Skip to main content

Reagan: A Short-term Perspective

June 2024
1min read

Most overrated:

Ronald Reagan. I know that one can be accused of being present-minded and lacking perspective, but I still think President Reagan is the most overrated of our public figures past and present. I base this on his record in California, where as governor he constantly opposed what the legislature had concluded was necessary in the way of taxes, social services, and schools. In short, he did not understand the society in which he was living. Professional PR firms glossed this over, and so he went on to national office, appealing to fear, prejudice, and nostalgia.

Most underrated:

James Monroe. He was in public life a long, long time. He helped write the Northwest Ordinance, the foundation of our territorial system. He assisted in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He was the vigorous Secretary of War who helped save the United States from disaster in the War of 1812. No one seems to realize that he and the Era of Good Feelings did not just coincide; he helped bring about a new political consensus. Moreover, he appointed John Calhoun as Secretary of War—perhaps our most brilliant—and John Q. Adams as Secretary of State, and, with Adams, formulated the Monroe Doctrine. Always concerned with the West, Monroe underwrote Western exploration and defense. I suspect that Washington was his nonpartisan model.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate