At 100, why Ronald Reagan still matters

Published: Saturday, Feb. 5 2011 9:00 p.m. MST

Chamberlain: Ronald Reagan had a unique personality. He was so able to disagree without being disagreeable. He had a warmth about him that drew the country together in a way that I think all hopeful politicians would desire to do. He also had a vision for America, and the ability to articulate that vision so that people could hear him and understand him. And then he had that characteristic that we can't really define, call it charisma, call it leadership, and that caused people to want to follow him. Putting those three things together made him a great president.

Edwards: You see a lot of contemporary conservatives try to invoke Reagan. It's interesting to see that they often get pieces of him rather than the whole broad tent that he was really able to pull together so effectively. And I like Janet's point about how warm he was in just any personal setting; he was just so gracious. It would be wonderful for contemporary conservatives to embrace the personal warmth and the broad tent that Ronald Reagan was able to exhibit in his personal and professional life.

De Groote: It could be argued that today the voice of conservatism is talk radio — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck. Would Reagan embrace these people?

Gov. Norm Bangerter: Well I don't know if he would like it or not. I've always said talk radio does brain damage, on either side of the issue, because they have a point of view that they continue to send out regardless, sometimes, of the facts on either side. The thing about Ronald Reagan, to him there was right and there was wrong and there weren't 22 or 30 shades of gray in between. It was either right or it was wrong. And he said, "We're going to do what is right." And you can depend upon it.

Hansen: But he could be tough. "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev." That was pretty tough. I think the toughest I've ever seen him was in Reykjavik (Iceland) and he walked around the table and leaned down to Gorbachev and said, Nyet (no in Russian) to something they were asking for. The next day we saw a tremendous change in how they were approaching the United States. Up to that point they got what they wanted. They expected a kiss on the cheek that they got from the previous President. They didn't get a kiss on the cheek from this man and he changed it around, because he was so warm, that they became very good friends. Gorbachev was at his funeral.

Bangerter: I would say he was an America first man. And I like that. We don't have enough of that.

De Groote: Tell us about Ronald Reagan and Utah. What kind of connections did he have to Utah and why did he come here so often?

Bangerter: He got a lot of votes. That's a good reason to go anywhere. [laughter] Reagan felt comfortable being in Utah; the people were real. They didn't put on particular airs. I think there's an affinity, that Utah is a good barometer, it's a very Republican state, a very conservative state.

Richards: I was party chairman in Utah in 1968 when we invited Ronald Reagan to come address our convention. That was a year when we were thinking about nominating a candidate for president. Richard Nixon was the frontrunner at the time. Ronald Reagan got up and gave a speech and he just mesmerized the audience, I mean he just took it over. In fact, the Nixon people were mad at me, they called me inside and said, "Dick, why the hell did'ya invite him for?" They were unhappy but the Utah people have loved him ever since.

Ron Fox: Reagan spent a lot of time in Utah. He made nine trips here starting in '68. And I don't know how many trips he made out here as an actor or maybe doing Death Valley Days, but as a politician he made nine trips here as a candidate or someone who came and spoke to the state conventions, or to visit BYU. He just had an affinity for the people. Going through the Deseret News archives, I found over 900 photographs of him in Utah. The one I think most people all remember is when they brought in the elephant to the 1980 State Republican Convention, and I think it surprised him, and he came up there and shook hands with the trunk. It was a great image.

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