gigatos | June 14, 2022
Ronald Wilson Reagan, better known as Ronald Reagan, (b. February 6, 1911, Tampico(d), Tampico Township(d), Illinois, USA – d. June 5, 2004, Bel Air(d), California, USA) was the fortieth President of the United States of America. Through his uncompromising policy in confronting the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he made a decisive contribution to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and to establishing the United States of America as the sole superpower for decades to come. Before becoming president, he was the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975, after a career as a Hollywood actor and union leader.
Raised by a poor family in several small towns in northern Illinois, Reagan graduated from Eureka(d) College in 1932 and worked at several private radio stations, was a sports announcer, then moved to Hollywood in 1937, became an actor and starred in several leading roles in major productions. Reagan was twice elected president of the Screen Actors Guild(d)-the actors” union-where he fought to eliminate Communist influence(d). In the 1950s, he moved to television and was a motivational speaker at General Electric factories. Reagan was a Democrat for a time until 1962, when he became a conservative and moved to the Republican Party. In 1964(d), with his “A Time for Choosing” speech, he endorsed Republican Barry Goldwater”s failed presidential campaign and became nationally known as a new conservative spokesman. Building a network of supporters, he was elected governor of California(d) in 1966. As governor, Reagan raised taxes, turned the state budget deficit into a surplus, spoke to protesters at the University of California, commanded National Guard troops(d) during the 1969 protest movements, and was re-elected in 1970(d). He ran twice unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in the 1968 presidential election(d). Four years later, he was the nominee and won the election, becoming the oldest US president-elect ever, defeating then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980(d).
As president in 1981, Reagan implemented new economic and political initiatives. His supply-side policies, dubbed ”Reaganomics”, advocated lower taxes to stimulate growth, control of government reserves to curb inflation, economic deregulation and cuts in government spending. During his first term he survived an assassination attempt(d) and boosted the war on drugs(d).
He publicly described the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire”, and at the time of the famous Brandenburg Gate speech, President Reagan asked the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall!”. He changed Cold War policy from détente to rollback(d), escalating the arms race with the USSR, and during this time participated in talks with Gorbachev that culminated in the INF(d) Treaty, which shrank both countries” nuclear arsenals. Reagan”s presidency came at a time of decline for the Soviet Union, and just ten months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall fell, Germany reunited the following year, and on 26 December 1991, almost three years after Reagan left office, the Soviet Union dissolved.
He was the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to hold two terms, after a succession of five previous one-term presidents, some due to extraordinary circumstances. Although he originally planned to have an active post-presidency period, Reagan revealed in 1994 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer”s disease a year earlier. He made his last public appearance at Richard Nixon”s funeral(d). He died ten years later(d) in 2004 at the age of 93.
An iconic figure among Republicans, he ranks favourably in historical rankings of US presidents(d), and his presidential work has been a realignment for conservative politics in the US.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in an apartment on the second floor of a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois(d) on February 6, 1911. He was the youngest son of Nelle Clyde(d) and John Edward “Jack” Reagan(d). Jack was a salesman whose grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants(d) from County Tipperary in Ireland, while Nelle was of half English and half Scottish descent (her mother was born in Surrey). Reagan”s older brother, John Neil Reagan(d) (1908-1996), became an advertising executive.
Reagan”s father nicknamed his son “the Dutchman” because of his “fat little Dutchman” appearance and “Dutch boy” haircut; the nickname stuck with him throughout his youth. Reagan”s family lived for brief periods in several small towns and cities in Illinois, such as Monmouth, Galesburg, and Chicago. In 1919, they returned to Tampico and lived in an apartment above the commercial portion of the H. C. Pitney Variety Store Building(d) until finally settling in Dixon(d). After being elected president, Reagan lived upstairs in the private sections of the White House and ironically remarked that he was living above the store again.
According to Paul Kengor(d), author of “God and Ronald Reagan,” Reagan had a particularly strong faith in the goodness of people; this faith was rooted in his mother”s optimistic faith and the faith of the Protestant Disciples of Christ cult, For the time, long before the civil rights movement, Reagan”s opposition to racial discrimination was unusual and laudable. He recalled the time in Dixon when the owner of a local inn wouldn”t allow some blacks to stay there. Reagan”s mother invited them to stay overnight and have breakfast the next morning. After Pitney”s store closed in the late 1920s and the family stayed in Dixon, the “small world” of the American Midwest left a lasting impression on Reagan.
Reagan attended Dixon High School(d), where he became interested and honed his acting, sports and storytelling skills. His first job was as a lifeguard on the Rock(d) River in Lowell Park in 1927. There is an estimate that over a six-year period, Reagan saved 77 people from drowning as a lifeguard. He attended Eureka College(d), a liberal arts school, where he became a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon(d) fraternity, a cheerleader, and studied economics and sociology. He majored in economics and sociology at the Miller Center for Public Affairs(d) and graduated with a C, where professors labeled him an “indifferent student.” He earned a reputation as a jack of all trades, excelling in campus politics, sports and theater. He was a member of a football team and captain of a swim team. He was elected student body president and led a student revolt against the college president after he tried to cut teaching positions.
Radio and film
After graduating from Eureka in 1932, Reagan went to Iowa, where he was an announcer at several radio stations. He moved to WHO(d) radio in Des Moines, where he was a commentator for Chicago Cubs(d) baseball games. His specialty was play-by-play game commentary using only simple descriptions that the station received via cable as the games were going on.
While traveling with the team through California, Reagan auditioned for an acting job in 1937, after which he signed a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers Studios. He spent the early years of his career at a B-movie establishment, where, Reagan joked, producers “didn”t want to come out good; they wanted to come out Thursday.”
His first screen appearance was when he played the title role in Love Is on the Air(d) (1937), and by the end of 1939 he had appeared in 19 films, including Dark Victory(d) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Prior to the 1940 film Santa Fe Trail(d) with Errol Flynn, he played George “The Gipper” Gipp(hence, he earned his lifelong nickname, “the Gipper”. In 1941, exhibitors voted him the fifth most popular star of Hollywood”s younger generation.
Reagan”s favourite role was in the film Kings Row(d) (1942), in which he played a man who had had both legs amputated, reciting the line “Where”s the rest of me?”-last used as the title of his 1965 autobiography. Many film critics considered Kings Row his best film, although the film was lambasted by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther.
Although Reagan said of Kings Row that it was the film that “made me a star,” he was unable to cash in on the success because he was called to active military duty with the U.S. Army in San Francisco two months after the film”s release and never regained “star” status in the film industry. In the post-war era, after his four years of service in World War II had torn him away from acting, Reagan starred in films such as The Voice of the Turtle(d), John Loves Mary(d), The Hasty Heart(d), Bedtime for Bonzo(d), Cattle Queen of Montana(d), Tennessee”s Partner(d), Hellcats of the Navy(d) (the only film in which he appeared with Nancy Reagan) and in the 1964 remake of The Killers(d) (his last film). During his acting career, his mother corresponded with him by mail.
After completing 14 military courses for home study, Reagan enlisted in the U.S. Military Reserves(d) and received the rank of second lieutenant in the Light Armored Reserve Officer Corps on May 25, 1937.
On April 18, 1942, Reagan was called to duty for the first time. Because of his poor eyesight, he was classified only to limited duty, which excluded him from overseas operations. His first assignment was at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, as liaison officer of the Bureau of Ports and Transportation. With the approval of the Army Air Force(d) (AAF), he requested a transfer from light armor to the AAF on May 15, 1942 and was assigned to AAF Public Relations and later to the First Motion Picture Unit(d) (officially “18th Army Air Force Base Unit”) in Culver City, California. On January 14, 1943, he was promoted to Lieutenant(d) and assigned to the Provisional Task Force Show Unit for the film This Is the Army(d) in Burbank, California. He returned to the First Motion Picture Unit upon completion of this assignment and was promoted to Captain on July 22, 1943.
