What is the measure of a man?
What motivates him? What makes him do what he does? Is it his background, or his forward look to the future? When it comes to great men of history, those are interesting questions to ponder, and in ‘True Reagan,” author James Rosebush draws his conclusions.
Born well more than a century ago to a poor family, Ronald Reagan was influenced by both his parents but mostly by his mother: she was a minister whose generosity extended to anyone in need, and she expected her children to behave similarly.
That’s just one thing that Rosebush believes shaped the man Reagan was, although there’s really no way of knowing for sure because Reagan “never revealed his secret to achieving success…” He was not someone who talked about himself and he never overtly called attention to his own feelings.
Rosebush says one gets another hint of the man through oratory: Reagan was a renowned storyteller — a talent he got from his father — and he often used humor to communicate to his listeners. He also liberally used quotes from other famous men in speeches he wrote, which “added power and import” to them. People who paid close attention to Reagan’s public words could easily determine that his core beliefs in God and humanity polished the person he was and the president he became.
Personally, Rosebush says, both the Reagans were intensely private people who ran their lives much like a Hollywood “studio system” and they “tightly controlled” what the public saw of them. They didn’t put on airs and there was nothing terribly scandalous about them because there were “no major demons to unleash.”
Reagan, says Rosebush, believed in the heroism of everyday people and was quick to laud it, both publicly and privately. He had a still, unshakable faith that he didn’t make a show of possessing; at least once, in fact, he eschewed a church service so as not to disrupt it. And he was humble: in his presidential diaries, “Reagan never once used the word legacy.”
The name of our 40th president has been on many lips this election season. “True Reagan” may explain why.
Before you find that why, however, there’s a lot of repetition to wade through. Rosebush was Reagan’s deputy assistant, a role that gave him a ringside seat to the man he says was an enigma. Sadly, though, because Reagan was reticent in many respects and because there were unknowns, Rosebush seems able to offer just the same basic hypotheses, but in different words.
And yet, there are tiny surprises inside this book: Rosebush occasionally uses his own experiences in the White House to reveal the quietest of peeks into Reagan’s thoughts. Those anecdotes are interesting but again, because Reagan was so private, they consist of much conjecture.
I liked this book well enough but its raison d’etre is thin; therefore, I don’t think I’d recommend it for anyone but fierce politicos and diehard Reaganites. For them, “True Reagan” would be good at any measure.
“True Reagan: What Made Ronald Reagan Great and Why It Matters” by James Rosebush
c.2016, Center Street $27.00 / $32.50 Canada 288 pages