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Presidential test

PRESIDENT Reagan's ``Era of Good Feeling'' has come to a close. That was the term used to describe the period from the end of the War of 1812 to the mid-1820s, when one party overwhelmed the American electorate and President James Monroe governed rather swimmingly. The Democratic gains in the November elections, coupled with the Iranian debacle, will make the President's last two years considerably more difficult than his first six. The legend of Reagan's invulnerability - popularized by the term ``Teflon president'' - has been disproved, and for the first time since January 1981 Ronald Reagan will have to earn his presidential wings every day. Had Mr. Reagan been more alert, he would have kept up his guard in his second term against foreign policy crises, which were the bane of the last Republican two-term President.

Dwight Eisenhower's second term was a worst-case scenario: The Soviets were the first to send a satellite into space, the summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev didn't take place because of the U-2 spy mission, student riots in Japan led to postponement of a presidential visit, and Cuba fell to Fidel Castro.

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To be sure, many segments of the American nation have been the recipients of significant benefits from Reagan's domestic policies, and there is little doubt that the 40th President's legislative record will be accorded attention by posterity. The mark of a great president, however, is his record under enormous pressure.

Historians recognize that this was what made Abraham Lincoln a great leader and Ulysses Grant a poor one. The most popular President up to his time, as evidenced by a winning margin in popular vote, Warren Harding crumbled when scandal rocked his administration. And an equally impressive vote-getter in 1972, Richard Nixon failed the test of the Watergate crisis.

The spotlight of crisis now shines on President Reagan - and the mettle of the man and his administration is at stake.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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