Remembering Reagan’s legacy and applying it today

Tomorrow, Feb. 6, is the 99th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States. Although it has been 21 years since President Reagan completed his second term and left the White House, he still remains a figure of great interest to many Americans, including a large number of young people who were not even born during the time he was president.

New books come out about Reagan every year. The more research that is done about him, the greater the appreciation of what he accomplished and of him as a person. During 2008 Reagan was the president whose name was most mentioned in the debates of both parties, as an example of an effective leader the candidates wished to follow. Since he left office, Ronald Reagan has been the standard to which subsequent presidents have been compared. In numerous polls Reagan has been selected as one of the outstanding presidents in the history of the country.

Why this continuing interest and favorable treatment of a president from the 20th century—in many ways more favorable treatment than he received from the media while he was in office? The answer lies in both the accomplishments he achieved while in office and his leadership style, which inspired and encouraged the American people.

The history of the Reagan presidency shows how he revitalized the United States economy at a time of one of the most serious crises since the Great Depression of the 1930s. His program of lower tax rates across the board, regulatory reform, stable monetary policy, and slowing the growth of federal spending, produced the longest peacetime period of economic growth in the history of the nation. On the international front his strategy and actions rebuilt our national defense capabilities, restored the position of the U.S. in world leadership, and took the courageous actions that ultimately led to the end of the Cold War, with the cause of freedom winning.

Equally important in endearing him to the American people was Reagan’s style of leadership. He had a vision of where America should be going and he was able to communicate that vision to the American people. It depended greatly on his concept of why America was good and why the American people had achieved so much in what has been a relatively new nation on the face of the earth. He admired the Founders and was able to relate their ideas of liberty, civic virtue, and opportunity to the people of the current generation. Even in difficult times, his cheerfulness and optimism gave the people the hope that, as he would put it, “America’s best days are yet ahead.”

As with any president, not everything went well and Reagan faced many challenges, political opposition, and disappointments. Yet his faith in God and his faith in the American people enabled him to maintain his posture of enthusiastic leadership and ultimately to prevail over numerous obstacles.

As we look back a quarter-century to an era of great challenge at home and abroad, and to a time when America needed a great leader, we can be thankful that we had a president who was equal to the task.

Edwin Meese III is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

  • jonan

    This is revisionist history — especially regarding fiscal budgets. Look at what beloved Reagan (and other Republican) did to the country’s deficit. See http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=sgh9cn&s=4.

    RR talked a good game of cutting taxes, but did so without cutting expenses. In fact, RR had the biggest deficits of all time, until GHWB and GWB followed to exceed even this. RR’s budget director, David Stockman, now says that the “starve the beast” strategy, referring to cutting taxes to force down the US budget, didn’t and doesn’t work. In fact, that’s the tale of all the past Republican presidents. The only recent presidents with balanced or near-balanced budgets were Kennedy, Johnson and, of course,Clinton with a surplus. Even Carter was lowering the gap before he lost to RR, who promptly screwed it up again with his now discredited, trickle down, voodoo economic policies.

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  • vbspurs

    Thanks for your memories of my most beloved hero, Mr Meese.

    Happy Birthday, Mr. President, up in heaven as I know you are.

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  • lamecherry

    My Dear Mr. Meese,

    What can be said further than the reflection of Ronald Reagan’s greatest legacy is a Gentleman like yourself who accomplished so much in assisting President Reagan and you do not mention a word of it, but place the legacy on Ronald Reagan.
    This is Ronald Reagan’s legacy in he is a selfless American who surrounded himself with Mike Deaver, Lynwood and yourself who served America never looking for credit and still to this day none of you including Mrs. Reagan, mention all of your work in serving this wonderful President.

    It is a pleasure to be able to address you Mr. Meese in public in calling attention to all of your God blessed accomplishments for these United States of America.
    You are the shining light in Mr. Reagan’s city on a hill, because all of you still work for Americans in thee most selfless of manners.

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  • reagan

    Reagan took a military that got bogged down on a dessert rescue because of outdated equipment, and made it the best again. He took an economy that was worse than the one obamma complains about, and turned it around in a year. The federal jobs and money spent were on the military which did WIN THE COLD WAR! He just had the right policies and didn’t listen to marxists like obamma. And he didn’t keep saying carter did it, carter did it. Americans were proud of Reagan not ashamed like today. Just remember the obamma deficit equals the sum of all deficits since Reagan added together. Ronald Reagan will always be remembered as the best president we ever had or will have.

