“The guy had a magic touch. He was a dream man. Under Reagan, you know, it
was like anesthesia,” Harry Angstrom, the aging hero of John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest observes. Rabbit’s observation is shrewd, but as the 1990s—with an oil crisis, a budget crisis, and stagflation—begin to look like a rerun of the early 1980s, the anesthesia has started wearing off. We know there is a link between our present troubles and the dreams we were encouraged to dream during the Reagan presidency.
The problem is that we still haven’t put our finger on the real Reagan legacy. We know that he fostered a culture that turned the 1980s into a Second Gilded Age, and we know that he was wrong on specifics: on tax cuts that helped produce a $2 trillion debt, on deregulation that led to a $500 billion savings and loan scandal, on an energy policy that has made us depend on foreign imports for 50 percent of our oil. But what we have not grasped with the seriousness they deserve are the ideas behind Reagan policy—the true Reagan legacy....
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