Ronald Reagan

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Ronald Wilson Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Term of office January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush
Date of birth February 6, 1911
Place of birth Tampico, Illinois
Spouse Nancy Reagan
Political party Republican

Ronald Wilson Reagan, (February 6, 1911June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (19811989) and the 33rd Governor of California (19671975). Before entering politics, Reagan was also a broadcaster, film actor, and head of the Screen Actors Guild.

An icon of the American conservative movement, Reagan is credited by his supporters with transforming the politics of 1980s America, galvanizing the success of the United States Republican Party, uniting a coalition of economic conservatives who supported his economic policies later known as "Reaganomics," foreign policy conservatives who favored his staunch opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union over the détente of his predecessors, and social conservatives who identified with Reagan's conservative religious and social ideals.

Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter to win election in a 1980 electoral college landslide, the start of the so-called "Reagan Revolution" that marked a major shift in American electoral politics and brought a 12-seat change in the United States Senate, giving the Republican Party a majority for the first time in 28 years. Upon his election, Reagan became the oldest president to enter office, at the age of 69. He was reelected in a landslide in the 1984 presidential election, defeating Carter's Vice President Walter Mondale by winning 49 of 50 states and receiving nearly 60 percent of the popular vote.

He died in 2004 at the age of 93, after years of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.


Early life and career

Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, the second of two sons to catholic, Irish-American democrat John "Jack" Reagan and Nelle Wilson, who was of English and Scottish descent. One of his four great-grandfathers immigrated to the United States from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, Ireland in the 1860s. Prior to his grandfather's immigration, the family name was spelled Regan.

In 1920, after years of moving from town to town, the family settled in Dixon, Illinois. In 1921, at the age of 10, Reagan was baptized in his mother's Disciples of Christ church in Dixon (although his brother, Neil, became a Roman Catholic, like their father, Jack), and in 1924 Ronald Reagan began attending Dixon's Northside High School. Reagan always considered Dixon to be his hometown.

Ronald and his older brother Neil, with parents Jack and Nelle Reagan. (ca. 1916-1917)
Ronald and his older brother Neil, with parents Jack and Nelle Reagan. (ca. 1916-1917)

In 1927, at age 16, Reagan took a summer job as a lifeguard in Lowell Park, two miles away from Dixon on the nearby Rock River. He continued to work as a lifeguard for the next seven years, reportedly saving 77 people from drowning. Reagan would later joke that none of them ever thanked him. In future years, he would point to that achievement proudly showing visitors a picture of Rock River in the Oval Office.

In 1928, Reagan entered Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, majoring in economics and sociology, and graduating in 1932. In 1929 Reagan joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity which he later recalled during numerous interviews and conversations as one of the greatest experiences he had during his college years. Though earning mediocre grades, he made many lasting friendships. Reagan developed an early gift for storytelling and acting. He was a radio announcer as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs baseball games, getting only the bare outlines of the game from a ticker and relying on his imagination and storytelling gifts to flesh out the game. Once in 1934, during the ninth inning of a Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game, the wire went dead. Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both teams fouled off pitches) until the wire was restored.


In 1937, when in California to cover spring training for the Chicago Cubs as a radio announcer, Reagan took a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers studio. Reagan's clear voice and athletic physique made him popular with some audiences; the majority of his screen roles were as the leading man in B movies. His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love Is On the Air. By the end of 1939, he had appeared in 19 films. In 1940 he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American. From this role he acquired the nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest of his life. Reagan considered his best acting work to have been in Kings Row (1942). He played the part of a young man whose legs were amputated. He used a line he spoke in this film, "Where's the rest of me?", as the title for his autobiography. Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, and Bedtime for Bonzo. Reagan was kidded widely about the last named film because his co-star was a chimpanzee. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6374 Hollywood Blvd.

Nancy and Ronald Reagan married in 1952. Nancy Reagan became a powerful and important background advisor in Ronald Reagan's rise and roles as governor and president.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan married in 1952. Nancy Reagan became a powerful and important background advisor in Ronald Reagan's rise and roles as governor and president.

Reagan was commissioned as a reserve cavalry officer in the U.S. Army in 1935. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was activated and assigned, partially due to his poor eyesight, to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Forces, which made training and education films. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war, attaining the rank of captain. Reagan tried repeatedly to go overseas for combat duty, but was turned down because of his astigmatism.

Reagan married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. They had a daughter, Maureen in 1941 and adopted a son, Michael in 1945. Their second daughter, Christine Reagan , was born four months prematurely on June 26, 1947 and lived only one day. They divorced in 1948, later making Reagan the first American President to have been divorced. Reagan remarried in 1952 to actress Nancy Davis. Their daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year. On 20 May 1958 they had a second child, Ron.

