Ronald Reagan

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: USA Presidents

Ronald Wilson Reagan
Ronald Reagan

In office
January 20, 1981 –  January 20, 1989
Vice President(s)   George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush

Born February 6, 1911
United States Tampico, Illinois, USA
Died June 5, 2004
Bel-Air, California, USA
Political party Republican
Spouse (1) Jane Wyman (married 1940, divorced 1948)
(2) Nancy Davis Reagan (married 1952)
Religion Presbyterian

Ronald Wilson Reagan ( February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). He is considered an icon of American conservatism. At age 69, he was the oldest person ever elected President. Before entering politics, Reagan was a popular motion picture actor, head of the Screen Actors Guild, and a motivational speaker. He was an "FDR Democrat" in the 1930s and 1940s but became a Republican in the 1960s. His persuasive speaking style earned Reagan the title "The Great Communicator." He gained national attention campaigning for Barry Goldwater in 1964, and after Goldwater's defeat his supporters and conservatives generally across the country gravitated to Reagan, who was elected governor of the largest state, California, in 1966 and reelected in 1970. In 1976, Reagan made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. By 1980, Reagan dominated the GOP and faced a much weakened President Jimmy Carter, whose performance in domestic and foreign policies Reagan denounced. Winning in a landslide and bringing in the Senate on his coattails, President Reagan had a momentous first term. He escalated the Cold War with the Soviet Union, then negotiated massive arms reductions with the Soviets in the late 1980s. Rejecting both containment and détente, Reagan called for roll-back and the destruction of communism. His economic and foreign policies have formed the base of American conservatism since 1980.

In domestic affairs Reagan's economic policy of supply-side economics, or " Reaganomics," is noted for its implementation of a 25% cut in the federal personal income tax, a reduction in interest rates, a reduction in inflation, increased military spending, and a dramatic rise in deficits and the national debt. After two years, a recession set in, but the economy recovered robustly in 1983 and he was reelected in a 49-state landslide in 1984. He did not succeed in significantly changing social policies, such as welfare spending and abortion rights, but he did create a more conservative federal judiciary through appointments to the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts.

He was toughly skeptical of the ability of the federal government to remedy socioeconomic problems. Broadly speaking, his solution was to lower taxes and limit government regulation in order to allow the self-correcting "invisible hand" of the free market to assert itself. On inauguration day 1981, he said "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Many political and social commentators have credited him with restoring a brisk new optimism to the American psyche that had remained awash in sullen negativity following the scars of the Watergate Scandal, the American withdrawal from Vietnam, and a late 1970s economy racked by spiraling inflation and interest rates. His ability to survive and even escape blame for economic troubles, reverses in Congress, foreign crises, and his own administration's scandals earned him the nickname, "The Teflon President." In foreign policy, his administration was noted for its boldness. Reagan called out the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and authorized a vast buildup of military might, mandating that the Soviets commit funds and other resources they barely retained.

The Berlin Wall, and with it ultimately the Soviet Bloc, collapsed in November of 1989, shortly after he left office. Historians have not yet formed a consensus; some consider Reagan the leading architect of the Soviet demise in 1991, while others believe the distinegration was inevitable; Reagan simply hastened the day.

He was the only U.S. President to be shot by an assassin (on March 30, 1981) while in office and survive. After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for at least a decade, he died in 2004 at age 93 in Bel-Air, California.

Early life

Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in an apartment above a bank in Tampico, Illinois. He was the second of two sons born to John Edward Reagan ( 1883– 1941), an Irish American Catholic, and Nelle Clyde Wilson ( 1883– 1962), who was of Scottish, Canadian and English descent and his older brother was Neil Reagan ( 1908– 1996). His paternal great-grandfather, Michael Reagan, came to the United States from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, Ireland, in the 1860s, and the rest of his paternal family immigrated from Ireland in the 1800s as well. Prior to his immigration, the family name was spelled Regan. His maternal great-grandfather, John Wilson, immigrated to the United States from Paisley, Scotland, in the 1840s and married Jane Blue, a Canadian from Queens, New Brunswick. Reagan's maternal grandmother, Mary Anne Elsey, was born in Epsom, Surrey, England.

During his childhood, Reagan attended Mount Lebanon school district. There, he developed a gift for storytelling and acting. These abilities led to his selection as one of the freshman speakers during the late-night meeting prior to the student strike at Eureka College. In 1926 Reagan began work as a lifeguard at Lowell Park, near Dixon. He was credited with saving 77 lives during the seven summers he worked there. In 1932, after graduating from Eureka ( B.A. in economics and sociology), Reagan worked at radio stations WOC in Davenport, Iowa, and then WHO in Des Moines as an announcer for Chicago Cubs baseball games, getting only the bare outlines of the game from a ticker and relying on his imagination to flesh out the game. Once, during the ninth inning of a game, the wire went dead but Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both teams fouled off numerous pitches) until the wire was restored.


In 1937, when in California to cover spring training for the Chicago Cubs as a Headline radio announcer, Reagan took a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers studio. Reagan's clear voice, easy-going manner, and athletic physique made him popular with 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. Before Santa Fe Trail 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 International Squadron, ' Tennessee's Partner, Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, and Bedtime for Bonzo. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Reagan was commissioned as a reserve officer in the Army in 1935. In November 1941, Reagan was called up but disqualified for combat duty because of his astigmatism. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Lieutenant Reagan was activated and assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Forces, which made training and education films, where his acting experience could be put to work. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war.

Ronald Reagan visiting Nancy Reagan on the set of her movie Donovan's Brain, 1953.
Ronald Reagan visiting Nancy Reagan on the set of her movie Donovan's Brain, 1953.

