Reagan and Congress
This chapter examines President Reagan's method of, and success in, dealing with Congress. There is perhaps no better indicator of a president's political style than his working relationship with those on Capitol Hill. Ronald Reagan's style contrasts sharply with that of the last president to serve two full terms, Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his account of Eisenhower's leadership, Fred I. Greenstein describes a "hidden-hand" method born of the president's image of himself. "Eisenhower . . . concealed his involvement in conventional politicking that would not have been controversial if he had been prepared to be viewed as a political professional." 1
There was nothing hidden about Reagan's hand in politics, his penchant for relaxation to the contrary notwithstanding. Ronald Reagan's principal legacy in regard to working with Congress was a visibly political, often partisan, one. In fact, if we are to believe currently available accounts for each president, they were opposites. Eisenhower was politically active behind the scenes, but eschewed public display of this involvement. Reagan promoted public perceptions of his political sagacity, but allowed others to orchestrate activity behind the scenes. Maybe it does help in understanding their respective approaches to politics that one was a general, the other an actor.
In developing this chapter on Reagan's legislative record, I turn first to the remarkable 1980 election and the advantages it bestowed on Ronald Reagan for dealing with Congress. Then I discuss how the president organized his congressional relations so as to realize the benefits of his election. The next two sections direct attention first to the astounding success President Reagan had in 1981 and then to how it was that subsequent Congresses coped with what I call the "1981 legacy." A brief analysis of voting scores is followed by final remarks emphasizing a Reagan style that will surely be his legacy in working with Congress.
This actor liked playing the president. He understood the role