As Reagan's film roles became fewer in the late 1950s, he moved into television as a host and frequent performer for General Electric Theater. Reagan appeared in many live television plays and often co-starred with Nancy. Reagan served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) from 1947 until 1952, and again from 1959 to 1960. In 1952, a Hollywood scandal raged over his granting of a SAG blanket waiver to MCA, which allowed it to both represent and employ talent for its burgeoning TV franchises. He went from host and program supervisor of General Electric Theater to producing and claiming an equity stake in the TV show itself. At one point in the late 1950s, Reagan was earning approximately $125,000 per year. His final regular acting job was as host and performer on Death Valley Days. Reagan's final big-screen appearance came in the 1964 film The Killers, in which, uncharacteristically, he played a mob chieftain. This film was a remake of an earlier version, based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Reagan's co-stars were John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin.

Early political career

Reagan began his political life as a Democrat, supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. He gradually became a staunch social and fiscal conservative. He embarked upon the path that led him to a career in politics during his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In this position, he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Communist influence in Hollywood. He also kept tabs on actors he considered disloyal and informed on them to the FBI under the code name "Agent T-10," but he would not denounce them publicly. He supported the practice of blacklisting in Hollywood. Believing that the Republican Party was better able to combat communism, Reagan gradually abandoned his left-of-center political views, supporting the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960—all while Reagan was still a Democrat.

His employment by the General Electric company further enhanced his political image; he travelled widely as a GE spokesman, and was noted for his anti-Communist speeches. By the 1964 election, Reagan was an outspoken supporter of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater. His nationally televised speech "A Time for Choosing" electrified conservatives; soon after, several top Republican contributors visited Reagan at his home in Pacific Palisades, California, urging him to seek the governorship in 1966. Though these requests were initially "laughed off" by Reagan, he says in his autobiography, he eventually gave in, after countless sleepless nights.

Party Affiliation: From Democrat to Republican

Ronald Reagan was a well-known Democrat before becoming a Republican. Growing up, his father was a staunch Democrat. Reagan remembered that his father had refused to take him to the movie "Birth of a Nation", because of its racial stereotypes. He bragged about his father's not wanting to stay in a certain hotel because they did not accept Jews; his only alternative was to sleep in his car. Ronald Reagan himself had supported FDR and gave speeches for Harry S Truman. Reagan’s change in party affiliation came about at a time when the country seemed to be making a different turn. In the 60's Reagan became a Republican due to the party's hard-line stance against communism. He began to campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964.


Order: 33rd Governor of California
Term of Office: 19661975
Predecessor: Pat Brown
Successor: Jerry Brown
Political Party: Republican
Lieutenant Governor: Robert Hutchinson Finch, Ed Reinecke, John L. Harmer

On June 17th 1966 California gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: "I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, defeating two-term incumbent Pat Brown; he was reelected in 1970, defeating Jesse Unruh, but chose not to seek a third term. During the People's Park protests, he sent 2,200 National Guard troops onto the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Reagan made it clear that the policies of his administration would not be influenced by student agitation, saying "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with, no more appeasement." When left-wing SLA terrorists kidnapped Patty Hearst in Berkeley and gave a list of demands that included free distribution of food to the poor, Reagan suggested that it would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism. After the media caught wind of the comment, he apologized.

In his first term, he froze government hiring, but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget. He worked with Democrat Assembly Speaker, Bob Moretti, to reform welfare in 1971. Reagan also opposed the construction of a large federal dam, the Dos Rios, which would have flooded a valley of Indian ranches. Later, Reagan and his family took a summer backpack trip into the high Sierra to a place where a proposed trans-Sierra highway would be built. Once there, he declared it would not be built. One of Reagan's greatest frustrations in office concerned capital punishment. He had campaigned as a strong supporter; however, his efforts to enforce the state's laws in this area were thwarted when the Supreme Court of California issued its People v. Anderson decision, which invalidated all death sentences passed in California prior to 1972. Although the decision was quickly overturned by a constitutional amendment, there would not be another execution in California until 1992.

Reagan promoted the dismantling of the public psychiatric hospital system, proposing that community-based housing and treatment replace involuntary hospitalization, which he saw as a violation of civil liberties issue. According to some Reagan critics, the community replacement facilities were never adequately funded, either by Reagan or by his successors.

Presidential campaigns

Reagan's first attempt to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 was unsuccessful. He tried again in 1976 against incumbent Gerald Ford, but was narrowly defeated at the Republican National Convention.

