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  /  News   /  Ronald Reagan’s legacy remains 20 years after his death

Ronald Reagan’s legacy remains 20 years after his death

NewsNation) — Twenty years after his death, Ronald Reagan’s legacy as America’s 40th president remains multi-faceted and connected to a plain-speaking leader who was tasked with leading a nation through difficult economic times while also working internationally to end the Cold War and other global crises.

Reagan, who died in 2004 at the age of 93, has been looked upon as both the Great Communicator and a tough negotiator who was willing to meet the other side halfway as a means to serving the greater good while never backing down from a fight.

His eight years in the White House were marked by a series of victories and setbacks, both on the foreign and domestic fronts; almost all of which was accomplished after a gunman attempted to take Reagan’s life in an assassination less than two months into his presidency.

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But two decades after his passing and with the nation fiercely divided politically and socially, Reagan continues to be remembered in myriad ways by those on both sides of the polarizing political fence — a divider that the actor-turned-Commander-in-Chief was always trying to straddle.

How an assassination attempt affected Reagan

The attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981 by John Hinkley, Jr., served not only as a pivotal turning point for the president personally but in defining what he was ultimately able to accomplish during his tenure as the leader of the free world.

After spending 12 days in the hospital after being wounded in the shooting, Reagan became convinced his life was spared so that he could pursue peace by ending the Communist threat and nuclear proliferation under the Cold War.

“Perhaps having come so close to death made me feel I should do whatever I could in the years God had given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war,” he wrote in his autobiography, “An American Life.”

How Reagan governed with compromise

Historians say that while Reagan’s life was spared, the failed assassination attempt led both Reagan’s fellow Republicans and Democrats alike to look at the president with compassion and empathy.

However, regardless of one’s political loyalties, Reagan’s pitches across the political aisle were met more favorably because of his reputation for acting with civility.

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Tasked with fixing America’s economy while also pushing for the government to slash federal spending, Reagan was fond of telling Chief of Staff James Baker that he would “rather get 80% of what he wanted than go over a cliff with his flag flying”.

Although his methods did not always achieve what he hoped, the means he used to deliver his message was never forgotten.

“I think that ameliorative spirit was part of Reagan’s appeal, and he meant it,” NewsNation senior political contributor George Will said.

Ronald and Nancy: A genuine love story

While Reagan’s relationships with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill have been well-documented and help to tell the story of his presidency, they could never be viewed in such terms as his bond with his wife, Nancy.

When the two embarked on the White House, they faced intense scrutiny in the public eye, but their support toward one another never wavered.

Nancy Reagan became known as her husband’s most trusted advisor and supporter, a role he reciprocated to her.

“Ronald Reagan was a very friendly man with one friend, and he married her,” Will said.

How Reagan ended the Cold War

As historians and political pundits continue to consider Reagan’s presidency, his role in ending the Cold War ranks at the top of his list of accomplishments.

While his White House predecessors talked in terms of managing the Cold War, Reagan made it clear in no uncertain terms that he would be instrumental in bringing it to a close.

While the Cold War never led to a direct armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, each superpower supported the armed struggles of pro-communist or pro-democratic groups in other parts of the world such as Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. 

“I decided we had to send as powerful a message as we could to the Russians that we weren’t going to stand by anymore while they armed and financed terrorists and subverted democratic governments,” Regan wrote in his autobiography.