In January 1944, Reagan received a temporary travel order to New York City to attend the opening of the Sixth War Loan Campaign(d), a campaign to raise money by selling war bonds. He returned to the First Motion Picture Unit on November 14, 1944, where he remained until the end of World War II. He was recommended for promotion to Major(d) on February 2, 1945, but this recommendation was rejected on July 17 of the same year. He returned to Fort MacArthur(d), California, where he was discharged on December 9, 1945. By the end of the war, his units had produced some 400 AAF training films.
During the war, Reagan never left the United States, but kept a roll of film he obtained during his military service. It depicted the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp; he anticipated that doubts would arise about the existence of the Holocaust. He was allegedly overheard telling Israel”s foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir in 1983, that he himself filmed the footage and helped liberate Auschwitz, but this alleged conversation was denied by Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Reagan had first been elected to the Screen Actor Guild(d) (SAG) board of directors in 1941, serving as an alternate member. After World War II, he resumed service and became third vice president in 1946. The adoption of internal conflict of interest regulations in 1947 prompted the resignation of the SAG president and six members of the college; on a special ballot, Reagan was nominated for president and elected. He was elected by the membership to lead the organization for seven one-year terms from 1947 to 1952 and 1959. Reagan led SAG during an eventful time marked by labor-management disputes, the Taft-Hartley Act(d), hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities(d) and the Hollywood blacklist era.
In the late 1940s, Reagan and his then-wife, Jane Wyman, provided the FBI with names of actors in the film industry they believed to be Communist sympathizers. He disagreed with some of the commission”s tactics, stating that “they expect us to form a little FBI of our own and determine who is a Communist and who is not?”
Reagan also testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities(d) on the subject. A fervent anti-communist, he reaffirmed his commitment to democratic principles, stating, “I never, as a citizen, want to see our country become pressured, out of fear and resentment of the group, to compromise our democratic principles through that fear or resentment.”
In the late 1950s, Reagan decided to join the television environment. He was hired as an anchor for General Electric Theater(d), a weekly drama series that became very popular. This contract required him to tour General Electric (GE) plants 16 weeks a year, often requiring him to make 14 speeches a day. In this role, he earned about $125,000 (equivalent to $990,000 in 2016). The gig lasted 10 seasons, from 1953 to 1962, and enhanced Reagan”s reputation in American households. In his last contract as a professional actor, Reagan was a host and performer from 1964 to 1965 on the television series Death Valley Days(d). Reagan and his future wife, Nancy Davis, appeared several times together on television, including in a 1958 episode of General Electric Theater called “A Presidential Turkey.” Reagan appeared on the panel show(d) What”s My Line?(d) twice, once as a “mystery guest” in 1953 and as a discussion partner in 1956.
In 1938, Reagan starred in the film Brother Rat(d) with actress Jane Wyman (1917-2007). They announced their engagement at the Chicago Theatre(d), and were married on January 26, 1940 at The Wee Kirk o” the Heather(d) Church in Glendale, California. Together they had two biological children, Maureen(d) (1941-2001) and Christine (who was born in 1947 but lived only one day), and adopted a third, Michael(d) (born March 18, 1945). After some adversarial discussions about Reagan”s political ambitions, Wyman filed for divorce in 1948, citing an abnormal manifestation in her husband caused by his Screen Actors Guild union responsibilities; the divorce proceedings were finalized in 1949. Wyman, who was a registered Republican, also claimed that their separation was caused by political differences, among other things (Reagan was still a Democrat at the time).When Reagan became president 32 years later, he became the first divorced person to assume the nation”s highest office. Reagan and Wyman continued to be friends until his death, with Wyman voting for Reagan in both elections, and upon his death saying, “America has lost its greatest president and a great, kind, gentle man.”
Reagan met actress Nancy Davis (1921-2016) in 1949 after she contacted him in his capacity as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He helped her in matters pertaining to her name appearing on the Hollywood Communist blacklist. She had been mistaken for another Nancy Davis. She described their meeting saying: “I don”t know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close.” They became engaged at Chasen”s(d) restaurant in Los Angeles and were married on March 4, 1952, at Little Brown Church in the San Fernando Valley. Actor William Holden was best man at the ceremony. They had two children, Patti(d) (born October 21, 1952) and Ronald “Ron” Jr.(d) (born May 20, 1958).
Observers described the Reagans” relationship as close, genuine and intimate. During his presidency, it was reported that they frequently displayed affection for each other; one press secretary said, “they were never without affection for each other. They never stopped courting each other.” He often called her “Mommy,” and she called him “Ronnie.” He once wrote to her: “no matter what I have or what I enjoy…it would all be meaningless if I didn”t have you.” In 1981, when he was in the hospital following an assassination attempt(d), she slept in one of his clothes to comfort herself with his smell. In a 1994 letter to the American people, Reagan wrote “I was recently told that I am one of millions of Americans who will be affected by Alzheimer”s disease…. I only hope there is a way to spare Nancy this painful experience,” and in 1998, when he was stricken with Alzheimer”s, Nancy told Vanity Fair that “our relationship is very special. We were very much in love with each other and still are. When I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it”s true. It started. I can”t imagine life without him.” Nancy Reagan passed away on a Sunday, March 6, 2016, at the age of 94.
Early in his Hollywood career, Reagan supported the Democratic Party, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was “a real hero” to him. He shifted to the political right in the 1950s and became a Republican in 1962, establishing himself as an important conservative spokesman in Goldwater”s 1964 campaign(d).
Early in his political career, he joined numerous left-wing political committees, including the American Veterans Committee(d). He fought against Republican-backed right-to-work legislation and supported Helen Gahagan Douglas(d) in the 1950 California Senate election(d), who was defeated by Richard Nixon. Communists strongly influenced these groups behind the scenes, which led him to rally his friends against them.
Reagan spoke frequently at rallies, showing a strong ideological dimension; in December 1945, he was stopped from holding an anti-nuclear rally in Hollywood at pressure from Warner Bros. studio. He would later make nuclear weapons a key plank of his presidency, opposing mutually assured destruction and continuing earlier efforts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the 1948 presidential election(d), Reagan strongly supported Harry S. Truman, appearing on stage with him at a campaign speech in Los Angeles. In the early 1950s, as his relationship with actress Nancy Davis strengthened, his convictions shifted to the right, and he supported the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and Richard Nixon in 1960.
He was hired by General Electric (GE) in 1954 as an announcer for General Electric Theater(d), a weekly TV drama series. He also traveled across the country to speak to 200,000 GE employees as a motivational speaker. Many of his speeches-which he wrote himself-were nonpartisan but carried a conservative message of supporting business; he was influenced by Lemuel Boulware(d), a senior director of GE. Boulware, known for his strong anti-union stance and innovative strategies to win workers to his side, advocated the essential tenets of modern American conservatism: free markets, anti-communism, lower taxes, and limiting the power of government(d). Eager for a bigger stage, but not allowed by the GE to enter politics, he resigned and officially registered as a Republican. He often said: “I didn”t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”
In 1961, when the legislation that would become Medicare(d) was introduced, he reported for the American Medical Association(d) (AMA), warning that such legislation could mean the end of freedom in America. Reagan said that if listeners don”t write letters to stop it, “we will find we have socialism. And if you don”t do it, and if I don”t do it, one of these days, you and I are about to spend our twilight years telling our children and our children”s children what it used to be like in America when people were free.” He also joined the National Rifle Association (NRA) and was to become a lifetime member.
Reagan became nationally known for his speeches in support of conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Speaking for Goldwater, Reagan insisted on his belief in the importance of shrinking the power of government. He reinforced the themes he had developed in his conversations for the GE, expressing them in his famous speech, “A Time for Choosing.”
