Paul  Kengor

Presidential scholars write on all sorts of aspects of the American presidency. Among the most interesting have been several important works on so-called presidential character and temperament. And when it comes to the temperament of our current president, we've learned quite a bit during the recent debate over the debt ceiling.

The most illuminating report I've read was a Politico piece titled, "Obama abruptly walks out of talks." The article described President Obama's bitter negotiations with nemesis Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority leader. Obama "abruptly walked out of a stormy debt-limit meeting," Politico reported, "a dramatic setback to the already shaky negotiations." Eric Cantor said of the president’s behavior: "He shoved back and said 'I'll see you tomorrow' and walked out."

The Politico continued: "the White House talks blew up amid a new round of sniping between Obama and Cantor, who are fast becoming bitter enemies." When Cantor told the president that they were too far apart to get a deal by the fateful August 2 deadline, Obama, according to Politico, "began to lecture him." Obama indignantly told Cantor that no other president—including Ronald Reagan—would condescend to sit through such negotiations.

Alas, it was Obama's Reagan reference that nags at me.

In truth, Ronald Reagan was a remarkable negotiator, both incredibly patient and principled. Negotiating was one of Reagan's greatest but most unappreciated attributes, to the point where I've many times considered doing a book strictly on Reagan as a negotiator.

When we think of Reagan as a negotiator, we remember his crucial walk-out of the Reykjavik Summit in October 1986. Some Obama supporters want to invoke that example here, which is short-sighted at best. Reykjavik was just one of five separate, extended Reagan one-on-ones with Mikhail Gorbachev: Geneva (November 1985), Reykjavik (October 1986), Washington (December 1987), Moscow (May-June 1988), and New York (December 1988).

I could detail any number of examples of Reagan negotiating, from Hollywood in the 1940s to the White House in the 1980s. However, I'd like to cite an example that I believe is most instructive and applicable to Obama right now in dealing with Congressional Republicans. To his credit, Reagan biographer Edmund Morris wrote about it. Beyond Morris, one needs to venture to the Reagan Library to dig through boxes and folders from Reagan's gubernatorial years.