No secret. I LOVED Reagan. Loved. Him. Sure I was about a month old when he was elected to office, but he was my first president. I always had an interest (some would say unnatural) in politics. I remember watching the Oliver North trials by choice! Not the average activity of choice for a little kid. Whenever I see that there is a new book out featuring the Reagan presidency, I gobble it up. I was a bit skeptical because Chris Matthews is not well known for fair minded political reporting, but it had REAGAN on the cover so I couldn’t resist.
Chris Matthews worked for Jimmy Carter and begins his book on Airforce One (you’re supposed to italicize planes and ships right??? Oh high school grammar where art thou?) when the election results come in. Matthews spends some time laying the groundwork by talking about how he stumbled into his job working for Tip O’Neal (Speaker of the House) and the role he played in developing O’Neal’s media opportunities. He also discusses why Reagan was able to beat Carter and knock out Gerald Ford et al for the Republican nomination in the first place. He covers various key events of the 80s, from his own perspective and tried to illuminate how each of the key players was able to work together to keep the gears of democracy grinding on forward. Though his biases are evident. Democratic planning sessions are called just that. Reagan’s planning sessions are called “plotting and scheming” but I could look beyond Matthews agenda to read what I felt he was trying to say. Reagan was the president at a financially uncertain time. Tip O’Neal was a last line of defense for various social programs that were failing and had been failing for years. Both men tried to remain patient and courteous with one another even while disagreeing. Matthews believes that in current political discourse there is too little courtesy and too much bickering. I would agree, though I would postulate that Matthews is himself part of the problem, but that is another post for another time.
I enjoyed a great deal of this book. As I said, I’ve read a lot of Reagan books including his diaries, so I am familiar with the events of his presidency. It was interesting to read about those events from another perspective. Matthews tries his hardest to be fair, at at times almost succeeds. Reagan (or Matthews, since he talks about himself a lot) enthusiasts would enjoy this book. People interested in the early 80s might enjoy it as well. As a stand alone politics book it is a bit weak. Even as a book about Tip O’Neal, I imagine you’d be better served just going ahead and reading a biography. I WAS impressed with the first person sources and the amount of research Matthews collected to give credence to his own memories of events.