“The Founding Fathers knew that a government cannot control the economy without controlling the people. And they knew that where a government tries to do that, it must use force and coercion to accomplish its purpose. So we”ve come to the point of choosing … You and I are told that we have to choose between left and right, but I say there is no right or left in politics. There is only up or down. Up for man”s secular dream-maximum individual freedom in accordance with order-or down in the thicket of totalitarianism.”
This speech, “A Time for Choosing,” was not enough to turn Goldwater”s faltering campaign around to victory, but it was the key event that brought Reagan national political visibility.
After the “Time for Choosing” speech, California Republicans were impressed with Reagan”s charisma and political views, and in late 1965, he announced his campaign for governor of California(d) in the 1966 election. He defeated former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher(d) in the campaign from within the Republican Party. In Reagan”s campaign, he focused on two main themes: “let”s send the welfare bums back to work” and, referring to the burgeoning anti-war and anti-establishment protests(d) by students at UC Berkeley, “let”s clean up Berkeley”. In 1966, Reagan accomplished what both Senator William Knowland(d) and former Vice President Richard Nixon had tried to do in 1958 and 1962, respectively: he was elected, defeating two-term Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown(d), and was sworn in on January 2, 1967. During his first term, he froze government hiring and approved tax increases to balance the budget.
Shortly after taking office, Reagan tested the waters of the 1968 presidential election(d) as part of the “Stop Nixon” movement, hoping to reduce Nixon”s support in the South, and become a compromise candidate if neither Nixon nor second-place candidate Nelson Rockefeller had enough delegates to win on the first ballot of the Republican Congress(d). However, during the congressional caucus, Nixon had 692 delegate votes, 25 more than he needed to secure the nomination, followed by Rockefeller, with Reagan in third place.
Reagan was involved in several significant instances of conflict with protest movements of the era, including his public criticism of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations on the campus of UC Berkeley in California. On May 15, 1969, during the People”s Park(en) protests on the university campus (whose original purpose was to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict), Reagan sent the California Highway Patrol(d) and other officers to quell the protests. This led to an incident that became known as “Bloody Friday,” resulting in the death of student James Rector(d) and the blinding of carpenter Alan Blanchard. In addition, 111 police officers were injured in the conflict, one of whom was stabbed in the chest. At the time, Reagan called in 2,200 State National Guard(d) troops to occupy Berkeley for two weeks and crack down on the protesters. The Guard remained in Berkeley for 17 days, camping out in People”s Park, and the demonstrations stopped while the university removed the fence and delayed plans to develop People”s Park. When the terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army(d) movement kidnapped Patricia Hearst(d) at Berkeley and demanded distribution of food to the poor, Reagan made a joke in a discussion with a political aid group about contaminating food with botulism.
In early 1967, the national debate about abortion began to stir the spirits. In the early stages of the debate, California Democratic State Senator Anthony C. Beilenson(d) introduced the “Therapeutic Abortion Act” in an attempt to reduce the number of “secret abortions” taking place in California. The state legislature sent the bill to Reagan, who, after many days of hesitation, signed it into law on 14 June 1967. As a result, some two million abortions took place, largely because of a provision in the law allowing abortions for the sake of maternal health. Reagan had been in office only four months when he enacted the law, and later said that if he had been more experienced as governor, he would not have enacted it. After acknowledging what he called the “consequences” of the law, he declared himself pro-life(d). He maintained this position later in his political career, writing extensively about abortion.
In 1967, Reagan enacted the Mulford Act(d), which repealed a law allowing the carrying of loaded firearms in public(d) (the law became part of the California Penal Code(d)). The law, named after Republican Don Mulford(d), a member of the California legislature, received national attention after the Black Panthers(d) marched carrying guns to the California State Capitol(d) to protest it.
Despite an unsuccessful attempt to force a recall referendum in 1968, Reagan was re-elected governor in 1970, defeating “Big Daddy” Jesse M. Unruh(d). He decided not to run for a third term in the next election cycle. One of Reagan”s greatest frustrations while in office was over the death penalty, which he strongly supported. His attempts to enforce state laws were thwarted by the California Supreme Court(d) in the People v. Anderson(d) decision, which invalidated all death sentences in California up to 1972, although the decision was later overturned by a constitutional amendment. The only execution during the Reagan administration occurred on April 12, 1967, when Aaron Mitchell(d) was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin(d).
In 1969, Reagan enacted the Family Act, an amalgam of two bills, written and revised by the California State Legislature(d) over two years. It became the first no-fault divorce law(d) in the United States.
His terms as governor helped Reagan shape the policies he would continue in his political career as president. Organizing a campaign with a platform of sending “welfare bums back to work,” he took a stand against the country”s idea of welfare. He also staunchly supported the Republican ideal of minimal government intervention in the economy, including against excessive federal taxes.
Reagan did not run for a third term as governor in 1974, succeeded by California Secretary of State(d), Democrat Jerry Brown, on January 6, 1975.
In 1976, Reagan faced incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination for president. Reagan quickly gained a reputation as a conservative candidate, with the support of like-minded organizations such as the American Conservative Union(d) becoming key components of his political base, while Ford was considered a more moderate Republican.
Reagan”s campaign relied on a strategy devised by campaign manager John Sears(d) to win several early primaries to weaken Ford”s chances of an uncontested nomination. Reagan won in North Carolina, Texas and California, but the strategy backfired as he ended up losing in New Hampshire, Florida and his native Illinois. The Texas campaign gave Reagan new hope when he won the votes of all 96 delegates elected to the May 1 caucus. Most credit for that victory went to his three co-chairs, including Ernest Angelo(d), mayor of Midland(d) and Ray Barnhart(d) Ray Barnhart(d) of Houston, whom Reagan, as president, would appoint in 1981 as director of the Federal Highway Administration(d).
Still, close to the Republican convention, Ford was close to victory. Recognizing the moderate wing of his party, Reagan chose moderate Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker(d) as his vice presidential nominee. However, Ford triumphed with 1187 delegates to Reagan”s 1070. Ford would lose the 1976 presidential election(d) to Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter.
Reagan”s post-defeat speech highlighted the dangers of nuclear war and the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Although he lost the nomination, he received 307 votes in New Hampshire, 388 votes as an independent on the Wyoming ballot and a single electoral vote from a “faithless elector” in the November election in Washington state, which Ford won against Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter.
After the campaign, Reagan remained in the public debate with his “Ronald Reagan Radio Commentary” series and his political action committee, Citizens for the Republic(d), which would later be revived in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2009 by Reagan biographer Craig Shirley(d).
In the 1980 presidential election, Reagan took the lead against incumbent President Jimmy Carter, with the election accompanied by a lot of domestic turmoil, such as the Iran hostage crisis(d). Reagan”s campaign emphasized some of his core principles: lower taxes to stimulate the economy, reducing government involvement in people”s lives, and strengthening national defense.
During his presidency, Reagan pursued policies that reflected his own belief in individual liberty; brought about change at home, both in the economy and in military development; and helped end the Cold War. Called the “Reagan Revolution”, his presidency was to reinvigorate American morale as well as the US economy, and reduced dependence on government. As president, Reagan kept a diary in which he commented on the daily events of his presidency and his views on the issues of the day. The diary was published in May 2007 in the book Reagan”s Daily Diaries(d).
At the time, Reagan was the oldest person elected to the office of President (at 69). In his first inaugural address(d) on January 20, 1981, which Reagan himself wrote, he brought up the country”s economic stagnation, arguing: “in the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”
In 1981, Reagan became the first president to propose a constitutional amendment related to school prayer. Reagan”s election mirrored an opposition to the 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale(d), which prohibited state officials from composing an official state prayer and requiring its recitation in public schools. Reagan”s 1981 amendment stated: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be compelled by the United States or by any State to attend prayer.” In 1984, Reagan raised the issue again, asking Congress “why freedom to confess God cannot be enjoyed again by children in every school on earth?” In 1985, Reagan expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court ruling still forbade the moment of prayer in public schools and said he was fighting “an uphill battle.” In 1987, Reagan renewed his call to Congress to support voluntary prayer in schools and end the “expulsion of God from America”s classrooms.” Critics argued that any government interference with any prayer by students in public schools was involuntary. No Supreme Court ordinance suggests that students cannot pray quietly of their own accord. During his time in office, Reagan mounted a vigorous campaign to restore organized prayer in schools, first as a time of prayer and then as a time of recollection.
