WHENEVER reporters and pollsters ask the right question, they get an answer from Americans that tells us clearly why Ronald Reagan's presidency has stayed up where others definitely would have sunk: People everywhere join in hoping that this administration can be rehabilitated. People generally think Reagan showed himself to be a terribly inattentive leader, or worse, in the dealings with Iran. But even at his lowest ebb - just before his speech to the nation on TV that eased his problem - his approval rating had only dropped to 42 percent.
That's low for Reagan. But considering the ratings of Carter, Nixon, and Johnson when they fell upon bad days, it is remarkable that Reagan could get such high grades just as his own commission had announced that it had probed Irangate thoroughly and found the President sadly lacking.
Then, immediately after a speech in which the President said he had, indeed, messed up badly and that he had learned his lesson, and that he would try to do better, a New York Times-CBS poll showed his performance rating shooting up to 52 percent.
Now that is a public show of confidence in a man whose presidency had been pretty much written off by the press and by politicians of both parties. But it also reflected this warmth that the public has long held for this President. This widespread affection for Reagan doubtless made it easier for the public to forgive. Nixon and Johnson would never have been let off so easy - nor would Carter, for that matter.
People are finally growing tired of seeing their government badly impaired in administration after administration. This doesn't mean they are becoming any less impatient with ineffectiveness or corruption. No, they want that sort of thing dug out and destroyed.