Reagan Symposium: What Made 'The Gipper' Great

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Regent University hosted its 7th Annual Ronald Reagan Symposium this weekend. And with the 2012 presidential election looming on the horizon, its theme was especially timely.

This year's speakers examined President Ronald Reagan's leadership traits, something they say can help voters at the polls.

Political scientist Paul Kengor said Reagan's faith-based optimism was one of his most important leadership qualities. It sustained him in tough times, like in 1976 when he lost the Republican presidential nomination.

"His daughter Maureen, cried for two weeks," Kengor said. "His staff was all upset. They said, 'This is it. It's all over. In 1980 you'll be 70 years old. The country won't elect a 70-year-old president.' That's how we thought back then."

"And Reagan said, 'Don't worry about it. God's in control," Kengor recalled.

Many of the speakers noted that Reagan's core beliefs helped anchor him. Several said his self-deprecating humor kept his ego in check and served him politically as well.

"He acted like he was on the level with ordinary people," The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes said. "And he felt that he was, even though behind that he was extraordinarily wise and smart and well-educated, on his own."

One of Reagan's secrets was what the experts call his "self-education."

"Especially in the 1950s he was reading the early classics of the modern conservative movement like Road to Serfdom, Witness, the National Review magazine," Dr. Steven Hayward with the American Enterprise Institute, said.

"And these books were not part of the liberal tradition," he noted. "They were not taught on university campuses. No students were reading them, but he was reading them on his own."

Many Americans will remember Reagan's role in defeating communism, re-invigorating the economy, and encouraging a national sense of optimism.

But experts say what's also important to remember, especially in this election year, is that his leadership qualities helped make all these achievements possible.

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Heather Sells

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