Since I don’t watch those Sunday talk shows, I’m always reading the reactions, and reactions to reactions, on Monday (which is quite soon enough to suit me). Today I’m reading what Chris Cillizza has to say about what John McCain said on Sunday:
The Arizona Republican, responding to a question from CNN’s Candy Crowley about Palin being “divisive,” noted that Ronald Reagan was often seen as divisive as well.
It wasn’t a direct comparison to Reagan (McCain never said Palin is similar to Reagan), but it was a comparison nonetheless. And the reaction was swift, as it often is when it comes to Palin.
So the big question follows: Is it a valid comparison? The answer: In many ways, yes.
The fact is that Reagan has benefited tremendously from the years since his presidency, and people look back on him in a much favorable light than they did during his presidency.
According to Gallup polling data, Reagan’s average approval rating during his presidency was 53 percent — lower than John F. Kennedy,Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush andBill Clinton.
As for the operative word here — “divisiveness” — Reagan had a claim to it. Many more Republicans approved of him than Democrats, and even at his peak, just 68 percent of Americans approved of him, a number lower than everyone but Richard Nixon over the last 65 years.
The reason Reagan couldn’t get higher than that was because there was a segment of the population, about one-third, that was dead-set against him. Reagan is often listed in polls of people’s favorite presidents, but because of that one-third, he’s also among the leaders for people’s least favorite presidents. His detractors often feel just as strongly as his supporters about Reagan’s legacy.
Recent polling shows Palin is on par with all of that…
Hey, it works for me. I, for the record, was among that one-third. And probably one of the more adamant members of that segment. My attitude has softened somewhat over the years, but that may be due to the 1984-style revisionism to which I’ve been subjected in media for more than two decades. You know, Ronald Reagan was a great president; he was always a great president — and we have always been at war with Eastasia. (Or would a better analogy be the sleep-teaching in Brave New World? Discuss.)
To the extent that I can clearly recall the past, I remember seeing Reagan — when he emerged on the national scene in 1976, then again in 1980 — as a destructive, negative, insurgent, dumbing-down force in the GOP. So yeah, a comparison to Sarah Palin is valid on those grounds.
Of course, after all these years of hearing what a great job he did, it seems a disservice to him to compare him to Mrs. Palin. One thing’s for sure, though — as a thoroughly professional actor, Reagan played the role of president with far greater dignity than I can imagine the ex-governor of Alaska managing to project.