The comments section is interesting, with a variety of different Dem-leaing views on Reagan (and they're not all bad, though quite a few are). And I definitely agree with John--I'd take Reagan over the 2012 Republican hopefuls.
I think Democrats should realize that anyone coming to their party from the GOP who is over the age of 30 probably still has a warm spot for Reagan. I know I do. I still have my “peace through strength” buttons. I still recall all the stories about Reagan and Tip O’Neill. He was a charismatic guy, and for a lot of people like me, even though we know his policies may not have worked out for the best in the long term in every situation and in some cases were criminal, we still have a fondness for him. Sue me.
More importantly, it is worthwhile to examine how much worse the current GOP is. Reagan may have been a lot of things, but I never perceived him as a hater. Yes, he pandered to the Base elements of the base, but all Republicans have to in order to get elected. Put it this way- which would you take- any one of the potential Republican nominees in 2012, or Reagan?
My personal assessment is basically this: Reagan certainly did some reprehensible things in his time in office (ignoring the AIDS crisis, for example) and his administrative style and "deficits don't matter" business were immensely damaging. But I think it's fair to say that he exceeded expectations overall. He was realistic and clearly grew in his views on foreign policy over the years. I don't really have a lot of bitterness toward him, though I understand a lot of people who were older than four at the time probably have deeper and more negative feelings about the guy. I really can't say. To me, it could have been worse.
But I will say that the Republican Reagan fetish is revelatory. It's a statement not that they're out of ideas, but rather that the movement isn't really animated by ideas, but rather by personalities. Even now, conservatives still can't quit George W. Bush. He's a good guy, remember? But Obama is bad, despite continuing more of Bush's policies than I would have hoped. Reagan? Good. Carter? Bad. Carter wasn't quite conservative, but there was plenty of conservative stuff in his platform, and he of course got challenged by Ted Kennedy. That doesn't prove he wasn't left-wing? At this point, the notion that Reagan's name alone can sell policies to conservatives (especially ones that Reagan himself opposed!) doesn't indicate that the GOP is out of new ideas. It means that ideas are irrelevant to them right now. And it means that conservatives can be so easily manipulated by the likes of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the coven that so completely destroyed their party.