No, Ronald Reagan didn’t appeal to people’s optimism, he appealed to their petty, small minded bigotry and selfishness. Jimmy Carter told people to tighten their energy belts and act for the good of the country; Ronald Reagan told them they could guzzle gas with impunity and do whatever the hell they wanted. He kicked off his 1980 campaign talking about "state’s rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi — the site of the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964′s Freedom Summer. He thus put up a welcome sign for "Reagan Democrats," peeling off white voters who were unhappy with the multi-ethnic coalition within the Democratic Party.
One of his first acts was to fire 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 — one of the most devastating union busting moves of the past century. And his vision of deregulation didn’t free the country up for entrepreneurship, it opened it up for the wholesale thievery of the savings & loan crisis. He popularized the notion that all government is bad government and in eight short years put in place the architecture for decades of GOP graft and corruption.
There’s enough hagiography of Reagan on the right, I don’t think Democrats really need to go there.