The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America

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Since Ronald Reagan left office—and particularly after his death—his shadow has loomed large over American politics: Republicans and many Democrats have waxed nostalgic, extolling the Republican tradition he embodied, the optimism he espoused, and his abilities as a communicator.

This carefully calibrated image is complete fiction, argues award-winning journalist William Kleinknecht. The Reagan presidency was epoch shattering, but not—as his propagandists would have it—because it invigorated private enterprise or made America feel strong again. His real legacy was the dismantling of an eight-decade period of reform in which working people were given an unprecedented sway over our politics, our economy, and our culture. Reagan halted this almost overnight.

In the tradition of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Kleinknecht explores middle America—starting with Reagan’s hometown of Dixon, Illinois—and shows that as the Reagan legend grows, his true legacy continues to decimate middle America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Crime writer Kleinknecht (New Ethnic Mobs) turns his attention to a different kind of organized crime in this critical reassessment of the lasting influence of Ronald Reagan's presidency-and his hand in the current economic crisis. According to the author, Reagan and his ideological fellow travelers abdicated the government's regulatory role to oversee banking, manufacturing, telecommunications, the media, mining and public welfare, leaving Americans without protection from the avarice of shortsighted corporations. While well-documented and forceful, the book has a strident tone that might put off the very people Kleinknecht tries to persuade-those who have lionized Reagan as the people's president. More crucially, the author tries to lay everything from the decline of America's image overseas to the 2008 meltdown of the global banking system at Reagan's feet, and it is often unclear whether Reagan was the mastermind or simply the figurehead behind which other agents carried out their own plans independent of the president's will. Whatever Reagan's complicity, the policies carried out in his name and under his leadership clearly changed the relationship between the American people and their government, and rarely, the author shows, for the better. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

"This book is borne of annoyance...," crime journalist Kleinknecht admits at the outset of this scathing critique of Reagan's presidency. What "annoys" the author is Reagan's rising stature among historians and the American electorate (e.g., conservative John Diggins's Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom and the Making of History, liberal historian Sean Wilentz's The Age of Reagan), despite the general view of the President as an intellectual lightweight. The author sets his journalistic lasers exclusively on Reagan's domestic legacy: "mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, globalization," arguing that Reagan championed in word the "little man" and the middle class, but that his policies created more distance between the wealthy and the rest of the country. Examining Dixon, IL, Reagan's small hometown, he attempts to show that ironically many there were hurt economically by Reagan's policies, even as the town renamed its streets and buildings for their "favorite son." The author shows Reagan as a former New Dealer who became disillusioned with big government, repeatedly injecting into his colorful narrative Reagan's confusion of Hollywood images with the reality of America to show how out of touch Reagan was. He ends by arguing that the most destructive part of Reagan's legacy was "America's utter loss of national purpose" because he delegitimized government and glorified self-interest. Kleinknecht often scores points, but his exaggerated language (e.g., "the looting of America") limits his audience to those who already agree with him. For consideration by public and academic libraries.
—Jack Forman

Kirkus Reviews
Newark Star-Ledger crime correspondent Kleinknecht (New Ethnic Mobs, 1996) turns a critical eye on the Reagan Revolution and its impact, still felt today. The author makes a strong case that President Reagan's policies of massive deregulation, free-market capitalism, budget cuts and trickle-down economics were nothing less than a dismantling of New Deal reforms and a disaster for the country, particularly its poorest citizens. There isn't a lot of new information here, but Kleinknecht's bare-knuckled journalistic prose makes this an engaging read. For example, rather than providing a set of statistics about the impact of Reagan's economic policies on small-town America, the author shows how they affected the president's hometown, Dixon, Ill., where the bus station closed, a residence for the mentally retarded was shuttered and a steel plant endured hard times. To illuminate the consequences of Reagan's gutting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Kleinknecht demonstrates that hundreds of children who died from Reye's Syndrome could have been saved if the FDA had merely put warning labels on aspirin bottles. Depicting the human toll taken by the Reagan Revolution, the author eschews overt sentimentality and lets the stories speak for themselves. His criticism of deregulation is especially timely, given the current economic climate, and Kleinknecht uses these stories effectively to connect the Reagan legacy to a contemporary culture of self-interest and a Republican Party he views as mired in shallowness and ignorance. "With Reaganism has come an abandonment of all faith in reason and progress," he writes, "and it has accrued manifestly to the detriment of the average American."Tough,well-argued criticism of a conservative icon. Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568584423
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 1/26/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,493,497
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Kleinknecht is a veteran crime correspondent for the Newark Star-Ledger. He previously covered the crime beat for the New York Daily News. The winner of awards from the Associated Press and the American Society of Professional Journalists, he has contributed to American Journalism Review, National Law Journal, and the Boston Phoenix. The author of New Ethnic Mobs: The Changing Face of Organized Crime in America, he lives in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

1 Forgotten Roots 1

2 Two Views of America 21

3 The Invasion 53

4 Year Zero 71

5 The Looting of America 103

6 Merger Mania 135

7 The Effluvia of Commerce 155

8 The Spoils of Revolution 189

9 The Great Enabler 205

10 "The Man with the Badge" 225

11 The Second-Rate Society 259

Acknowledgments 271

Notes 273

Index 299

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 25, 2009

    The man who sold the world

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Philosophical me and Kleinecht are soul mates. However, as much as I hate to admitt it his history is a little off. A lot of the derugulations was started under Carter. I also found he jumped from one historical situation to another. I would certainly recommend this book for anyone who wants a good historical understanding of our present economic situation. Reagan was a showman and he was able to capitialize on the gas crises and the Iran situation. This made him look like a better president then he really was.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    incredible book,incredible author

    Is there a better book out there at this time?I don't think so! David Hilton Clark (SINGER)

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