- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2004

The week of solemn pageantry surrounding President Reagan’s funeral will reinforce his place in history, and has shown that even critics of his policies credit him with transforming both the United States and the world around it.

It also served to introduce him to a new generation.

“I’ve long maintained that the two great U.S. presidents of the 20th century were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan,” and more Americans will share this view as a result of this week’s exposure, said Gabor Boritt, a Lincoln scholar and history professor at Gettysburg College.

In recent years, Mr. Reagan’s legacy has been undergoing a substantial revision by scholars and academics, many of whom were critics of his foreign and domestic policies. Many have published papers crediting Mr. Reagan as essential to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“This week has helped to put his accomplishments in historical perspective,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “Many young people never get to the modern era in their history classes, so this past week has educated them about why President Reagan has been viewed so positively.”

While a fancy funeral is “not a guarantee” a president will have an eminent legacy, this week’s pomp “will remind historians of the real emotional bond” that linked the 40th president with American citizens, said Donald Ritchie, associate Senate historian.

Even Democratic leaders were moved by the week’s festivities and spoke more positively about the man whom they battled throughout the 1980s and ridiculed as a right-wing ideologue.

“It was good for the country to go through something like this,” said former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

“It was an important time out for us to recognize that, for all the problems we face in the country, we have some incredible strengths as a people and to a large extent Reagan represented that kind of larger picture about what this country is all about.”

Independent pollster John Zogby, who conducts a “greatness scale” survey of former presidents, expects the coverage of Mr. Reagan’s farewell, especially on TV, to have a significant impact on his historical legacy.

“This is the first time that voters have seen or read as much about Ronald Reagan in over 10 years. He is a conservative icon but also he had crossover appeal because of his abilities to communicate and on social values,” Mr. Zogby said.

“The only president who had a similar ideological following was Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan was lionized this week for all of those things, so of course it can affect his future legacy, especially by creating a new generation of Reagan admirers.”

Mr. Zogby’s last “greatness scale” places Mr. Reagan in third place, after Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Jeff Greenfield, a senior political analyst for CNN, said the heavy news coverage Mr. Reagan received this week merely reflected “his significance” in U.S. history.

“Communism fell on his watch, and we know from his letters this guy was a lot more than a well-spoken actor. He was a more serious guy politically than he was given credit for.

“He was also good-natured,” Mr. Greenfield said, “and he did political battle in high spirits with a twinkle in his eye.”

The outpouring of support elicited for Mr. Reagan from thousands of Americans who came to pay their respects at the Capitol, follows a little-noticed but ongoing revision among historians and other scholars of Mr. Reagan’s place in history.

Cornell University historian Walter F. LaFeber, long an academic critic of Mr. Reagan’s, this week said Mr. Reagan’s historical importance was his “contribution to ending the Cold War.”

“It would have been very difficult” for a Democrat to have done that, Mr. LaFeber told the Los Angeles Times.

Paul Kengor, a political scientist at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, has said the treatment of Mr. Reagan by academics is better than many people, especially conservatives, believe.

“These works, including even some flattering assessments of Reagan, have come from respected historians, presidential scholars, and political scientists — people who were not Reagan supporters and are certainly not right wingers,” Mr. Kengor wrote in 2000 review of academic papers for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Among Mr. Kengor’s findings:

• In a 1997 paper titled “Ronald Reagan and the Defeat of the Soviet Empire,” Andrew E. Busch of the University of Denver wrote: “Far from being accidental or, conversely, inevitable, this foreign policy triumph, the end of the Cold War, arguably resulted from a coherent strategic vision forged and implemented by American policy-makers against much opposition and great odds; a triumph of the West, and a triumph for the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.

“The claims and predictions of Reagan’s critics throughout the 1980s … were flatly wrong,” Mr. Busch wrote.

• Harvard University’s Richard Neustadt has written that Mr. Reagan restored the presidency to “a place of popularity, influence and initiative, a source of programmatic and symbolic leadership, both pacesetter and tonesetter, the nation’s voice to both the world and us, and — like or hate the policies — a presence many of us loved to see as chief of state.”

• Samuel Kernell, a professor of political science at the University of California, says he now believes Mr. Reagan “cast a long shadow, not unlike that of Franklin Roosevelt’s, against which the performance of present and future presidents will be judged.”

Steven Hayward, author of the book, “Age of Reagan,” said Mr. Reagan’s reputation has been on the rise and he praised the description of him as the “great liberator” at yesterday’s funeral by former President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Being the “great liberator was President Reagan’s real and lasting legacy,” Mr. Hayward said.

Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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