In 1980, Reagan finally succeeded in gaining the Republican nomination for president. During the convention, Reagan discussed the possibility of choosing former President Gerald Ford as his running mate, but he ultimately selected George H. W. Bush. As an opponent of Reagan's during the presidential primaries, Bush had declared he would never be Reagan's Vice-President. Bush was many things Reagan was not--a lifelong Republican, a combat veteran and an internationalist with UN, CIA and China experience. Bush's economic and political philosophies were decidely more moderate than Reagan's. Bush had, in fact, referred to Reagan's supply-side influenced proposal for a 30% across-the-board tax cut as "voodoo economics."

After the Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan gave a campaign speech at an annual county fair outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers Murders of 1964.

During the speech, Reagan stated "I believe in states' rights" and "I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment." He went on to promise to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them." [1]

1980 Presidential electoral votes by state.
1980 Presidential electoral votes by state.

The campaign, led by William J. Casey, was conducted in the shadow of the Iran hostage crisis; some analysts believe President Jimmy Carter's inability to solve the hostage crisis played a large role in Reagan's victory against him in the 1980 election. On the other hand, Carter's inability to deal with double-digit inflation and unemployment, lackluster economic growth, instability in the petroleum market leading to long gas lines, and the perceived weakness of the U.S. national defense may have had a greater impact on the electorate. With respect to the economy, Reagan famously said, "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

Reagan's showing in the televised debates boosted his campaign. He seemed more at ease, deflecting President Carter's criticisms with remarks like "There you go again." Perhaps his most influential remark was a closing question to the audience, during a time of skyrocketing global oil prices and highly unpopular Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

Carter's eventual ouster was accompanied by a 12-seat change in the Senate from Democratic to Republican hands, giving the Republicans a majority in the Senate for the first time in 28 years. Upon his election, Reagan became the oldest president to enter office, at the age of 69.

1984 Presidential electoral votes by state.
1984 Presidential electoral votes by state.

In the 1984 presidential election, he was reelected in a landslide over Carter's Vice President Walter Mondale, winning 49 of 50 states and receiving nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. At the Democratic National Convention, Mondale accepted the party nomination with a speech that is believed to have constituted a self-inflicted mortal wound. In it he remarked "Mr. Reagan will raise your taxes, I will raise your taxes. He won't tell you this, I just did."[2] Reagan accepted the Republican nomination in Dallas, Texas, on a wave of good feeling bolstered by the recovering economy and the dominating performance by the U.S. athletes at the Los Angeles Olympics that summer. Despite a weak performance in the first debate, Reagan recovered in the second and was considerably ahead of Mondale in polls taken throughout much of the race. Reagan's landslide win in the 1984 presidential election is often attributed by political commentators to be a result of his conversion of the "Reagan Democrats," the traditionally Democratic voters who voted for Reagan in that election.


Main article: Reagan Administration

Domestic record

Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.
Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.

Reagan portrayed himself as being economically conservative, in favor of tax cuts, smaller government, and deregulation. He also took a strong "tough-on-crime" stance.

The high point of the Reagan presidency's first 100 days was the end of the Iran hostage crisis after the American hostages were freed within minutes of his inauguration. Reagan's first official act upon entering office was to terminate oil price controls, a policy designed to boost America's domestic production and exploration of oil. [3]

Vice President Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in 1984.
Vice President Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in 1984.

In the summer of 1981 Reagan fired a majority of federal air traffic controllers when they went on an illegal strike. Since this union was one of only two unions to support Reagan in the prior election, this action proved to be a political coup. This set limits for public employee unions, and also signaled that it was acceptable for businesses to play hardball with unions.

A major focus of Reagan's first term was reviving the economy his administration inherited, which was plagued by a new phenomenon known as stagflation (a stagnant economy combined with high inflation). His administration fought double-digit inflation by supporting Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker's decision to tighten the money supply by dramatically hiking interest rates (Paul Volcker was appointed by President Carter in 1979). While successfully lowering inflation, this policy caused a short term recession from 1981-1982, which temporarily lowered Reagan's public support.

Reagan combined this tight-money policy with across-the-board tax cuts designed to boost business investment (supply-side economics). While ridiculed by opponents as "voodoo," "trickle-down," and "Reaganomics," he managed to push across-the-board tax cuts through the congress in 1981. At the same time, the administration successfully slowed the growth of welfare and other social spending, eliciting protests from Democrats.

Following the recession of 1981-82, the economy staged a dramatic recovery beginning in 1983. The Reagan administration claimed the tax cuts helped revived the economy and create jobs, which led to the increase of federal income tax revenues during the 1980's from $517 billion to over $1 trillion per annum.