In response to conservative criticism that the State Department lacked consistent people, Reagan nominated Ernest W. Lefever(d) for Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in 1981.(d) Lefever performed poorly at his confirmation hearings, and the Senate committee rejected his nomination by a vote of 4-13; Lefever withdrew.
In 1981, PATCO(d), the federal air traffic controllers” union, went on strike(d) in violation of federal law prohibiting budget unions from striking. Declaring an emergency under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947(d), Reagan declared that if air traffic controllers “do not return to work within 48 hours, they will lose their jobs.” They did not return, and on August 5, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who ignored his order and used military supervisors and controllers to direct commercial air traffic in the country until new controllers were hired and trained. A major civil service report concluded, “The firing of the PATRCO employees not only demonstrated a clear strength of character on the part of the president to take control of the bureaucracy, but also sent a clear message to the private sector that unions are no longer something to be scared of.”
Reagan opposed government intervention and cut budgets for non-military programs, including Medicaid(d), food stamps(d), federal education programs, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(d) . While protecting programs like Social Security(d) and Medicare(d), his administration has tried to remove many disabled people from Social Security rolls.
The administration”s attitude towards the savings and loan financial products industry(d) contributed to the savings and loan crisis(d). Also, a minority of critics of Reaganomics suggest that policies partly influenced the 1987 stock market crash, but there is no consensus on blaming the crash on a single trigger. To cover the newly emerging federal budget deficit, the United States borrowed both domestically and from abroad, increasing the national debt from $997 billion to $2.85 trillion. Reagan described the new debt as “the biggest disappointment” of his presidency.
He reappointed Paul Volcker(d) as chairman of the Federal Reserve(d), and in 1987 appointed monetarist Alan Greenspan in his place. Reagan stopped controlling the price(d) of domestically extracted oil, which had contributed to the energy crisis of the early 1970s. Oil prices subsequently fell, and the 1980s saw no more of the fuel shortages of the 1970s. Reagan also fulfilled a 1980 campaign promise to repeal windfall corporate taxes in 1988, which had previously increased dependence on foreign oil. Some economists such as Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and Robert Mundell argue that Reagan”s tax policies revived America”s economy and contributed to the economic boom of the 1990s. Other economists, such as Nobel laureate Robert Solow, argue that Reagan”s deficits were a major reason why his successor, George H. W. Bush, reneged on a campaign promise(d) and resorted to raising taxes.
During Reagan”s presidency, a program was initiated within the U.S. National Intelligence Community(d) to secure America”s economic strength. The program, called Project Socrates(d), developed and demonstrated the means the U.S. needed to generate and drive the next evolutionary leap in the acquisition and use of technology for competitive advantage-automated innovation. To ensure that the United States derived maximum benefit from automated innovation, during his second term, Reagan called for an executive order to create a new federal agency to implement the results of Project Socrates on a nationwide basis. But Reagan”s term ended before the executive order could be coordinated and signed, and the new Bush administration, labeling Project Socrates “industrial policy,” put it on hold.
Reagan escalated the Cold War, accelerating the reversal of the policy of détente that began in 1979 after the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Reagan ordered a vigorous buildup of US armed forces and implemented new policies towards the Soviet Union: the resumption of the B-1 Lancer programme, which had been cancelled by the Carter(d) administration, and the production of the MX missile. In response to the Soviet deployment of the SS-20, Reagan oversaw NATO”s deployment of the Pershing missile in West Germany.
In 1984, journalist Nicholas Lemann(d) interviewed Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and summarized the Reagan administration”s strategy of rejecting the Soviet Union:
“Their society is economically weak and lacks the wealth, education and technology it needs to enter the information age. They have thrown everything into military production and as a result their society is beginning to show signs of terrible strain. They cannot sustain military production as we can. At some point, it will break them, and after that there will be only one superpower in a secure world-if, and only if, we can continue to fund it.”
Lemann notes that when he wrote this in 1984, he was thinking that Reaganites live in an imaginary world. But in 2016, Lemann said the passage is “a fairly uncontroversial description of what Reagan actually did.”
Together with UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan denounced the Soviet Union in ideological terms. In a famous speech to the UK Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster on 8 June 1982, Reagan said, “the forward march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism in the ash heap of history.” On March 3, 1983, he predicted the demise of communism, declaring, “Communism is another sad and bizarre chapter in human history, the last pages of which are being written right now.” In a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals(d) on March 8, 1983, Reagan called the Soviet Union “an empire of evil.”
After Soviet fighter jets shot down the South Korean KAL 007 carrying 269 people, including Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald(d), on September 1, 1983 near Moneron Island(r), Reagan characterized the act as “massacre” and declared that the Soviets had turned “against the world and the moral precepts that guide human relations among people everywhere.” The Reagan administration responded to the incident by suspending all air links between the United States and the USSR operated by the state-owned Soviet airline and denounced several deals it had negotiated with the Soviets, penalizing them financially. Following the downing of the plane and the fact that KAL 007 had taken a wrong turn due to flaws in its navigation system, Reagan announced on September 16, 1983, that the Global Positioning System, once completed, would become available free of charge to civilian users to avoid similar navigation errors in the future.
Under a policy that became known as the Reagan Doctrine, Reagan and his administration both covertly and overtly provided aid to anti-communist resistance movements in the effort to roll back Soviet-installed communist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Reagan sent the CIA”s Special Activities Division to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was instrumental in training, equipping and leading Mujahedin(d) forces against the Soviet army. President Reagan”s Covert Action Program was credited with helping to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, although some of the US military equipment introduced there would later, in 2001, become a threat to US troops during the war in Afghanistan in the early 21st century. In a break from Carter”s policy of arming Taiwan, introduced by the Taiwan Relations Act(d), Reagan agreed with China”s communist government to reduce arms sales to Taiwan.
In March 1983, Reagan introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defensive project aimed at using ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from nuclear ballistic missile attack. Reagan believed this defensive shield could make nuclear war impossible. There was much distrust surrounding the scientific feasibility of the program, leading opponents to nickname SDI “Star Wars” and claim that its technological goal was unattainable. The Soviets became concerned about the possible effects SDI could have; USSR leader Yuri Andropov said it could put “the whole world at risk.” For these reasons, David Gergen(d), a former adviser to President Reagan, believes in retrospect that SDI hastened the end of the Cold War.
Critics labeled Reagan”s foreign policy as aggressive, imperialist, calling it “instigating war,” even though it was supported by leading American conservatives who argued that it was necessary to protect US national security interests. The Reagan administration also supported anti-communist leaders accused of serious human rights violations, such as Efraín Ríos Montt(d) of Guatemala and Hissène Habré(d) of Chad, and helped Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini identify and remove communists from his government.
Based on national security concerns, the president”s national security team insisted on increased surveillance powers early in Reagan”s first term. Their recommendations were based on the premise that intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities had been weakened by Presidents Carter and Ford. On December 4, 1981, Reagan signed Executive Order 12333. This presidential order increased the powers of the government intelligence community; it established rules for tracking U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and anyone in the United States; it also directed the attorney general and other officials to create further policies and procedures about what intelligence agencies could withhold, retain, and share.
