Mark makes a convincing case that proportionally more Americans probably watched Reagan’s inaugural in 1981 than Obama’s this week. Don’t forget the additional drama of the moment that Obama could not possibly have matched: There was a split-screen aspect of 1981, in which the shot of Reagan was juxtaposed next to a shot of a darkened sky in Tehran, as we expected the imminent release of the hostages. The Washington Post’s TV critic Tom Shales wrote at the time, “Perhaps not since the funeral of John F. Kennedy have Americans kept so diligent a vigil before their television sets.”
But there is also this tidbit to ponder (from my forthcoming book on the Reagan presidency):
“Despite Reagan’s thumping victory in the election, in the weeks leading up to Inauguration Reagan recorded in opinion polls the lowest public approval rating—51 percent—of any incoming modern president in the history of the Gallup Poll. Reagan’s heterodox views, endlessly assailed by the media, were surely one reason for this high quotient of public doubt. Anyone who pledged such a decisive break with the past was bound to cause a polarization of public opinion.”
Part of Obama’s current sky-high approval rating owes precisely to his continued vagueness that still has even our Corner compasses spinning.