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Easy Sell

Twice a finalist for the Pulitzer, H.W. Brands, in Reagan: The Life, describes the 40th president as a conservative Franklin Roosevelt.  What Roosevelt was to the “first half of the twentieth century, Reagan was to the second half.”

The description occurs with enough frequency to become a recurring theme.  A short chapter at the book’s midpoint is virtually an itemization of the parallels between the two men.  Reagan, Brands says, owned “a felt affinity for his Democratic predecessor, but that affinity was deeper than Reagan acknowledged or probably realized”; Roosevelt, the eastern Democrat, approached the problems of the Depression from the left; Reagan, the western Republican, responded to the problems of the “floundering . . . Great Society” from the right.

Professor Brands’s survey of Reagan’s “intuitionist” statesmanship—those grim realities Reagan faced with the Russians, Grenada, El Salvador—is noteworthy.  He seems to have had a realistic understanding of a world often on the verge of anarchy.  When Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko as the leader of the Soviet Union, Reagan’s belief in personal diplomacy encouraged his staff to devise what they called “Soviet 101” to prepare him for the meeting that shaped up as “a terribly important...

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