21 February 2011

Rehabilitating Reagan

Ronald Reagan, greatest President ever?

He is if you believe the most recent Gallup poll, but this surprising result is actually not difficult to understand.

Recall that this is a poll of average Americans, *not* of Presidential historians or political observers. Those groups routinely put Lincoln, Washington, and FDR in the top slots, and indeed those are the only three Presidents that have appeared in the top quartile of Presidents in every major Presidential survey:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

So, those are the 'right' answers. How come America gets it so wrong?

First, average Americans have very little awareness or understanding of history, even their own nation's history. Although the poll asked for the greatest President *ever*, the vast majority of respondents picked a President that served during their lifetime. Thus, Clinton or Reagan are 'top-of-mind' and did better than the Great Emancipator or Honest Abe.

Second, Americans are extremely partisan. Most democrats picked a democratic president, and most Republicans picked a Republican President.

When we combine these things, we see why Reagan performs so well: he is the only Republican President to have served in living memory who average Republicans are not ashamed of.

GWB? Probably one of the worst modern Presidents. GHB? Couldn't even win re-election. Nixon? Oh geez! Before Nixon? I wasn't born!

And that's how, forgetful, supply-side, Iran-Contra Ronnie can be chosen by a plurality of Americans as the best ever. Democrats simply have more great Presidents to choose from, while Ronnie is the only choice for forgetful, partisan Republicans.

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