"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wMonday, March 29, 2004

THE GREAT COMMUNICANT: OK, so read the first half of my latest Books & Culture column, then try to guess what the other half says, then read the whole column. I dare you:

Type in "Ronald Reagan" on Amazon.com under "books" and nearly 14,000 results pop out at you. Want Reagan's ghostwritten autobiography An American Life? (In a speech in the early Nineties, Reagan quipped that he'd get around to reading it one of these days.) It's still in print. As are numerous collections of letters, including letters to Joe and Judy taxpayer, letters to Nancy, and copies of old radio commentaries, in Reagan's own hand. Also present are hagiographies (Peggy Noonan, Dinesh D'Souza), collections of Reagan quotations, volumes that continue to pour forth from the pens of Reagan administration alum (How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, A Different Drummer, etc.), and perhaps the most poorly conceived official biography in the history of official biographies (Dutch, by Edmund Morris).

The books only touch the tip of the iceberg that is the Reagan industry. Put crassly, Ronald Reagan sells. His image on the cover of conservative magazines will boost sales, and his name on direct mail is fundraising gold. The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, for instance, is attempting to name one "notable public landmark" in every state, and one landmark in each of the nation's 3,067 counties, after the Great Communicator. The project also wants his mug stamped on the $10 bill and chiseled into Mount Rushmore.

Around the capital, advocates have already succeeded in lobbying Congress to rename one airport after our 40th president, and to put his name on a new federal building (the latter is an honor that son Michael insists his father, were he not under the fog of Alzheimer's, would have declined). Further north, the New Hampshire legislature voted last year to change the name of a local peak from Mount Clay to Mount Reagan, though—wouldn't you know?—the obstructionist federal government insists on waiting until after the namesake's death to formally recognize it.

The publishing end of the Reagan industry does turn out the occasional gem (e.g., some of the works of de facto official biographer, former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon), but the genre is riddled with so much hackjobbery and quickbuckery as to make any new entry suspect. Reagan's official stance toward the Soviets, "trust but verify," seems almost too lenient, and so I came to Grove City professor Paul Kengor's latest only after tossing back a few shots of skepticism [more]

posted by Jeremy at 2:49 PM