    • jrutle

      Reagan mythmaking is a favorite pasttime of the political right. Stagflation wasn’t broken by Reagan, it was broken by Paul Volcker and the Fed. Reagan’s infatuation with supply side tax cuts didn’t raise revenue but blew a massive hole in the federal deficit which was partially corrected by David Stockman and members of the GOP Congress working with Democrats. Stockman later described supply side as nothing more than a trojan horse for income redistribution to the rich. In that regard it was greatly successful. Reagan’s economic success was accomplished to a minor degree through his massive military spending but much more throug deregulation which created the first of three economic bubbles that have plagued our economy since the 1980s, the housing bubble and S&L crisis being the first. He also opened the floodgates on the export of jobs and negative balance of payments to OPEC and others. And, Star Wars is not what brought the Soviet Union down. Soviet communism was a rotted out system which imploded because it could not deliver the goods for its people. Gorbachev led a generation of reformers who saw that change was needed and initiated the internal process of glasnost and perestroika which ultimately was the Soviet Union’s undoing.

  • murrayabraham

    Just the usual misinformation about the Reagan presidency. Let us walk through the common lies.

    Smaller government: Federal employment grew by 61,000 during Reagan’s presidency—in part because Reagan created a whole new cabinet department, the department of veterans affairs. (Under Bill Clinton, by contrast, federal employment dropped by 373,000).

    Smaller deficits and debt: Both nearly tripled on Reagan’s watch.

    Lower taxes: Although Reagan muscled through a major tax cut in 1981, he followed up by raising taxes in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1986. In 1983, in fact, he not only raised payroll taxes; he raised them to pay for Social Security and Medicare. Let’s put this in language today’s tea-baggers can understand: Reagan raised taxes to pay for government-run health care.

    International & military: What did Reagan do in his biggest confrontation with jihadist terror? When Hezbollah murdered 241 U.S. servicemen in Beirut in 1983, the Gipper didn’t surge; he withdrew the remaining American troops, and fast.

    Finally, it is common for the nostalgic right wing crowd to say “Reagan won the Cold War”. This of course is absurd. The Soviet Empire collapsed from inside (thanks to Gorbachev’s glasnosc & perestroika) and it was the containment policy setup by Truman and applied by all his successors that did it, not a change in policy on Reagan’s part.

    • reagan

      A mind is a terrible thing to waste come to mind when reading this. Reagan drastically lowered taxes which always increases revenue. Sure you can cut federal jobs, simply cut out the military like clinton. Reagan’s star wars program even though not even working brought the russians to their knees. How about defending jimmy and his presidency.

      • jrutle

        This post isn’t about Carter, it’s about Reagan. Carter had issues to be sure but he initiated things that Reagan benefitted from. He raised energy awareness (later forgotten), brokered the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord, named Paul Volcker as Fed Chairman to break the back of stagflation, and conducted diplomatic relations with second and third world countries which contributed to the Soviet Union’s decline. This latter point is always overlooked by Reagan mythmakers. The Soviet Union’s global power began to recede during the Carter years and America’s reputation improved due to the manner in which the State Department and UN Ambassador Donald McHenry conducted foreign policy. But its easier for the right-wingers to grasp that their favorite American cowboy came out of the west and saved the world by being a tough guy, so that’s what they believe.

    • lamecherry

      Oh my Jimmy Carter is posting under murrayabraham trying to revive his legacy by pounding nails into Reagan’s coffin.

      For the facts, Ronald Reagan had to rebuild the entire United States of America which had been neglected by the Carter years. Tomcats were being scavanged on Carriers just to keep skeleton crews flying. That is how bad things were in America.
      President Reagan ended stagflation, and the Carter Depression.

      On the foreign affairs, President Reagan rebuilt the US alliances in leading them. He bombed Libya drawing a line in the sand. He attempted to stabilize Lebanon, but terrorists there murdered Marines.
      For Jimmy Carter to use dead Heroes to slap at a deceased President is telling of liberal amorality. What was murrayabraham’s choice, to leave Americans there to be slaughtered like Obama is accomplishing in Afnamistan?

      The only reason Marines were in Lebanon is because Jimmy Carter with Zbigniew Brzezinski dethroned the Shah of Iran and installed those Islamocommunist thugs still murdering Americans today and being coddled by Barack Carter.
      Carter’s policy destabilized the entire world in the fall of Iranian government.

      Finally, what kool aid murrayabraham is smoking is Obama grade as Truman never contained the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was collapsed along with the Warsaw Pac by Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul, Ronald Reagan, Polish Unions and Lutherans in East Germany, using Saudi Arabian funding in part.
      Ronald Reagan led this effort in moral superiority. His military upgrades toppled the Soviet Union and no matter how many of these progressives try to smear Ronald Reagan’s legacy, the Truth will always win out.

      God bless the United States and may America again have a Ronald Reagan blessed to save America from Obama national socialism.

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