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Rating The Presidents

"I love my work. Why should I quit?" asks former White House correspondent Helen Thomas.

Earlier this year, Thomas left her longtime White House beat at United Press International, where she grilled eight different presidents with insight and objectivity. Now a bi-weekly columnist for the Hearst newspapers, Thomas told CBS News' The Early Show she feels like a rookie in the new gig, because she's had to switch gears from reporter to pundit.

"Now I can give my opinion, but I find it difficult," said Thomas. "Not that I don't have an opinion on everything, but we used to keep it out of our copy" at UPI.

As a reporter, Thomas said, "people used to ask me how I could be objective, and I said, 'It's easy.' Now I find that I don't know if my opinion will be very interesting."

Thomas' first column was about President Clinton and how he loathes the idea of leaving office, which he will do next January. In that sense, Mr. Clinton "rages against the dying light," said Thomas.

I just think he'll always be involved and wanting to work and very ambitious, still," she added. "So he has a lot of goals, and I think that the whole sense of having to leave - he loves being in the White House, even on the bad days. And he's had his share."

Thomas offered her take on all the presidents she's covered over the years:

  • John F. Kennedy. "Inspired anyone who was going to - land men on the moon in a decade. Had his eyes on the star."
  • Lyndon Johnson "Great Society, civil rights, Medicare, federal aid to education - he did it all in two years, (his) first two years (in office)." In terms of domestic policy and despite the tragedy of Vietnam, Thomas said LBJ should be the president from the last 50 years that history should "most revere."
  • Richard Nixon "The breakthrough trip to China, but he always had two roads to go and always went on the wrong road. The Watergate scandal did him in Â… Probably the most complicated (president). He had it all and didn't have to overdo it in terms of the '72 election."
  • Gerald Ford "He stabilized the country and restored confidence in the Oval Office in the aftermath of Watergate."
  • Jimmy Carter "He put human rights as the centerpiece of his foreign policy and told dictators we will not tolerate or give aid if you torture your political prisoners."
  • Ronald Reagan. "He turned the country to the right and there was a real Reagan Revolution."
  • George Bush "The Persian Gulf War was his great triumph, and I think he was very liked."
  • Bill Clinton. "I think he has a good legacy in terms of education, gun control. He is a man of peace. He's worked for peace in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle Est.
One final question for a veteran reporter-turned-columnist: which president will history treat the kindest?

"History is kind to all of them," replied Thomas.

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