The Mixed Legacies of Ronald Reagan



  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this essay was originally delivered at the symposium on “The Legacy of Ronald Reagan” at Regent University in February 2008.

Hugh Heclo is Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He is most recently author of Christianity and American Democracy and On Thinking Institutionally.


As with all important leaders, Ronald Reagan's legacy is a complex thing. It is a mixture of intended accomplishments and unintended by-products, of actions taken and things left undone. Although partisans push for simple verdicts, the best way of honoring Reagan's memory is to try to offer an honest, well-rounded assessment of his lasting impact on our national political life. I assess the bequest of Reagan's presidency to the future under eight headings of broad public concern: the welfare state, taxation, national security, the presidency, personnel, party politics, political leadership, and the person himself.