Reagan's film roles became fewer in the late 1950s; he moved to television as a host and frequent performer for General Electric Theatre. Reagan appeared in over 50 television dramas. 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 dispute 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 Theatre 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 ($800,000 in 2006 dollars). 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, a remake of an earlier version, based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Reagan portrayed a mob chieftain. This film, the first made-for-TV movie, was originally produced for NBC, but the network's censor found it too violent. Reagan's co-stars were John Cassavetes, Lee Marvin, and Angie Dickinson.

In total Reagan boasts a fairly prodigious credit history of 102 activities ranging from Cowpoke to a cameo appearance in Spies Like Us.


Reagan married actress Jane Wyman on January 24, 1940; they had a daughter, Maureen in 1941; an adopted son, Michael in 1945, and a second daughter, Christine, born and died June 26, 1947. They divorced on June 28, 1948. Reagan is the only United States President to date to have been divorced. Reagan remarried on March 4, 1952, to actress Nancy Davis. Their daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year. In 1958, they had a second child, Ron.

Early political career

TV star Ronald Reagan advertising borax
TV star Ronald Reagan advertising borax

Reagan was originally a Democrat, supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal throughout the economically ravaged and war-torn 1930s and early 1940s. In the late 1940s, he was still a Democrat of firm convictions, one of the most visible speakers in the country defending President Harry S. Truman. But his political loyalties would soon change.

His first major political role was as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the labor union that represented most Hollywood actors, but which, he claimed, was being infiltrated by communists. In this position, he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on suspected communist influence in the motion picture industry. He also kept tabs on actors he considered disloyal and reported them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the code name "Agent T-10," but he would not denounce them publicly. In public, he opposed the practice of blacklisting, while in private he and his first wife, Jane Wyman, met with FBI agents in 1947 to name "suspected subversives." Among those he allegedly fingered were actors Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva and Alexander Knox, each of whom was later called before HUAC and subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood. (This information was not revealed until a 2002 Freedom of Information Act request.) FBI files allegedly show that he continually gave the FBI names of people he suspected of communist ties.

The ever-looming threat of Communism soon persuaded Reagan that, of the major American political parties, the Republican was its more capable adversary. He supported the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952;1956) and Richard Nixon (1960), while remaining a registered Democrat. Through these years, Reagan had been educating himself in the laissez-faire economics of classical liberalism; following the election of John F. Kennedy and the near catastrophe of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he was ready to change his party affiliation. He joined the Republican party in time to mount the 1964 bandwagon of conservative Presidential contender Barry Goldwater. "I didn't leave the Democratic Party," he claimed. "The party left me." Speaking on the candidate's behalf, Reagan revealed his ideological motivation: "The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government set out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."

Governor of California

Order: 33rd Governor of California
Term of office: 1967–1975
Predecessor: Pat Brown
Successor: Jerry Brown
Political Party: Republican
Lieutenant Governor: Robert Finch, Ed Reinecke, John L. Harmer

In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, defeating two-term Pat Brown; he was re-elected in 1970, defeating Jesse Unruh, but chose not to seek a third term. Ronald Reagan was sworn in as governor of California on January 3, 1967. In his first term, he froze government hiring but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget. Reagan quickly controlled protest movements of the era. During the People's Park protests in 1969, he sent 2,200 state National Guard troops onto the Berkeley campus of the University of California. In a speech in April 1970, he stated, "If it's to be a bloodbath, let it be now. Appeasement is not the answer."

He worked with Democratic 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 American 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 issued in California prior to 1972, although the decision was quickly overturned by a constitutional amendment. Despite his support for the death penalty, Reagan granted two clemencies and a temporary reprieve during his governorship. As of 2006, no other clemency has been granted to a condemned person in California. The only execution during Reagan's governorship was on April 12, 1967, when Aaron Mitchell was executed by the state in San Quentin's gas chamber. There was not another execution in California until 1992. When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst in Berkeley and demanded the distribution of food to the poor, Reagan suggested that it would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism. After the media reported on the comment, he apologized.

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. The community replacement facilities have never been adequately funded, either by Reagan or his successors. Reagan was strongly influenced by the classical liberals. When asked in an interview in 1975 which economists were influential on him, he replied: " Bastiat and von Mises, and Hayek and Hazlitt–I’m one for the classical economists."

Reagan was the first governor to use a corporate business jet for official travel. California received one of the first Cessna Citation jets manufactured. His pilot, Bill Paynter, changed his Democratic voting registration to Republican within six months of meeting Reagan. Paynter often told listeners the Reagan on TV was the same Reagan in person, a man who walked his talk. Reagan would often ask his flight crew if it would be any inconvenience to change the published flight schedule because he did not want to keep his support staff from being with their families and any family planned events.

Presidential campaigns

1976 Presidential Campaign

Reagan first tested the Presidential waters in 1968 as part of a "Stop Nixon" movement which included those from the party's left led by then- New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Reagan managed to win the pledges of some 600 delegates, but Nixon quickly steamrolled to the nomination; Reagan urged the convention to nominate Nixon unanimously.

In 1976, Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford, a moderate. Reagan soon established himself as the conservative candidate; like-minded organizations such as the American Conservative Union became the key components of his political base. He relied on a strategy crafted by campaign manager John Sears of winning a few primaries early to seriously damage the liftoff of Ford's campaign, but the strategy quickly disintegrated. Poor management of expectations and an ill-timed speech promising to shift responsibilty for federal services to the states without identifying any clear funding mechanism caused Reagan to lose New Hampshire and later Florida. Reagan found himself cornered, desperately needing a win to stay in the race.

Reagan's stand in the North Carolina primary was a do-or-die proposition. Hammering Ford on the Panama Canal, detente with the Soviet Union, busing of school children, and Henry Kissinger's performance as Secretary of State, Reagan won 53% to 47%. He used that bit of momentum to add the major states of Texas and California, but then fell back from losing efforts in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan. As the party's convention in Kansas City neared, Ford appeared close to victory, thanks to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegates ostensibly under the control of Ford's liberal Vice President Rockefeller. Acknowledging the strength of his party's moderate and liberal wing, Reagan balanced his ticket by chosing as his running mate moderate Republican Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, Ford squeaked by with 1,187 delegates to Reagan's 1,070. Reagan's concession speech was a stirring exhortation, emphasizing the dangers of nuclear war and the moral threat posed by the Soviet Union.

