In past columns, I've mentioned some teachers and professors that I've known who bluntly said that Ronald Reagan was the nation's worst president. It has become rather common in academia to describe the Reagan years as being filled with greed, and later, with deception in the Iran-Contra matter. Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" economic policies are dismissed in many classrooms as the very "voodoo economics" they were so termed by his onetime opponent and later vice president, George H.W. Bush.
And Reagan's visible decline as a result of Alzheimer's in his later years is often implied to be a fit description of his entire presidency. This assessment has given millions of young students an image of a half-wit, onetime movie star who somehow managed to fool voters into believing that he was instead a man of intelligence and action.
But a recent Quinnipiac poll of registered voters nationwide, asking them to rate "the best" and "the worst" presidents since World War II, reveals something interesting: Many of those young people who were taught history in the past few decades, and who have since become voters, don't agree with the opinion of many of their former teachers, nor with the often cleverly slanted accounts of the Reagan years they read in their history books.
When asked which president since World War II they considered "the worst," voters in the age group of 18-29 and 30-44, the two youngest categories in the survey, said George W. Bush. President Barack Obama came in second for this dubious distinction. When all age groups were included in the results, Obama was rated the overall worst. The poll has a margin of error of less than 3 percent.
The stunningly high percentage of younger voters who have abandoned Obama, both in rankings like the one cited here, and in recent job performance surveys, is a topic for another time. Keep in mind, too, that many younger respondents to surveys like this one tend to more thoroughly judge the presidents who served more recently and who thus were more a part of the respondents' daily lives. So the harsh judgments of both Obama and Bush should be taken with that in mind.
But what about the often vilified Ronald Reagan? It appears that all of those classroom lectures and unflattering portrayals of Reagan in school textbooks had a negligible impact on those they were meant to persuade. Among the two youngest segments of respondents to the poll, Reagan as the "worst" president rated an almost statistically irrelevant 4 percent. And much to the chagrin of many in academia and the media, Reagan topped the overall survey as the nation's "best" president in the modern era.