Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure

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Overview

It’s been more than fifty years since JFK’s assassination and a quarter century since Ronald Reagan left the White House, yet the two men remain the beaux ideals of what the left and the right believe a president should be, and of how a president should look, sound, and act. But has popular memory, in service to contemporary causes, distorted what the legacies of each man actually are?
     In Kennedy and Reagan, acclaimed political historian Scott ...

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Overview

It’s been more than fifty years since JFK’s assassination and a quarter century since Ronald Reagan left the White House, yet the two men remain the beaux ideals of what the left and the right believe a president should be, and of how a president should look, sound, and act. But has popular memory, in service to contemporary causes, distorted what the legacies of each man actually are?
     In Kennedy and Reagan, acclaimed political historian Scott Farris offers a comparative biography that explores Kennedy’s and Reagan’s contemporaneous lives from birth until 1960, showing how the experiences, attitudes, and skills developed by each man later impacted his presidency. Tackling key issues of each president’s time in office—civil rights, religion, nuclear brinkmanship, etc.—he also considers how their dealings around each issue compare and contrast. Ultimately, Kennedy and Reagan provides examines why the American public consistently ranks Kennedy and Reagan among the greatest presidents in history, an assessment shared by pundits and politicians, while historians do not.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
11/15/2013
This thoroughly enjoyable dual study of John F. Kennedy, the iconic liberal president, and Ronald Reagan, the iconic conservative, reveals as much about their similarities as their legacies. Farris (Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation) shows that the Cold War era that bookmarked Kennedy's and Reagan's presidencies contributed significantly to their enduring public acclaim. Communism was the nation's unifying enemy that enabled Kennedy and Reagan to forge consensus across party lines. Farris also includes several important examples of their comparable life experiences: they were denied parental love, were heavily influenced by the motion picture industry, and defied political decorum by not waiting their turns to run for office. To what extent these circumstances connect to their political approaches is open for debate, but the author demonstrates that Kennedy and Reagan made good use of self-deprecating humor, advocated tax cuts, were not sensitive to civil rights, promoted American exceptionalism, and were pragmatic leaders willing to compromise. VERDICT Farris acknowledges that he did little original research for this well-crafted synthesis of secondary sources. While he breaks no new ground, general readers will enjoy this lively account and might develop a new appreciation and sympathy for both presidents, especially the one who least represents their own politics.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-20
An engrossing "comparative biography" of two presidents who remain enduringly popular. Veteran political journalist Farris (Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation, 2011, etc.) recounts the striking, sometimes-surprising similarities between John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) and Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) and their presidencies. In a smooth, well-written chronological narrative, the author explores and compares each stage of their lives, seeking to explain the continuing appeal of these disparate men, both of whom are frequently ranked in polls as being among the great presidents. Although one was a Democrat and the other a Republican, both are remembered as handsome, charismatic, vigorous men of ideas who set the bar (the "Kennedy aura," the "Reagan mantle") for the qualities sought in a presidential candidate. Both were shot (and became beloved), shared Irish heritage, had rakish fathers and pious mothers, loved books, felt antipathy toward communism, exuded sex appeal that bolstered their political appeal, dealt serenely with crises, and shared a weakness for cloak-and-dagger behavior that ended badly (the Bay of Pigs, the Iran-Contra Affair). Kennedy was "America's first ‘movie-star president,' " and Reagan, "the first movie star to become president." Both did more than any other president to ally Washington, D.C., and Hollywood, and both used the actor's trick of playing the persona they had developed for themselves. Starting out as reserved boys, they "engaged in lifelong reinventions of themselves, working to form themselves into the men they wished to be, the masculine, rugged, charming presidents they became." Farris covers the major issues in both presidencies, and he speculates that neither man could win his party's nomination for the presidency today. Having governed during years of Cold War clarity, they would fare poorly as presidents in a current climate marked by both political divisiveness and the murkiness of the war on terrorism. A fresh, welcome view of two much-revered leaders.
From the Publisher

