Ronald Wilson Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911- June 5, 2004) was the fortieth President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, following Democrat Jimmy Carter and preceding Republican George H. W. Bush. Considered by some conservatives to be the greatest American President, Ronald Reagan is often credited with leading America peacefully through the Cold War, lowering taxes (despite supporting major tax increases in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Highway Revenue Act), promoting a free economy, and staunchly opposing socialism and communism.
Reagan is often credited by conservatives for ending the Cold War in victory for the United States. Historian Tony Judt in Postwar credits Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, while the political scientist Jan Kubik presents a viewpoint that credits Pope John Paul II. Other historians contend structural weaknesses within the Communist bloc meant Reagan's actions were inconsequential to the end of communism. This is the view adopted by Russians themselves, and most political historians, citing [perestroika] and [glasnost] as beginning an inevitable slow fading of central power, and a collapse by irreconcilable differences between the central Soviet Politburo and the constituent republics, especially the Ukraine.
Reagan was strongly opposed to the concept of big government, advocating a reduction in the size and budget of the federal government. During his terms in office, he faced a divided government split between Republican and Democratic control. Reagan also served two terms as governor of California from 1967–1975. He is often referred to as "The Great Communicator".
In one of his most famous challenges to Soviet communism in Europe, Reagan gave a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin in which he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." However, some critics noted that Gorbachev, as the leader of the Soviet Union, did not technically have the final say in the status of the Berlin Wall, since it was located entirely on the territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and thus at the discretion of East German party leader Erich Honecker, who occasionally made a show of resisting Gorbachev's exhortations for reform. Others have noted that the 30,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany and their control of all munitions, was all the leverage Gorbachev needed, if he was truly wanting meaningful reforms.
Reagan's economic policies became known as "Reaganomics" based the idea tax cuts would spur savings and investment. In the 1980 Republican primary debates, George H.W. Bush, later Reagan's running mate and successor as president, criticized Reagan's "trickle-down" policies as "voodoo economics", a remark he later recanted, given the ensuing massive growth of the US GNP in the 1990's and early 2000's.
Reagan was born and raised in Illinois and attended Eureka College, where he quickly developed a reputation as a "jack of all trades", excelling in the areas of athletics and theater. In his first year at Eureka, the president of the college tried to cut back the faculty. Reagan immediately helped organize a student strike. He became a radio sports announcer after graduation, and then a famous actor, leading the Screen Actors Guild. Ironically, Reagan was thus the only president to ever lead a labor union, traditionally considered bastions of liberalism. (It should be noted that Reagan considered himself a liberal, and was a registered Democrat well into the 1950's. Reagan enlisted in the military during World War II, but his eyesight was not good enough for combat duty. He used his acting skills to make military training films and promote the sale of "War Bonds. .
Governor of California
In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California. In 1970, he was re-elected. But in 1974, he chose not to seek a third term. Achievements during his terms included:
- Fighting the People's Park protests, and restoring order to California's chaotic University campuses.
- Working well with the Democrats to forge consensus on a variety of issues.
- Opposing the Dos Rios Dam
In 1968, Reagan ran for president in the Republican primaries. However, Richard Nixon easily beat him. In 1976, he briefly challenged Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination, before withdrawing his name from consideration. Reagan knew if he continued, he would take the nomination away from Ford, and forever be branded as a Party spoiler. This he did not want, so he signaled his wish to be removed from consideration, and gave a very effective speech at the convention in support of Ford. Then, in 1980, he beat George H. W. Bush in the Republican primaries, and went on to oppose Jimmy Carter (incumbent) in the general election with G.H.W. Bush as his running mate. A poor economy and the incumbents failing to deal with several international crisis's aided Reagan. As he put it, "I'm told I can't use the word depression. Well, I'll tell you the definition. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." In the general election, he received 50.75% of the popular vote and 90.9% of the electoral.
Once in office, Reagan showed he was playing hardball. When the Federal Air Traffic Controllers struck illegally, Reagan gave them 48 hours before he fired all who hadn't gone back to work (11,359).
In 1984, Reagan won 49 out of 50 states' electoral votes, and the largest public vote in almost 100 years, 58.77%. During his second term, he helped end the Cold War, with the help of Mikhail Gorbachev, by recognizing the weakness of the Soviet economy, and simply spending them out of existence.
Reagan's 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative became popularly known as "Star Wars," the name given to it by critics because they thought it was pure fantasy like the popular George Lucas films. This plan was never actually instituted. Although billions of dollars have been spent on development, no space-based missile defense system has ever been tested successfully. While supporters of Reagan claim SDI gave the United States a large amount of leverage in its standoff with the Soviet Union, most political scientists and historians note that Star Wars played a fairly minor role in the calculus of Soviet policy-making, where internal structural problems were paramount.
Reagan was not the first President to increase the national debt -- in fact, the nation's first debts were incurred during the Revolutionary War. Nor did his Presidency see the largest increases -- while the debt increased by 160% during his two terms in office, it increased as a greater rate during World War II. However, the recent history of the national debt is intimately tied to Reagan. Fueled by tax cuts and a large defense build-up, the debt grew to record-setting levels during his tenure, and his administration saw the beginning of the current, relaxed attitude towards large deficits, offset by large cuts in Federal Government spending. By the end of Reagan's second term, the national debt had reached $2.6 trillion, or 53% of GNP, its highest level since WWII.
- Reagan's 1994 announcement that he had Alzheimer's Disease brought large amounts of public attention to the disease.
- Reagan was a lifeguard for seven years growing up, and was said to have saved 77 people .
- The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located in Simi Valley, California .
- Reagan is also the only president ever to have starred in a film co-starring a chimpanzee, "Bedtime for Bonzo" (1951).
- Reagan was the first president to break the "Curse of Tippecanoe"
- At 69, Reagan was the oldest man elected to the presidency.
- Reagan loved jelly beans . The blueberry flavor was made in his honor. Jelly Belly even created a Ronald Reagan portrait out of jelly beans.
- David Remnick, "Lenin's Tomb