Nearly one-third of the U.S. population today was born after Ronald Reagan left the White House. They'll never have any personal memory of Reagan, and millions more remember him just as the old guy who was president when they were little. Someone else -- teachers, historians, the media -- will likely shape whatever opinions they have of Reagan.
It's no wonder that a battle is under way for the 40th president's legacy.
After recent events commemorating Reagan's 100th birthday in his home of Southern California, it's clear that the guardians of Reagan's legacy -- the veterans of his administration, the younger conservatives who study his every move and the Republicans who devoutly hope another Reagan will arrive on the scene as soon as possible -- aren't quite sure how to fight the fight. They've worked hard to remind the world that Reagan stood for policies like lower taxes, less regulation and a strong defense. Yet increasingly, in the public conversation, they have seen Reagan portrayed simplistically as a genial pragmatist from a less divided time in our nation's politics.
"These days, at a distance of more than a generation, you hear even liberal-leaning commentators reminiscing about the Reagan years in a way that doesn't always ring true to me," former Vice President Dick Cheney said at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara on Feb. 5. "They speak of it as a gentler time in politics, when supposedly debates were more cordial, and opponents on Capitol Hill were unfailingly civil and respectful toward the president. I hope I'm not disillusioning anybody, but I don't quite remember it that way."