“Two presidents, stylishly defining their times, great communicators who fashioned personal legends even while defying political labels—John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were historical agents of change who transformed themselves before renewing their country. How they did so forms the heart of this deeply moving portrait, from their nomadic early years, whose loneliness was offset by the romance of books, to adult power and acclaim sharply at odds with their emotional isolation. Farris has distilled a vast amount of the historical and biographical literature to create a stunningly original narrative.”
     —Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian, author, and former director of five presidential libraries

  “Scott Farris’s tour de force is an immensely readable, scholarly, accessible, and popular history of two of America’s most admired Presidents. Farris carefully details their triumphs (Kennedy:  Resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis; Reagan: Winning the Cold War) and their tragedies (Kennedy: the Bay of Pigs; Reagan: the Iran-Contra fiasco). He examines the soaring vision and rhetoric (Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; Reagan: “America—a shining city on a hill”) that captured the imagination of millions. And ultimately, he offers a clear and balanced perspective on each man’s nature, challenges and contributions.”
     —Egil “Bud” Krogh, Senior Fellow on Leadership and Integrity, The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress; and author of Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House

“Every four years it seems the Democratic Party looks for its next Kennedy and the Republicans their next Reagan. Although fixed in our mind at different stages of life, these two Irish-Americans, molded by the Great Depression and wars both hot and cold, were close in age and shared remarkable similarities as well as stark contrasts. You won’t want to put down this fascinating portrait of two presidents who helped shape the modern world, and their lives, loves, tragedies, and triumphs.”
     —Chris DeRose, author of Founding Rivals and Congressman Lincoln

"Veteran political journalist Farris (Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation, 2011, etc.) recounts the striking, sometimes-surprising similarities between John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) and Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) and their presidencies. In a smooth, well-written chronological narrative, the author explores and compares each stage of their lives, seeking to explain the continuing appeal of these disparate men, both of whom are frequently ranked in polls as being among the great presidents....Farris covers the major issues in both presidencies, and he speculates that neither man could win his party’s nomination for the presidency today. Having governed during years of Cold War clarity, they would fare poorly as presidents in a current climate marked by both political divisiveness and the murkiness of the war on terrorism.... A fresh, welcom view of two much-revered leaders."
     Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Scott Farris's previous book, Almost President

“[An] engaging study of men who came up short in the presidential arena but still had a significant effect on the life of the nation….”
     Wall Street Journal

“Scott Farris shines a welcome spotlight on the neglected subject of presidential also-rans. In this impressive new book, Farris shows that the losers and their ideas have sometimes transformed their political parties, and moved the nation ahead. Meticulously researched, Almost President is rich in detail and anecdotes, and a pleasure to read.”

     —Joseph Wheelan, author of Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress and Libby Prison Breakout

“Scott Farris has penned a series of fascinating portraits of candidates who triggered sea changes in our political process. Informative to readers at all levels.”

     —David Pietrusza, author of 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America

“To those demoralized by today’s fiercely partisan political arena, take heart! Scott Farris’s superb history of losing Presidential candidates reassures us all that even out of bitter campaigns and defeats, losers do come back and contribute profoundly to major realignments, decency, and equality in American politics.” 

     —The Honorable David Abshire, former Ambassador to NATO, and current President, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress

“Farris writes with a lively flair, skillfully illustrating his solid historical research with revelatory anecdotes and facts.”
     Publishers Weekly

“A lively, opinionated examination of the instructive role of the loser in presidential races…. [R]iveting, sympathetic treatments…. A most useful aide-mémoire for situating the upcoming presidential slugfest.”
     Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762781447
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 544,832
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Farris, a former bureau chief for United Press International and a political columnist, has interviewed most of the men and women who have sought the presidency over the past thirty years, and has managed several political campaigns. He appeared on the 2011 C-SPAN television series The Contenders, and has appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and “Melissa Harris-Perry.” His work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 16, 2013

    Absolutely wonderful history. Vivid story-telling about two of t

    Absolutely wonderful history. Vivid story-telling about two of the most important politicians of modern American history and the stunning similarities between them, though one is the hero of the right and the other an icon of the left. Highly recommended. 

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2014

    Superb, important, timely history. I loved it.

    Superb, important, timely history. I loved it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Greekfire

    Stops fighting. "Lets go back to camp amd train some more later." Gtg bbs

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Nightwish

    Picka up her prey and goes to camp

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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