WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Ronald Reagan who addressed the nation from the Oval Office on November 13, 1986 was not the Ronald Reagan most Americans now remember.
His purpose in that speech was to confirm reports that the United States had been negotiating with Iran over the release of American hostages and had supplied Iran with military equipment.
But President Reagan told only half the truth that night, if that much.
Twelve days later, Attorney General Ed Meese held another press conference to correct the record just a bit. In fact, officials in the Reagan administration had sold weapons to Iran and diverted the funds to rebels known as Contras in Nicaragua.
The Iran-Contra consumed the diminished president’s last two years in the White House. His party had just lost eight seats and control of the Senate in the mid-term elections. Congress had rolled back the hallmark Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Reagan’s approval ratings were in the process of sinking from the low 60s to the low 40s.
But all this hasn’t shaped Reagan’s legacy, much to the surprise of the press corps that covered him.
So here is my New Year’s prediction: Starting somewhere around New Year’s Day 2018, after a new president has had a year to lose stature, and on all New Year’s Days after that, Barack Obama’s legacy will look a whole lot better than we think today.
Since the November elections, Obama’s approval ratings have ticked up a tad, from the low 40s to the mid-40s. Pundits speculate he might be on the rebound. I don’t think so.
I think it is the start of a very slow process of reappraisal, of Americans coming to a more mature understanding of the limits of leadership in the media age, in the global economy and in fragmented geopolitical power; and a more mature appraisal of how steady and dignified President Obama’s leadership has been.
Indeed, there have been some positive stories since the election. The economy grew at the fastest rate in 11 years in the third quarter of 2014, just a little too late to help the Democrats in the midterms.
More people are receiving health insurance via the Affordable Care Act than initially predicted. The short-term politics of healthcare backfired, but my guess is that Obamacare will be a term of endearment in a few years.
Normalizing relations with Cuba will also be seen as a common sense move that came just a few decades too late. Obama looks bold in taking the step while his recent predecessors look puny.
In 10 or 20 years, the obstacles Obama has faced will look steeper and deeper.
The Republican opposition will look more aberrant and bizarre than it does today. The Munchkinizing effect of modern OmniMedia will be recognized more clearly for its toxicity.
And the racism our first black president faced will be more honestly discussed and acknowledged.
If not dazzling and charismatic, the President has been steady and honest in trying times. That will look big in history’s mirror.
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