AS SEEN IN USA TODAY NEWS SECTION, MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2004, PAGE 1A
questionable assertions of fact. By the time he left the Oval Office in January 1989, he seemed to be the nation's grandfather.
Historians have been revising — and raising — their view of him since then. A 1994 poll among 481 historians ranked Reagan in the "below average" group; a 1997 survey by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put him at the bottom end of "average." But a survey of 58 presidential historians in 2000 sponsored by C-SPAN rated Reagan 11th of the first 42 presidents, the highest of any president in the past three decades.
Illustration by Web Bryant, USA TODAY
In a separate poll in 2000 of 78 historians, political scientists and legal scholars, Reagan came out as both the most underrated and the second most overrated of American presidents. The survey was sponsored by The Federalist Society and The Wall Street Journal.
later, he carried 49 states and won one of the biggest electoral-vote landslides in the nation's history. One of just 12 people to complete two terms in the White House, he left the United States and the world a different place. On his watch, the Cold War began to end, U.S. prestige was restored at home and abroad, major initiatives to cut taxes and reduce regulations were launched and the federal government's spending priorities were reordered.
"He's someone who clearly makes a difference, whose presidency clearly makes a difference," presidential scholar Fred Greenstein says. "That despite the fact that by the normal standards of political professionals, he often seemed to be not well-informed."
In his book The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from Roosevelt to Clinton, Greenstein calls Reagan "an overshadowing political presence in his times."
The nation's 40th president was routinely underestimated from his first contest for governor of California in 1966. His rivals' misjudgments turned out to be one of his great advantages, his closest advisers would conclude.
In his time, Reagan built a remarkable connection with the American people, even some of those who disagreed with him on issues. He was confident and upbeat, sure of what he believed, even when he sometimes made
But voters always thought well of him. A Gallup Poll in August 1999 found that a solid majority of Americans, 54%, believed that Reagan would be remembered as an outstanding or above-average president. His standing was higher than that of any president since Kennedy.
"There's just something about the guy that people like," the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Democrat from Massachusetts, once mused, although the two men often clashed. "They want him to be a success."
There is no question that he left his mark. During Reagan's presidency, the Republican Party became more conservative and the Democratic Party began to re- examine its traditional liberalism. Income-tax rates were cut, budget deficits ballooned and the federal government's domestic ambitions were limited as a result. Defense spending grew 35%. That step and Reagan's willingness to deal with a reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
One of his chief accomplishments was more intangible than substantive, historians say. Ever an optimist, Reagan restored a sense of buoyancy to the nation's capital and its government after a series of failed presidents and national disappointments.
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