There are many ways to judge a President or anyone else. One old-fashioned way is by results. A more popular way in recent years has been by how well someone fits the preconceptions of the intelligentsia or the media.
By the first test, Ronald Reagan was the most successful President of the United States in the 20th century. By the second test, he was a complete failure.
Time and time again President Reagan went against what the smug smarties inside the beltway and on the TV tube said. And time and again he got results.
It started even before Ronald Reagan was elected. When the Republicans nominated Governor Reagan in 1980, according to the late Washington Post editor Meg Greenfield, “people I knew in the Carter White House were ecstatic.” They considered Reagan “not nearly smart enough” — as liberals measured smart.
The fact that Ronald Reagan beat President Jimmy Carter by a landslide did not cause any re-evaluation of his intelligence. It was luck or malaise or something else, liberals thought.
Now the media line was that this cowboy from California would be taught a lesson when he got to Washington and had to play in the big leagues against the savvy guys on Capitol Hill.
The new President succeeded in putting through Congress big changes that were called “the Reagan revolution.” And he did it without ever having his party in control of both houses of Congress. But these results caused no re-evaluation of Ronald Reagan.
One of his first acts as President was to end price controls on petroleum. The New York Times condescendingly dismissed Reagan’s reliance on the free market and repeated widespread predictions of “declining domestic oil production” and skyrocketing gasoline prices.
Within four months the price of gasoline fell by more than 60 cents a gallon. More luck, apparently.
Where the new President would really get his comeuppance, the smart money said, was in foreign affairs, where a former governor had no experience. Not only were President Reagan’s ideas about foreign policy considered naive and dangerously reckless, he would be going up against the wily Soviet rulers who were old hands at this stuff.
When Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” there were howls of disapproval in the media. When he proposed meeting a Soviet nuclear buildup in Eastern Europe with an American nuclear buildup in Western Europe, there were alarms that he was going to get us into a war.
The result? President Reagan’s policies not only did not get us into a war, they put an end to the Cold War that had been going on for decades.
Meanwhile, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the media’s idea of a brilliant and sophisticated man, had a whole Communist empire collapse under him when his policies were put into effect. Eastern Europe broke free and Gorbachev woke up one morning to find that the Soviet Union that he was head of no longer existed — and that he was now a nobody in the new Russian state.
But that was just bad luck, apparently.
For decades it had been considered the height of political wisdom to accept as given that the Soviet bloc was here to stay — and its expansion was so inevitable that it would be foolhardy to try to stop it.
The Soviet bloc had in fact expanded through seven consecutive administrations of both Republicans and Democrats. The first territory the Communists ever lost was Grenada, when Ronald Reagan sent in American troops.
But, once again, results carried no weight with the intelligentsia and the media.
Reagan was considered to be completely out of touch when he said that Communism was “another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.” But how many “smart” people saw the end of the Soviet Union coming?
Ronald Reagan left this country — and the world — a far better place than he found it. And he smiled while he did it. That’s greatness — if you judge by results.