“No one calls themselves a Bush Republican or a Nixon Republican but many call themselves Reagan Republicans…” We see this almost every day now, as candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination make every effort to model themselves after America’s 40th president and attempt to build a vision as grand and prosperous as his. And we know why – projecting strength abroad, reducing deficits, encouraging a strong economy – these are all what we want most out of presidential leadership. But for all that we know about Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments and work in the White House, his life after leaving office is mostly overlooked. In his new book Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan, bestselling author Craig Shirley takes an inside look into Reagan’s final years and the lasting impact of his presidency.
Shirley combines accounts from political actors and media commentators to produce a fresh look at what made President Reagan so unique. At first rejected by the political establishment and Washington elite, Reagan entered office as somewhat of an outsider. However, it soon became obvious his courage, optimism, and pure authenticity shone through in his execution of his duties and his relationship with the American people. Shirley points to the way in which today’s politics tries so hard to emulate all that Reagan did and stood for, noting that this is not a ritual we follow with every president, but an indication of the special status of Reagan’s legacy. Reagan’s ideas didn’t live and die with him, but became conventional political thinking, especially his brand of conservatism and focus on individual liberties.
Unfortunately, the campaign to trash Reagan’s accomplishments and legacy, which continued in fervor after his death, remains alive and well today. The Left works incessantly to remake the public memory of the president who left office with a 68% approval rating after bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end. They would prefer we forget that real conservative leadership brings our nation closer to realizing its full potential. They would have us believe that his battle with Alzheimer’s somehow defined his time in office and made him weak. Last Act sets the record straight on Reagan’s health during his time in and out of office and shows a president willing and able to fight every fight from his first day to his last.
As we begin the arduous process of selecting a new presidency and reflecting on the past one, Last Act gives us the Reagan model for measuring a president’s place in history. Reagan did not obsess over what his legacy would be or how it was analyzed by pundits. His priority was serving the American people, not framing political events to fit neatly into his memoir. We would serve him, and the legacies of all presidents, well to remember these leaders for who they truly are and for the impact of their service on the path of our country. Craig Shirley’s Last Act is the quintessential guide for remembering President Reagan as we should, with respect to the facts and honor to the service of one of America’s greatest political leaders.