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Ronald Wilson Reagan

RONALD REAGAN'S legacy is complex -- great achievements in both foreign and domestic affairs mixed with setbacks and errors that still color American politics.

During Reagan's tenure, the Soviet Union began to crumble and a major arms control treay was signed. At home, the economy surged forward as inflation abated. Yet the Reagan legacy also includes the improbable "Star Wars" missile defense proposal and the shameful Iran-Contra scandal. And the humming economy was energized in large part by deep tax cuts and heavy military spending that together produced crippling budget deficits. Reagan did little to advance such goals as education or civil rights.

Although Reagan's skills as "the great communicator" may seem a thin basis for a presidential reputation, his amiable personality went a long way toward restoring optimism and pride to millions of Americans. And there was a directness in his personal relationships that paid dividends.

A key day in the Reagan presidency was Oct. 12, 1986. Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to an agreement that would have eliminated all strategic nuclear arms by 1996, only to have the deal fall apart at the last moment. Critics still say Reagan missed an opportunity. But the fact that he had come so close to a breakthrough agreement showed how earnestly he worked to avoid the threat of nuclear war. Fourteen months later Reagan and Gorbachev did sign an intermediate-range missile treaty. Later, Reagan told biographer Edmund Morris that he still believed the Soviet Union was an evil empire -- "until this one man made all the difference." Gorbachev said yesterday, "I deem Ronald Reagan a great president."

At his inauguration, Reagan said, "Government is not the solution, it is the problem." Many politicians unfortunately have prospered by ridiculing the enterprise. Yet Reagan led government for eight years -- following five troubled presidencies -- and enjoyed strong public support virtually throughout.

Garry Wills wrote of Reagan: "He renews our past by resuming it." Yet Ronald Reagan and his presidency continue to provide lessons not only for conservatives but for all who seek to lead the nation. 

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