The Soviet view of the United States is still a distorted one, but media attacks and political cartoons have become less vitriolic than when President Reagan took office in 1981 with promises to deal toughly with the Soviets.

Early in his tenure, Soviet media treatment was brutal. Cartoonists often had a cowboy-hatted Reagan gossiping with Nazi leaders like Himmler and Josef Goebbels about plans to crush the Soviet Union.The cowboy hat remains these days, but the last reference in the mainstream media comparing the Reagan administration to Nazi Germany was in 1986.

As U.S. presidents go, Reagan is by far the one most familiar to Soviets. Three previous televised summits with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and New Year's Day radio and television addresses have left their impression, for better or for worse, on the man in the street.

"All Russians know he was an actor and not well educated, either," said Irina, a university-educated secretary. "He should be entertaining you, not governing you."

Reagan's "evil empire" and "bombing starts in five minutes" remarks are etched in the Soviet collective memory. But as relations have improved, so has the characterization of Reagan.

These days he is simply portrayed as an aging warmonger eager to blow up the world from outer space with his "Star Wars" or keen to bring the Middle East to the brink of war by sending U.S. ships to the Persian Gulf.

The first government-sponsored public opinion poll ever taken in the Soviet Union showed that 99 percent of the 1,000 respondents believed Reagan's "Star Wars" anti-missile defense program was a serious threat to world peace.

In another poll late last year, 52 percent of all Soviets named the United States as the country's No. 1 enemy. West Germany finished a distant second with 22 percent.

As portrayed in the official media, Reagan's America remains a hotbed of racism with an ocean of homeless wandering the streets foraging for food and barely escaping the knives and guns of criminals who inhabit the streets after dark.

While the Soviets wince at stereotype portrayals of themselves in the United States, their own image of "America the Oppressor" still is the overwhelming view presented by the state-controlled mass media.

"I believe that Russian people believe in crime and racism in America more than anything else," said Irina.

"Some youngsters may believe the streets are paved with gold. They see foreigners on the streets here better dressed, but they know there is a price to pay. Everyone knows you should not go out on the streets of New York at night," she said.

There are new official warnings that many Soviets may not be prepared to work as hard as U.S. workers do to earn creature comforts.

"Some of us want to work as we work now and to live as Americans live," Pravda said in a recent article deriding the "American Dream" as dreamed by Soviets.

Normally, with the approach of a major U.S.-Soviet event like the Moscow summit, the Soviet media turns its bad guy view into something less harsh. But with Reagan vowing to push human rights issues at his meetings with Gorbachev, little such softening is noticeable this time.

Attacks on U.S. human rights policies actually are increasing. The month of May has seen an extraordinary amount of harsh rhetoric and accusations of American racism.

"Not a day passes without fresh information on facts which confirm that racial discrimination in its most diverse forms still pervades all aspects of life of the present-day American society," said a typical Tass news agency commentary less than two weeks before Reagan's arrival.

"Reports coming in from all parts of the United States speak of ever harsher police, judiciary and other repressions against human rights activists and opponents of racial discrimination."

With Gorbachev's glasnost policy exposing the Soviet public to the failures of their own system, news about the economic situation in capitalist America is given a bad twist.

Pravda wrote May 17 about the U.S. unemployment rate for April hitting its lowest level for 14 years - a sensitive issue now that unemployment is appearing in the Soviet Union for the first time since it was abolished by a decree of the Politburo six decades ago.

"Is this so indisputedly good for America?" Pravda asked. "To put it bluntly, Reaganomics was unconditionally successful in one thing: It made a big number of Americans begin working at lower pay.

"In general in Reagan's America, the profits grew only in those families where the wife started working. In general, the real income stays at the level of the early 1970s," Pravda said. "The joy of America is not going to be long term."