Journalist Will Bunch says that the legacy of Ronald Reagan, which is claimed by the right and was so often referred to by Republican presidential candidates in the 2008 election, is not an accurate depiction of Reagan's presidency.
In his new book, Tear Down This Myth, Bunch argues that the Reagan legacy was created largely by Washington conservatives in the 1990s, who wanted a hero who they could associate with the conservative agenda.
"It's been very hard for the modern generation of Republicans to develop a leader ... who has the kind of charisma that Ronald Reagan has had," Bunch tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. In the absence of that charisma, Bunch says, the next generation decided to "borrow it" from the past.
The Reagan legacy credits America's 40th president with winning the Cold War and turning the American economy around in the 1980s. But the truth, says Bunch, is that Reagan was a divisive president with only average approval ratings and "virtually zero support from African Americans." Furthermore, he says, Reagan's trickle-down theory of economics didn't save the American economy, nor was the president responsible for "winning" the Cold War.
Despite his criticisms of Reagan's presidency, Bunch is not without some kind words for the late president: "Ronald Reagan was very successful in connecting with the American people because of his optimism. ... He clearly had a strong belief in himself and a belief in America."