The Reagan presidency casts a long shadow. In foreign affairs the symbiotic relationship forged by Reagan and Gorbachev and the achievement of the INF treaty marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War and, as it turned out, of the Soviet Union itself. The demise of the Soviet Union in turn had domestic economic consequences for the United States, the most important of which was a sharp reduction in the record peacetime military spending of the early Reagan years. By the end of the twentieth century, U.S. military spending was 3 percent of the gross domestic product, the lowest level since Pearl Harbor. As discussed in "Staying the Course", this created a context in which a Democratic president and a Republican Congress were in time able to transform the accumulated budget deficits of the Reagan years into a string of surpluses.
The political legacy of the Reagan presidency was also far-reaching. When the Republicans won control of the House in 1994 after a hiatus of nearly four decades, they ran on a platform called the "Contract with America" devised by House Republican leader Newt Gingrich, who took many of its proposals from Reagan's final State of the Union address. That Gingrich received credit for the Republican victory wouldn't have troubled Reagan. Throughout his presidency he kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said, "There's no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
Credit aside, the 1994 election resulted in fifty-three new Republican House members, most of them Reagan disciples. Political historian Michael Barone has observed that there were more New Deal Democrats in 1958 than at any time during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency; similarly, there are more Reagan Republicans in Congress today than when Reagan was in the White House. Like his early hero FDR, Reagan became his party's enduring idol. And like FDR, he influenced the opposition party as much as his own. New Deal measures such as Social Security became so popular that Republican legislators who had fought them tooth and nail embraced them as a matter of political survival. A half century later, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate, many Americans wanted to rein in a pervasive federal government that had lost their trust.