Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson, longer than the Gilded Age or the Progressive Era, and as long as the period of liberal reform that stretched from the rise of the New Deal to the demise of the Great Society.
….Reagan did have a knack, though, for peaking when it counted: during his reelection year in 1984 and in his final year in office. He also proved a shrewd operator regarding the two issues he cared about most–taxes and the cold war. His two major tax cuts, in 1981 and 1986, redistributed wealth upward to the already wealthy and sent deficits soaring. He ultimately secured his chief objective, which was to skew the progressive tax system. It is almost impossible to imagine the top marginal rate on personal income ever climbing back up to 70 percent (the figure when Reagan was elected). That change alone has dramatically curtailed the possibilities for liberal government….
Perhaps in 2029, they’ll even be saying a kind word for George W. Bush.