What to Make of Ron Reagan's New Memoir

Back in the 1980s, the media never ceased exploiting the open dissent of Reagan's two younger children, Patti and Ron. Patti especially went out of her way to embarrass her parents and undermine her father's political position. Ron Reagan was more discreet; in fact, he was the only one of Reagan's children who did not write a book or memoir, despite what must have been many tempting opportunities for a young, struggling ballet dancer.

Now, with the publication of My Father at 100: A Memoir, the wait is over. Two general things should be said. First, it is not easy to be the child of a very famous person. Franklin Roosevelt's kids hated him; Nixon's two daughters haven't been on speaking terms for years; Randolph Churchill alternately worshiped and feuded with his father, along the way acquiring many of Winston Churchill's shortcomings and little of his greatness. Family dysfunction seems to be the rule, not the exception. An anguished Nancy Reagan once told William F. Buckley, "I love my children, but sometimes I don't like them." So these books should not surprise us. Even Michael Reagan, now the chief family defender of Ronald Reagan's legacy, called his 1980s-era memoir On the Outside Looking In.

The second thing that should be noted is that Ron inherited much of his father's grace with language (so did Patti). I don't begrudge him his personal grievances, but it is a shame that he has used his literary talent to besmirch his father's memory with the risible charge that his Alzheimer's disease was already evident in his second term. This simply doesn't square with the evidence, and ignores a huge problem for Ron: the fact that Reagan's greatest achievement--ending the Cold War--occurred in his second term when he supposedly was losing his mind.

Equally risible is the comment he made during his book tour that Ronald Reagan couldn't win the Republican nomination today because the Republican party has become too extreme. The snort-worthy irony here is that everybody in the late 1970s, especially the Republican establishment, said that Reagan couldn't win the presidency because he was too extreme. This reveals not just a lack of perspective, but a cynical lashing-out at his political opponents.

Overall, My Father at 100 looks like a lost opportunity for a talented person to give a serious account of why he disagreed with his father.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Steven F.
Hayward
  • Steven F. Hayward was previously the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI. He is the author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, and the author of many books on environmental topics. He has written biographies of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and of Winston Churchill, and the upcoming book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents. He contributed to AEI's Energy and Environment Outlook series. 

What's new on AEI

In year four of Dodd-Frank, over-regulation is getting old
image Halbig v. Burwell: A stunning rebuke of a lawless and reckless administration
image Beware all the retirement 'crisis' reports
image Cut people or change how they're paid
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.