Reagan Legacy Inspires New Generation of Politicians
By Anita Vogel
Ronald Reagan’s message to a nation mired deep in recession in 1982 still resonates, as another president facing a crippled economy looks for answers and strives to rally the country behind him.
President Obama echoed the iconic Republican, who wold have been 99 Saturday, in his State of the Union address last week.
“Again we are tested,” he said. “And again, we must answer history’s call.”
Five years after his death and 22 years after his presidency ended, President Reagan’s leadership style and policies are still influencing the political debate in 2010.
Many tea party activists say Reagan and his mantra of cutting taxes are part of the inspiration behind the rallies that have gripped the country in the past year.
And many Republican candidates in this year’s midterm elections are expected to rely on Reagan’s name and image to help them win back seats this fall.
In one case, Danny Tarkanian, one of three potential GOP challengers to an increasingly vulnerable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is using footage of the Gipper in one of his campaign videos.
The clip shows Reagan campaigning against Reid in 1986, chiding the Nevada Democrat for being a tax and spend liberal.
But Democrats have also used the “R word” if they think it can help them.
Obama and Reagan have little in common ideologically. But Obama predicted he would face an uphill political battle and expressed admiration for his predecessor’s ability to effect change.
“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” Obama said in January 2008 on the presidential campaign trail. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”
Such praise for Reagan is uncommon among Democrats, but Republicans continue to invoke his name and legacy in seeking office.
Scott Brown, who recently shocked Democrats by winning Ted Kennedy’s longtime Senate seat, is said to have had a “Reagan moment” when he delivered a blistering and often replayed response during a critical debate.
“With all due respect…it’s not the Kennedy seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat,” he said. “It’s the people’s seat.”
On Saturday, there will be a party at the Reagan Library to commemorate the president’s birthday, replete with a band, 21-gun salute, a military fly-over and a keynote address by Elizabeth Dole, transportation secretary in the Reagan administration and a close friend.
Not everyone has fond memories of the nation’s 40th president, and they may be offended by any reminders of the Reagan era. But in the years that have passed since the president left office, his popularity ratings have gotten stronger.
In fact, he has appeared in the top 10 of the Gallup’s annual “Most Admired Man” list more than 30 times — more often than any other person, except for the Rev. Billy Graham.