During Ronald Reagan's presidency, there seemed to be a strong consensus that Reaganism was a synonym for passive leadership, recklessness, and extremism in both domestic and foreign policy. Scholars predicted the worst for his presidency and his legacy. For example, Charles William Maynes argued that Reagan was "likely to pass on" a very negative "legacy to his successor" (p. 434). Critics were especially skeptical of supply-side economic policies, arguing that Reagan's tax cuts would lead to less, rather than more, revenue producing massive budget deficits (Blinder, 1987). Observers also condemned Reagan's environmental policies as "radical policy departures" and "a failure" (Kraft & Vig, 1984, p. 438). Similar comments could be cited on a host of domestic policies. The scholarly community was equally critical of Reagan's foreign policy. A representative assessment can be found in Russell J. Leng's comment that Reagan's peace-through-strength approach was merely "bullying," which "could promote new crises with the Soviets" (1983, p. 339). William Anderson and Sterling Kernek concluded that Reagan was a "conservative American romantic with an unrealistic vision of the world" (1985, pp. 390, 393). Many others expressed similar views (Johnson, 1988, p. 518; Maynes, 1985, p. 417).
In rhetorical studies, a similar consensus also was evident. David Zarefsky et al. (1984) noted that Reagan strategically used the term "safety net for the truly needy" as a technique to justify massive budget cuts. An analysis of State of the Union Addresses concluded that Reagan supported the agenda of the religious right and did not merely pay lip service to their cause (Moen, 1990). Michael Weiler (1992) strongly condemned Reagan's anti-welfare rhetoric as unfair to the poor. Scholars were particularly scathing in their analysis of Reagan's defense and foreign policies. Several attacked his anti-Soviet rhetoric as confrontational or characterized the proposal to create a Strategic Defense Initiative as dangerous (Goodnight, 1986; Rushing 1986; Schiappa, 1989). Few presidents have elicited as much scholarly criticism for alleged extremism as Ronald Reagan.
Somewhat paradoxically, Reagan was viewed as both extremist and also an essentially empty figure. Typical of the latter view is the comment of Ellen Gold that Reagan "frequently demonstrates an unfamiliarity with the facts and processes of government hitherto unseen in presidents" (1988, p. 159). In the memorable title of one book, he was The Acting President (Schieffer & Gates, 1989). The view of Reagan as out of the mainstream and a mere announcer was so dominant that even his own Vice President, George H. W. Bush, seemed to believe that he must confront it. In the lackluster 1988 campaign, Bush's primary slogan--"A kinder gentler nation"--appeared to be more a response to the previous eight years than a position from which to run against Michael Dukakis (Bush, 1988).
The scholarly consensus has evolved over the last fifteen years. To be sure, not everyone assesses Reagan's ideology or his presidency positively. For instance, the day after Reagan's death, columnist William Saletan (2004) attacked what he considered Reagan's "narrow definition of liberty" and his view that the private sector was always the guardian of individual liberty while the government was always an impediment or an outright threat to individual liberty. And Garry Wills criticized Reagan for essentially inventing a nostalgic past much like a trip "to Disneyland" out of which his capitalist conservatism evolved (1987, p. 459). Although some still sharply attack Reagan's policies or question the extent to which he was in control of their formulation and implementation (Fitzgerald, 2000; Scott, 1996), Reagan's reputation clearly has grown, especially in relation to foreign and defense policy. For example, John Sloan notes that "some presidential scholars have underestimated Reagan's leadership" and concludes that Reagan "had the political skills to meet the challenges of the presidency in a relatively successful manner" (1996, p. 795). Beth Fischer contends that U.S. Soviet policy became more conciliatory some fifteen months before Gorbachev came to power and that the Reagan administration played an active, rather than a passive role in ending the cold war (1997, p. 478). Andrew Busch describes the end of the cold war as "a triumph for the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan (1997, p. 451) and pointedly notes that many of the predictions of Reagan's opponents were "flatly wrong" (p. 461). Busch's assessment that Reagan played an important role in winning the Cold War represents the views of many scholars. In the immediate aftermath of his death, even the very flagship of the "liberal" media, the New York Times, wrote that, "Mr. Reagan's stubborn refusal to accept the permanence of Communism helped end the cold war" ("Ronald Reagan," 2004).
A number of scholars now see Reagan as a much more active president than was originally believed. Paul Kengor describes Reagan as having, "far more of a grasp on grand strategy than previously acknowledged" (1998, p. 375) and being "self-consciously hands-on when he felt it was necessary" (p. 382). Barbara Farnham (2001, p. 247) asserts that, "Reagan's openness and intuitive intelligence contributed to his ability to perceive changes in the Soviet threat." Charles Hantz commends Reagan for holding "strong ideological beliefs" while being "carefully restrained by realpolitik" (1996, p. 947), a conclusion echoed oddly enough by Mikhail Gorbachev himself, who writes that Reagan "while adhering to his convictions ... was looking for negotiations and cooperation" (2004, p. A29). Reagan's ranking among scholars also has improved. In the middle 1990s, one survey (Schlesinger, 1997) ranked Reagan 25th out of 39 presidents (p. 184). In a more recent survey, with a balance of liberal and conservative observers, Reagan was ranked eighth (Lindgren, 2000, p. 21).
Following Reagan's death and taking into account the changes in scholarly perception of Ronald Reagan, it is time for a re-assessment of the man, the ideas for which he stood, and especially of his presentation of those ideas. Given that Reagan's political career was built on his unmatched ability to communicate his message (he was called the "Great Communicator" after all), it is entirely appropriate that one aspect of that re-assessment should focus on Reagan's post-presidential speeches. In this essay we focus on the post-presidential addresses contained in A Shining City: The Legacy of Ronald Reagan, compiled by D. Erik Felten, as well as Reagan's remarks to the 1992 Republican National Convention. This collection begins with Reagan's Farewell Address to the Nation in January 1989 (1989), and concludes with the letter to the American people in which he revealed that he had Mzheimer's disease (1994). 
In the remainder of this essay, we build an argument that Reagan's post-presidential rhetoric contained a series of ideological warnings primarily aimed at anti-government and isolationist conservatives. Rather than assuming a typical jeremiadic posture and warning Republicans that they were straying from conservative dogma, Reagan combined those warnings with an optimistic celebration of American exceptionalism. In that way, they served a function similar to a traditional jeremiad, but from an optimistic perspective and without any sense that the nation was straying from a basic covenant. The power of the jeremiad as a rhetorical genre comes from its capacity to ground critique in a covenant possessing great symbolic power that has been broken. But the weakness of the genre is its negativity, which may lead to rejection of the message and the messenger. By creating a Covenant-affirming Jeremiad, Reagan tried to have it both ways.
Themes in Reagan's Post-presidential Rhetoric
Some of the post-presidential rhetoric is entirely predictable and frankly uninteresting. Reagan made any number of epideictic addresses in which he accepted an award, introduced an old friend, opened an exhibit, and so forth. He also made a few highly partisan remarks at a handful of Republican events. The most interesting of Reagan's post-presidential speeches, however, are those in which he talked about either substantive policy or the values that he saw as defining the core of the American dream. We argue that the substantive and value affirming rhetoric functioned as a Covenant-affirming Jeremiad in which he used ceremonial occasions to reaffirm a positive mythic vision of this nation and other speeches to warn conservatives about the need for ideological adaptation to a changing world. By coupling the ideological warning to his positive vision of a mythic America, Reagan crafted a message that was both unifying and also pointed to the danger of ideological calcification.
A Covenant-affirming Jeremiad