Despite this, increases in the military budget stemming from the administration's new cold war strategy led to the federal deficit reaching record highs. The U.S. House of Representatives, with a Democrat majority, opposed slowing the growth of social welfare spending. To cover the deficit, the administration borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, and by the end of Reagan's second term the national debt had nearly tripled.

During the Reagan presidency, the inflation rate dropped from 13.6% in 1980 (President Carter's final year in office) to 4.1% by 1988, the economy added 16,753,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 7.5% to 5.3%.

Opponents charged that while the economy had recovered, Reagan's policies had created an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor. The studies on this issue are inconclusive and contradictory.

A renewal of the "war on drugs" was also declared during his presidency, spearheaded by Nancy Reagan's high-profile "Just Say No" series of messages.

President Reagan was criticized by the gay rights movement and others for not responding quickly enough to the HIV-AIDS situation. The first official mention of the disease in the White House was on October 15, 1982 when Reagan's press secretary Larry Speakes, in response to a reporter's inquiry about "the gay plague," said "I don't have it, do you?" to general laughter. (Note that the term AIDS was not yet widely used, hence the reporter calling it "the gay plague," and that HIV was not identified until 1984.) Reagan himself first publicly discussed the federal government's role in fighting the disease at a press conference in 1985.

Reagan's policies in regards to AIDS and gay rights became a subject of controversy after his death. Liberals and libertarians pointed out that he had gone on record as supporting sodomy laws, opposing anti-discrimination laws including sexual preference, and the conservative United States Supreme Court Justices that he appointed would help produce the majority opinion in the 1986 case of Bowers v. Hardwick. Yet, after his death, family members and homosexual Republicans (known as Log Cabin Republicans) pointed out that he opposed the 1978 California anti-gay Briggs Initiative. In 1984 he had the first openly homosexual couple spend the night in the White House. He is said to have taught his children that homosexuality was a normal state of being for some people and considered actor Rock Hudson to be a longtime friend.

Reagan made the abolition of communism and the implementation of supply-side economics the primary focuses of his presidency, but he also took a strong stand against abortion. He published the book Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, which decried what Reagan saw as a disrespect for life, promoted by the practice of abortion. Many conservative activists refer to Reagan as the most pro-life president in history. (However, two of the three Supreme Court justices he selected, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, voted to uphold Roe v. Wade, to Reagan's disappointment).

Although Reagan's second term was mostly noteworthy for matters related to foreign affairs, his administration supported significant pieces of legislation on domestic matters. In 1982, Reagan signed legislation reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another 25 years. This extension added protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters.[4]

Other significant legislation included the overhaul of the Internal Revenue Code in 1986, as well as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which compensated victims of the Japanese American Internment during World War II. Reagan also signed legislation authorizing the death penalty for offenses involving murder in the context of large-scale drug trafficking; wholesale reinstatement of the federal death penalty would not occur until the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Foreign policy and interventions

Reagan, left, in one-on-one discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1985 to 1991.
Reagan, left, in one-on-one discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1985 to 1991.

Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the détente observed by his predecessors Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Under the assumption that the Soviet Union could not then outspend the US government in a renewed arms race, he strove to make the Cold War economically and rhetorically hot. The administration oversaw a massive military build-up that represented a policy called "peace through strength." The Reagan administration set a new policy toward the Soviet Union with the goal to win the Cold War through a three-pronged strategy outlined in NSDD-32 (National Security Decisions Directive). The directive outlined Reagan's plan to confront the Soviet Union on three fronts: economic - decrease Soviet access to high technology and diminish their resources, including depressing the value of Soviet commodities on the world market; military - increase American defense expenditures to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position and force the Soviets to devote more of their economic resources to defense; and clandestine - support anti-Soviet factions around the world from Afghanistan resistance fighters to Poland's Solidarity movement. He proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars", a space-based missile shield, widely viewed outside the US as an offensive weapon. In October 1986, Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland where Gorbachev ardently opposed this defensive/offensive shield. By 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher said, "Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot."

Some analysts argue that the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union was due more to the reawakening of internal separatist problems under glasnost, an inherent weakness in communist economic theory, and the depressed global price of crude oil, on which the Soviet economy during those years depended heavily. Furthermore, Reagan's much heralded military buildup that increased American military spending by 8% per annum in fact did not appear to have the planned effect of forcing the Soviets to mirror American growth: according to CIA estimates, Soviet military spending levelled off at a growth rate of 1.3% per annum in 1975 and remained at that level for a decade, although it more than tripled to approximately 4.3% in 1985 through 1987 (though spending on offensive strategic weapons continued to grow at 1.3% during that period), before returning to 1.3% in 1988.

