Ronald Reagan leaves behind lasting legacy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

Many words will be written and spoken about Ronald Reagan's legacy in coming weeks, but few will take on much of a negative tone.

The 40th president of the United States, who died Saturday at the age of 93, left a lasting mark on America - one which is sure to stand the test of time. Not everyone agreed with Reagan's politics, but few would deny that he brought a sense of optimism to the presidency

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in a time when the nation really needed to feel positive.

When Reagan became president in 1981, the morale of the American people was low. Bad memories from the 1970s such as the lingering effects of the Vietnam War, the shameful resignation of President Richard Nixon and the Cold War were at the forefront of most people's thoughts. America had nearly lost faith in itself.

Then came Reagan, who seemed to have the ability to wash away all the gloom and doom and get Americans looking ahead to a brighter future. Clearly Reagan's greatest gift was his skill of talking to the people, earning him the nickname of the "Great Communicator." That skill, combined with his warm personality and achievements in office, made him one of the most popular presidents ever.

Many credit his ability to communicate to his career as an actor, but Reagan was not merely playing the part of president. He made a difference as commander in chief.

He will be remembered as the president who won the Cold War without firing a single shot. That victory eventually led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall - a symbol of the grip that the Soviet Union had on most of Eastern Europe.

When Reagan rode off into the sunset after his presidency ended in 1989, he was out of the limelight forever. Just five years removed from the presidency, Reagan announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. His last years were private, but last month his wife, Nancy, said, "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him."

On Saturday, that long journey ended with the millions of Americans mourning his death. We lost one of the most effective presidents of our time.