1978 Opposition to California's Briggs Initiative

The Briggs Initiative, which for a time was winning in polls conducted prior to the election with about 61% of voters supporting it while 31% opposed. The extreme right state legislator John Briggs was pushing Prop 6, the ballot initiative describing it as an initiative that would "would defend your children from homosexual teachers." Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Supervisor Dan White, was leading the campaign for the passage of the Briggs Initiative.

It was the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a ballot measure. However, it is historically significant that the polls changed in the opponents favour when former Governor Ronald Reagan, later President opposed the measure. Reagan opposed the ballot initiative sponsored by religious conservatives that would have barred homosexuals from teaching in the public schools. As legend has it, Reagan penned an editorial for a major California newspaper in which he opposed the initiative. The timing is significant because he was then preparing to run for president, a race in which he would need the support of conservatives and moderates who felt very uncomfortable with homosexual teachers, nevertheless Reagan chose to state his convictions.

However, in the fall of 2006, a committee of Log Cabin Republicans spearheaded by Trustee Kevin Norte began researching the legend of the Reagan editorial and the Briggs Initiative and utilized the services of a student worker, Grant Grays, at the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries. Grays discovered that there was no editorial penned by Reagan but rather he sent a letter to a pro-Briggs Initiative group in which he opposed the initiative. The entire text of Reagan's letter of opposition was never printed in the public media. The most extensive excerpts from his statement were reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle of September 24, 1978 where it was revealed that the future President opposed the Briggs Initiative. Reagan's letter also allegedly stated, “Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this.”

In the end the Briggs Initiative was defeated by over one million votes and would have prevented gay men and lesbians from being public school teachers in California. Even John Briggs' home territory, the conservative Orange County, rejected the measure. Without Reagan's personal, forceful opposition to Briggs it's likely the measure would have passed. There is, however, no public acknowledgement of Reagan's historic stance on the Briggs Initiative at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

1980 presidential campaign

In 1980, Reagan won the Republican nomination for President, handily winning most of the primaries after an early defeat in the Iowa caucuses. During the convention, Reagan proposed a complex power-sharing arrangement with Gerald Ford as Vice President, but nothing came of it. Instead, Reagan selected his opponent in the primaries, George H. W. Bush, who had extensive international experience.

On August 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan, as a candidate, delivered a speech near Philadelphia, Mississippi at the annual Neshoba County Fair. Reagan excited the crowd when he announced, "I believe in states' rights. 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." Philadelphia was the scene of the June 21, 1964 murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and Reagan's critics alleged that the presidential candidate was signalling a racist message to his audience.The speech was in keeping with his philosophy of a limited federal government, but critics alleged that Reagan had chosen the site for the speech and had made his states' rights declaration implicitly to appeal to southern white voters. In his biography of Reagan, Edmund Morris states that Reagan was still a firm believer in the supremacy of the federal government. Reagan, who felt many of the major civil rights bills of the 1960s were unnecessary considering the already extensive civil rights protection already in the U.S. Constitution. However, Reagan was vulnerable to charges of at least insensitivity to the cause of black civil rights. Still, according to the book Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns, when Carter tried to accuse Reagan of racism, because of his record, it largely backfired against Carter. When one of Carter's main black supporters, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young tried to whip up black opposition to Reagan by stating that if he were elected, it would be "okay to kill " the strident language probably alienated more whites than it attracted blacks.

The presidential campaign, led by William J. Casey, was conducted in the shadow of the Iran hostage crisis; every day during the campaign the networks reported on Carter's unavailing efforts to free the hostages. Most analysts argue this weakened Carter's political base and gave Reagan the opportunity to attack Carter's ineffectiveness. 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. Adding to Carter's woes was his use of the term "misery index" during the 1976 election, which he defined as the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. This so-called "misery index" had considerably worsened during his term, which Reagan used to his advantage during the campaign. With respect to the economy, Reagan said, "I'm told I can't use the word depression. Well, I'll tell you the definition. A recession is when your neighbour loses his job; depression is when you lose your job. 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." His most influential remark was a closing question to the audience, during a time of skyrocketing prices and high interest rates, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

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

1984 presidential campaign

In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan was re-elected over former Vice President Walter Mondale, winning 49 of 50 states (Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia). Reagan received nearly 60% of the popular vote. His chances of winning were not harmed when, at the Democratic National Convention, Mondale accepted the party nomination with a speech that was regarded as a self-inflicted mortal wound to his presidential aspirations. In it, Mondale remarked "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."

The campaign of 1984 also featured one of Reagan's most famous gaffes -- The infamous quotation "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes", spoken as a sound check prior to a radio address. Spoken during a time of great tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, it left many (particularly outside the United States) questioning Reagan's understanding of some of the realities of his foreign policy and of international affairs in general. Samples of the recording of the quotation were later turned into the dance record "Five Minutes" by Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins.

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. He became the first American President to open a summer Olympic Games held in the U.S.

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.


Domestic policies


As Reagan entered office the American economy faced the highest rate of inflation since 1947, and this was considered the nation's principal economic problem. Reagan was considered a small-government conservative and supported income tax cuts, cuts domestic government programs, and deregulation, but no one knew what concrete steps he meant to take, or whether the House, controlled by Democrats, would support him.

Reagan's first official act was to terminate oil price controls, a policy designed to boost America's domestic production and exploration of oil.

Vice President George H.W. Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in Oval Office, 1984.
Vice President George H.W. Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in Oval Office, 1984.