With congressional approval, Reagan sent forces to Lebanon in 1983 to reduce the threat of the Lebanese Civil War.(d) American peacekeepers in Beirut, part of a multinational force(d) sent into the Lebanese Civil War, were attacked on October 23, 1983. The bombing of the Beirut barracks killed 241 soldiers and wounded 60 others with a vehicle bomb. Reagan sent the battleship USS New Jersey(en) to bomb Syrian positions in Lebanon. He then withdrew all Marines from Lebanon.
On 25 October 1983, Reagan ordered US forces to invade Grenada (code-named “Operation Urgent Fury”), where a 1979 coup had installed a non-aligned Marxist-Leninist government. An official call from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (also President Reagan cited a supposed regional threat from the Soviet-Cuban military buildup in the Caribbean and concern for the safety of several hundred American medical students at St. George”s University as sufficient reasons for the invasion. Operation Urgent Fury was the first major military operation conducted by US forces since the Vietnam War, with the United States achieving victory within days of the start of the fighting, with 19 US soldiers killed and 116 wounded. In mid-December, after the governor general appointed a new government, US forces withdrew.
Reagan accepted the Republican nomination in Dallas, Texas. He proclaimed that it was “morning again in America(d),” referring, among other things, to the recovering economy and the superior performance of American athletes at the 1984 Summer Olympics. He became the first president to open an Olympic Games held in the United States.
Reagan”s opponent in the 1984 presidential election was former Vice President Walter Mondale. Questions were raised about his age, which, coupled with his poor performance in the first presidential debate, called into question his ability to perform the duties of president in another term. His visibly confused and distracted demeanor was obvious to his supporters; they had known him by then as intelligent and witty. He was rumoured to have Alzheimer”s disease. Reagan came back in the second debate and challenged doubts about his age, saying “I”m not going to make age an issue in this campaign. I”m not going to exploit, for political purposes, the youth and inexperience of my opponent,” which drew applause and laughter, even from Mondale himself.
Reagan was sworn in as president for the second time on January 20, 1985, in a private ceremony at the White House. At 73, he was the oldest person to enter his second term. Because January 20 fell on a Sunday, the public celebration was not held, but took place in the Capitol Rotunda(d) the following day. January 21 had the record of being one of the coldest days (due to bad weather, the inauguration was held inside the Capitol. In the weeks that followed, he disrupted his staff somewhat, moving White House Chief of Staff James Baker to the Treasury Secretary”s Office and appointed then-Treasury Secretary Donald Regan(d), a former Merrill Lynch official, as chief of staff.
In 1985, Reagan visited a German military cemetery in Bitburg to lay a wreath with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was believed that the cemetery contained the graves of 40 members of the Waffen-SS. Reagan made a statement in which he called the Nazi soldiers buried in the cemetery “victims”, a term that caused a stir under the impression that Reagan was equating the SS men with victims of the Holocaust; Pat Buchanan, Reagan”s communications director, claimed that the president did not equate SS members with victims of the Holocaust, but considered them victims of Nazi ideology. Now strongly urged to cancel the visit, the president responded that it would be wrong to break his promise to Chancellor Kohl. Eventually, he attended the ceremony, where two military generals laid a wreath.
The disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, was a critical moment in Reagan”s presidency. All seven astronauts on board died. On the night of the disaster, Reagan gave a speech, written by Peggy Noonan(d), in which he said:
“The future does not belong to the faint of heart; it belongs to the brave … We will never forget them, nor is this morning the last we have seen of them, for they have prepared for the journey and waved and ”escaped the heavy bonds of Earth” to ”touch the image of God.””
In 1988, near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the guided missile of the US warship USS Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 civilian passengers. Subsequently, the incident worsened already existing tensions in relations between Iran and the United States.
Reagan proclaimed the War on Drugs in 1982 in response to concerns about the spread of the crack epidemic. Although Nixon had previously proclaimed a war on drugs, Reagan advocated more combative policies.
He said “drugs threatened our society” and vowed to fight for drug-free schools and jobs, the spread of drug treatment, tougher punishment for breaking laws, and stronger efforts to ban drugs.
The Reagan administration largely ignored the AIDS crisis, which began to emerge in the United States in 1981, the same year Reagan took office. AIDS research suffered from a chronic lack of funding during the Reagan administration, and requests for increased funding from doctors at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were consistently denied. By the end of the first 12 months of the epidemic, when more than 1,000 people had died of AIDS in the US, the CDC had spent $1 million on AIDS research. In contrast, plenty of funds were used in CDC”s efforts to stop Legionnaires” disease after a 1976 outbreak; CDC spent $9 million fighting Legionnaires” disease, even though the epidemic caused fewer than 50 deaths.
By the time President Reagan gave his first address on the epidemic, six years after taking office, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died from it. By the end of 1989, the year Reagan left office, 115,786 people had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States and more than 70,000 had died. It has been suggested that far fewer would have died, both then and in the decades that followed, if the Reagan administration had been as determined to fight AIDS as the Ford administration was to fight Legionnaires” disease.
Relations between Libya and the United States under President Reagan have always been contentious, beginning with the Gulf of Sidra incident (in 1982, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was considered by the CIA, along with USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, to be part of a group known as the “unholy trinity” and was labeled “our international public enemy number one” by a CIA official. These tensions flared up again in early April 1986, when a bomb exploded in a West Berlin nightclub in 1986(d), resulting in the injury of 63 US military personnel and the death of one serviceman. Claiming “irrefutable evidence” that Libya directed the “terrorist bombing”, Reagan authorised the use of force against the country. Late in the evening on April 15, 1986, the United States launched a series of air strikes on land targets in Libya.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher allowed the US Air Force to use British air bases to launch the attack on the grounds that the UK supports America”s right to self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The attack was designed to stop Gaddafi”s “ability” “to export terrorism” by giving him “incentives and reasons to change his criminal behaviour.” The president addressed the nation from the Oval Office after the attacks began, declaring, “when our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world at the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond as long as I am in this office.” The attack was blamed by many countries. By a vote of 79 in favour, 28 against and 33 abstentions, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 41
Reagan enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act(d) of 1986. The law now prohibited the knowing employment or recruitment of illegal immigrants(d), required employers to certify the immigration status of employees, and granted amnesty to approximately three million illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982, and have resided continuously in the country. Critics argue that employer sanctions were weak and failed to stop illegal immigration. In signing the act at a ceremony near the newly renovated Statue of Liberty, Reagan said, “The provisions legislated in this act will go a long way toward improving the lives of a class of individuals who now no longer have to hide in the shadows without access to the many benefits of a free and open society. Very soon, many of these men and women will be able to come out into the light and eventually, if they choose, become Americans.” Reagan also said, “The employer sanctions program is the foundation and the major element. It will remove the incentives for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities that attract illegal immigrants here.”
In 1986, the Iran-Contra affair became a problem for the administration resulting from the use of the proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war to fund the Contras(d) rebels fighting the government in Nicaragua(en), funding prohibited by Congress by law. The deal became a political scandal in the United States in the 1980s. The International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction to decide the case was challenged by the United States, ruled that the United States had violated international law and treaties with Nicaragua in several ways.
Many Central Americans criticize Reagan for supporting the Contras, calling him an anti-communist zealot blind to human rights violations, while others say he “saved Central America.” Daniel Ortega, a Sandinista and president of Nicaragua, said he hopes God will forgive Reagan for his “dirty war against Nicaragua.”
Until the early 1980s, the United States had relied on the qualitative superiority of its weapons, mainly to scare the Soviets, but this gap has narrowed. Although the Soviet Union did not accelerate military spending after the US military surge under President Reagan, high military spending, combined with collectivized agriculture and an inefficient planned economy, was a heavy burden on the Soviet economy. At the same time, Saudi Arabia increased oil production, resulting in oil prices in 1985 falling to a third of their previous level; oil was the Soviets” main source of export revenue. These factors caused the Soviet economy to stagnate under Gorbachev”s leadership.
