It was a poor policy at best, and the President's Cabinet approved the plan, even if he did not. In fact, Congress specifically denied the request to send money to the Contras, so it was done in secret, and this violated the law and the trust of the nation. It was dishonest, it was covert, and it cast a dark cloud over the presidency and Reagan's own motives.
In comparison, Roosevelt has his own legacy of poor judgement, too. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court by proposing to add new justices, and many believe he pointed the country toward socialism.
Roosevelt felt the Supreme Court was too conservative when they overthrew many of the social changes he had created in the New Deal. He felt they were not following the Constitution in their decisions, but were following their own feelings. He wanted to bring the number of Supreme Court justices to 15, and he wanted to encourage them to retire at age 70 (most of the judges were older). However, Congress and the public reacted extremely adversely to this idea, and he eventually gave it up, but suffered recriminations and criticism for long afterward. Authors Siracusa and Coleman note, "Although he took some comfort in the Court's more liberal turn -- he had lost the battle but won the war, many said -- Roosevelt had experienced his first serious defeat and blow to his myth of political invincibility that opened deep rifts within his own party."
In fact, many people accused him of trying to become a dictator.
He did go on to be re-elected two more times, so the court packing incident did not doom his candidacy or his effectiveness in other areas.
Both of these presidents have enduring legacies that seem to grow larger the longer they have been out of office. Roosevelt is the only president to be elected to four terms, and the man who created many of the social programs we still have today, such as Social Security. He was a forward-thinking leader who had specific goals he wanted to accomplish, and started working on those goals the minute he entered the White House. He brought America into World War II, and provided strong leadership during the war. He also authorized the study and creation of the atomic bomb, which ultimately brought the war to an end.
The people seemed to adore Reagan, and his legacy just seemed to grow after he left office. He was known as the "Great Communicator," and he did have a way about him that commanded respect but also seemed very approachable. His legacy is that he helped end communism in Russia and was instrumental in seeing Berlin reunified and the Berlin Wall torn down. In addition, he created sweeping tax reforms that remain a part of his legacy. Writers Siracusa and Coleman continue, "Congress under the lash of Reaganomics approved the largest tax cut in American history, an estimated $750 billion over five years."
In addition, Reagan brought the Republican Party together again. Another writer notes, "Reagan's leadership unified the Republicans into a national party that held its traditional business and Protestant support, competed successfully in the South, and attracted a significant proportion of working class votes."
Thus, each man's legacy is unique, and each man left behind social change.
There is no doubt that both these presidents left great legacies and accomplished much while they were in office. Writer Sloan continues, "Because they created regimes, Roosevelt and Reagan have had more significant and prolonged impacts than any other presidents of the twentieth century."
They were both good presidents, although they faced different challenges and problems during their time in office. Frankly, although most people now rate Ronald Reagan as the greatest president of the 20th century, I believe Roosevelt was the better president. Partly because he had a longer period of time to accomplish his goals, but also because he created programs that are still in use today, and had the foresight to create programs that would serve the people and that would stand the test of time. There are problems with Social Security today, to be sure, but that is not because of Roosevelt. Instead, it is because Congress had continually borrowed from the Social Security funds until they have almost bankrupted the program. If Roosevelt had foreseen that, he probably would have added some kind of legislation making that impossible. It seems that Roosevelt had the people's welfare in mind when he created programs, and that legacy continued throughout a long period of Democratic leadership in the government. He also created tough antitrust laws that held business in check, something that has relatively disappeared today, allowing businesses like the oil companies to commandeer record profits at the expense of the people.
Reagan created his own legacy, and it is larger than life, just like his acting career. He appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and he survived an assassination attempt. He got the economy back on track, and he increased defense spending to help ensure America's safety in a rapidly changing world. However, his legacy his not as strong as Roosevelt's because he did not accomplish nearly as many sweeping changes as Roosevelt did, and he did not create policies that have lived on long after he left the White House. He did not lead the country into war, and did not have to deal with any major crises, as Roosevelt did. Reagan was a good president, but he is not in the caliber with Roosevelt, who was a great president and a great leader.
Felzenberg, Alvin S. "There You Go Again:" Liberal Historians and the 'New York Times' Deny Ronald Reagan His Due." Policy Review, no. 82 (1997): 51+.
McKenna, Marian C. Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-Packing Crisis of 1937. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002.
Reagan, Ronald. 2008. Inaugural Address. [Online] available from the Internet at http://www.americanpresidents.org/inaugural/39a.aspaccessed 3 May 2008.
Siracusa, Joseph M., and David G. Coleman. Depression to Cold War: A History of America from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.
Sloan, John W. 2007. Clashing Visions: The Reconstructive Politics of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. [Online] available from the Internet at http://www.allacademic.com/one/prol/prol01/index.php?cmd=Download+Document&key=unpublished_manuscript&file_index=1&pop_up=true&no_click_key=true&attachment_style=attachment&PHPSESSID=8c57d9551764af678ac68423b9b333b2accessed 3 May 2008.
Young, Stephen. "Ronald Reagan 1911-2004: Stephen Young Puts the Career of the 40th American President into Historical Perspective." History Review, no. 50 (2004): 18+.
Stephen Young, "Ronald Reagan 1911-2004: Stephen Young Puts the Career of the 40th American President into Historical Perspective," History Review, no. 50 (2004).
John W. Sloan,. 2007. Clashing Visions: The Reconstructive Politics of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. [Online] available from the Internet at http://www.allacademic.com/one/prol/prol01/index.php?cmd=Download+Document&key=unpublished_manuscript&file_index=1&pop_up=true&no_click_key=true&attachment_style=attachment&PHPSESSID=8c57d9551764af678ac68423b9b333b2accessed 3 May 2008, 1.
Ronald Reagan. 2008. Inaugural Address. [Online] available from the Internet at http://www.americanpresidents.org/inaugural/39a.aspaccessed 3 May 2008.
Siracusa and Coleman, 247.
Joseph M. Siracusa, and David G. Coleman, Depression to Cold War: A History of America from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 22.
Siracusa and Coleman, 30.
Siracusa and Coleman, 38-39.
1. Marian C. McKenna, Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-Packing Crisis of 1937. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), iii.