People still remember the "killer rabbit" incident that made President Jimmy Carter a figure of ridicule in 1980.
After Carter told aides a large, hissing rabbit menaced him in his rowboat, they leaked the news to reporters and the episode came to symbolize a timid, faltering presidency.Ronald Reagan has now suffered a similarly embarrassing experience with a disclosure by former chief of staff Donald Regan that the president, heeding wife Nancy's wishes, based his schedule on the advice of an astrologer.
"This is something people will joke about forever. Reagan will never get out from under the stars," said Wilson Morris, an aide to Democratic House Speaker of the House Jim Wright.
Most political experts doubt the Regan book will detract much from the president's overall achievements in foreign policy and economic growth.
But some critics say the astrology tale and a series of "kiss-and-tell" books by former aides _ memoirs rife with anecdotes depicting Reagan as a largely ignorant and passive president compliant to his wife's wishes _ may taint his standing in history because they reflect a broader shortcoming of disengaged and distracted superpower leadership.
"A year or two ago, my view was Reagan was going to get away with a number of serious long-term disasters, including huge budget and trade deficits, but would walk out of town with his reputation still high," Morris said.
"I foresaw some period before thoughtful analysts and historians got him. Now I think that process has been vastly accelerated."
George Reedy, who served as President Lyndon Johnson's press secretary, said the astrology tale was destined for the history books.
"It may in a funny sort of way make Nancy immortal. The old idea of women manipulating men, like Tsarina Alexandra of Russia who got the Tsar so tangled up with Rasputin _ that's the sort of thing that does live on," he said.
In his memoir published this week, Donald Regan wrote that in addition to foisting an astrologer upon the White House the first lady had created a "shadowy distaff presidency," intervening to force out Cabinet members and officials _ including Regan himself.
Regan, who was Treasury secretary during Reagan's first term, depicted the president as a man out of touch who had never met him alone to discuss economic policy _ the cornerstone of the president's platform for restoring American greatness.
"The president never told me what he believed or what he wanted. I was flying by the seat of my pants," Regan said.
The book closely followed one by former White House spokesman Speakes who confessed to making up quotes and issuing them to the press in Reagan's name without clearing them with the president.
After one key Cabinet meeting, he told reporters Reagan made statements that actually were uttered by Secretary of State George Shultz. The reason was that Reagan had sat passively, saying virtually nothing of substance.
Former deputy White House chief of staff Michael Deaver's recent memoirs, "Behind the Scenes," described Reagan, 77, as innocent and unrealistic, with a habit of turning straight to the comics page when the newspaper arrived.
"I do not believe he could have survived politically, to the extend he has, without people protecting him," wrote Deaver, a close friend of the Reagans.
Two years ago former Reagan budget director David Stockman published a book painting the president as ignorant of economics, naively optimistic and oblivious to the huge deficits his tax cuts and military spending surge would spawn.
"The self-serving volumes have turned the administration into a kind of living soap opera (and reflect) the peculiar lack of central discipline in this administration," the Washington Post declared in an editorial.
Political analysts say historians probably will weigh Reagan's achievements and failings in arms control, the economy and other matters of policy more heavily than sensational book revelations.
Most agree he will be remembered favorably for last year's superpower agreement to limit Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) and for restoring national pride among Americans during his first term of office.
Republicans and many Democrats say he deserves some credit for the longest peacetime economic expansion since World War II, even though economists say the tight money policies of the independent Federal Reserve Board, America's central bank, played a big role in turning the economy around.
But on the negative ledger are rec-ord budget deficits and the Iran-Contra scandal, in which key White House aides diverted money from Iran arms sales to Nicaraguan Contra rebels during a congressional ban on rebel military aid.
Syndicated columnist Richard Cohen said these black marks could be attributed to "a management style so lackadaisical, so laid-back, that it's probably a fortunate thing the heavens were being consulted. No one else was there."
"Ronald Reagan remains our national pilot. Only now we know he flies by the stars."