President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE 2000 EDITION

RONALD WILSON REAGAN flew cheerfully into the California sunset on January 20, 1989, basking in the glow of national esteem as he returned home after eight years as president of the United States. In the last Gallup Poll of his presidency Reagan had a public approval rating of 63 percent, the highest for any president leaving office since Franklin D. Roosevelt died early in his fourth term. The New York Times-CBS Poll gave Reagan an approval rating of 68 percent.

In all his guises and careers, Reagan valued the response of the audience more than his critical notices. While few of his political decisions were poll- driven, he cared immensely about his standing with ordinary Americans and relatively little about the opinions of the experts. That was just as well for Reagan, for expert opinion in 1989 gave low marks to his presidency. Soon after Reagan left office, a national survey of academic historians and political scientists conducted by the Siena Research Institute ranked him twenty-second among the then-forty U.S. presidents. Even among the conservatives, Reagan's normally dependable political base, the verdict on his presidency was far from unanimous. At the time, influential conservatives worried that their hero had conceded too much to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; some were also alarmed about his economic legacy.

The conservatives have since come back to Reagan, either because they have learned to appreciate his legacy or simply because they miss him. They are not alone. As the Reagan presidency recedes into history, Americans of varied political persuasions have become nostalgic about The Gipper, as he was known to the White House press corps. In an August 1999 Gallup poll of adult Americans, a majority of those surveyed predicted that Reagan will rank higher in the history books than other modern presidents. (The poll spanned presidents from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton, excluding the unelected Gerald Ford.) Fifty-four percent of those polled said Reagan would be remembered as an "outstanding" or "above average" president. Only 12 percent said he would be ranked as "poor." And, although Alzheimer's disease prevents Reagan from knowing it, he has made headway even with the experts. Political historian James MacGregor Burns, famed for his books about Franklin Roosevelt, wrote in The Washington Post on October 24, 1999, that Reagan will rank with FDR among the "great" or "near-great" presidents of the twentieth century.

Ranking presidents is an imprecise exercise that is more controversial

-xi-

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President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Also by Lou Cannon ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the 1991 Edition ix
  • Preface to the 2000 Edition xi
  • 1 - Back to the Future 1
  • 2 - A Reagan Portrait 16
  • 3 - The Acting Politician 20
  • 4 - The Acting President 31
  • 5 - Offstage Influences 45
  • 6 - Heroic Dreams 66
  • 7 - Halcyon Days 78
  • 8 - Kidding on the Square 95
  • 9 - Hail to the Chief 115
  • 10 - Passive President 141
  • 11 - The Loner 172
  • 12 - Staying the Course 196
  • 13 - Focus of Evil 240
  • 14 - Freedom Fighters 289
  • 15 - Lost in Lebanon 339
  • 16 - An Actor Abroad 402
  • 17 - Morning Again in America 434
  • 18 - Turning Point 488
  • 19 - Darkness at Noon 521
  • 20 - Struggles at Twilight 580
  • 21 - The New Era 663
  • 22 - Visions and Legacies 711
  • Notes 765
  • Bibliography 820
  • Acknowledgments 835
  • Index 843
  • About the Author 885
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