It's been fifty years since JFK’s assassination and nearly twenty since Ronald Reagan disappeared from public life. While they never ran head-to-head, they developed their legacies in competing ways and those legacies battle each other even today. The story of one illuminates the other, and explains our expectations for the presidency and whom we elect. Even though one is the model Democrat and the other the model Republican, their appeal is now bipartisan. Republicans quote Kennedy to justify tax cuts or aggressive national defense; Democrats use Reagan’s pragmatism to shame Republicans into supporting tax increases and compromise.
Partly a "comparative biography" that explores John F. Kennedy’s and Ronald Reagan’s contemporaneous lives from birth until 1960, Scott Farris's follow-up to his widely praised Almost President shows how the experiences, attitudes, and skills developed by each man later impacted his presidency. Farris also tackles the key issues--civil rights, foreign affairs, etc.--that impacted each man’s time in office. How did previous life experiences form their views on these issues, and how do their dealings around each issue compare and contrast? Bookended by an examination of their standing in public opinion and how that has influenced subsequent politicians, plus an exploration of how the assassination of Kennedy and attempted assassination of Reagan colored our memories, this book also shows how aides, friends and families of each man have burnished their reputations long after their presidencies ended.
“Two presidents, stylishly defining their times, great communicators who fashioned personal legends even while defying political labels—John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were historical agents of change who transformed themselves before renewing their country. How they did so forms the heart of this deeply moving portrait, from their nomadic early years, whose loneliness was offset by the romance of books, to adult power and acclaim sharply at odds with their emotional isolation. Farris has distilled a vast amount of the historical and biographical literature to create a stunningly original narrative.” —Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian, author, and former director of five presidential libraries
“Scott Farris’s tour de force is an immensely readable, scholarly, accessible, and popular history of two of America’s most admired Presidents. Farris carefully details their triumphs (Kennedy: Resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis; Reagan: Winning the Cold War) and their tragedies (Kennedy: the Bay of Pigs; Reagan: the Iran-Contra fiasco). He examines the soaring vision and rhetoric (Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; Reagan: “America—a shining city on a hill”) that captured the imagination of millions. And ultimately, he offers a clear and balanced perspective on each man’s nature, challenges and contributions.” —Egil “Bud” Krogh, Senior Fellow on Leadership and Integrity, The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress; and author of Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House
“Every four years it seems the Democratic Party looks for its next Kennedy and the Republicans their next Reagan. Although fixed in our mind at different stages of life, these two Irish-Americans, molded by the Great Depression and wars both hot and cold, were close in age and shared remarkable similarities as well as stark contrasts. You won’t want to put down this fascinating portrait of two presidents who helped shape the modern world, and their lives, loves, tragedies, and triumphs.” —Chris DeRose, author of Founding Rivals and Congressman Lincoln
"Veteran political journalist Farris (Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation, 2011, etc.) recounts the striking, sometimes-surprising similarities between John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) and Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) and their presidencies. In a smooth, well-written chronological narrative, the author explores and compares each stage of their lives, seeking to explain the continuing appeal of these disparate men, both of whom are frequently ranked in polls as being among the great presidents....Farris covers the major issues in both presidencies, and he speculates that neither man could win his party’s nomination for the presidency today. Having governed during years of Cold War clarity, they would fare poorly as presidents in a current climate marked by both political divisiveness and the murkiness of the war on terrorism.... A fresh, welcom view of two much-revered leaders." —Kirkus Reviews
“[An] engaging study of men who came up short in the presidential arena but still had a significant effect on the life of the nation….” —Wall Street Journal
“Scott Farris shines a welcome spotlight on the neglected subject of presidential also-rans. In this impressive new book, Farris shows that the losers and their ideas have sometimes transformed their political parties, and moved the nation ahead. Meticulously researched, Almost President is rich in detail and anecdotes, and a pleasure to read.”
—Joseph Wheelan, author of Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress and Libby Prison Breakout
“Scott Farris has penned a series of fascinating portraits of candidates who triggered sea changes in our political process. Informative to readers at all levels.”
—David Pietrusza, author of 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America
“To those demoralized by today’s fiercely partisan political arena, take heart! Scott Farris’s superb history of losing Presidential candidates reassures us all that even out of bitter campaigns and defeats, losers do come back and contribute profoundly to major realignments, decency, and equality in American politics.”
—The Honorable David Abshire, former Ambassador to NATO, and current President, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress
“Farris writes with a lively flair, skillfully illustrating his solid historical research with revelatory anecdotes and facts.” –Publishers Weekly
“A lively, opinionated examination of the instructive role of the loser in presidential races…. [R]iveting, sympathetic treatments…. A most useful aide-mémoire for situating the upcoming presidential slugfest.” —Kirkus Reviews
From the author of the critically acclaimed Almost President, the first dual biography and side-by-side political analysis of the most influential Presidents of the past half century, born only six years apart yet separated in the Oval Office by twenty years