Reagan recognized the shift in Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev and turned to diplomacy, with a vision of encouraging the Soviet leader to pursue substantial arms deals. Reagan”s personal mission was to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons,” which he saw as “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, with the potential to destroy life on earth and civilization.” He began discussions on nuclear disarmament with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev. Gorbachev and Reagan held four summit conferences between 1985 and 1988: the first(d) in Geneva, the second(d) in Reykjavik, the third in Washington, D.C. and the fourth in Moscow. Reagan believed that if he could get the Soviets to allow more democracy and freedom of speech, it would lead to reform and the end of communism.
Speaking at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to go further, saying “Mr. Secretary Gorbachev, if you want peace, if you want prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you want liberalization, come to this gate! Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Before Gorbachev visited Washington, D.C., for the third summit in 1987, the Soviet leader announced his intention to pursue major arms agreements. The timing of the announcement prompted Western dipolomats to argue that Gorbachev had offered major concessions to the United States on conventional forces, nuclear weapons and politics in Eastern Europe. He and Reagan signed the INF(d) Treaty at the White House, which removed an entire category of nuclear weapons. The two leaders set a framework for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I; Reagan insisted that the name of the treaty be changed from Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.
When Reagan visited Moscow for his fourth summit in 1988, he was seen as a celebrity by the Soviets. One journalist asked the president if he still considered the Soviet Union the evil empire. “No,” he replied, “we were talking about another time, another era.” At Gorbachev”s request, Reagan gave a lecture on the free market at Moscow State University. In his autobiography, An American Life, Reagan expressed optimism about the new direction they had charted and his warm feelings for Gorbachev. In November 1989, ten months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War was unofficially declared over at the Malta Summit on December 3, 1989, and two years later, the Soviet Union broke up.
Early in his presidency, Reagan began wearing a technologically advanced, custom-made hearing aid worn first in his right ear and later in his left ear. His decision to go out in public in 1983 wearing his tiny hearing aid helped support sales of such devices.
On July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove cancerous polyps(d) from his colon. He delegated presidential powers to the Vice President for eight hours in a procedure similar to that described in the 25th Amendment(d), which he avoided invoking. The surgery lasted only three hours and was successful. Reagan resumed his presidential powers later that day. In August of that year, he underwent surgery to remove malignant cells from the skin of his nose. In October, more malignant cells were found on his nose, and they were removed.
In January 1987, Reagan underwent surgery on his enlarged prostate, which subsequently caused anxiety about his health. No malignant growth was found, and he was not fully anesthetized during surgery. In July of that year, aged 76, he underwent a third operation for skin cancer on his nose.
On January 7, 1989, Reagan underwent surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center(d) to remove Dupuytren”s disease(d) from the ring finger of his left hand. The procedure took more than three hours and was performed under local anesthesia.
During the 1980 campaign, Reagan gave his word that, given the chance, he would appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court. That opportunity came in the first year of his presidency, when he nominated Sandra Day O”Connor to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Potter Stewart(d). During his second term, Reagan nominated William Rehnquist(d) to replace Warren E. Burger(d) as Chief Justice and appointed Antonin Scalia to the seat vacated by Rhnquist. Reagan nominated conservative jurist Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, vehemently opposed Bork and a major dispute ensued. Bork”s nomination was rejected 58-42. In this situation, Reagan nominated Douglas Ginsburg(d), but Ginsburg withdrew his nomination after admitting to using marijuana during college. Anthony Kennedy(d) was eventually confirmed instead. In addition to his Supreme Court appointments, Reagan nominated 83 judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals(d) and 290 judges to the U.S. District Courts(d).
Reagan also nominated Vaughn Walker(d), later revealed to be the first known gay federal judge, to the United States District Court for the Central District of California(d). However, the nomination was rejected by the Senate, and Walker was not confirmed until he was re-nominated by Reagan”s successor, George H. W. Bush.
Early in his presidency, Reagan appointed Clarence M. Pendleton Jr.(d) of San Diego as the first African-American to head the U.S. Commission on Human Rights(d). Pendleton sought to steer the commission in a conservative direction, in line with Reagan”s views on social and human rights policy, during his tenure from 1981 until his sudden death in 1988. Soon, Pendleton aroused the ire of many human rights advocates and feminists when he derided the equal pay proposal as “Looney Tunes.”
In 1984, Reagan commuted the 18-year prison sentence given to former Louisiana Agriculture and Livestock Commissioner(d) Gil Dozier(d), a Baton Rouge Democrat, to the sentence already served for violating the Hobbs Act(d) and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations(d) laws. On September 23, 1980, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana(d) convicted Dozier of racketeering and racketeering when he induced companies working with his department to contribute financially to his election campaign. Reagan considered the 18-year sentence excessive compared to other politicians who have been punished for similar offenses.
After leaving office in 1989, the Reagans bought a house in Bel Air, Los Angeles(d), next to the Reagan(d) family ranch in Santa Barbara. They regularly attended church in Bel Air(Reagan gave a well-received speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention(d). Earlier, on November 4, 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library(d) was inaugurated and opened to the public. The inauguration ceremony was attended by five presidents, as well as six first ladies, the first time five presidents gathered in the same place. Reagan went on to speak publicly in favor of a partial veto(d), the Brady Act(d), a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget(d), and repeal of the 22nd Amendment(d), which prevented anyone from serving more than two terms as president. In 1992, Reagan established the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award(d) along with the new Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. His final public speech was on February 3, 1994, during a tribute to him in Washington, D.C., and his last major public appearance was at the funeral(d) of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.
On April 13, 1992, Reagan was attacked by an anti-nuclear protester during a speech while receiving an award from the National Association of Broadcasters(d) in Las Vegas. The 41-year-old protester, named Richard Paul Springer, smashed a 60-centimetre, 13.5-pound crystal statue in the shape of an eagle that association representatives had given to the former president. Glass shards struck Reagan but did not injure him. Using media credentials, Springer intended to make an announcement about the secret nuclear weapons test in the Nevada desert the next day. Springer was the founder of an anti-nuclear group called the 100th Monkey. After he was arrested for assaulting a police officer, a Secret Service spokesman couldn”t explain how he got past the federal agents who were constantly guarding Reagan. Springer later pleaded guilty to a reduced sentence and said he didn”t mean to hurt Reagan by his actions. He pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of obstructing the Secret Service, but was not prosecuted for violence, assault and resisting officers.
In August 1994, at the age of 83, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer”s disease, an incurable neurological disorder that destroys brain cells and eventually causes death. In November, he informed the nation in a handwritten letter, in which he wrote among other things:
“I was recently told that I am one of millions of Americans who will be affected by Alzheimer”s disease … For now, I feel pretty good. I intend to live out the rest of my God-given years on this earth doing the things I”ve always done … Now I begin the journey that will take 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 bless you always.”
After he was diagnosed, letters of support began pouring into his California residence from the public.
But there has also been speculation about when Reagan showed symptoms of mental degeneration. Shortly after Ronald Reagan(d)”s assassination attempt, at a mayors” reception in 1981, Reagan greeted Housing and Urban Development Secretary(d) Samuel Pierce(d), saying “How do you do, Mr. Mayor? How are things in your city?” Former CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl(d) recounts that at her last meeting with the president in 1986, Reagan didn”t seem to know who she was, which is why she was close to signaling that Reagan was senile, but by the end of the meeting, Reagan had regained his alertness. Anyway, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, a physician employed as a reporter for The New York Times, noted that “the line between mere forgetfulness and the onset of Alzheimer”s can be blurry,” and all four of Reagan”s White House doctors said they saw no signs of Alzheimer”s while he was president. Dr. John E. Hutton, Reagan”s primary physician from 1984 to 1989, said the president “categorically” showed “no signs of dementia or Alzheimer”s.” His former chief of staff, James Baker, considered the idea that Reagan slept during cabinet meetings “ridiculous.” Other Cabinet members, former aides and friends said they saw no signs of Alzheimer”s when he was president. Reagan had occasional memory lapses, especially when it came to people”s names. Reagan”s doctors say he didn”t begin showing clear symptoms of the disease until late 1992 a few years after leaving office. For example, Reagan repeated a toast to Margaret Thatcher, with identical gestures and words, at her 82nd birthday party on February 6, 1993.
