Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wilentz Looks At Critchlow, Frum and Douthat/Salam

I guess he mainly focuses on Critchlow, who's rather too sympathetic towards his subjects but does yeoman's work in recalling pre-1964 hard-right activism (Clarence Manion - does that ring any bells?) ...

Anyway, here's Wilentz on Critchlow on Reagan:

Once he reaches the Reagan years, Critchlow presents as rosy a picture as possible. He either ignores the damaging effects of Reaganomics, such as astronomical deficits and deepening economic inequality, or treats them as illusions ginned up by Democratic partisans and the liberal media. Critchlow either overlooks the cronyism and looting of the 1980s--most spectacularly at the Pentagon, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development--or ascribes them to "mismanagement" that gave the career civil servants of the so-called liberal administrative state a pretext to thwart Reagan's reforms. He describes the savings-and-loan crisis as an unintended consequence of Reagan's deregulation, without mentioning how the administration repeatedly ignored warnings about the looming disaster and obstructed oversight--the costliest government malfeasance of its kind in history. On foreign policy, Critchlow generally endorses the triumphalist Reagan-centered view advanced by Reagan's most fervent admirers about his greatest achievement as president, working with Mikhail Gorbachev and helping to end the Cold War. Critchlow mentions but glosses over the staunch conservative opposition that Reagan faced over arms reduction and his embrace of the new Soviet leader, along with other awkward details that call for a more complicated rendering.

That's all fine as far as it goes, but what of Iran-Contra?! I've always said that if Iran-Contra doesn't seriously tarnish your view of Reagan's presidency, you simply do not know enough about the scandal. And Wilentz makes no attempt to defend Jimmy Carter's far-from-perfect but far-from-terrible presidency (and I don't mean this or this, or "without him, Reagan never gets elected"). More than a bit disappointing.