Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endureby Scott Farris
It's been fifty years since JFK's assassination and nearly twenty since Ronald Reagan disappeared from public life. While they never ran head-to-head, they developed their legacies in competing ways and those legacies battle each other even today. The story of one illuminates the other, and explains our expectations for the presidency and whom we elect. Even though one is the model Democrat and the other the model Republican, their appeal is now bipartisan. Republicans quote Kennedy to justify tax cuts or aggressive national defense; Democrats use Reagan's pragmatism to shame Republicans into supporting tax increases and compromise. Partly a "comparative biography" that explores John F. Kennedy's and Ronald Reagan's contemporaneous lives from birth until 1960, Scott Farris's follow-up to his widely praised Almost President shows how the experiences, attitudes, and skills developed by each man later impacted his presidency. Farris also tackles the key issues--civil rights, foreign affairs, etc.--that impacted each man's time in office. How did previous life experiences form their views on these issues, and how do their dealings around each issue compare and contrast? Bookended by an examination of their standing in public opinion and how that has influenced subsequent politicians, plus an exploration of how the assassination of Kennedy and attempted assassination of Reagan colored our memories, this book also shows how aides, friends and families of each man have burnished their reputations long after their presidencies ended.
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
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.
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Meet the Author
Scott Farris is an experienced political journalist, speechwriter, adviser, and political candidate. A former bureau chief for United Press International and a political columnist, Farris has interviewed most of the men and women who have sought the presidency over the past thirty years. He managed several political campaigns, and was the Democratic Party's 1998 congressional nominee for Wyoming's at-large district, the seat once held by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Farris worked as a senior policy and communications adviser to a U.S. senator, the governors of Wyoming and California, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, two university presidents, and the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. He worked closely with three presidential administrations and as a volunteer on multiple presidential campaigns. The first American journalist selected to participate in the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service's prestigious International Leadership Seminar, Farris has a master's degree in history from the University of Wyoming, where his thesis focused on President Kennedy's battle with the radical right. He is the author of Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation, and is currently the Director of Government Relations in the western United States for TransCanada, a Canadian-based energy infrastructure company. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two children.
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