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Sunday Marks 100th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan's Birth

President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs up to the crowd while his wife, first lady Nancy Reagan, waves from a limousine during the inaugural parade in Washington following Reagan's swearing in as the 40th president of the United States, (File).
President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs up to the crowd while his wife, first lady Nancy Reagan, waves from a limousine during the inaugural parade in Washington following Reagan's swearing in as the 40th president of the United States, (File).

Sunday, February 6, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, America's 40th president. He is remembered as the Great Communicator - and as the man who helped to end tensions with the former Soviet Union.  

Ronald Reagan was a well known Hollywood actor before he became governor of California.   His election as president in 1980 thrust him into the international spotlight.

At the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, scholars and authors have been assessing Mr. Reagan's impact, and ordinary Americans are recalling his legacy.

Ronald Reagan had an important insight into the Soviet Union, says presidential biographer Richard Reeves.  “That communism could not sustain itself and that the time had come to move from containment, which was the American policy before he became president, to a more confrontational face toward communism.  And it worked, I think, far beyond his wildest dreams,” he said.

But the Reagan administration also faced controversy in the Iran-Contra scandal, a secret arms sale to Iran, which was under an arms embargo.  Members of the Reagan administration diverted some of the proceeds to anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua.

Michael Genovese studies the presidency, and says it was black mark on the administration.

“And all presidents have mixed legacies, some good, and some bad,” Genovese said. “Reagan contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.  He helped bring the economy back.  He helped bring 'morning in America' back.  But he was also the president who brought in huge debt.  When he became president, we were the world's largest creditor nation.  When he left office, we were the world's largest debtor nation, something we still haven't recovered from.”

Mr. Reagan had strong beliefs and was guided by principle, says scholar Robert Rowland. “But then also pragmatism.  He was willing to compromise.  He was willing to take what he could get and work with the other side,” Rowland states.

Mr. Reagan built a conservative coalition, but Rowland says he might not see eye to eye with some modern conservatives.

“They remember him as opposing government of all kinds, and that simply is not his legacy.  He cut the growth of government but not government itself.  He tried to reform government.  He certainly was not a contemporary Tea Party Republican,” he adds.

Scholars say Mr. Reagan's greatest strength was understanding leadership and how to communicate his vision to Americans. 

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