On the 100th anniversary of his birthday, President Ronald Reagan was honored with great affection by those who knew him and served with him. And admiration by the president who’s showing a great deal of new interest in him.

The celebration in California was a noble tribute. Reagan Treasury Secretary and Chief of Staff James A. Baker said this:

“He taught us how to be proud again, he taught us how to think big again, well he taught us how to love. I have to tell you, I think he taught us how to love,” Baker said. “So his legacy, in terms of concrete achievement, of course is that he led this nation for eight years, eight years of complete peace and prosperity, and that’s no small feat. But in terms of his character and things like that, he really set a wonderful example for Americans, both past and future…

“The current political climate is different than it was then. In those days, we would fight like hell during the day, and then after 5 o’clock he and (then-House Speaker) Tip O’Neill would retire to the residence for a drink and a few Irish stories,” Baker said. “Today, I’m afraid, we have lost a lot of that. You don’t see as much reaching across the aisle. There is a certain incivility in our politics today, which is quite regrettable, I think.”

It makes Reagan newly appealing. He’s getting a lot of attention lately.

President Barack Obama, in turn, marked the day with a commentary published by USA Today that reminded Americans that Reagan was broadminded enough to compromise on contentious issues like Social Security and tax cuts.

“He understood that while we may see the world differently, and hold different opinions about what?s best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else,” he said.

Obama identified confidence and optimism as Reagan’s most winning traits, and in doing so implicitly drew a parallel to the contemporary American scene.

“At a time when our nation was going through an extremely difficult period, with economic hardship at home and very real threats beyond our borders, it was this positive outlook, this sense of pride, that the American people needed more than anything,” he said.

But it’s more nuanced than that, and Obama has been studying Reagan’s message and his ability to reach the heart of Americans.

Perhaps the hardest thing for Mr Obama to accept about Reagan is that Americans warmed to him not just because of what he did but also because of the sort of person he was. Mr Cannon argues that his political magic did not reside only in his happiness and folksy charm. His greatness was that “he carried a shining vision of America inside him.” He had a simple belief that nothing was impossible in America if only government got out of the way. In rejecting the idea of limits, says Mr Cannon, he expressed a core conviction of the nation.

The Economist notes that Obama does not share this belief…

Here’s another conviction Reagan expressed that many people in the nation share, and wonder whether the current president does as well. On the inside jacket of The Reagan Diaries, in his own handwriting, is the entry Reagan made about the day he was shot. It finishes with this simple line…

Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....