A German’s View On President Ronald Reagan’s Legacy

Ronald Reagan - 40th President of the United StatesSome time ago, I had posted  a book review of Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship by Richard Aldous. The post also included a Youtube video showing former US President Ronald Reagan as he and his wife Nancy welcomed former English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at their ranch in the mountains high above the Santa Barbara area in California.

Watching the video and listening to Ronald Reagan was yet another reminder of how my view of the American society has changed. Naturally, after living for 30+ years in New England, you gain a great deal more knowledge, and, after all, you are very familiar with the language, which eliminates the need for German dubbing or sub-titles.

I still lived in Germany when Reagan was President, and, like these days, I never liked the dogmatism of his politics, and I still don’t share the view that Reagan’s politics ended the Cold War. Like most Europeans, especially my fellow Germans, I believe that the credit belongs to Mikhail Gorbachov (yes, Gorbachov, not Gorbachev – ask a Russian).

I admit it, I didn’t care for Ronald Reagan at the time. However, that view has changed. I am still an unapologetic liberal, married to a formerly registered Republican, and my wife, an Irish-American red-head, did, as far as I know, vote for Reagan. I still have my problem with dogmatism, may it come from left or right or anywhere else. Thus, I still don’t approve of Reagan’s policies, but I have to admit that I learned to like the person Ronald Reagan.

Every video footage that is about the private person also reflects a very warm personality, combined with a good portion of wit when the situation called for it. Reagan had the stunning ability telling somebody in the nicest tone to go to hell and make that somebody look forward to the trip.

There are many anecdotes to prove my point, but one of my favorite stories is about a group of protesters who were invited into his office when he was Governor of California, wearing t-shirts and jeans, and some were barefoot. Their spokesman asked Regan, “Governor, it’s impossible for your generation to understand us. You didn’t grow up in a world of instant electronic communications, of cybernetics, of men computing in seconds what once took months, even years, or jet travel, nuclear power, and journeys into space….” When the young man finished, Reagan answered, “You’re absolutely right. Our generation didn’t have those things when we were growing up. We invented them.” (Source:

And then there is the famous scene from the TV debate with Democratic contender Walter Mondale before the 1984 presidential election where Reagan was asked about his age:

Unfortunately, the fact remains that Reagan suffered from early signs of dementia toward the end of his second term, and in 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease earlier in the year. He died ten years later at the age of 93. He ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents and is credited for generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right.

In hindsight, I would have preferred living here in the US during the eight years with Ronald Reagan as President of the United States rather than the dark years we are facing right now. I have learned to respect the President of the United States, may it be a Democrat or a Republican. I may not agree with the politics, but it makes it easier when you like and respect the person.