Reagan author: The Gipper’s relevant

By: Patrick Gavin
December 3, 2012 02:58 PM EST

If there’s an assumption that American universities are predominantly liberal, Eurkea College provides an apt counterbalance. It’s Visiting Reagan Scholars program provides students with an in-depth look at our 40th president (Reagan graduated from Eureka in 1932) and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley was one of those scholars this fall.

He admits that students nowadays have just a cursory understanding of the Gipper.

“They know about Reagan to the extent that he was the president of the United States and a successful two-term president,” Shirley told POLITICO, adding gleefully that there were no protests in his classroom by, say, College Democrats.

Shirley’s two books on Reagan are “Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America” and “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.”

His class focused on Reagan’s political campaigns in 1968, 1976 and 1980 and was Shirley able to put his Rolodex to good use by having such notable politicos as Newt Gingrich and Joe Scarbough Skype in to the classroom. He discovered that the biggest misconception modern college students have about Reagan is that his life was a cake walk.

“They didn’t have an understanding — like most people — of the tribulations and struggles he went through to become president of the United States,” said Shirley. “He didn’t just show up in January of 1981 and open the front door of the White House.”

Reagan may seem like ancient history to some of those college students, but Shirley knows all too well that Reagan is as current as ever, given the Republican Party’s current post-Election Day soul searching.

“Reagan as a model is applicable today because it was about principles and principles never change,” said Shirley. “Yes, the party needs to change, it needs to create a new appeal but within the framework of its traditional principles of individual rights, individual freedoms, personal privacy, moving power away from the national government back to the states and the localities. I think that would probably resonate even more today than in 1980 in many ways.”