President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday is taking place this weekend amid a wave of nostalgia and a growing sense his long-term importance has surmounted the bitterly partisan policy fights during his White House tenure.
Though a Republican icon, he also has become something of a political role model for the current Democratic president.
Even before Barack Obama entered the White House, he hailed Reagan for conveying "a sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing" and which, unlike the case with other recent presidents, "put us on a fundamentally different path."
During his recent holiday vacation, aides said Obama's reading list included Lou Cannon's epic Reagan biography, suggesting he might be seeking lessons on how Reagan won re-election after a stinging mid-term election setback in difficult economic times.
Though their views are substantially different, their political situations are strikingly similar. Both Obama and Reagan:
* Restored their party to the White House after a campaign that stirred great hope of overcoming the country's recent woes and benefited from the failings of a troubled incumbent president.
* Began his tenure confronted with a difficult economic situation he did not cause and that persisted well into his term.
* Won early passage of a controversial economic program to fight the country's long-term economic and fiscal problems that failed to provide an immediate boost.
* Suffered a sharp decline in his initial popularity and a mid-term election defeat in which he lost working control of the House of Representatives but narrowly maintained a majority of the Senate.
* Faced an opposition party whose divisions and ideological rigidity ultimately played into his hands.
* Had a capacity for conveying the temper of the times in an optimistic way that reached beyond partisan boundaries.
Nearly three decades later, it's easy to forget how dire Reagan's political prospects looked at this point in his presidency. For two solid years, his job approval remained under 50 percent, hitting an all-time low of 35 percent in January 1983.
As late as January 1984, Reagan trailed his prospective Democratic rival, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
But the economy improved and the Democrats nominated in Mondale an able man who epitomized the past, not the future, and represented a liberal wing that lacked broad appeal.
Mondale's candidacy was unpopular with many conservative Democrats. And when he declared at his party's 1984 convention that he would raise taxes, he suffered politically -- though he predicted accurately that Reagan would do so, too.
Indeed, Reagan had already attained mythic qualities after surviving a 1981 assassination attempt and attracted support from many voters who didn't necessarily agree with him.
Obama displayed similar qualities in becoming the nation's first black president, enabling him to carry such usually conservative states as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia.
But he lost support by pursuing traditionally Democratic policy prescriptions, notably the controversial health reform law that political foes continue to fight and an economic stimulus that had only modest short-term impact.
Now, the Democratic loss of the House seems to have liberated Obama. His numbers, never as low as Reagan's, have inched upward after enactment -- with Republican help -- of a compromise tax measure, his speech effectively expressing the national mood after the Tucson shootings and signs the economic recovery is finally gaining momentum.
Though this week's uprisings in Egypt are reminders how other issues can intrude, 2012 looks like a year in which, as Democratic strategist James Carville so memorably declared in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid."
Reagan's political fortunes soared as unemployment, which peaked at 10.8 percent in November 1982, dropped to the same 7.5 level as when he was inaugurated. It was, as his campaign declared, "Morning in America."
Obama has suffered politically from his own administration's over-optimistic prediction that the stimulus would hold unemployment to 8 percent.
It was 7.7 percent when he took office and peaked at 10.1 percent in October 2009, Like Reagan, he should benefit as it declines.
Obama certainly won't match Reagan's 1984 achievement of carrying 49 states. But if the economy replicates the turnaround of the 1980s, Obama stands a good chance of matching Reagan's success in winning re-election two years after economic woes made his prospects seem questionable at best.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via e-mail at: email@example.com.