Ronald Wilson Reagan

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Ronald Wilson Reagan
40th President of the United States
Term of office
January 20, 1981 - January 20, 1989
Political party Republican
Vice President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush
Born February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois, USA
Died June 5, 2004
Bel Air, California
Spouse Jane Wyman
Nancy Davis Reagan
Religion Presbyterian

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911- June 5, 2004), considered by many to be one of the greatest American Presidents, was the fortieth President of the United States of America from 1981 to 1989, following Democrat Jimmy Carter and preceding Republican George H. W. Bush. Ronald Reagan is credited with leading America peacefully through the Cold War, lowering taxes, promoting a free economy, and helping bring about the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He was known affectionately to Americans as "The Gipper," harking back to a film where he was cast as All-American George Gip.)[1]

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." Reagan's economic policies became known as "Reaganomics" based on the idea that tax cuts will spur savings and investment. 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 Congress split between Republican and Democratic control for six of his eight years as President. Reagan was known for forging alliances with the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, among others, to effectively pass legislation.

Early Life

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, where Reagan earned a degree in economics, the president of the college tried to cut back the faculty. Reagan immediately helped organize a student strike. 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. [1].

Reagan became a radio sports announcer, 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. Reagan himself was a registered Democrat well into the 1950's, but as head of the Screen Actors Guild he fought against communist infiltration. Peggy Noonan, wrote: Even in his zeal to purge the communist influence from Hollywood, he fought those who engaged in witch hunts and defended those who had been falsely accused of involvement. Reagan met his second wife, actress Nancy Davis, when she ended up on the "Black List" and came to him for help. [2]

Governor of California

In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, succeeding Pat Brown. In 1970, he was re-elected. But in 1974, he chose not to seek a third term and was succeeded by Jerry Brown. Achievements during his terms included:

  • Fighting the People's Park protests, and restoring order to California's chaotic University campuses.
  • Led a comprehensive and far-reaching revision of California's massive public assistance programs, actually increasing benefits to the truly needy.
  • Working well with the Democrats to forge consensus on a variety of issues.
  • Opposing the Dos Rios Dam.


President & Mrs. Reagan with their extended family.

In 1968, Reagan was a late candidate for president in the Republican primaries. However, Richard Nixon easily won that nomination. In 1976, Reagan 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 incumbent's failing to deal with several international crises 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 and Pope John Paul II by recognizing the weakness of the Soviet economy, and spent them out of existence by not being able to compete with defense spending. [2]


Fueled by an over spending Congress that steadfastly refused Reagan's budget proposals, the national debt increased 160% during his two terms in office. The economic growth that resulted from tax cuts made deficits as a percentage of GDP lower than what they had been in during the previous decade of stagflation.

Foreign policy

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 fully instituted. Although billions of dollars have been spent on development, no space-based missile defense was tested successfully until 2006. While many academics claim SDI gave the United States a large amount of leverage in its standoff with the Soviet Union, many political scientists and historians note that Star Wars played a secondary role in the calculus of Soviet policy-making, where internal structural problems were paramount. However, it should be noted that the threat the Soviet Union felt from the initiative was instrumental in making them step-up negotiations, according to many involved with diplomacy at the time. Henry Kissinger wrote: I know it's an axiomatic view of the Left around the world that missile defense is sinful, and that it's desirable to keep each nation as vulnerable as possible. But that's a debatable premise. The U.S. must defend itself against whoever has missiles that would threaten the United States. And you don't have to be able to name an enemy. [3]

"Mr.Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Upon his death, Margaret Thatcher commented: As Prime Minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his presidency. And I have had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great president. Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles - and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively. When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled, or disorientated, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do. When his aides were preparing option papers for his decision, they were able to cut out entire rafts of proposals that they knew 'the Old Man' would never wear. When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look confidently to Washington for firm leadership. And when his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his resolve was firm and unyielding. Yet his ideas, though clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth. Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform. Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow's 'evil empire'. But he realised that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from within its dark corridors. So the President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation. Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity - and nothing was more American. [4]

Soviet Union

Shortly after taking office in 1981 Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 11-82, (NSDD 11-82), that explicitly made U.S. defense spending a form of economic warfare against the Soviets. The United States would "exploit and demonstrate the enduring economic advantages of the West to develop a variety of [arms] systems that are difficult for the Soviets to counter, impose disproportionate costs, open up new areas of major military competition and obsolesce previous Soviet investment or employ sophisticated strategic options to achieve this end. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or “Star Wars” as the media referred to it, was a costly high tech research and development program designed to make arms spending a "rising burden on the Soviet economy.” [3]

Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik

A report by the CIA of the critical domestic economic problems and social discontent Soviet CPSU General Secretary Gorbachev provided a look what the sources of his principal dilemma-the very reforms needed to deal with the problems would threaten preservation of the nomenklatura and put at risk Gorbachev’s ability to maintain the power to bring about Perestroika. [4] Gorbachev requested a Summit with Reagan in Reykjavik in October 1986 to discuss the stresses competition from the Reagan’s defense posture was having on Soviet military spending and economy, and Gorbachev’s ability to carryout his plans of restructuring Communist control. Gorbachev told the Politburo in preparation for the Summit, “Our goal is to prevent the next round of arms race. If we do not do this…will pulled into an arms race beyond our power, and we will lose this race, for we are presently at the limit of out capabilities.” [5]

By the late 80s, the Soviet Union began unilateral force cuts and troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe, and by May 1989 an unprecedented series of disclosures by senior Soviet officials revealed actual reductions in defense spending for the 1986-1990 and 1991-1995 Five Year Plan periods. [6] Genrikh Grofimenko, a former adviser to Leonid Brezhnev, said "Ninety-nine percent of the Russian people believe that [the US] won the Cold War because of your president's insistence on SDI" [7]

Containment and the Iranian initiative

In 1985, after Reagan won reelection to his second term, the focus turned from reviving the domestic economy to several foreign policy matters which had been lingering throughout the decade. One such matter involved Iran, a long time ally of the Western Allies since 1941 that had experienced an Islamic Revolution in 1979 after President Carter announced Human Rights had superseded Containment as the primary focus of American foreign policy. Since 1980 Iran had been enmeshed in a brutal trench war with neighboring Iraq which was emerging as a potent military threat in the region to other allies. Members of the National Security Council staff, along with CIA Director William Casey, persuaded Reagan much could be gained and several problems could be addressed simultaneously with an overture to Iran to restore relations.

The objective of the plan was fourfold (1) take steps to restore good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran which was becoming increasingly hostile to the West; (2) take measures to convince Iran that Israel could become a friend and ally; (3) insurance against Iraq becoming too strong which and become a threat to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia; (4) provide funding for other operations to continue the policy of containment in the Western Hemisphere, most notably Nicaragua, and the violence the Soviet/Cuban/Nicaragua connection was creating in El Salvador and Honduras.

There were humanitarian aspects to the proposal as well; (1) the Iran-Iraq War had stalemated for nearly six years and Reagan was advised that he was in the unique position as President to help facilitate bringing a senseless war with much suffering to an end; (2) the suffering of the people of the Central American Republics at the hands of Soviet inspired subversion which had in the decade of the 80s established a beachhead in North America; (3) Iran perhaps could be persuaded to use its good offices and influence hostage takers in Lebanon who had held several Western prisoners, many of the Christian Missionaries, for several years.

Reports had filtered back to Reagan that children as young as nine years old had been used by Iran to clear minefields. [8] In weighing Iraq's delicate Sunni/Shia balance and the growing threat of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, the NSC staff and Casey recognized the dangers of an Iraqi collapse as well as the urgent need to dissuade Iran from continuing its ruthless and inhumane tactics. [9]

The Boland amendment, a Vietnam era-style Congressional impingement on the legitimate foreign policy prerogatives of the Executive via the power of the purse, was used to deny Reagan's recommitment to the Truman Doctrine which had been adhered to by every President, Democratic and Republican alike since Truman, with the exception of President Carter who's human rights policy had brought one of the active belligerents, the Ayatollah Khomeini, to power. In three of the active Soviet fronts, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, some Congressional Democratic leaders were openly sympathetic to Soviet foreign policy.[10][11] So the decision was made to fund Containment of Soviet objectives on an active front in North America with sales of TOW missiles to Iran. Israel provided the TOWs because the Boleyn Amendment forbade direct US funding and it was a welcome opportunity for Israel to build bridges to a much needed friend in the Middle East.

Cold War victory

Reagan is credited for ending the Cold War in victory for the United States.[Citation Needed] 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[5]. 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 many 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.[12] In the end, the consensus seems to point to all of the above, that hastened the demise of the Soviet Union; Internal factors, religious pressure brought by the Pope, Gorbachev's "Perestroika" and the united front of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, leading NATO and the West to embed a missile defense system in Western Europe, and the economic superiority of Capitalism, which simply out-spent and out-performed that of the Communist one. One thing that cannot be quantified is Reagan's ability to give hope, his never-ending optimism that good would indeed triumph over evil. Many see that as key to bringing extra confidence to those locked behind the "Iron Curtain" to press even harder for reforms.

