WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most Americans say Ronald Reagan, who died this month, will be remembered as a better president than Bill Clinton, who is trying to improve his image with a new autobiography, according to an Associated Press poll.
Erm, do we know that President Clinton is trying to improve his image? Might he simply be out for a buck? Might he simply be writing his memoirs because, well, some of the public expects that prominent personages write their memoirs?
As far as the substance of the poll, here are the details.
Some 83 percent of those questioned said they have a favorable view of Reagan as a person, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. The former president completed his two terms in office in January 1989.
A majority of 53 percent said they have an unfavorable view of Clinton while 41 percent rated him favorably. In January, people were about evenly divided in their view of Clinton as a person.
Asked whether Reagan or the current president, George W. Bush, will be remembered as a better president, 76 percent said Reagan and 12 percent said Bush. Three-fourths of Republicans said Reagan, about the same margin for Democrats and independents.
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Although stocks soared and the deficit fell during Clinton's tenure, many Americans associate the Democrat with the marital infidelity that nearly toppled his presidency, impeachment by the House and the Senate vote that saved him. Women were slightly more likely than men to have an unfavorable view.
"People give Clinton credit for the economy, but what happened in the White House was so morally reprehensible that people hold his personal behavior against him," said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University. "When people make the comparison, they see a big difference between the two men."
Reagan often gets credit for the end of the Cold War, even though former President George H.W. Bush was in office when the Soviet Union collapsed. The military buildup during Reagan's eight years and pressure on the Soviets are cited as contributing factors in the demise of the superpower.
Time also had a bearing on opinions. Reagan had been out of office for 16 years, long enough for some to forget the low points of his presidency - the Iran-contra scandal, budget deficits and the visit to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, where Nazi SS troops were buried.
Apparently there is still work for economics professors, and the schoolteachers who do the college preparation. Presidents, ever since at least Herbert Hoover, have borne more blame and taken more credit for macroeconomic performance than they deserve.
The remark that follows is priceless.
Andrea Parron, of Harmony, R.I., a self-described "bleeding-heart Democrat," said given the choice of Clinton or Bush, "I'd take Clinton back in a heartbeat. But I would kick him in the groin so he could keep his mind on business."