President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David.
President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David.

Among European leaders, his main ally and undoubtedly his closest friend was Thatcher, who as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom supported Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets.

Although the administration negotiated arms-reduction treaties such as the INF Treaty and START Treaty with the U.S.S.R., it also aimed to increase strategic defense. A controversial plan, named the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), was proposed to deploy a space-based defense system to make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear weapon missile attack, by means of a network of armed satellites orbiting the Earth. Critics dubbed the proposal "Star Wars" and argued that SDI was unrealistic, a violation of ABM treaties, and as a weapon that defends the U.S. if it strikes first, would inflame the Arms Race. Supporters responded that even the threat of SDI forced the Soviets into unsustainable spending to keep up. In fact, the Soviets did not attempt to follow suit with their own program, but instead followed a program of arms reduction treaties. The technology required to implement SDI is still being researched in the U.S., and it is currently in testing with stations in Alaska and islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against communist governments was also a part of administration policy, referred to by his supporters as the Reagan Doctrine. Following this policy, the administration funded groups they called "freedom fighters"—described as terrorists by their detractors—such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, and Jonas Savimbi's rebel forces in Angola. The Reagan administration increased military funding for anti-communist dictatorships throughout Latin America, and has been widely accused of ordering the assassination of several Latin American presidents and prime ministers. The administration also helped fund central European anti-communist groups such as the Polish Solidarity movement and took a hard line against the Communist regime in Cambodia. Covert funding of the Contras in Nicaragua would lead to the Iran Contra Affair, while overt support led to a World Court ruling against the United States in Nicaragua v. United States.

The administration took a strong stance against the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization, which was taking American citizens hostage and attacking civilian targets after Israel invaded Lebanon in the 1982 Lebanon War. It similarly took a strong stance against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More disputed was Reagan's consideration of the Salvadoran FMLN and Honduran guerrilla fighters as terrorists, as the two countries' respective militaries were known to have used torture and indiscriminate tactics against those suspected of collaboration or sympathy with the guerrillas. Reagan also considered the anti-apartheid ANC armed wing known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) as a terrorist organization.

U.S. involvement in Lebanon followed a limited-term United Nations mandate for a multinational force. A force of 800 U.S. Marines was sent to Beirut to evacuate PLO forces. The September 16, 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Beirut (see Sabra and Shatila Massacre) prompted Reagan to form a new multinational force. Intense administration diplomatic efforts resulted in a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel. U.S. forces were withdrawn shortly after the October 23, 1983 bombing of a barracks in which 241 Marines were killed. Reagan called this day the saddest day of his presidency and of his life.

A communist coup on the small island nation of Grenada in 1983 led the administration to develop an invasion plan to restore the former government. The resulting Operation Urgent Fury achieved this goal.

President Reagan and Emperor Hirohito of Japan at Tokyo
President Reagan and Emperor Hirohito of Japan at Tokyo

Initially neutral, the administration increasingly became involved in the Iran-Iraq War. At various times, the administration supported both nations, but mainly sided with Iraq, believing that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a better geopolitical ally than Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Henry Kissinger articulated the administration's policy when he stated "Too bad they both can't lose". The American fear was that an Iranian victory would embolden Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab states, perhaps leading to the overthrow of secular governments, and Western corporate holdings, in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait. After initial Iraqi military victories were reversed and an Iranian victory appeared possible in 1982, the American government initiated Operation Staunch to attempt to cut off the Iranian regime's access to weapons (notwithstanding their later shipment of weapons to Iran in the Iran-Contra Affair). The U.S. also provided intelligence information and financial assistance to the Iraqi military regime. The administration also allowed the shipment of "dual use" materials, that could be used for chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq claimed were required for agriculture, medical research, and other civilian purposes, but which were diverted to use in Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs[5].

Concurrently with the support of Iraq, the administration also engaged in covert arms sales to Iran in order to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The resulting Iran-Contra Affair became a scandal. Reagan professed ignorance of the plot's existence and quickly called for an Independent Counsel to investigate. Ten officials in the Reagan administration were later convicted and others forced to resign as a result of the investigation. His secretary of defence Weinberger was indicted for perjury and later recieved a presidential pardon from George H W Bush, days before the trial was to begin.

On April 11, 1985, it was announced that Reagan would visit the Kolmeshohe Cemetery near Bitburg, at the suggestion of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, to pay respects to the soldiers interred there. The White House staff was under the impression that those interred included both American and German soldiers. The visit was intended to be symbolic of the goodwill between the two countries, but unbeknownst to Reagan and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, who visited the cemetery in advance of the event, 49 of the graves contained the remains of men who had served in the Waffen-SS. The cemetery also contained remains of about 2,000 other German soldiers who had died in both World Wars, but no Americans.