In the summer of 1981 Reagan, backing up a pledge he made when the union threatened to strike, fired a majority of federal air traffic controllers (members of the PATCO union) 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.

A major focus of Reagan's first term was reviving the economy, which was plagued by a new phenomenon known as stagflation (a stagnant economy combined with high inflation). He fought double-digit inflation by supporting Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker's decision to tighten the money supply by dramatically hiking interest rates. While successful at reducing inflation, this plunged the economy into its most severe recession since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate increased from 7.5% when Reagan took office to a peak of 10.8% in late 1982. By mid-1984, however, unemployment was back down to its early-1981 level, and continued to drift downward for the next five years, a period of strong economic growth. 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%. In addition, the poverty rate fell from 14% to 12.8.

Reagan pursued a strategy of combining this tight-money policy with broad tax cuts designed to boost business investment (in Reagan's words: " Chicago school economics, supply-side economics, call it what you will — I noticed that it was even known as Reaganomics at one point until it started working..."). Ridiculed by George H.W. Bush as " voodoo," and others as "trickle-down," and " Reaganomics," he managed to push across-the-board tax cuts in 1981, although in 1982 and 1983 he signed tax increases.

Reagan's 1981 income tax cuts, the largest in American history, were passed with bipartisan support by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Reagan's support for an increased defense budget also was supported by Congressional Democrats. These Democrats, however, were not so willing to go along with Reagan's proposed cuts in domestic programs. The resulting increase of the national budget deficit led Reagan and Congress to approve tax increases in 1982 and 1983.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 both lowered tax rates and eliminated tax shelters and deductions. For some this caused taxes to go up, for others to go down, but the act was intentionally designed so that it would neither increase nor decrease tax federal revenue compared to previous baselines.

One of the Reagan Administration's cost-cutting moves was abolition of the U.S. Metric Board, established by President Gerald R. Ford, thereby ending the attempt to harmonize U.S. measurements with the majority of first world nations.

Alarmed by the growth in Social Security outlays, Reagan appointed a Social Security reform commission, headed by Alan Greenspan. This commission reached a bipartisan consensus on a two-part plan to slow the growth: raising the Social Security tax base by staged increases in the age required to begin receiving benefits (reflecting rising life expectancy); and increasing government revenues by accelerating a previously enacted (by Ronald Reagan) increase in the rates of social security payroll taxes.

In order to cover the federal budget deficit, the United States borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, and by the end of Reagan's second term the national debt held by the public rose from 26% of Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to 41% in 1989, the highest level since 1963. By 1988, the debt totaled $2.6 trillion. The country owed more to foreigners than it was owed, and the United States moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the world's largest debtor nation.

During Reagan's presidency, all economic groups saw their income rise in real terms, including the bottom quintile, whose income rose 6 percent (Bureau of the Census, 1996.) The increases were stronger for the middle class and wealthier Americans, as they benefitted from the growth of the stock market the increasingly high returns of college and post-graduate education. See also: Economic inequality.

The AIDS epidemic

President Reagan was criticized for the slow response of his Administration and other authorities to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Reagan was silent on the issue until after the illness of movie star and national icon Rock Hudson became public news in late July 1985, by which time 12,067 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 6,079 had died.

Reagan stands during the recommissioning ceremony for the battleship USS New Jersey.
Reagan stands during the recommissioning ceremony for the battleship USS New Jersey.

Under Reagan $5.7 billion was spent on AIDS and HIV, with large amounts going to the National Institutes of Health. This was significantly more than the federal government spends on cancer research, which kills far more people than AIDS and HIV, though some argued that it was still not enough. In September 1985, Reagan said: "Including what we have in the budget for 1986, it will amount to over a half a billion dollars that we have provided for research on AIDS, in addition to what I'm sure other medical groups are doing. And we have $100 million in the budget this year; it'll be $126 million next year. So this is a top priority with us. Yes, there's no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer." By 1986, Reagan had endorsed a large prevention and research effort and declared in his budget message that AIDS "remains the highest public health priority of the Department of Health and Human Services."

In 1984, he was the first President to invite an openly homosexual couple, Ted Graber and Archie Case, to spend the night in the White House. However, in a rare public pronouncement on the topic of AIDS, Reagan stated his belief that morality and science conflate to make abstinence the best method to prevent the disease. Reagan opposed civil rights legislation that included sexual orientation and efforts to repeal sodomy laws.

Controversy surrounding the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was intense after American researcher Robert Gallo and French scientist Luc Montagnier both claimed to have discovered it. The controversy was settled by an agreement between Reagan and French President François Mitterrand, which gave equal credit to both men and their teams.


As governor in 1970, Reagan signed into law California's liberal abortion rights legislation, before Roe v Wade was decided. However, he later took a strong stand against abortion. He published the book Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, which decried what Reagan saw as disrespect for life, promoted by the practice of abortion. However, two of the three Supreme Court justices he selected, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.

Other matters

Although Reagan's second term was mostly noteworthy for matters related to foreign affairs, he supported significant pieces of legislation on domestic matters. In 1982, Reagan signed legislation reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another 25 years, even though he had opposed such an extension during the 1980 campaign. This extension added protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters.

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 did not occur until the presidency of Bill Clinton.

In 1987 Reagan signed the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Milton Friedman has pointed to the number of pages added to the Federal Register each year as evidence of the anti-regulatory nature of Reagan's presidency. The number of pages added to the Register each year declined sharply at the start of the Ronald Reagan presidency, breaking a steady and sharp increase since 1960. The increase in the number of pages added per year resumed an upward, though less steep, trend after Reagan left office.

The " war on drugs" during his presidency involved Nancy Reagan's high-profile " Just Say No" series of messages.

