But Democrats newfound appreciation for Mr. Reagan “doesn’t comport with the reality we had during the times that he was here” in Washington, he said. Some of today’s rhetoric is nostalgia for a time that never was.
“It was much more of a set of pitched battles, and for a lot of [Mr. Reagan’s presidency] Democrats were thinking he was just this radical,” Mr. Ornstein said.
“He did cut a lot of deals with Democrats, [and] he had, I think, an incredibly well-honed negotiating style,” he added. “But this was not a period of sweetness and light where everybody was thrilled with each other and worked together in harmony.”
A parallel example of this type of presidential “revisionist history,” Mr. Ornstein said, is the recent fondness some conservatives have expressed for President Clinton, portraying him as a centrist always eager to work with Republicans — at least after the GOP congressional takeover of 1994.
“That’s a complete denial of the reality,” Mr. Ornstein said. “A lot of [Republicans] investigated [Mr. Clinton] every minute, they voted against his major legislation the years they were in power. … They impeached him.”
“There’s a reality check that’s needed at both fronts.”
Few if any Americans will forget that Mr. Reagan was a Republican, Mr. Gibbons said. But over time, the public tends to remember presidents more for the accomplishments of their administration than for which party they belonged to.
“That’s not to say that everybody agreed with every principle the guy had. … But you can certainly say he was extraordinarily gifted at communicating with the American people, and was appreciated for that,” he said.
“He didn’t seem to be the president of half the Americans who voted for him. I always got the impression he strove to be a president for everybody.”
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at email@example.com.
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