Out Run Politics
“Sometimes it really helps to be a dummy.”1 The same ideology is expressed by Dinesh D’Souza in his book, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. D’Souza makes the point throughout his biography that Reagan’s accomplishments and leadership are always grossly underappreciated. D’Souza’s claim is that even in Reagan’s private life, he was aloof and presented an image of himself that was ignorant and unrealistic. It was through Reagan’s unique personality traits that his success gained so much momentum and popularity. His ability to put aside minor issues and focus on his main objectives made him a household name internationally. Reagan became famous for his view towards the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”2 Many Americans today still associate the fall of the Soviet Union with Reagan’s presidency, and D’Souza focuses on why that is throughout his work. It is important to understand that Reagan received so much criticism, even after his death, because he was viewed as someone who was unintelligent and unprepared for the job. However, that same persona led to the overwhelming approval ratings he earned every time his predictions came true. Although Ronald Reagan presented himself as a “dummy” to his fellow members of government, he stayed true to his course and foresaw changes in the world that the rest of the world thought impossible.
D’Souza dedicates the first quarter of his biography to Reagan’s life before politics. Reagan is introduced as a man who made his fellow conservatives “roll their eyes and sigh.”3 It was very clear from the beginning that Reagan’s goal was the destruction of the Soviet Union and the preservation of a capitalist democracy. From beginning to end, Reagan knew he could get the Soviets to negotiate. However, the question of how he gained that confidence and knowledge remains. For the majority of his personal life, Reagan was known to have a small circle of friends and family, and was referred to by the media as a “puzzle.”4 Very few people were aware of how he acted outside of politics. All of this can be attributed to his childhood. Born in Illinois, Reagan grew up around an alcoholic father and experienced a troubled childhood. He was always under scrutiny for mental health issues because of his past. However, Reagan grew up with a strong sense of community, and wanted to recreate his childhood neighborhood throughout America. It became clear that Reagan was a leader in high school, and when he was elected to be the president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947. Reagan’s leadership did not help with his love life, as his first marriage with Jane Wyman was unsuccessful, but his second marriage set an example for many American couples. He then began delving into politics, and found he could easily connect with large groups of people.
The second quarter of the book explores Reagan’s rise into politics. Because of his more conservative views, Reagan’s problem was that he could not adjust to the more liberal populace that existed at the time. However, by outsmarting his opponents, he slowly gained political power and was elected Governor of California in 1966. Reagan focused heavily on spiritual aspects when running for governor, and it was seen during his time holding the position. He tried to run the state government like a family-owned business, and as a result his first term is “regarded as failure.”5 The state deficit rose significantly, taxes had to be raised, and he signed a very liberal abortion bill into law that he later regretted. His approval ratings rose after he was re-elected in 1970 and gave surplus revenue back to the taxpayers. Reagan then signed the Welfare Act of 1971 to encourage the job market, and it was regarded by many as “a great success.”6 After successfully ending his time as governor, Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and became the oldest man in U.S. history to be elected President. As president, Reagan was criticized for spending more on defense rather than domestic programs. Starting in 1983, the last year of Reagan’s tax cuts, the United States experienced the largest peacetime economic boom in its history. This resulted in the U.S. becoming the worlds’ leading economy and Reagan’s approval ratings skyrocketing. The middle class shrunk, but that was because a number of “middle-class Americans became rich.”7 After dealing with domestic issues, Reagan moved to face what he thought was truly the greatest threat to American life: The Soviet Union.
Critics of Reagan argue that the Soviet Union would not have grown if Reagan had not continuously pursued a stronger military, but Soviet leadership was also promoting military growth during the same period. Reagan’s critics would also argue that Gorbachev was the true “architect of the collapse of the Soviet Union” because of his failures to improve the socialist way of life.8 Based on rumors of Soviet treatment of its people, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and described the war as “a struggle between right and wrong.”9 The world saw the birth of the first superpowers because of the increase in both the U.S.’s and USSR’s nuclear arsenals. It was at this time that the world first feared nuclear annihilation, and began to beg for peace between the two superpowers. In an effort to slow the Soviets’ power, Reagan allied with authoritarian regimes and chose to ignore their human rights violations. The creation of the Reagan Doctrine allowed the U.S. to send military and material support to peoples struggling to overthrow Soviet totalitarianism. This was Reagan’s way of challenging the Brezhnev Doctrine, and was intended to secure a moral victory for the United States. The most famous instance of the doctrine’s usage is the U.S. invasion of Grenada, and the ousting of its’ Marxist government. Democrats were outraged and called for Reagan’s resignation, but that demand lost its importance since there was public support for Reagan. Compared to all of these actions, none are more remembered than the Strategic Defense Initiative. At first, the idea was a joke for both Reagan’s critics and the Soviet Union, but U.S. technology was improving at an alarming rate compared to the Soviets. Soon, Gorbachev was brought to the negotiating table and missiles aimed at Europe were removed. It seemed as though peace was not an impossible dream with Reagan at the helm.
No matter what tragedies faced him, Reagan remained a figure of optimism and hope. He was a man who valued tradition and ceremony; always dressed formally because he felt that the job demanded professionalism in every aspect possible. At the beginning of the term, Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, but he “survived the barrage of his assailant.”10 However, Reagan maintained a surprisingly positive outlook on the entire fiasco, and was viewed as extremely courageous by the American people. Reagan treated his peers with respect and good humor; he would even give prime ministers nicknames as a way to treat them like friends. He was a man who never adjusted his personal beliefs to match that of the majority. The pundits always viewed him as lazy and irresponsible, but criticism did not faze him. Because of his views and objectives, he knew that the “fool is often the smartest person to play.”11 Reagan was aware that the less his adversaries thought of him, the more he was likely to accomplish. Compared to the years following Reagan, it was evident that the public was disappointed in the levels of success they were seeing. It is likely that Reagan’s comfort with making big decisions is what created his image of confidence. He is remembered today as the man who led the world through the terror of communism, and as a beacon for people to look to when they searched for a strong leader.