Moreover, Reagan suffered a head injury in July 1989 that was not diagnosed until five years later. After falling off a horse in Mexico, he was found to have a subdural hematoma(d) and was treated by surgery later that year. Nancy Reagan, citing what doctors told her, said that her husband”s 1989 fall hastened the onset of Alzheimer”s disease, although acute brain injury has not been proven to accelerate Alzheimer”s or dementia. Daniel Ruge, Reagan”s former doctor, said it”s possible, but not certain, that the horse accident affected the course of Reagan”s memory.
As the years passed, the disease slowly destroyed Reagan”s mental capacity. At one point, he could only recognize a few people, including his wife, Nancy. He remained energetic, though; he took walks in nearby parks and on beaches, played golf regularly, and until 1999 frequently visited his nearby Century City(d) office.
Reagan fell in his Bel Air home on January 13, 2001, suffering a broken hip. The fracture was treated the following day and the 89-year-old Reagan returned home later that week, although he underwent heavy and lengthy physiotherapy sessions there. On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age of 90, becoming the third former president to reach that age (the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover, with Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter reaching 90 years later). Reagan”s public appearances became much rarer as the disease progressed and as a result, the family decided that he would live in quiet semi-isolation with his wife Nancy. Nancy Reagan told CNN”s Larry King in 2001 that very few visitors are allowed to see her husband because she feels that “Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was.” After her husband”s death, Nancy Reagan became an advocate for stem cell research, urging Congress and President George W. Bush to support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, an idea Bush rejected. In 2009, she praised President Barack Obama for lifting restrictions on such research. Nancy Reagan said she believed they could lead to a cure for Alzheimer”s disease.
Reagan died of pneumonia, complicated by Alzheimer”s disease, at her home in the Bel Air(d) neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on the afternoon of June 5, 2004. Shortly after her death, Nancy Reagan issued a statement in which she said, “I and my family would like the world to know that President Reagan died after 10 years of Alzheimer”s at the age of 93. We appreciate everyone”s prayers.” President George W. Bush declared June 11 a national day of mourning, and tributes were paid to the late president around the world. Reagan”s body was laid to rest at the funeral home in Santa Monica, California, later in the day, where the public paid their respects by placing flowers and American flags on the grass. On June 7, the remains were taken to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library(d), where a brief family funeral ceremony was held, led by Pastor Michael Wenning(more than 100,000 people viewed the casket.
On June 9, Reagan”s remains were flown to Washington, D.C., where Reagan became the tenth U.S. president to be laid to rest after his death; in thirty-four hours, 104,684 people passed by the casket.
On June 11, a formal funeral ceremony was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, presided over by President George W. Bush. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney(d), former President George H. W. Bush and then President George W. Bush gave remarks. Also present were Mikhail Gorbachev, and many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, who represented his mother Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Ghazi al-Yawer(d) of Iraq.
After the ceremony, Reagan”s entourage flew back to the Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where another service was held and President Reagan was buried. When he died, Reagan was the longest-serving president in US history, living 93 years and 120 days (2 years, 8 months and 23 days longer than John Adams, whose record he surpassed). He is currently the third longest-serving president, after George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. He was the first US president to die in the 21st century and the first American president to have a state funeral ceremony since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. Engraved at the burial site are the words Ronald Reagan said at the opening of the Presidential Library, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always triumph in the end, and that there is purpose and value in every life.”
Since Reagan left office in 1989, there has been considerable discussion among intellectuals, historians and the general public about his legacy. His supporters have pointed to a more efficient and prosperous economy as a result of Reagan”s economic policies, triumphs in foreign policy, including a peaceful end to the Cold War, and the restoration of American pride and morale. Supporters also argue that Reagan restored faith in the American dream with his unbridled and fiery love for the United States after a decline in American confidence and self-esteem during Jimmy Carter”s perceived weak leadership, most notably the Iran hostage crisis(d) and his bleak and gloomy outlook on the future of the United States during the 1980 election. Critics argue that Reagan”s economic policies resulted in rising budget deficits, greater economic inequality and increased homelessness, and that the Iran-Contra affair diminished US credibility.
Opinions on Reagan”s legacy among leading politicians and journalists also vary. Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation(d), said Reagan “helped create a safer, freer world” and said of his economic policies, “He took over an America that was suffering from ”malaise”… and made its citizens believe again in their destiny.” But Mark Weisbrot(d), co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research(d), argued that “economic policies were largely a failure” while Howard Kurtz(d) of The Washington Post opined that Reagan was “a far more controversial figure in his day than the largely overblown television obituaries would suggest.”
For all the continuing debate over his legacy, many conservative and liberal intellectuals agree that Reagan was the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, leaving his mark on American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics through effective communication, dedicated patriotism, and pragmatic compromise. After leaving office, historians have reached a consensus, summarized by British historian M. J. Heale, who notes that scholars now agree that Reagan rehabilitated conservatism, turned the nation to the right, practiced a fairly pragmatic conservatism that balanced doctrine and policy constraints, revived faith in the presidency and American exceptionalism(d), and contributed to victory in the Cold War.
The Cold War was a great political, economic and military test for over four decades, but the confrontation between the two superpowers dramatically declined by the end of Reagan”s presidency. The significance of Reagan”s role in ending the Cold War has led to fierce adversarial discussions. There is consensus that Reagan played a role in helping to bring down the Soviet Union, but the extent of this role is always debated, with many believing that Reagan”s defensive, economic and military policies and uncompromising rhetoric against the Soviet Union and communism, as well as his summits with Secretary General Gorbachev, played a significant role in ending the Cold War.
He was the first of the post-war presidents to put into practice the idea that the Soviet Union could be defeated rather than negotiated with, a post-defeat strategy, a belief that was supported by Gennady Gherasimov(d), the Foreign Ministry spokesman under Gorbachev, who said that the Strategic Defence Initiative was a “very successful blackmail. … The Soviet economy could not withstand such competition.” Reagan”s forceful rhetoric toward the Soviet Union had mixed effects; Jeffery W. Knopf notes that being labeled “evil” probably had no effect on the Soviets, but it did encourage Eastern Europeans to oppose communism.
Secretary General Gorbachev said of his former rival”s role in the Cold War, “a man who was indispensable in bringing the Cold War to an end” and praised him as “a great president.” Gorbachev did not acknowledge a victory or defeat in the war, but rather a peaceful end; he said he was not intimidated by Reagan”s tough rhetoric. Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, said of Reagan: “he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable appetite for military power… but he also felt that it was being devoured by systemic failures impossible to right.” She later said that “Ronald Reagan deserves more credit than any other leader for winning the Cold War, and he did it without firing a shot.” Brian Mulroney(r), former Prime Minister of Canada, said, “He goes down in history as a powerful and dramatic actor Former President of Poland Lech Wałęsa acknowledged that “Reagan was one of the world leaders who made a major contribution to the fall of communism.” It is also argued that Reagan had little or no influence in ending the Cold War, that the internal weakness of communism had become apparent and the Soviet Union would have fallen anyway eventually, regardless of who was in power. President Harry S. Truman”s policy of restraint is also seen as a force behind the fall of the USSR, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had undermined the Soviet system itself.
Domestic and other political legacies
Reagan reshaped the Republican Party, led the modern conservative movement, and changed the political dynamics of the United States. More people voted Republican under Reagan and Reagan captured religious voters. The so-called “Reagan Democrats(d)” were an effect of his presidency.
