Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

By Robert K. Murray; Tim H. Blessing | Go to book overview
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Historians Rank the Presidency of Ronald Reagan: A Test Case of Historical Judgment

THE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION OF THE preceding chapters, presenting the results of the Murray-Blessing Presidential Performance Study, coincided with the final year of the Reagan presidency and the selection of a new president, George Bush, in 1988. In the interest of bringing that study as up-to-date as possible and further testing some of its findings, we launched a new poll soon after the end of the Reagan administration, concentrating solely on Ronald Reagan -- his personality, traits, characteristics, and accomplishments as president.

Certainly Reagan provided an excellent test of the Murray-Blessing hypothesis that "outstanding administrative achievements in domestic, foreign, and military affairs emerged as the sine que non of presidential greatness." Also, Reagan seemed to be a perfect test for the Murray-Blessing thesis that presidential greatness rests primarily on actual achievement and only secondarily on the character and personality of the person in the Oval Office. After all, only a few presidents have had the looks, the charm, and the affability of Ronald Reagan, and only a few have participated in so many momentous events or proposed such distinctive policies.1

As often noted, Reagan is one of the most difficult presidents to understand. He appears to have successfully guarded against revelations about his inner life. It may be impossible to dislike Reagan when one meets him, but it is also virtually impossible to understand him. As his biographer Edmund Morris indicated, no one knows what he actually thinks. Morris has gone so far as to call him the "most mysterious" man he has every met.2 Reagan's first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, compared the Reagan administration to a "ghost ship":


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