First Clarence Thomas, Now Ronald Reagan

Sunday's theme: Let liberals loose on respected Republican figures under the guise of book reviews.

On Sunday, the Times gave an unsympathetic biography of Clarence Thomas to hostile Harvard professor Orlando Pattersonto review. Patterson obliged with a nasty hit piece that was more of a personal attack against Thomas than a critique of the actual biography, which was unflattering enough.

In another piece in Sunday's Book section, populist Republican turned ferocious party critic Kevin Phillips was conveniently given the assignment of "The Reagan Diaries," the book compiled by professor Douglas Brinkley from the voluminous diaries Reagan kept during his two terms as the nation's 40th president.

Phillips wrote: "I voted for Ronald Reagan twice, and the diaries do not make me regret that I did, but his approach to his office had both strengths and weaknesses. One strength manifest in these diaries is that Reagan, especially in his first term, was a more active and alert chief executive than his detractors care to admit."

That's a tad disingenuous, given that Phillips has become a vocal critic of Republicans and what he sees as the yawning gap between rich and poor fostered by Reaganomics and Republican economic policies.

The review is fairly kind to Reagan himself, if only to show Reagan as some kind of moderate in comparison to "zealots" like then-Congressmen Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich.

Phillips concluded with hints of his present-day liberal outlook: "Partly because of his people sense and his media skills, Reagan may well be remembered as the most successful president of the 1968-2008 period. But readers of 'The Reagan Diaries' may find themselves becoming eerily aware of something missing. Nowhere does this popular president speak of the challenges of the approaching millennium, of history and its turning points, of the squeeze on the same middle class that provided him with enormous support or the transformation of the American economy as manufacturing gave way to speculation and finance. These, apparently, were not his concerns."