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Presidential giants of our generation, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

February 20, 2012 |  2:24 pm

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton
There are those who argue that America just doesn't produce the quality of political leadership it once did.

I've never bought that argument.  But I am beginning to wonder.

How else to explain a Presidents Day Gallup poll that found that, among the last eight commanders in chief, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were the most celebrated:

Sixty-nine percent said Reagan would go down as "outstanding" or "above average," compared to just 10% who said "below average" or "poor." Clinton was rated favorably by 60% of those surveyed, a 10-point improvement from the last time Gallup asked the question in early 2009. Twelve percent rated him negatively, down from 20% three years ago.

Admittedly, the bar the last eight presidents set wasn't very high.  There's Richard Nixon -- enough said.  His successor, Gerald R. Ford, was in effect appointed. Jimmy Carter is seemingly everyone's favorite whipping boy.  And George H.W. Bush, the hero of Kuwait, fell victim to an unheroic economy, while his son, George, fell victim to Dick Cheney's hubris.

Reagan, of course, is a god among Republicans today, but Gallup found that even 47% of Democrats said he will be viewed positively in U.S. history.

And what did Reagan and Clinton do to earn such favorable ratings?  The poll doesn't answer that. 

But here's what respondents apparently overlooked:

For Reagan, there's the Iran-contra affair.  The one in which his administration secretly sold missiles to Iran (yes, that Iran), breaking a U.S. arms embargo.  It used that money to buy arms for U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua, breaking another U.S. law, this one forbidding the arming of those anti-government rebels.

But hey, you can't make an anti-communist omelet if you don't break a few laws, right?

And then there's Clinton, he of the impeachment.  Yes,  as in "one of only two presidents ever to be" -- the other being Andrew Johnson, who isn't on anyone’s list of top presidents.

However, Americans have apparently decided that they prefer the hanky-panky president who lied ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") but brought them a booming economy, to his successor, who only lied about the war in Iraq and brought them a fiscal train wreck.

Of course, it's risky predicting how history will view presidents.

But before it was Presidents Day, it was George Washington's birthday -- for a reason. And I think history's verdict is clear on Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now our generation has given the nation the Gipper and the Man from Hope.

The  best and the brightest, huh?


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Photo: Ronald Reagan with Bill Clinton in November 1992. Credit: Paul Richards / AFP

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