Reagan also visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where he cited Anne Frank and ended his speech with the words, "Never again."

"The Great Communicator"

Speaking in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 Ronald  Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, exclaiming: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Speaking in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, exclaiming: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Reagan was dubbed "The Great Communicator" for his ability to express ideas and emotions in an almost personal manner, even when making a formal address. He honed these skills as an actor, live television and radio host, and politician, and as president hired skilled speechwriters who could capture his folksy charm.

Reagan's rhetorical style varied. He used strong, even ideological language to condemn the Soviet Union and communism, particularly during his first term.

But he could also evoke lofty ideals and a vision of the United States as a defender of liberty. His October 27, 1964 speech entitled "A Time for Choosing" reintroduced a phrase, "rendezvous with destiny," first made famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt, to popular culture.[6] Other speeches recalled America as the "shining city on a hill", "big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair," whose citizens had the "right to dream heroic dreams." [7][8]

On January 28, 1986, after the Challenger accident, he postponed his State of the Union address and addressed the nation on the disaster. In a speech written by Peggy Noonan, he said, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'" [9] (quotations in this speech are from the famous poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr..)

It was perhaps Reagan's humor, especially his one-liners, that disarmed his opponents and endeared him to audiences the most. Discussion of his advanced age led him to quip in his second debate against Walter Mondale during the 1984 campaign, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." On his career he joked, "Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book."

Both opponents and supporters noted his "sunny optimism", which was welcomed by many in comparison to his Presidential predecessor, the often smiling, but somewhat dour and serious, Carter.

Assassination Attempt

While leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC on March 30, 1981, Reagan, his Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and MPDC officer Thomas Delehanty were shot by John Hinckley, Jr. during an assassination attempt. Reagan turned what could have been a low point in his first 100 days into another high point by joking, "I hope you're all Republicans," to his surgeons (While they were not, he received the reply, "We're all Republicans today" from Dr. Joseph Giordano) and "Honey, I forgot to duck" to his wife. [10] Reagan also said that he forgave Hinckley and hoped he would ask for God's forgiveness as well.


A frequent objection by his critics, however, was that his personal charm also permitted him to say nearly anything and yet prevail, a quality that earned him the nickname "the Teflon President" (i.e., nothing sticks to him). His denial of awareness of the Iran-Contra scandal was belied by quotations in now-archived notes by his defense secretary, Casper Weinberger, that he (Reagan) could survive violating the law or Constitution, but not the negative public image that "big, strong Ronald Reagan passed up a chance to get the hostages free." In December 1985, Reagan signed a secret presidential "finding" describing the deal as "arms-for-hostages." Reagan-era papers which might provide further details were originally scheduled to be released starting in 2001, but President George W. Bush enacted a rule change to allow many of these to be withheld indefinitely.

Reagan's fiscal and tax policies accused to have increased social inequality and economic instability, his efforts to cut welfare and income taxes becoming common flashpoints between critics who charged that this primarily benefited the well off in America. The unprecedented growth of the national debt during his presidency also sparked charges of endangering the economic health of the nation.

Reagan's foreign policy also drew criticisms, many opponents making the charge that rather than genuinely upholding the cause of human rights throughout the globe, Reagan used it merely as a ideological tool against socialist and communist countries. Often cited are the administration's support of many widely condemned and bloody regimes, including apartheid-era South Africa, the Pinochet military junta in Chile, and the Suharto regime in Indonesia. One opponent was East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Ramos-Horta:

"Reagan, like Carter, ignored the rights of black South Africans who languished under a system of institutionalized terrorism and racism; the widespread and systematic use of torture in Chile and Guatemala. They not only ignored, but actively supported the mass murder of Timorese women, men, and children, orchestrated by their friend and ally, General Suharto of Indonesia. Under Carter, there were crocodile tears for the oppressed; under Reagan, there hasn't even been a pretence of concern for those in Timor, Chile, Paraguay, South Africa." (Funu: The Unfinished Saga of East Timor, 87)

Reagan's support of apartheid South Africa has been among the most heavily criticized aspects of his foreign policy, though it was considerably lessened during his second term. Among the most vocal critics is Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Desmond Tutu who commented in 1984 that Reagan was "immoral, evil, and totally are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric." He was unconvinced by the later reformist "constructive engagement" posture of Reagan. Following a 1986 speech in which Reagan called proposed sanctions against South Africa "a historic act of folly," Tutu's response was "nauseating...your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned."[11]. Although Reagan sought an end to apartheid and liberalization of South Africa, he opposed economic sanctions "on grounds that it would diminish influence on the South African government and create economic hardship for the very people in South Africa that the sanctions were ostensibly designed to help" (Donald T. Regan, "For the Record").