Columnist Cal Thomas wrote about it like this: He proved he was right about the big things. Faced with editorial denunciations at home and massive demonstrations in Europe against his plan to put missiles there to offset a Soviet threat, Reagan went ahead and did it anyway. The Soviets could not keep pace with the buildup or Reagan's proposed missile defense system (derided by critics as "Star Wars"). When those critics could not bring themselves to admit they were wrong, they unpersuasively claimed the Soviet Union fell under its own weight. More accurately, Reagan pushed it onto "the ash heap of history," with the able assistance of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. What Reagan did more than anything else - and it will be his lasting legacy - is replace despair with hope. Most people, even his detractors, felt a glow from being in his presence. He was the kindest, most gracious president I have met, and I have met them all since JFK. In his presence you felt he was interested in you and not himself. He was a good man. [6]

Brian Mulroney, the Canadian Prime Minister, said of Reagan: "Some in the West during the early 1980s believed communism and democracy were equally valid and viable. This was the school of "moral equivalence." In contrast Ronald Reagan saw Soviet communism as a menace to be confronted in the genuine belief that its squalid underpinning would fall swiftly to the gathering winds of freedom. Provided, as he said, that NATO and the industrialized democracies stood firm and united. They did. And we know now who was right." [7]

  • Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan paid tribute to the fallen president in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. In it, Noonan noted: "Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union ‘evil,’ because it was, and an ‘empire,’ because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course, it didn’t fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid." [8]

Retirement & Alzheimer's

Presidential Legacy

Miscellaneous Facts

  • Reagan was the first and only labor leader and former President of an AFL-CIO union ever elected US President.
  • Reagan was the first and only divorced president.
  • Reagan was a lifeguard for seven years growing up, and was said to have saved 77 people [13].
  • At 69, Reagan was the oldest man elected to the presidency.
  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located in Simi Valley, California [14].
  • Reagan's 1994 announcement that he had Alzheimer's Disease brought large amounts of public attention to the disease.


  • "The house we hope to build is not for my generation but for yours. It is your future that matters. And I hope that when you are my age, you will be able to say as I have been able to say: We lived in freedom. We lived lives that were a statement, not an apology." - January 20, 1981
  • "...peace is the highest aspiration of the American People. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, we will never surrender for it, now or ever." - January 20, 1981
  • "We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look." - January 20, 1981
  • "I've learned in Washington, that that's the only place where sound travels faster than light." - December 12, 1983
  • "The challenge of statesmanship is to have the vision to dream of a better, safer world and the courage, persistence, and patience to turn that dream into reality." - March 8, 1985
  • "I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers: Go ahead, make my day." —March 13, 1985, in a speech threatening to veto legislation raising taxes.[16]
  • "A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets rough." - December 5, 1990
  • "The challenge of statesmanship is to have the vision to dream of a better, safer world and the courage, persistence, and patience to turn that dream into reality." - March 8, 1985
  • "If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." —Speech at the Berlin Wall, June 12, 1987[17]
  • "...I know it's hard when you're up to your armpits in alligators to remember you came here to drain the swamp." - February 10, 1982
  • "There is no question that we have failed to live up to the dreams of the founding fathers many times and in many places. Sometimes we do better than others. But all in all, the one thing we must be on guard against is thinking that because of this, the system has failed. The system has not failed. Some human beings have failed the system." - June 21, 1973
  • "The work of volunteer groups throughout our country represents the very heart and soul of America. They have helped make this the most compassionate, generous, and humane society that ever existed on the face of this earth." - Oct. 16, 1973
  • "...peace is the highest aspiration of the American People. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, we will never surrender for it, now or ever." - January 20, 1981
  • "In America, our origins matter less than our destination, and that is what democracy is all about." - August 17, 1992[18]


  2. Demise of the Brezhnev Doctrine and the Dismantling of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, " The party leadership gradually came to understand that the sustaining of domestic perestroika in the USSR was endangered by the inability of an inefficient economy to carry the burdens of excessive overseas military spending in the form of the Warsaw Pact".
  3. Peter Schweizer , Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, New York: Doubleday, 2002.
  4. CIA Assessments of the Soviet Union: Chapter 5, Enter Gorbachev , Douglas J. MacEachin, CIA Publications, 1996.
  5. Notes of Politburo Meeting 4 October 1986, Gorbachev's instructions for the group preparing for Reykjavik,
  6. Christopher Wilkinson NATO Review, Soviet Defense Spending, NATO's Economics Directorate No. 2 - April 1991, Vol. 39 p. 16-22
  7. Peter Schweizer, Reagan’s War.
  8. Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Iraqi Retreats, 1982-84,, retrieved 20 March 2007.
  9. NSDD 139, 5 April 1984.
  10. One Weekend in April, A Long Time Ago . . . What John Kerry thought about the Sandinista in Nicaragua, Hugh Hewitt, The Weekly Standard, 09/09/2004.
  11. Kerry: 'I'm Proud I Stood Against Reagan Carl Limbacher and Staff, 7 June 2004.
  12. David Remnick, "Lenin's Tomb

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