In 1983 and again in 1984, Reagan was heard to say -- by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel and by Simon Wiesenthal and Rabbi Martin Hier of Los Angeles -- that he personally filmed the Auschwitz death camps; he was in a film unit in Hollywood that processed raw footage for newsreels, but he was not in Europe during the war.

Foreign policies

Cold War

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 was the first major world leader to declare that Communism would soon collapse. On March 3, 1983, he was blunt: "I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose — last pages even now are being written." His most detailed analysis came on June 8, 1982, to the British Parliament, stunning the Soviets and allies alike. The prevailing doctrine in the West was that the Soviet Union would be around for generations to come, and it was essential to recognize that and cooperate with Moscow. But Reagan argued that the Soviet Union was in deep economic crisis, which he intended to make worse by cutting off western technology. He stated the Soviet Union "runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens."


Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the détente observed by his predecessors Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Under the assumption that the Soviet Union could not then outspend the US government in a renewed arms race, he accelerated increases in defense spending begun during the Carter Administration and strove to make the Cold War economically and rhetorically hot.

The Administration oversaw a military build-up that represented a policy named "peace through strength". The U.S. set a new policy toward the Soviet Union with the goal of winning the Cold War by using a strategy outlined in NSDD-32 ( National Security Decisions Directive). The directive outlined Reagan's plan to confront the USSR on three fronts: decrease Soviet access to high technology and diminish their resources, including depressing the value of Soviet commodities on the world market; increase American defense expenditures to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position; and force the Soviets to devote more of their economic resources to defense.

Around the world the U.S. used the Vietnam War example, by financially and diplomatically supporting anticommunist movements trying to overthrow Communist regimes. This included support for the Afghani insurgents and Poland's Solidarity movement.

Economic Front

Reagan argued that the American economy was on the move again; with the rapid computerization of the economy, high technology was the driving force. But the Soviets lagged far behind even South Korea when it came to high technology, and slipped further every year. Reagan made the Soviet predicament far worse by forbidding high tech exports to the Soviets from the U.S. or its allies. For a while the decline was masked by high prices for Soviet oil exports, but that advantage collapsed in the early 1980s. In November 1985, the oil price was $30/barrel for crude, in March 1986 it had fallen to $12, as the Soviet economy lost billions in revenues.

The economic race with the West required radical reforms, which Gorbachev imposed. He hoped his new policies of glasnost and perestroika would revitalize the Soviet economy, but instead of new solutions he heard new complaints.

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 Margaret Thatcher, who as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom supported Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets.

Military Buildup and Treaties/Negotiations

Reagan's military build-up, coupled with his fierce anti-Soviet rhetoric, contributed to Soviet near-panic reaction to a routine NATO exercise in November 1983, ABLE ARCHER 83. Though the threat of nuclear war ended abruptly with the end of the exercise, this historically obscure incident illustrates the possible negative repercussions of Reagan's "standing tall" to a nuclear power. Some historians, among them Beth B. Fischer in her book The Reagan Reversal, argue that the ABLE ARCHER 83 near-crisis had a profound effect on President Reagan, and it forced him from a policy of confrontation towards the Soviet Union to a policy of rapprochement.

Although the U.S. 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 would force the Soviets into unsustainable spending to maintain parity. In fact, the Soviets both attempted to follow suit with their own program and attempted to reign in, or at least slow down the growing U.S. military advantage with a program of arms reduction treaties. Ultimately they proved more successful with the latter approach, since trying to keep up with the U.S. in military spending and research and development severely damaged an already shaky Soviet economy of the mid to late 80's. This is considered, by some, to be one of the major contributing factors to the fall of the Soviet Union.

End of the Cold War

What some US scholars call the "orthodox view" of the end of the Cold War is that "the Soviet Union's capitulation and the Cold War victory for the forces of freedom and democracy were ultimately due to the relentless application of the West's military superiority and the dynamism of its ideas and economic system. These factors revealed communism's moral illegitimacy and highlighted its economic stagnation." [Salla and Summy, p 3] It is broadly endorsed by both Republicans (who emphasize Reagan's role), and by Democrats (who emphasize the containment policies of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter).

Some of European leaders of the time give credit to Reagan for the application of these ideals. For example Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland, said in 2004, "When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989." Helmut Kohl, chancellor of West Germany, said, "He was a stroke of luck for the world. Two years after Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall, he noted, it fell and 11 months later Germany was reunified. We Germans have much to thank Ronald Reagan for." Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said, "President Reagan was a determined opponent of Communism and he played an important role in bringing an end to Communism and to the artificial division of Europe imposed after the Second World War." Václav Havel, who became Czechoslovakian president in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution, said, "He was a man of firm principles who was indisputably instrumental in the fall of Communism."

Despite their initial mutual antagonism, Reagan and Gorbachev were able to forge an unlikely working relationship which played a crucial role in improving relations between East and West, especially in the late 1980s as conditions in the Eastern bloc became increasingly unstable. Towards the end of his presidency, Reagan visited Moscow in order to sign a major arms-control agreement between the superpowers. A journalist asked the president if he still considered the Soviet Union was the evil empire. "No," he replied, "I was talking about another time, another era."

On March 11, 1990 Lithuania, led by newly elected Vytautas Landsbergis, declared independence from the Soviet Union and was followed by other Soviet Republics and by 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. In her videotaped eulogy for his funeral, Margaret Thatcher said, "Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot."

Other U.S. involvement

Support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against communist governments was referred to by his supporters as the Reagan Doctrine. Following this policy, the U.S. funded groups the administration called " freedom fighters", such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, and, with the white government of South Africa, Jonas Savimbi's rebel forces in Angola —all of which were fighting Soviet or Cuban backed Marxist governments. The U.S. increased military funding for anti-communist action in Central America The U.S. also helped fund central European anti-communist groups such as the Polish Solidarity movement. Reagan took a hard line against the pro-Vietnamese communist regime in Cambodia by paradoxically working with communist-run China which was providing support to Khmer Rouge communist guerillas who were fighting the Vietnamese.

Illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua led to the Iran-Contra Affair, while overt support led to a World Court ruling against the United States in Nicaragua v. United States. The United States refused to obey the ruling of the International Court of Justice and refused to pay the fine. President Reagan denied any knowledge of his Administation's illegal arming and funding of the Contras. Funding for the Contras was also obtained through the sale of weaponry to Iran. When this latter practice was discovered, it was referred to as the Iran-Contra affair.

The U.S. took a strong stance against the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization, which was taking American citizens hostage and attacking civilian targets after Israel entered 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. Reagan also considered the anti- apartheid ANC armed wing known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) as a terrorist organization.

Reagan offered controversial support to the rightist El Salvador government throughout his term; he feared a takeover by the FMLN during the El Salvador Civil War which had begun in the late 1970s. The war left 75,000 people dead, 8,000 missing and one million homeless; some one million El Salvadoreans, fleeing the war and government backed right-wing death squads, immigrated to the United States. He backed attempts at introducing democratic elections with mixed success.

U.S. involvement in Lebanon followed a limited-term United Nations mandate for a multinational force. A force of 800 Marines was sent to Beirut to evacuate PLO forces. The September 16, 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Beirut prompted Reagan to form a new multinational force. Intense 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.

In 1983, a communist coup occurred on the small island nation of Grenada. On October 25, 1983, two days after the Beirut bombing, the United States invaded Grenada.

Iran-Iraq War

Initially neutral in the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. became increasingly involved. The U.S. supported both nations at various times — "Too bad they both can't lose," Henry Kissinger said — but mainly sided with Iraq, believing that Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini threatened regional stability more than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. U.S. officials feared that an Iranian victory would embolden Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab states, perhaps leading to the overthrow of secular governments—and damage to Western corporate interests—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. provided intelligence information and financial assistance to the Iraqi military regime. The U.S. also allowed the shipment of "dual use" materials, that could be used for chemical and biological weapons, ostensibly for agriculture, medical research, and other civilian purposes, but they were diverted for use in Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs.

On April 18, 1988 Reagan authorized Operation Praying Mantis, a one-day naval strike against Iranian naval ships, boats, and command posts in retaliation for the mining of a U.S. guided missile frigate. One day later, Reagan sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. USS Simpson (FFG-56) is mentioned in firing on Iranian F-4 Phantom II Fighters built by the United States.

In 1986, the U.S. also sold arms to Iran to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua, leading to the Iran-Contra 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 convicted, and others were forced to resign. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger was indicted for perjury and later received a presidential pardon from George H.W. Bush, days before the trial was to begin. In 2006, historians ranked the Iran-Contra affair as the ninth-worst mistake by a U.S. president.

State visits

In 1985 Reagan visited the Kolmeshohe Cemetery near Bitburg at the urgent request of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, to pay respects to the soldiers interred there. Controversy arose because 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. Some Jewish and veterans' groups opposed this visit. Reagan went because of his need to support Kohl and ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 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 Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987 Ronald  Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, exclaiming: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, exclaiming: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Dubbed "The Great Communicator," Reagan was known 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. As President, he hired skilled speechwriters who could capture his folksy charm. In 1985, Professor Max Atkinson who was to advise the British politician Paddy Ashdown on his speeches ran a seminar on speech writing in the White House.

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. 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."

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.'" (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."

Vice President Bush, and President Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in New York City in  1988
Vice President Bush, and President Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in New York City in 1988

Both opponents and supporters noted his "sunny optimism", which was welcomed by many in comparison to his presidential predecessor, the often smiling, but serious, Carter. Reagan once said "The lessons of leadership were the same: hard work, a knowledge of the facts, a willingness to listen and be understanding, a strong sense of duty and direction, and a determination to do your best on behalf of the people you serve."

In response to being dubbed the Great Communicator, he said in his Farewell Address: "I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things..."

Assassination attempt

On March 30, 1981, Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, and two others were struck by gunfire from a deranged would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr.. Missing Reagan’s heart by less than one inch, the bullet instead pierced his left lung, which likely spared his life. Reagan joked to the surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans" (though they were not, Dr. Joseph Giordano replied, "We're all Republicans today"). Reagan later famously told his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" (borrowing Jack Dempsey's line to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney for the heavyweight championship). Reagan had been scheduled to visit the City of Brotherly Love on the day of the shooting. He quipped to a nurse, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia," referring to the W.C. Fields' tagline (which was itself a reference to an old vaudeville joke among comedians: "I'd rather be dead than play Philadelphia") .

Major legislation approved

  • Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981
  • Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982
  • Social Security Amendments of 1983
  • Tax Reform Act of 1986
  • Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986

Administration and Cabinet

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 Caspar 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 Rusling 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
  John S. Herrington 1985–1989

Supreme Court appointments

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

  • Sandra Day O'Connor – 1981, making Reagan the first President to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court
  • William Rehnquist – Chief Justice, 1986 (an associate justice since 1972)
  • Antonin Scalia – 1986
  • Robert Bork – 1987 (rejected by Senate)
  • Douglas Ginsburg – 1987 (withdrawn)
  • Anthony M. Kennedy – 1988


A frequent objection by his critics 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" (nothing sticks to him). His denial of awareness of the Iran-Contra scandal was belied his signing a secret presidential "finding" describing the deal as "arms-for-hostages." Critics objected to his comparison of the contras to the Founding Fathers and to the French Resistance, which suggests that he viewed the Sandinistas as Communists who were akin to an occupying power. The United States was found guilty of having supported terrorism in Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice ( Nicaragua v. United States) during Reagan's presidency. Despite a United Nations General Assembly resolution demanding compliance, the U.S. never paid the required fine and since 1991 relations with Nicaragua were friendly.

