Originally Posted by M2
Carter had an interesting, and I'd argue ultimately correct, take on the Soviets. His view was that the U.S.S.R. was doomed to failure, that sooner or later it would collapse under its own weight. As such, his main concern was getting ready for a world in which we were the only superpower. That's why he cut loose some of the butchers we'd bolstered in the name of opposing Communism and worked so hard to bring the Israelis and Egyptians together.
Reagan pulled a reverse in his second term when he negotiated with Gorbachev. I'm certain Mondale would have done the same. What would have been harder for Mondale was selling it to Congress and the nation. Carter wasn't able to get SALT II ratified due to hawk opposition (finally pulling it from consideration when the Russians went into Afghanistan). Reagan had hawk credentials so he was able to rally the natural domestic opposition to such deals behind him -- much the same way Menachem Begin did with the Camp David Accords in Israel. The crucial difference between Reagan and the Democrats who'd have been there in his stead may very well have been that Reagan's core followers wouldn't have followed someone doing the same things from the other side of the political aisle.
And I agree that Reagan was sincere about breaking the Communist bloc and scaling down the nuclear threat. IMO it's what separated him from many of the neocons and John Birchers who seemed to relish the conflict more than they wanted to find a solution. As divisive as Reagan was on the domestic front he followed through on good intentions on the foreign policy front.
I don't think he was a bad President, more a mixed bag guy. Clinton fits the same bill. I'd toss Ike and LBJ into that mix as well. Almost by definition, you had to do something right to get re-elected.
IMO, the top tier guys are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR with Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman on their heels. Grant, Coolidge and Nixon are the only guys to get re-elected whom I'd list as bad presidents (possibly McKinley too because he ran a fairly corrupt administration).
What'll really be interesting is how presidents from our era get judged in the future. We're living through a particularly divisive period of American history. My guess is it will tar both sides equally and future generations will look back on the leaders we chose with a certain amount of disappointment. None of these guys plays well when they're not in front of their home crowds.
That I rank Reagan more highly than you should be no surprise.
There is a new book, published by The Wall Street Journal, entitled "Presidential Leadership:Rating the Best and Worst in the White House." I haven't seen a copy yet, but Northwestern University's James Lindgren, who analyzed the data obtained from polling 78 history scholars, has stated they tried to poll a balanced group of scholars, with equal numbers who leaned left and right politically.
Anyway, three presidents were ranked as "great" in the book: Washington, Lincoln and FDR (no surprises there-I would rank them as great too). Eight presidents were ranked as "near great," but I don't have the list. Reagan was included as a "near great" president, ranking 8th overall.
Four presidents were ranked as "failures": Andrew Johnson, Pierce, Harding, and, dead last, Buchanan.
Among recent presidents, only Reagan was ranked as "near great." LBJ at 17th and JFK at 18th were ranked "above average." George H.W. Bush (21st) and Clinton (24th) were ranked as "average." Ford (28th), Carter (30th) and Nixon (33rd) were ranked as "below average."
William Henry Harrison and Garfield were not ranked, serving too short a period of time. George W. Bush was also not ranked.