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Republicans Are Devoted to Protecting the Reagan Myth, No Matter What

The supposed awesomeness of Mr. Reagan’s economic record just doesn’t pop out of the data, but don’t expect the Reaganolators to acknowledge that.

O.K., this is grotesque. Rick Perlstein has a new book out, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, that continues his awesomely informative history of the rise of movement conservatism – and he’s facing completely spurious charges of plagiarism.

How do we know that they’re spurious? The people making the charges – almost all of whom have, surprise, movement conservative connections – aren’t pointing to any actual passages that were lifted from some other book. Instead, they’re claiming that Mr. Perlstein paraphrased what other people said.

Um, what? Unless there’s a very close match, telling more or less the same story that someone else has told before is perfectly ordinary – in fact, it would be distressing if history books didn’t correspond on some events.

I’m familiar with this process. There was a time when the various usual suspects went around claiming that I was doing illegitimate things with jobs data. What I was doing was in fact perfectly normal – but that didn’t stop Daniel Okrent, the outgoing public editor at The New York Times, from firing a parting shot (with no chance for me to reply) in 2005, accusing me of fiddling with the numbers. I also heard internally that there were claims of plagiarism directed at me, too, but clearly my accusers couldn’t cook up enough evidence to even pretend to make them stick.

The thing to understand is that fake accusations of professional malpractice are a familiar tactic for these people. And this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with “opinions differ on the shape of the planet” reporting.

On Reaganolatry

The truly vile attack on Mr. Perlstein’s new book has been revealing in a number of ways.

It’s not just the instinctive effort to suppress and punish anyone who raises questions; it’s also the way supposedly reasonable, civilized conservatives have contorted themselves to support the party line (which they always do when it matters, regardless of how much open-mindedness they seem to display when it doesn’t).

And why this determination to quash Mr. Perlstein? It’s all about Reaganolatry, the right’s need to see the man as perfect.

The economic myth is truly remarkable. Everyone on the right knows that President Reagan presided over job creation on a scale never seen before or since him – but it just isn’t so. In fact, if you look at the monthly rates of job creation over the past six administrations, the differences are actually startling.

You may have known that President Clinton was a better “job creator” than Mr. Reagan, but did you know that over the course of the Carter administration – January 1977 to January 1981 – the economy actually added jobs faster than it did under Mr. Reagan? Maybe you want to claim that the 1981-1982 recession was Jimmy Carter’s fault (although actually it was the Federal Reserve’s doing), so that you start counting from almost two years into Mr. Reagan’s term. But in that case why not give President Obama the same courtesy?

The general point is that the supposed awesomeness of Mr. Reagan’s economic record just doesn’t pop out of the data.

But don’t expect the Reaganolators to acknowledge that. Their whole sense of identity is bound up with their faith.

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