It is surprising that Bill Clinton, the most tactically adroit American politician of recent times, permitted his memoir to be published just a week after Ronald Reagan's death and state funeral. Already working from a deep legacy disadvantage, the close public juxtaposing of their two careers has predictably worked to Mr. Clinton's further detriment.
According to a new Associated Press poll, seven in 10 Americans say history will judge Reagan superior to Clinton. Eighty-three percent of Americans have a favorable view of Reagan as a person. Clinton scores only 41 percent. And by a 2-1 margin, those surveyed said, "Reagan was more effective at communicating his ideas to the American people than Clinton."
Of course, a president's popularity while in office or shortly thereafter is not necessarily a good indication of where history will place him. Some, such as Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, left office highly esteemed, based largely on the prosperity that existed while they were president. (Prosperity is the leading short term indicator of presidential approval, but it carries very little historic weight.) While both men have slipped badly over the decades, Coolidge still has his admirers (Ronald Reagan hung his portrait prominently in the White House.) Harding, more glamorous in his time, has fallen further due to the revelation, after his death, of his administration's corruption and his personal licentiousness.
Other presidents left office almost in disgrace, only to see their reputation grow. Harry Truman is the preeminent example. When he left office, almost three quarters of the public disapproved of his performance in the presidency. Half a century on, Mr. Truman is judged a near great president. History has been kind to Truman because the international structures he created -- The Marshal Plan, NATO, the Soviet containment strategy -- came to be seen as major contributions to 50 years of American dominance that permitted the Cold War to remain cold, rather than turn hot and deadly.
Yet other presidents left office in low regard and stayed there in history. James Buchanan is an excellent example. As the president who presided over the slide into the Civil War, he was described in his New York Times obituary in 1868 as a president who: "met the crisis of secession in a timid and vacillating spirit. Temporizing with both parties, and studiously avoiding the adoption of a decided policy." Buchanan famously confessed near the end of his presidency: "The South has no right to secede, but I have no power to prevent them." His successor, Abraham Lincoln, proved otherwise.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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