As chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under Ronald Reagan, Daniel Oliver knew the media’s characterization of the 40th president as an amiable dunce not only was a lie but the exact opposite of the truth.
In an interview with WND, Oliver recalled being in a White House meeting in which Reagan demonstrated his intellect and attention to detail.
But the false characterization of Reagan persists in popular culture, and now Oliver’s efforts are focused on preventing yet another generation from being educated in what he sees as revisionist history.
Oliver is president of the Education and Research Institute, ERI, which has launched “The American History Book Project,” a critique of the national best-selling, high-school history textbook, “The American Pageant.”
ERI’s project, which focuses on the latter part of the book, covering the 20th Century, has discovered hundreds of examples of “blatant liberal bias.”
The textbook denigrates almost every Republican president, the Washington, D.C.-based group has found, calling Eisenhower a closet racist and Reagan “no intellectual.”
“To say Reagan was not an intellectual is extraordinary,” Oliver told WND.
He hopes that teachers, parents and students who make use of ERI’s page-by-page online critique of the book by a Hillsdale College professor will spread the word.
Oliver noted that teachers who may be required to use the book in their classes can refer students to the website, where they can see an alternative viewpoint.
The critique also is useful for those who are using other history books, he said, because many have similar content and the ERI site is searchable.
The ‘imaginative’ Soviet leader
ERI’s critique of “The American Pageant” is by Burt Folsom, a professor of history and management at Hillsdale.
Folsom found that while some examples of bias are glaring, others are more subtle.
He points out, for example, that on p. 985, the history book states: “Reagan, the consummate cold warrior, had been flexible and savvy enough to seize historic opportunity to join with the Soviet chief [Gorbachev] to bring the Cold War to a kind of conclusion. For this, history would give both leaders high marks.”
Folsom acknowledges that the book at least gives Reagan some credit for ending the Cold War.
“But notice,” he writes, “the implications of this cleverly worded passage. Reagan was ‘flexible,’ and thus did ‘seize’ the ‘historic opportunity’ presented by Gorbachev to end the Cold War.”
Folsom writes: “Reagan, the textbook implies, was the lucky man in office when the ‘energetic’ and ‘imaginative’ Gorbachev changed decades of relentless Soviet aggression and sought peace.”
The professor says the truth is that Gorbachev “was responding reluctantly to a bankrupt economy at home and to Reagan’s tactic of building a defense shield, which would make irrelevant the huge build-up of Soviet arms.”
Oliver recalled participating in a Cabinet meeting in which Reagan’s understanding and leadership of a complex agenda was demonstrated.
As was often the case, a staff member had inserted an agenda item at the last minute.
“Reagan was jolly, passing out jelly beans,” Oliver remembered. “He opened the briefing book and looked down at the table of contents, frowned, pointed to the paragraph and said, ‘That doesn’t belong here.’
“Now, take that out,” the president said, returning to his jelly beans, according to Oliver.
Oliver observed: “In about 17 seconds, he had done the job of a chief executive: to say this meeting is about A, B, and C; it’s not about X, Y and Q.
“He ran the meeting, because he controlled the agenda. He was no dunce.”
And when Oliver visited the Reagan ranch in Southern California, he saw on the president’s bookshelves many of the same books on political philosophy he had read, with many of them heavily underlined.
“The American Pageant” book characterizes the modern conservative movement as reactionary, which Oliver knows from first-hand experience to be laughable.
His participation in the conservative movement goes back to his work on the 1965 New York City mayoral campaign of National Review founder William F. Buckley, regarded as one of the most important public intellectuals of the past half century
Oliver pointed to the many radio broadcasts that Reagan wrote in his own hand that “showed he had tremendous knowledge of political philosophy.”
“Every speechwriter I talked to said he always edited the end product and made it better,” said Oliver. “He was a master craftsman.”
‘A People’s History’
ERI was founded in 1974 to create greater awareness and understanding of America’s history and traditional values. Oliver succeeded the founding chairman, M. Stanton Evans, following Evans’ death in 2015.
Evans, regarded as a father of the modern conservative movement, authored the history book “The Theme Is Freedom,” which Oliver says should be read by every high school student.
Oliver noted the most popular history book at one time was “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.
A longtime member of communist groups in the United States, Zinn died in 2010 after influencing generations of American high school students.
While others have supplanted Zinn’s book, his left-wing interpretation of American history – decades of exploitation and discrimination by privileged upper classes – persists, noted Oliver.