Friday, February 6, 2015

A review of PBS's "Ronald Reagan" movie

"One of my favorite quotations about age comes from Thomas Jefferson. He said that we should never judge a president by his age, only by his work. And ever since he told me that, I've stopped worrying. Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all thirteen states."

- Ronald Reagan

Hatchet job

PBS made a four-hour documentary about the life of Ronald Reagan. The documentary could be described as somewhat of a hatchet job. It does reluctantly admit that Reagan's defense buildup succeeded in its goal of hastening the fall of the Soviet Union, though it follows this admission with a left-wing talking head saying this enormous accomplishment was not worth its financial price, and then blaming the deficits of those years on Reagan, rather than on the spendthrift Democrat Congress of the time (where the blame really belongs). They also said that the most controversial speech of Reagan's presidency was the "Evil Empire" speech, implying that they disagree with this assessment of the Soviet Union. (How anyone, even an ardent communist, can deny that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire is beyond me.)

Factual inaccuracies

They also imply that Reagan's Alzheimer's disease began during his White House years, which could charitably be called nonsense; and one gets the sense that the video clips from the time of Reagan talking have been taken out of context, as Reagan's quotes usually were. The worst things they claim that Reagan said are either unsourced statements, or assumed to be true because of hearsay evidence from Reagan's two liberal children or a Reagan administration defector. (Not very reliable, in my opinion.)

Nancy Reagan

Left-wing bias

They did have interviews with Reagan's family, both liberal and conservative (including his wife Nancy), but one gets the sense that the conservative interview clips were likewise taken out of context. The filmmakers don't have (or perhaps don't show) the Reagan Derangement Syndrome that most liberals have, but their left-wing bias definitely shows through in this film. The film is excellent and well-done propaganda, though without much basis in truth.

Mikhail Gorbachev, dictator of Soviet Union, 1987

Interviews with Gorbachev and Thatcher

Most challenging to the stomach is the left's usual revisionism about Mikhail Gorbachev having a role in ending the Cold War, portraying him as the reforming savior of Russia and Eastern Europe, rather than as the self-serving communist dictator he really was. He is interviewed in this documentary, and portrayed much more respectfully than Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. (Lady Thatcher is also interviewed in this documentary, but like the interview clips of the other conservatives, one gets the sense her comments were taken out of context by the liberal filmmakers.)

Margaret Thatcher

This leaves much to be desired

The film felt more like a story about current events than a history, and in fairness, some of that is inevitable when talking about events so recent. I watched it to get the liberal version of the Reagan presidency, and conservatives looking for opposition study would be well-served by watching this - and in fairness, this film does have a lot of fascinating footage of Reagan. But I cannot recommend this documentary to those who only want what really happened. PBS does superb documentaries about older history, but their programs on recent history leave much to be desired.

Other sources of information

Fortunately, PBS is not the only source of information about Ronald Reagan. I am happy to report that his autobiography "An American Life" is quite good, quite accurate, and quite readable. There's a vastly disproportionate emphasis on his presidency, but that's not bad; and that tends to be the norm with presidential memoirs. That's the part of their lives most people are interested in anyway, and certainly the most significant for their legacy and the broader history of the country.

Reagan was a great president

Reagan left office when I was two, so I have no memory of his presidency; but I have now made up for that deficiency by reading this book. I don't always agree with him, but few things make him look better than comparing him to his immediate successor (Jimmy Carter), or comparing him to the current president. I think Reagan was one of the greatest presidents in American history, and I wish he was here now.

Footnote: Some excerpts from Reagan's letter announcing his Alzheimer's disease

"I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease. Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way."

"So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it."

"I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you."

- Ronald Reagan's "Letter to the Nation Announcing Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease," 5 November 1994 (five years after he had left the White House)

DVD at Amazon

Can be viewed online at PBS website

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Jimmy Carter movie

Cold War miniseries

Reagan's "Star Wars" program

George H. W. Bush movie

Part of a series about
The Presidents

George Washington 1789-1797
John Adams 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
James Madison 1809-1817
John Quincy Adams 1825-1829
Andrew Jackson 1829-1837
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865
Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877
Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909
Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921
Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1933-1945
Harry Truman 1945-1953
Dwight Eisenhower 1953-1961
John F. Kennedy 1961-1963
Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969
Richard Nixon 1969-1974
Jimmy Carter 1977-1981
Ronald Reagan 1981-1989
George H. W. Bush 1989-1993
Bill Clinton 1993-2001


  1. I hated the part where they cut from a picture of 80s "Robber Barons" to a malnourished looking girl. That was such manipulative rubbish.


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