After leaving office, Reagan became an iconic influence within the Republican Party. His policies and beliefs have been frequently invoked by Republican presidential candidates since 1988. Republicans nominated to run for president in 2008(d) did so without exception, linking him to them during the early debates and even mimicking his campaign strategies. Republican candidate John McCain frequently said he came to office as “a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution.” Reagan”s most famous statement about diminishing the role of government was “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
Reagan became an iconic figure in the Republican Party, with praise of his achievements becoming part of standard Republican Party rhetoric for a quarter of a century after his retirement. Washington Post reporter Carlos Lozada notes how in the 2016 presidential race, the leading Republican contenders for the nomination adopted the “standard GOP Gipper cult,” including the previously skeptical Donald Trump.
The period in American history dominated by Reagan and his policies on taxes, welfare, defense, the federal court system and the Cold War is known today as the Reagan(d) era. This conservative period had a permanent impact on the United States in domestic and foreign policy. The Bill Clinton administration is often treated as an extension of the Reagan era, as is the George W. Bush administration. Historian Eric Foner notes that Obama”s 2008 candidacy “gathered a lot of deferential thinking among those who wanted change after nearly thirty years of Reaganism.”
Political and cultural image
According to columnist Chuck Raasch, “Reagan transformed the American presidency in ways few others were capable of.” He redefined the political agenda of the times, advocating lower taxes, a conservative economic philosophy and increased military power. His role in the Cold War further intensified his image as a different kind of leader. Regan”s traits of “dependable style, optimism, and simple man”s conduct” also helped him make “government instruction an art form.”
As sitting president, Reagan didn”t have the highest approval ratings, but his popularity has soared since 1989. Gallup polls in 2001 and 2007 ranked him first and second, respectively, when asked “who is the greatest president in history?” Reagan was ranked third among postwar presidents in a 2007 Rasmussen Reports(d) poll, fifth in the 2000 ABC poll, ninth in another Rasmussen poll in 2009 and eighth in a 2008 poll by the British newspaper The Times. However, in a Siena College(d) poll of more than 200 historians, Reagan was ranked 16th out of 42. In 2009, the annual C-SPAN(d) Survey of Presidential Leaders ranked Reagan as the 10th greatest president. The survey by noted historians ranked Reagan #11 in 2000.
In 2011, the Institute for the Study of the Americas(d) did the first British academic study evaluating US presidents. This survey of British specialists in US history and politics placed Reagan eighth among the greatest US presidents.
Reagan”s ability to connect with Americans earned him the lauded name “The Great Communicator.” Of this, Reagan said, “I earned the nickname ”The Great Communicator”. But I never thought my style made any difference -here”s the content. I wasn”t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” His age and soft-spoken manner gave him a warm grandfatherly image.
Public reaction to Reagan was always diverse; the oldest president ever was supported by young voters and began an alliance that brought many into the Republican Party. Reagan was not popular among minorities, especially African Americans. This was largely due to his opposition to affirmative action policies. However, his support for Israel during his presidency won him support from many Jews. He emphasized family values during his campaigns and terms in office, although he was the first president to divorce. The combination of Reagan”s style of speaking, unabashed patriotism, negotiating skills, and skillful use of the media played an important role in defining the 1980s and his future legacy.
Reagan was known for joking often throughout his life; he also displayed his humor during his presidency and was known for his storytelling. Many of his jokes and wry remarks have been labeled “classic epigrams” and “legendary”. Among his most famous jokes is one about the Cold War. During a microphone test conducted in preparation for his weekly radio address in August 1984, Reagan made the following joke: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to announce today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We start bombing it in five minutes.” Former adviser David Gergen(d) commented, “that humor was … what I think made people love Reagan.”
Reagan was a fan of Jelly Beans(d). He started liking them when he quit smoking a pipe. He often had boxes of these popular candies on hand, which he consumed during cabinet meetings.
Reagan received a number of awards in his pre- and post-presidential years. After being elected president, Reagan was named a lifetime gold member of the Screen Actors Guild, was inducted into the National Speakers Association(d) Speaker Hall of Fame, and received the Sylvanus Thayer(d) Award from the United States Military Academy.
In 1981, Reagan became a recipient of the Illinois Lincoln Academy(d) and was awarded the Order of Lincoln (the highest state honor) by the Governor of Illinois in the field of government. In 1983, he received the highest award of the Japan Boy Scouts Association(d), the Golden Pheasant Award(d). In 1989, Reagan was made an Honorary Knight of the Grand Cross(d) of the Order of the Bath, one of Britain”s highest orders (only two U.S. presidents have received this honor after taking office, Reagan and George H. W. Bush.; Dwight D. Eisenhower received it before he became president, while he was a general after World War II. Reagan was also made an honorary fellow of Keble College, Oxford(he was the second US president to receive the order and the first to receive it for personal reasons (Dwight D. Eisenhower received it as a commemoration of American-Japanese relations).
On January 18, 1993, Reagan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom(d) (awarded with distinction), the United States” highest decoration, from President George H. W. Bush, his vice president and successor. Reagan was also awarded the Republican Senatorial Medal for Freedom, the highest award given by Republican members of the Senate.
On Reagan”s 87th birthday in 1998, Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport(d) by a law signed by President Bill Clinton. That year, the Ronald Reagan(d) Mall opened in Washington, D.C. He was among the 18 most admired men and women according to the Gallup poll(two years later, the USS Ronald Reagan(en) was named after Nancy Reagan and the U.S. Navy. It is one of the few Navy ships named after a living person and the first aircraft carrier named after a living former president.
In 1998, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation(d) honored Reagan with the Naval Heritage Award for his support of the U.S. Navy during both his film career and his time as President.
Congress authorized the establishment of the Ronald Reagan(r) Youth House in Dixon, Illinois, in 2002, pending a decision on federal acquisition of the property. On May 16 of that year, Nancy Reagan received the Congressional Gold Medal(d), the highest civilian award given by Congress, on behalf of the President and herself.
After Reagan”s death, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp featuring President Ronald Reagan in 2005. Later that year, CNN, along with the editors of Time magazine, named him “the most fascinating person” of the network”s first 25 years; Time also included Reagan among the top 100 most important people of the 20th century. The Discovery Channel invited viewers to vote for Greatest American (Reagan came in first, ahead of Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2006, Reagan was inducted into the California Hall of Fame(d), located in the California Museum(d). Every year since 2002, California Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have proclaimed February 6 “Ronald Reagan Day” in the state of California in honor of their most famous predecessor. In 2010, Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 944, authored by Senator George Runner(d), making every February 6 Ronald Reagan Day in California.
In 2007, Polish President Lech Kaczyński posthumously awarded Reagan Poland”s highest honor, the Order of the White Eagle, saying that Reagan inspired the Polish people to work for change and helped bring down the repressive communist regime; Kaczyński said this “would not have been possible if it had not been for President Ronald Reagan”s strong thinking, determination and sense of mission.” Reagan supported the nation of Poland during his presidency, supporting the anti-communist Solidarity movement alongside Pope John Paul II; Ronald Reagan Park(d), a public park in Gdańsk, was named in his honour.
On June 3, 2009, Nancy Reagan unveiled a statue of her husband in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol(d). The statue represents the state of California in the National Statue Hall(d). After Reagan”s death, both major American political parties agreed to erect a statue of Reagan in place of Thomas Starr King(d). The day before, President Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, establishing a commission to plan activities to mark the approaching centennial of Reagan”s birth.
On Independence Day 2011, another Reagan statue was unveiled-this time in London, near the US Embassy(d) in Grosvenor Square(d). Reagan”s wife Nancy was due to attend the unveiling, but she was unable to attend, her place being taken by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who read a statement on her behalf; in addition to the former first lady”s absence, President Reagan”s friend and British Prime Minister during his presidency, Baroness Thatcher, was also unable to attend due to frail health.