Residents of Western European countries often saw Reagan very differently from many Americans. In the United Kingdom, though Reagan had the strong support of Margaret Thatcher, he was routinely lampooned by much of the media as being dim-witted, if not senile. This was fueled by certain real-life incidents, including a November 9, 1985, speaking engagement in which he forgot the name of Diana, Princess of Wales and after some hesitation referred to her as 'Princess David', to widespread embarrassment. In the nations of Eastern Europe, however, Reagan enjoyed a good deal of popularity among residents (though not their governments) for his harsh criticism of communism, and has been praised extensively for his role in ending the Cold War. Reagan did, however, draw criticism from the Soviet Union during a visit from Russian diplomats to Camp David for peace talks during his term. While testing a tape for one of the meetings Reagan made the remark, "My fellow Americans. I am pleased to announce that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in 15 minutes." The delegates overheard the tape.



President Reagan, with his Cabinet and staff, in the Oval Office (February 4, 1981)
President Reagan, with his Cabinet and staff, in the Oval Office (February 4, 1981)
President Ronald Reagan 1981–1989
Vice President George H. W. Bush 1981–1989
State Alexander M. Haig 1981–1982
  George P. Shultz 1982–1989
Treasury Donald Regan 1981–1985
  James A. Baker III 1985–1988
  Nicholas F. Brady 1988–1989
Defense Casper Weinberger 1981–1987
  Frank C. Carlucci 1987–1989
Justice William F. Smith 1981–1985
  Edwin A. Meese III 1985–1988
  Richard L. Thornburgh 1988–1989
Interior James G. Watt 1981–1983
  William P. Clark, Jr. 1983–1985
  Donald P. Hodel 1985–1989
Commerce Malcolm Baldrige 1981–1987
  C. William Verity, Jr. 1987–1989
Labor Raymond J. Donovan 1981–1985
  William E. Brock 1985–1987
  Ann Dore McLaughlin 1987–1989
Agriculture John Block 1981–1986
  Richard E. Lyng 1986–1989
HHS Richard S. Schweiker 1981–1983
  Margaret Heckler 1983–1985
  Otis R. Bowen 1985–1989
Education Terrell H. Bell 1981–1984
  William J. Bennett 1985–1988
  Lauro Cavazos 1988–1989
HUD Samuel R. Pierce, Jr. 1981–1989
Transportation Drew Lewis 1981–1982
  Elizabeth Hanford Dole 1983–1987
  James H. Burnley IV 1987–1989
Energy James B. Edwards 1981–1982
  Donald P. Hodel 1982–1985
  John S. Herrington 1985–1989

Supreme Court appointments

Reagan nominated the following people to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Major legislation approved

Religious beliefs

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan

Reagan was a committed Christian from his childhood, and frequently addressed Christian groups. (He rarely attended church during his presidency, citing security concerns, but became a member and regular attendee of Bel Air Presbyterian Church after leaving office.) He argued that communism's atheistic worldview was one of its worst features.

In a March 1978 letter to a liberal Methodist minister who was skeptical about Christ's divinity—and accused Reagan of a "limited Sunday school level theology"—Reagan argued strongly for Christ's divinity:

Perhaps it is true that Jesus never used the word "Messiah" with regard to himself (although I'm not sure that he didn't) but in John 1, 10 and 14 he identifies himself pretty definitely and more than once. Is there really any ambiguity in his words: "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me?"… In John 10 he says, "I am in the Father and the Father in me." And he makes reference to being with God, "before the world was," and sitting on the "right hand of God."…
These and other statements he made about himself, foreclose in my opinion, any question as to his divinity. It doesn't seem to me that he gave us any choice; either he was what he said he was or he was the world's greatest liar."
It is impossible for me to believe a liar or charlatan could have had the effect on mankind that he has had for 2000 years. We could ask, would even the greatest of liars carry his lie through the crucifixion, when a simple confession would have saved him? … Did he allow us the choice you say that you and others have made, to believe in his teachings but reject his statements about his own identity?"

This was similar to the "Trilemma" argument of C.S. Lewis.

Even though Reagan was firmly Christian, his funeral was an interfaith service.

Reagan was a Creationist and favored teaching Creationism in public schools.