Economic inequality was increasing steadily after 1973 as the New Deal goal egalitarianism faded from the political agenda. Reagan's efforts to cut welfare and income taxes became common flashpoints between critics who charged that this primarily benefited the wealthy in America, branding these policies as " Trickle-down economics", and the business community that said penalizing it penalized all American job seekers.

The deregulation of the banking industry before Reagan took office, meant savings and loan associations were given the flexibility to invest their depositors' funds in commercial real estate. Many savings and loan associations began making risky investments. As a result, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the federal agency that regulates the industry, tried to clamp down on the trend. In so doing, however, the Board clashed with the policy of permitting the deregulation of many industries, including the thrift industry. The resulting savings and loan scandal bailout ultimately cost the government $150 billion.

Some Jewish leaders criticized Reagan for deciding to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, after they discovered that 49 Waffen SS men are buried, and for stating that young Waffen SS men, who were drafted into services in the later years of the war, were victims, just as were the Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps

Reagan's foreign policy drew intense criticism from liberals who predicted nuclear war was imminent. Socialists in Europe often disparaged Reagan as a war-monger. In Britain, though Reagan had the strong support of Margaret Thatcher, he was routinely attacked for his foreign policies. Left-wing critics denounced his opposition to Castro's dictatorship in Cuba and complained that he was ignoring human rights in Central and South America, and South Africa. Reagan's support of apartheid South Africa was sharply attacked by African American leaders. 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"

Scandals and controversies

The Reagan Administration saw several controversies unfold in their ranks which resulted in several staff convictions. The most well known, the Iran-Contra Affair. Ten members of the Administration were convicted of charges ranging from lying to Congress to lying about income to the IRS. However, Reagan survived the scandal after expressing regret for the incident.

Several other controversies also occurred during Reagan's presidency; one involved staff members of the Department of Housing. Contributors to the Administration's campaign were rewarded with funding for low income housing development without the customary background checks, and lobbyists, such as former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head James G. Watt, were rewarded with lobbying fees for assisting campaign contributors with receiving government loans and guarantees. Six staff members were convicted. Also involving the (EPA), grants from the Superfund to clean up toxic waste sites were being released to enhance the election prospects of local politicians aligned with the Administration. Assistant Administrator Rita Lavelle was convicted of various charges.

Scandals impacted the Administration throughout the entire eight years. Reagan aides Michael Deaver and Lyn Nofziger were convicted of lobbying offenses though Nofziger's conviction was later overturned. Controversy arose prior to and during Reagan's visit to Bitburg.

Religious beliefs

Reagan was a Christian from his childhood and frequently addressed Christian groups. As an adult, he attended services at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. In a March 1978 letter to a 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, using C.S. Lewis's Trilemma.

Post presidential years

(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.

On January 11, 1989, Reagan addressed the nation for the 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. In the fall of 1989, Fujisankei Communications Group of Japan hired him to make two speeches and attend a few corporate functions. Reagan's fee during his nine-day visit 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 in favour 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. Reagan's final public speech was on February 3, 1994, during a tribute in Washington, D.C.. His last public appearance was at the funeral of fellow Republican President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.

Alzheimer's Disease

On November 5, 1994, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He informed the nation of his condition via a hand-written letter. With his trademark optimism, he stated 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. On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age of 90 and was only the third former US president to reach that age - the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover. Since the former president had a hip operation three weeks prior to his 90th birthday and had was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for the past seven years, his 90th birthday was to be a low-key celebration with his family at his home in Bel-Air. Nancy Reagan, the wife of the former US president, told CNN's Larry King that very few visitors were allowed access to her husband because she felt that "Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was." Nancy Reagan went on to say that as the only ailament he had was the Alzheimer's disease he could live to be 100. People who had visited the former US president in his home said the disease was so well advanced that he was unable to recognise any of them and he could not remember anything about his days as US president.

As of December 5, 2003, Reagan had begun to enter the final, fatal stage of Alzheimer's disease.


Reagan died of pneumonia on June 5, 2004 at 1:09 PM PDT at his home in Bel-Air, California. After a major state funeral in Washington that drew leaders from around the world, he was buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Interestingly, the state funeral was presided over by President George W. Bush, whose father was vice-president under Reagan and followed Reagan to the White House.


The Gallup Organization recently took asking respondents to name the greatest president in U.S. history. Ronald Reagan was chosen by 18% of Americans polled, followed by John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ronald Reagan continues to be named year after year by Gallup and other polling organizations as one of the United States' most popular Presidents.

Job approval rating

According to ABC News, by date:

Date Event Approval (%) Disapproval (%)
April 22, 1981 Shot by Hinckley 73 19
January 22, 1983 High unemployment 42 54
April 26, 1986 Libya bombing 70 26
February 26, 1987 Iran-Contra affair 44 51
January 20, 1989 End of presidency
n/a Career Average 57 39
July 30, 2001 (Retrospective) 64 27


Reagan is often referred to as the Gipper, referring to his performance as George Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American, often along with his popular line "Win one for the Gipper." As a youth he was called "Dutch," a nickname given him by his father. As President, supporters dubbed him "The Great Communicator," and more recently "The Great Liberator," referring to policies which they contend led to the defeat of communism in the Cold War. His Secret Service codename was "Rawhide." Detractors sometimes referred to Reagan as "Ronald Ray-Gun," a term coined in the introduction to the song Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man sung by Joan Baez and Jeffrey Shurtleff at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He was also "the Teflon President" because criticisms supposedly never stuck to him or lessened his popularity.


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

On February 6, 1998, Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by a bill signed into law by President Clinton. Three years later, the USS Ronald Reagan was christened by the United States 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 during his post-presidential years. In 2005, Reagan was given two posthumous honours:

  • On May 14, CNN, along with the editors of TIME, named him the "most fascinating person" of the network's first 25 years.
  • On June 26, participating voters selected Reagan as the " Greatest American" during a live television special sponsored by AOL and broadcast live on the Discovery Channel.

