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At 100, why Ronald Reagan still matters

Published: Saturday, Feb. 5 2011 10:29 p.m. MST

Janet Lee Chamberlain: I think Reagan's legacy is the uniting of all of us together, wanting us to be a better country, a better people. I saw that in every walk of his life — when we were in Washington and when he came back in 1990 to speak at BYU and the way he united the students. And they were glad to be Americans. Along with that, I saw in a very closed unit, as he came to speak at BYU, we had a little time with him, probably about 40 minutes in a room before he went out to speak to the student body. He could so easily have said, "I need this time to myself." He spent time with every one of my children. And my youngest child had just been elected student body president of her elementary school — a sixth-grader. And he sat down on a chair and he talked to her about how that's how he began in politics in elementary school. Then he talked with her about what it meant to be a good leader and a good American. And I loved that about him.

Rep. Jim Hansen: As you look at the presidents of the United States, what they've done, if you look back as far as Lincoln — another one we hold in very high esteem, the Great Emancipator. We look at FDR, maybe we don't agree with his politics, but we'll always remember what happened during that Depression, and he will always stand out to a lot of people. I think you put your finger on Ronald Reagan. He made us proud that we are Americans. I remember when he stood up in Salt Lake and said, "I'm a sagebrush rebel." Boy, everyone there thought that was wonderful. Every group he went to, they'd go out saying, "He's our kind of guy. We love this guy." And that could be a labor union, it could be a group of CEOs, it could be anything, they just seemed to love Ronald Reagan. He just seemed to have the ability to do that. So if you start ticking off presidents all the way back as far as you can remember and whatever you heard in history, I think he stands out as one of the top three or four that we've had in this country.

Paul Edwards: When I think of his legacy, I think of his ability to go outside of the United States and project this powerful vision for American freedom. And he was unafraid in any circumstance to stand up for freedom. It wasn't just a catch phrase with him. He really embraced the challenges of freedom. He knew it was less orderly than having other kinds of systems in place. He knew it didn't guarantee anything for Americans, but that it presented tremendous opportunity. More than any other American president, we have this lasting legacy of people being able to embrace the economic and other kinds of freedoms that America affords and he was the best defender of freedom.

Newell: I'll pick up on that as well. One of his first actions, as Sen. Garn will remember well, was Project Democracy, unleashing the minds and the hearts of the people with their own voice. And I recall very vividly the White House in those days when he announced this as one of his first initiatives. When he took over the presidency, in this hemisphere alone there were some 73 percent of people living under some form of democratic rule. And when he left office eight years later it was 98 percent.

Dick Richards: The underlying concept of Ronald Reagan is that this is the Promised Land. This is a land better than all others in the world — more freedom, more opportunity. And he believed that the Constitution was inspired by God and he felt that he had a mission in his role to preserve it. He was that clear about it. And I think that is what motivated him in all the things that he did.

Edwards: He knew how to use symbols, and he restored to the presidency a kind of dignity that I think was lost under Carter, who bought into this idea that things were shrinking, and declining and we had to adapt to that. Reagan just pushed that aside philosophically, and then also symbolically. And it wasn't about opulence, it was about the dignity of the office, I think, to be able to project the power of America abroad you need to have a dignified White House, you need to have appropriate decorum, protocol and a certain amount of elegance, and he just was able to bring that to the office in a way that was much needed after Carter and after Watergate.

De Groote: These days everybody wants to invoke Ronald Reagan. They want to be associated with Ronald Reagan — from Sen. Mike Lee to Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr. How do today's Republicans measure up to the Reagan ideal? Or do they?

Garn: Obviously you can't just generalize. There are some people who are exactly like Ronald Reagan — as far as his philosophy. Others are more liberal, more moderate. But he will always be a hero to all of those groups because of his personal integrity and directness.

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