Ronald Reagan, who presided over the longest continuous period of peacetime economic growth in modern American history, was also, argues Henry Olsen, the most misunderstood of modern chief executives. Liberals and Democrats—categories that include most of the media—had a vested interest in depicting Reagan as the twin of Barry Goldwater. Olsen’s book is directed not at the media but at fellow conservatives, who sometimes make what he sees as the same mistake.
A senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, Olsen grew up as a young Republican in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley during the time that Reagan was governor of California. In his very readable new book The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue Collar Conservatism, Olsen argues that Reagan has long been misidentified as a Goldwater-like, libertarian conservative. That’s a mistake because, as Olsen demonstrates, Reagan always saw himself as a defender of what he calls “the public New Deal.”
Indelibly influenced by Franklin Roosevelt’s radio Fireside Chats, Reagan never renounced his youthful admiration of FDR. Government, preferably on the state or local level, should give people in need a hand up to help them pursue their dreams, he insisted throughout his career. He came to national political prominence with his televised speech, “A Time for Choosing,” delivered on Goldwater’s behalf shortly before the 1964 election. Reagan’s speech effectively linked the two Westerners as emblematic of the Sunbelt’s rising conservatism, but Reagan’s ideas, argues Olsen, differed from Goldwater’s: they were less libertarian, Olsen writes, “less doctrinaire, less abstract and less antigovernment,” and more willing to use federal power on behalf of both the deserving poor and the average American. His New Deal, explained Reagan, didn’t aim to change America’s ideals but to “bring [them] into effect.” Reagan’s notion of the New Deal as merely a “fulfillment of old and tested American ideals” is historically dubious, but it served him well among independents and the once-numerous tribe of blue-collar and conservative Catholic Democrats. “The young Reagan,” argues Olsen, “as much as the mature Reagan, was always on the side of the common man from every background.” Reagan’s assumption, as crystallized in what came to be called “the speech,” was that Americans, as Olsen puts it, could have “the economic and physical security they craved and the freedom they deserved.”
Source: for MORE