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Survey Says Kennedy Most Overrated American; Reagan No. 2

June 28, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ John F. Kennedy is the most overrated public figure in American history, while his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower is among the most underrated, according to a sampling of historians and journalists.

Kennedy topped the voting among 75 prominent historians and journalists surveyed by American Heritage magazine, with President Reagan taking second place among the most overrated Americans.

Neither was a consensus choice, however. Kennedy was picked by eight of the experts; Reagan by four.

The results appear in the July-August issue of American Heritage.

Four public figures, all presidents, tied for first place in the most underrated category, but only got two votes each: Eisenhower, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant and James K. Polk.

Of Kennedy, historian and novelist Thomas Fleming wrote: ″I write this with a lump in my throat. But the record shows that his public relations approach to the presidency was an almost total disaster for the nation, from the Bay of Pigs to the Berlin Wall to the missile crisis to the halfhearted intervention in Vietnam.″

Fleming was among those who chose Polk, the seldom-remembered 11th president, as the most underrated public figure. He called Polk a ″hardworking and decisive″ president ″who brought a program to the office and realized almost all of it. ... We could use a large dose of his example today.″

Eisenhower was the choice of historians Walter Lord and Arthur Ekirch. When Eisenhower stepped down in 1961, Lord wrote, he had ″left the country strong and prosperous; the civil rights battle was off to an important start at Little Rock; and Joe McCarthy had been defused.″

Presidents dominated both ends of the survey, with Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman tying for third place among the most overrated figures. However, numerous non-presidents, including several women, received votes.

Among the women named as the most underrated American were Eleanor Roosevelt, Abigail Adams, the radical theorist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, transcendentalist Margaret Fuller and journalist Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. Betsy Ross picked up a most-overrated vote.

Finally, these were the choices of University of Chicago professor Martin E. Marty, who probably deserves a vote for most original respondent of the survey:

Most overrated American: Uncle Sam.

Most underrated: John Q. Public.

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