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Richard Reeves, Columnist and Author on Presidents, Dies at 83

  • March 26, 2020

At a Washington bookstore appearance that year, the author said that Reagan deserved credit for helping to win the Cold War, but he added that “he made us pay a very, very high price for his triumphs” by neglecting some domestic issues and by creating “a new populism” in which government was the enemy.

Mr. Reeves considered Nixon temperamentally unsuited for politics at any level, as he wrote in his 2001 book, “President Nixon: Alone in the White House.”

“The power and opportunity of the presidency sometimes brought out the best in him, but it brought out more of the worst because he trusted almost no one,” Mr. Reeves wrote. “He assumed the worst in people, and he brought out the worst in them.”

Yet, as Mr. Reeves acknowledged in an interview for this obituary in 2017, he voted for Nixon when he ran against Kennedy in 1960, before his own politics had moved “left more than a tad.” He was a Democratic-leaning independent for a time, he said, and became a Democrat when his wife, Catherine O’Neill, ran unsuccessfully for the California State Senate in the 1970s. (Ms. O’Neill, a co-founder of the Women’s Refugee Commission, an advocacy group for displaced women and families, died in 2012.)

Mr. Reeves found much to criticize in Kennedy, not least Kennedy’s decision to dip the American toe into the Vietnam quagmire, and much to admire, like his summoning of young Americans to public service. And Mr. Reeves understood the charisma that transformed Kennedy from man to martyr to myth.

“It was almost as if those around him were figures in tableaux, who came alive only when John Kennedy was in place at the center,” he wrote in “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” a book, published in 1993, that many consider his best. “He was an artist who painted with other people’s lives. He squeezed people like tubes of paint, gently or brutally, and the people around him — family, writers, drivers, ladies-in-waiting — were the indentured inhabitants serving his needs and desires.”

Richard Furman Reeves was born in New York City on Nov. 28, 1936, and grew up in Jersey City. His father, Furman W. Reeves, a Republican, was a judge in Hudson County, N.J.; his mother, Dorothy (Forshay) Reeves, had been an actress in early movies.

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