OF ALL the U.S. presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, none stands taller in history or exercises a greater lingering influence on American politics than Ronald Reagan. Republican politicians invoke his name as example and lodestar, and Democrats have granted him increasing respect as the passions of his presidential years have ebbed with time. Surveys of academics on presidential performance, initially dismissive, now rank him among the best of the White House breed. Even President Obama has extolled his approach to presidential leadership.
This veneration poses a dark danger—that Reagan will become associated with philosophies he never held and policies he never pursued. This is happening today with increasing force as neoconservative intellectuals and politicians seek to conflate Reagan’s Cold War strategy with their push for American global dominance in the name of American values. Their aim is to equate today’s Islamic fundamentalism with Russian Bolshevism and thus boost the argument that U.S. military actions in the Middle East are a natural extension of Reagan’s forceful—and successful—confrontation with Soviet Communism in the 1980s.