These and other honours were, as one reporter noted, "a final win for the Gipper."

In 2002, Congress authorized the creation of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Dixon, Illinois, pending federal purchase of the property.

In 2004, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority voted to rename Interstate 88, which was formerly called the East-West Tollway, in his memory.

Awards and Achievements

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Ronald and Nancy Reagan
Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Ronald and Nancy Reagan
  • Lifetime "Gold" membership in the Screen Actors Guild
  • In 1989, Reagan received an honorary British knighthood, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. This entitled him to the use of the post-nominal letters GCB but did not entitle him to be known as "Sir Ronald Reagan." He, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush are the only American Presidents to have received the honour.
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, Japan 1989
  • Honorary Fellow of Keble College, Oxford England
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1993
  • On May 16, 2002 Nancy Reagan accepted the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour bestowed by Congress, on behalf of the President and herself.


Many coin redesign advocates have called for Reagan to be placed on the dime, in lieu of Franklin D. Roosevelt (whose profile was chosen for the dime in honour of his founding of the March of Dimes charity). In 2003, Congressional Republicans proposed this, but it was abandoned after Nancy Reagan rejected the idea. For a short period of time, they called for him to be placed on the penny. The penny is no longer possible because a permanent redesign is planned for 2010, and Abraham Lincoln will remain on the coin. The dime has not been redesigned, and there are no plans to redesign it; however, it has not been ruled out. There have also been calls for Reagan to be placed in addition to/in lieu of the dime, on the ten dollar bill or twenty dollar bill. The twenty was redesigned, and there are no plans to change the former President on it. The new ten was released on March 2, 2006, and Alexander Hamilton is still prominently featured on the bill. Reagan is scheduled to be featured on the $1 coin in 2016 during the Presidential Dollar Coin Program.

Reagan documentaries

  • "True Grit", Ronald Reagan (CMT), 2005.
  • 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.
  • The Reagan Legacy, (Discovery Channel) 1996.
  • In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, 2004.

Ronald Reagan as played by other actors

Among the actors who have portrayed him are:

  • James Brolin in the miniseries The Reagans (2003) with Judy Davis as Nancy
  • Richard Crenna in The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001) with Holland Taylor as Nancy
  • Bryan Clark has appeared several times as Reagan including HBO's Without Warning: The James Brady Story with Beau Bridges as James Brady; and also in Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North.
  • Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show
  • Both Phil Hartman and Randy Quaid on Saturday Night Live
  • Rich Little on numerous television appearances
  • John Roarke on the sketch comedy series Fridays
  • Griff Rhys Jones on Not The Nine O'Clock News


  • Reagan was the oldest man ever elected president to date at 69 years of age. He broke the record set in 1840 when William Henry Harrison was elected at 67 years of age and inaugurated at 68 years of age.
  • Reagan also was the oldest president to serve at 77, surpassing Dwight Eisenhower, who was 70 when he left office in 1961.
  • Reagan also had lived the longest of any former president until November 11, 2006, when he was surpassed by Gerald Ford. In 2001, Reagan had broken the previous record held by John Adams the second president who died on July 4, 1826.
  • Reagan was the first film and television actor to become president.
  • Reagan was the first president to be divorced.
  • Reagan switched parties from the Democratic to the Republican party in 1962.
  • Reagan was the 40th president to serve, but in birth order was the 36th, born in 1911. Lyndon B Johnson, born in 1908, was the 35th in birth order. Richard Nixon, born in 1913, was the 37th president in birth order as well as the 37th to serve and the 37th to die.
  • Reagan was also older than the previous 3 former presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Carter) and one additional late president, John F Kennedy.
  • Reagan accepted a baby elephant named Gertie (bought from Harrods) from King Leka Zog I of Albania, who was a close friend. The elephant was later donated to the Sacramento Zoo.
  • Reagan was left-handed, although he was usually shown writing with his right hand. When throwing out the ceremonial first ball before baseball games, he threw with his right arm, like he did in the baseball film The Winning Team.
  • Reagan has been portayed on the cartoon comedy Family Guy during the fourth season.
  • For a 1964 president related film by Gore Vidal, "The Best Man", Reagan was rejected for a part due to "not having the presidential look".
  • Reagan was 6 feet 1 inch (185 cm) tall.
  • In Gallup's List of Widely Admired People, Reagan was ranked the 15th most admired person in the 20th century.
  • Comic book depictions of Ronald Reagan have met heroes such as Batman, Optimus Prime, Captain America, Superman, and Buck Danny.
  • Reagan appeared on an episode of the Boondocks as the keeper of the gates of "White Heaven".
  • He had a well-known love of jelly beans; the Jelly Belly blueberry flavor was launched in his honour, and a mosaic portrait made of the candies hangs in the Reagan Presidential library
  • A caricaturing puppet of Reagan is featured on Genesis's Land of Confusion music video. He poses as Superman and confusedly launches a nuke at the end of the clip.
  • In the Def Leppard epic Gods of War, clips of Reagan were used along with Margaret Thatcher.
  • Ronald Reagan frequently featured in the cartoon series If..., shown in The Guardian. Margaret Thatcher was often portrayed as his girlfriend.
  • In the arcade game Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, the goal is to rescue "President Ronnie" (clearly based on Ronald Reagan), who was kidnapped by ninjas; in the NES port, references to Reagan were removed.
  • John Fogerty said his song "The Old Man Down the Road" (from the 1985 album Centerfield) is about Ronald Reagan.
  • lookalikes of Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko are shown wrestling in the Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video " Two Tribes"
  • Reagan was frequently shown in the British comedy series " Spitting Image", where he was shown to be slight senile, forgetful and always rubbing brown paint into his hair. Also in one case he said he needed a shave, after thinking a painting of Lincon was a mirror.

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