Ronald Wilson Reagan

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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 one of the greatest American Presidents, 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)[1], 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[2]. 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.[1]

Political Commentator 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. [3]

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." [4]

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 for six of his eight years as President. Even then, when the Democrats gained control of the House and Senate, he was known for forging alliances with the Democratic Speaker, Tim O'Neil, among others, to effectively pass legislation.

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.

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, the president of the college tried to cut back the faculty. He graduated Eureka with a degree in economics. 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. [2]. 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 future wife, actress Nancy Davis, when she ended up on the "Black List" and came to him for help. [5]

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.
  • Led a massive revision of California's massive public assistance programs, actually increasing benefits to the needy.
  • 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.

Presidential Legacy

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, many 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, but it should be noted that the threat the Soviet Union felt from the initiative was instrumental in making them step-up negoiations, according to many involved with diplomacy at the time.

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. [6]


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.


The Iran-Contra Affair was a political scandal in the United States during the 1980s, considered by some on the left to be one of the largest political scandals in history.[1] Large volumes of documents relating to the scandal were withheld from investigators by Reagan Administration officials.[2] The affair is still shrouded with secrecy and it is very hard to discover the facts. It involved several members of the Reagan Administration who in 1986 helped sell arms to Iran, an avowed enemy, and used the proceeds to fund the Contras, an anti-communist guerrilla organization in Nicaragua. [3]

After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred.[4] However, a week later, on November 13, he returned to the airwaves to affirm, after a internal White House investigation, that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages, or that he had any knowledge of the planning or implemantation of the plan(Carried out by Colonel Oliver North, among others). [5] See [7]for complete citation and further information.

Miscellaneous Facts

  • 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 [3].
  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located in Simi Valley, California [4].
  • Was the first American President to have ever led a Labor Union, the AFL-CIO allied Screen Actors Guild.
  • At 69, Reagan was the oldest man elected to the presidency.


  1. David Remnick, "Lenin's Tomb

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