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RONALD REAGAN
A Legacy Remembered

Review by Michael Jacobson

Featuring:  Nancy Reagan, Ron Reagan, Patti Davis, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush, George W. Bush, Casper Weinberger, Ed Meese
Interviewer:  Frank Sesno
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  Reagan family tree, A&E Biography episode on Ronald Reagan
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  March 25, 2003

“What you saw was what you got, and what you got was very good, and very American.”George Schultz on Ronald Reagan

Film ***

I think most of us have an awareness of the terrible destructive power of Alzheimer’s disease, but I don’t know if I’d ever understood it in such a personal way as when I watched Ronald Reagan:  A Legacy Remembered.  At the time of this writing, the former president is still alive and with us—in fact, he had only recently passed his 91st birthday—yet his family always spoke of him in the past tense.  It was a rather heartbreaking revelation to realize that though he lives on in body, the man his family knew and loved so well is already gone to them.

And now I’ll have to ask your patience while I wax a little personal about our country’s 40th president and what he meant to me during my years growing up.

I was born while Nixon was in office, and my parents taught me from a very young age to love God, honor my country, and respect my president.  Neither they nor anybody else could have foreseen the public relations nightmare that was Watergate.  I was only 4 when it happened, and incapable of understanding everything at the time, but it made an impression on me.

In the years that followed, we had Ford, who seemed like an understudy to me, and Carter, who entered the Oval Office with great promise but whose four years saw our nation sink to the lowest state I had seen in my short life.  I can still remember the fearful runaway inflation, the oil crisis, the gas station lines, and the demoralizing blow of our fellow citizens held hostage in Iran while we seemed powerless to act.

I mention all of this only as a prelude to how striking Ronald Reagan was to me, even as an eleven year old boy.  “The Great Communicator”, as he would soon be nicknamed, had a way of speaking publicly that made you feel like he was talking to you personally…and not down to you, but TO you.  When he spoke of returning to America her pride, strength, and economic security, millions cheered…and one pre-teenaged boy in Jacksonville, Florida felt like he belonged to that vision as much as anybody else.

This program from the History Channel gets three stars for effort, but as I write this review, I feel an urgency to fill in some of the gaps left by this 100 minute look back at a remarkable 8 year presidency, as well as to combat the fervent attempts my modern detractors to revise history in order to diminish the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and what he meant to the United States.

The national debt did triple during his years in office as the program points out; that’s true.  But the blame is often placed on his tax cuts and economic policies that few detractors mention pulled this country out of one of it’s worst recessions and created some 19 million new jobs.  The problem wasn’t economic stimulus, it was simply one of spending.  Reagan’s goals were military oriented (Communism was still a real and viable threat in the 80s), while Congress wanted more money for domestic programs.  Each placated the other to get what he/they wanted.  It effectively destroyed one aspect of Reaganomics, which was the reduction of government spending.

His philosophy of surrounding himself with knowledgeable, capable people and letting them do their jobs was a superb one for many years, but there is always the risk that something will go wrong.  In his last years in office, something did, making the Iran-Contra affair the only real scandal of the Reagan presidency.

But his eight years oversaw remarkable growth in this country, a return to optimism and strength, the first crucial steps towards a lasting peace between our nation and the Soviet Union, the first key reductions in nuclear arms, and most of all, something completely intangible:  Reagan let us walk tall again, and after a decade of uncertainty and strife, made us once again proud to be Americans.

A Legacy Remembered doesn’t quite relay that last aspect as well as I would have liked, because ultimately, as a man who spent his formidable years under a Reagan White House, it’s what I’ll always remember about him first and foremost.  If my little nieces and nephews someday ask me what Ronald Reagan was like as a president, that will be what I say.

But the program stretches beyond the political career of the man and touches on his personal life as well.  Loving remembrances from his wife Nancy are heartwarming.  The ones from his sons Michael and Ron and daughter Patti are sometimes even more touching, since his children didn’t exactly see eye to eye with their father in politics.  Former and current presidents George Bush and George W. Bush remember the man personally and not just presidentially.  Even former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev recalls him with warmth and humor.  The combination of plenty of historical footage from his movie career to his early years in politics throughout his presidency and beyond, mixed with modern interviews and recollections, make this a well presented documentary with a distinctly personal touch.

It hasn’t been the same since he left office.  In the years since, we’ve had one rather ineffectual and pale imitator, and one embarrassing perjurer and womanizer who engaged in extramarital activities in the very Oval Office that Reagan wouldn’t even walk into without his coat and tie on.  The jury is still out on our current president, who counts Reagan as one of his heroes…it’s a difficult legacy to live up to.

So in the end, I’ll conclude that while A Legacy Remembered may not be the best record of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it does serve as a nearly complete portrait of him as a husband, father, and human being.  Understanding the man, his faith, his values, his drives and his core beliefs is a wonderful key in understanding the president.

Video ***

This is a good overall presentation overall, mixing new video interview footage with some classic bits.  Modern portions come across cleanly, with good coloring.  It’s mostly “talking heads”, so no need for detail scrutiny or an overall assessment of the imagery.  For a straightforward documentary, it works fine.

Audio **

The stereo soundtrack is as good as can be asked for, given the nature of the program, which is just about all dialogue with a few bits of music here and there.  It’s clean and clear and singular in volume level.

Features **

In addition to a Reagan family tree, this disc includes the “Role of a Lifetime” Ronald Reagan episode of the always excellent A&E program Biography.  It’s less personal but more concise and focused on his presidential years, even covering events left out of Legacy such as the Libya bombings and the air traffic controller strike.

Summary:

Ronald Reagan:  A Legacy Remembered honors a legacy worth remembering.  It’s not a perfect nor a complete tribute to our 40th president, but well assembled and presented with warmth and care.  For Reagan admirers, it’s fitting enough.