Legacy and retirement from public life

On January 11, 1989, Reagan addressed the nation one last time on television from the Oval Office of the White House, nine days before handing over the presidency to George H. W. Bush. After Bush's inauguration, Reagan returned to his estate, Rancho del Cielo, near Santa Barbara, California, to write his autobiography, ride his horses, and chop wood. He eventually moved to a new home in Bel-Air, Los Angeles . As of 2005, Reagan is one of only three presidents to serve two full terms since the adoption of the 22nd Amendment in 1951 (The others are Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton).

Reagan received an honorary British knighthood, as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and thus was entitled to use the postnominal GCB, but not to call himself "Sir Ronald".

In the autumn of 1989, Fujisankei Communications Group of Japan hired him to make two speeches and attend a small number of corporate functions. Reagan's weekly fee was about $2 million, more than he had earned during eight years as president. Reagan made occasional appearances on behalf of the Republican Party, including a well-received speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. He publicly spoke out in favor of a line-item veto, a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, and repealing the 22nd Amendment, which prohibits a president from serving more than two terms.

(Left to right:) Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.
(Left to right:) Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.
Five presidents and first ladies attended the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda, California. From left: Bill and Hillary Clinton, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gerald and Betty Ford.
Five presidents and first ladies attended the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda, California. From left: Bill and Hillary Clinton, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gerald and Betty Ford.

In 1994, Reagan was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He informed the nation of his condition on November 5, 1994 with a hand-written letter, which displayed his trademark optimism, stating in conclusion: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you." As the years went on, the disease slowly destroyed his mental capacity, forcing him to live in quiet isolation.

In a 1995 poll of 2,307 coin collectors by the Littleton Coin Company, Reagan was ranked as the most popular person to appear on a future U.S. coin.

On February 6, 1998, Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport by a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Three years later, on March 4, 2001, USS Ronald Reagan was christened by the Navy. It is one of few ships christened in honor of a living person and the first to be named in honor of a living former president. Many other highways, schools and institutions were also named after Reagan in the years after his retirement and death. (See List of things named after Ronald Reagan).

Reagan's health was further destabilized by a fall in 2001, which shattered part of his hip and rendered him virtually immobile. By 2004, Reagan had begun to enter the final stage of Alzheimers disease.

Job approval rating

According to ABC News by date:

Date Event Approval (%) Disapproval (%)
April 221981 Shot by Hinckley 73 19
January 221983 High unemployment 42 54
April 261986 Libya bombing 70 26
February 261987 Iran-Contra affair 44 51
January1989 End-of-Presidency 64
N/A Career average 57 39
July 302001 (Retrospective) 66 27


Main article: Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan

Reagan died on June 5, 2004 at his home in Bel-Air and is buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

In 2003, Reagan's death had been incorrectly announced by CNN when his pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures) was inadvertently published on CNN's website due to a lapse in password protection.

Reagan holds the record as the longest lived U.S. president, at 93 years and 120 days. Since Reagan's death, Gerald Ford is now the oldest surviving president at 92, and will overtake Reagan's record if he lives to or beyond November 11, 2006. Reagan also holds the record as the oldest-elected president at 69 and oldest president to serve at 77.

Posthumous honors

In 2005, Reagan was given two posthumous honors:

The honors were "a final win for the Gipper," as Hemmer said on May 14 to close his broadcast.

Further reading

Reagan documentaries

  • Ronald Reagan - An American President (The Official Reagan Library Tribute), January 25, 2005.
  • Great Speeches, October 19, 2004.
  • Stand Up Reagan, September 7, 2004.
  • NBC News Presents - Ronald Reagan, August 10, 2004.
  • ABC News Presents Ronald Reagan - An American Legend, July 13, 2004.
  • Ronald Reagan - His Life and Legacy, June 22, 2004.
  • Ronald Reagan - His Life and Times, May 11, 2004.
  • Ronald Reagan - A Legacy Remembered (History Channel), 2002
  • Ronald Reagan - The Great Communicator, 2002.
  • Salute to Reagan - A President's Greatest Moments, 2001.
  • American Experience - Reagan, 1998.
  • Tribute to Ronald Reagan, 1996.

See also

External links

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Biographical information

Speeches and Interviews

Multimedia links

Preceded by:
Robert Montgomery
President of Screen Actors Guild
Succeeded by:
Walter Pidgeon
Preceded by:
Howard Keel
President of Screen Actors Guild
Succeeded by:
George Chandler
Preceded by:
Pat Brown
Governor of California
Succeeded by:
Jerry Brown
Preceded by:
Gerald Ford
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1980 (won), 1984 (won)
Succeeded by:
George H. W. Bush
Preceded by:
Jimmy Carter
President of the United States
20 January , 198120 January , 1989
Succeeded by:
George H. W. Bush
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