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Campus Beat Logo The cover of Jules Tygiel’s book on Reagan, featuring the late 40th president smiling in front of an American flag

A Surprising One for the Gipper

During the two years that Jules Tygiel worked on his latest book, "Ronald Reagan and the Triumph of American Conservatism" (Pearson/Longman, 2004), the SFSU history professor recalls puzzled looks from friends and colleagues that seemed to ask, "What is a nice liberal like you doing with a book like that?"

Tygiel says he was drawn to Reagan because he "ranks along with Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the two most influential figures in 20th-century American politics." The late 40th president, he says, "reshaped our political universe."

"When he first entered the political arena as a candidate for governor of California in 1966, liberalism reigned triumphant in both state and nation. Two years earlier, Lyndon Johnson had trounced conservative Barry Goldwater in the presidential contest, leading many political pundits to speculate whether the Republican Party had a future," Tygiel points out.

In 1980, not only had Reagan won the presidency, Tygiel adds, but "conservatism had replaced liberalism as the predominant national creed."

The historian says he set out to craft "a balanced critical assessment of Reagan's contributions and shortcomings." However, he adds, "Both liberals and conservatives will doubtless pass judgment on that verdict."

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