D’Souza wrote this book in order to provide what he thought would be the most accurate biography of Reagan’s life and accomplishments. His thesis is that even though Reagan was seen as aloof and unqualified, he knew what he was doing and was extremely successful. While talking about the changes that the “intellectuals” did not foresee, D’Souza says, “The dummy foresaw them!”12 D’Souza wanted to write something that would remind people of Reagan’s most useful asset. This book is the rebuttal to Reagan’s critics; its purpose is to show that Reagan had a plan for his presidency and never strayed from it. By taking into account Reagan’s personal life and life before politics, D’Souza wanted to show his reader that Reagan was someone who did not allow distractions to get in the way of his goals. By no reasoning would Reagan be considered a political intellectual, but he was truly the perfect politician. He could convince, lead, and brush off matters that he felt were of minimal importance; all while painting himself as a dummy.
Dinesh Joseph D’Souza is a well-known conservative figure in recent American politics. He is also known for political commentary, film-making, and his association with Christian apologetics. He has written books such as Illiberal Education and The End of Racism. D’Souza served as a policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1988, and has continued to be active in political commentary since then. His time spent in Reagan’s employ would be the main contributor to his view of Reagan’s terms and how much success they had. There was a noticeable amount of focus on Reagan’s spiritual beliefs, and seeing as how D’Souza is a proud Christian, the religious focus in the biography was expected. D’Souza actively fights the rise of liberalism, whether he is making films that attack President Obama or blaming liberals for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in his writings. He spends a majority of his book denying liberal claims that Reagan was a “weak and indecisive President.”13 His neo-conservatism leads him to be overly critical of liberal views, and his time spent with conservatives at Dartmouth College has greatly attributed to that. D’Souza released this book in 1997, which was less than a decade after Reagan’s presidency. At the time, general approval for Reagan was still very high and his presidency was well-remembered. There was also enough time to analyze Reagan’s presidency without the stress that existed during its existence. However, since the book was written in the late 1990s, it is unable to properly analyze the long-term effects of Reagan’s presidency; for instance, D’Souza fails to address how the debt Reagan created still effects Americans today. So, the book concludes that Reagan’s positives far outweigh the negatives, and that criticism of Reagan comes from spiteful liberals.
Critics generally felt that D’Souza was overly critical of liberal actions during the Reagan administration. Richard L. Berke, a book critic for the New York Times, says that D’Souza’s flaw is that he is an overly “passionate defender” and is sometimes “not being true to [Reagan].”14 He does give D’Souza credit for at least addressing the critics, but maintains that D’Souza excessively assumes Reagan had some kind of deep purpose with every action he made. Dick Meyer, a writer for CBS News, gave praise for D’Souza’s book. He claims that D’Souza brings a “fresh opportunity” to study Reagan’s greatness, and supports the book’s claims that Reagan transcended normal political behavior.14 The reviewers attempt to be unbiased, but for some, the books’ message relates directly with their own political beliefs. As a result, reviews are mixed and vary depending on the reader.
Dinesh D’Souza created a Reagan biography that is both filled with facts and bias. Every piece of writing has bias, but D’Souza makes it clear that he is a staunch conservative. While Ronald Reagan’s terms in the White House certainly had their successes, D’Souza does not focus on Reagan’s mistakes as much as he focuses on how Reagan moved past his errors. He reiterates that “Reagan was willing to be patient in the abatement of evil.”15 Considering D’Souza’s religious affiliation, it would seem as though he saw Reagan as a Christ figure in American history. The book does not bore, but it should be read with the author’s bias in mind.
Dinesh D’Souza would greatly support the view that the U.S. moved towards conservatism in the 1980s, as he saw the triumphs of conservatism to be in the 1980s. With the rise of Reaganism, D’Souza would argue that a greater amount of people showed support for conservative ideologies than they had in decades. It was Reagan’s “conventional wisdom” that helped the general public move towards conservatism in the 1980s.16 Whether it was Reagan’s tax cuts, or his attempts to get the SDI operational, D’Souza saw the 1980s as the ultimate time of conservative advancements. He lobbies for the idea that a conservative government is most effective.
“Reagan didn’t share our views” is the confession of the conservatives of his era, and is what D’Souza takes as the reason why Reagan was one of the greatest presidents in United States history.17 His leadership through the difficult 1980s remain in Americans’ memories as the reason the world made it through the Cold War.
1. D’Souza, Dinesh. Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. New York: Touchstone, 1997. 1.
2. D’Souza, Dinesh. 134.
3. D’Souza, Dinesh. 1.
4. D’Souza, Dinesh. 7.
5. D’Souza, Dinesh. 66.
6. D’Souza, Dinesh. 68.
7. D’Souza, Dinesh. 113.
8. D’Souza, Dinesh. 133.
9. D’Souza, Dinesh. 135.
10. D’Souza, Dinesh. 205.
11. D’Souza, Dinesh. 237.
12. D’Souza, Dinesh. 3.
13. D’Souza, Dinesh. 228.
14. Berke, Richard L.
“Remembering the Gipper.” Nytimes.com. Nytimes, 23 Nov. 1997. Web. 22 May 2016.
15. Meyer, Dick. “Reaganism: The Big Picture.” Cbsnews.com. Cbsnews, 5 June 2004. Web. 22 May 2016.
16. D’Souza, Dinesh. 246. 17. D’Souza, Dinesh. 2.