Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911–June 5, 2004) was the 40th (1981–1989) President of the United States and the 33rd (1967–1975) Governor of California. Reagan was also a broadcaster and television and film actor before entering politics.
Upon Reagan's death at the age of 93 years, he was the longest lived United States president in history. As of 2005, Reagan still holds this record, although Gerald Ford (born in 1913) is now a close second.
Early life and career
Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, the second of two sons to John "Jack" Reagan and Nelle Wilson. One of his four great-grandfathers had immigrated to the United States from Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in the 1860s. Prior to his grandfather's emigration, the family name had been spelled "Regan." On a visit to Ballyporeen in 1984, he was presented with a family tree that showed he was distantly related to both John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II. (http://www.delphosherald.com/page2.php?story=3500&archive=)
In 1920, after years of moving from town to town, the family settled in the Illinois town of Dixon. In 1921, at the age of 10, Reagan was baptized in his mother's Disciples of Christ church in Dixon, and in 1924 he began attending Dixon's Northside High School. Reagan always considered Dixon to be his home-town.
Ronald and his older brother Neil, with parents Jack and Nelle Reagan. (c. 1916-17)
In 1926, at age 15, Reagan took a summer job as a lifeguard in Lowell Park, two miles away from Dixon on the nearby Rock River. He continued to work as a lifeguard on the Rock for the next seven years, reportedly saving 77 people from drowning. Reagan would later joke that none of them ever thanked him.
In 1928, Reagan entered Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, majoring in economics and sociology, and graduating in 1932. He earned excellent grades and made many lasting friendships. The child of an alcoholic father, Reagan developed an early gift for storytelling and acting. He was a radio announcer of Chicago Cubs baseball games, getting only the bare outlines of the game from a ticker and relying on his imagination and storytelling gifts to flesh out the game. Once in 1934, during the ninth inning of a Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game, the wire went dead. Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both teams gained an ability to foul off pitches) until the wire was restored.
Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood as a leading man, aided by his clear voice and athletic physique. His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love is On the Air. An agent signed him to his first contract after saying "I have another Robert Taylor sitting in my office." By the end of 1939, he had appeared in 19 films. In 1940 he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American, from which he acquired the nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest of his life. Reagan himself considered that his best acting work was in Kings Row (1942). He played the part of a young man whose legs are amputated. He used a line he spoke in this film, "Where's the rest of me?" as the title for his autobiography. Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, and Bedtime for Bonzo. Reagan was kidded widely about the last named film because his co-star was a chimpanzee. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6374 Hollywood Blvd.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan married in 1952. Nancy became a powerful background figure in Reagan's rise and roles as governor and president.
Reagan was commissioned as a reserve cavalry officer in the U.S. Army in 1935. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he was activated and assigned, partially due to his poor eyesight, to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Force, which made training and education films. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war, and he attained the rank of captain. Reagan tried repeatedly to go overseas for combat duty but was turned down because of his astigmatism. He always remained very proud of his military background.
Reagan married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. They had a daughter, Maureen in 1941 and adopted a son, Michael in 1945. Their second daughter, Christine, was born four months prematurely in 1947 and lived only one day. They divorced in 1948 (Reagan was the first president to have been divorced). Reagan remarried in 1952 to actress Nancy Davis at a time when she may have already become pregnant. (Their marriage was on March 4, while daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year.) In 1958 they had a second child, Ron. Reagan was a loving and devoted husband according to all accounts. One of the most touching speeches he ever made as president was a tribute to his wife. He spoke of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and how Eleanor had been his "legs" during his term. He said "I want you to know that Nancy Reagan is my everything...thank you partner, thank you for everything...by the way, are you doing anything tonight?"
As Reagan's film roles became fewer in the late 1950s, he moved into television as a host and frequent performer for General Electric Theater. Reagan appeared in many live television plays and often co-starred with Nancy. Reagan – then not just the talent agency's client but boss Lew Wasserman's first million-dollar client – became head of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Back in 1952, a Hollywood scandal concerned his granting of a SAG blanket waiver to MCA, which allowed it to both represent and employ talent for its burgeoning TV franchises. He went from host and program supervisor of General Electric Theater to actually 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—equivalent to at least $600,000 in 2004 dollars. Before that, Ronald Reagan had been working in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a song-and-dance act's master of ceremonies. Dennis McDougal, author of the unauthorized Wasserman biography The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood commented that "He and his board engineered it, thus giving MCA carte blanche control over U.S. television for the next six years." McDougal goes on to say that Reagan didn't recall his role in the waiver when he was before U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's grand jury in 1962. It was in 1945 that Wasserman brokered Ronald Reagan's unprecedented seven-year, $1 million deal with Warner Brothers. His final regular acting job was as host and performer on Death Valley Days. Reagan's final big-screen appearance came in the 1964 film The Killers, in which, uncharacteristically, he played a mob chieftain. This film was a remake of an earlier 1946 version from a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Reagan's co-stars were John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin. At one point, he belts Angie Dickinson across a room. Angie Dickinson and Reagan were good friends in real life and she said he would always apologize for this!
Early political career
Ronald Reagan began his political life as a Democrat, supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal. He gradually became a staunch social and fiscal conservative. He embarked upon the path that led him to a career in politics during his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) from 1947 until 1952, and then again from 1959 to 1960. In this position he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Communist influence in Hollywood. He also kept tabs on actors he considered "disloyal" and informed on them to the FBI under the code name "Agent T-10," but he would not implicate them publicly to HUAC. He supported the practice of blacklisting in Hollywood, defending it in a letter to Hugh Hefner because he claimed he would help anyone wrongly accused "avail himself of machinery to solve this problem." In that letter he claimed that the list of suspected leftists in Hollywood was not a "blacklist" but rather a list created by disgruntled moviegoers. Concluding that the Republican Party was better able to combat communism, Reagan gradually abandoned his left-of-center political views, supporting the respective presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960 - all while Reagan was still a Democrat.
His employment by the General Electric company further enhanced his political image. By the 1964 election, Reagan was an outspoken supporter of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater. His nationally televised speech "A Time for Choosing" electrified conservatives and led to his being asked to run for Governor of California. To this day, this speech is considered one of the most stirring ever made on behalf of a candidate. The speech, which came to be known in GOP circles as "The Speech," launched Reagan's political stardom. Soon after, several top Republican contributors visited Reagan at his home in Pacific Palisades, California, urging him to seek the governorship in 1966. Though these requests were initially "laughed off" by Reagan, he says in his autobiography, he eventually gave in, after countless sleepless nights.
In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, defeating two-term incumbent Pat Brown; he was re-elected in 1970, defeating Jesse Unruh, but chose not to seek a third term. He had vowed to send "the welfare bums back to work," and "to clean up the mess at Berkeley." For the latter, he had UC President Clark Kerr fired and forced the University of California to charge tuition for the first time by cutting its budget. During the People's Park protests, he sent 2,200 National Guard troops into Berkeley. Reagan made it clear that the policies of his administration would not be influenced by the student agitators nor their actions tolerated, even "if it takes a bloodbath." When the kidnappers of Patty Hearst demanded the distribution of food to the poor, Reagan suggested it would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism.
During his first term, he froze government hiring, but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget. One of Reagan's greatest frustrations in office concerned the death penalty. He had gone on record as a strong supporter. In 1967, Aaron Mitchell, a young African-American man, was executed in California's gas chamber for the murder of a police officer. Reagan had refused to stop the execution. However, his efforts to enforce the state's death penalty law were thwarted when the Supreme Court of California issued its People v. Anderson decision, which invalidated all death sentences passed in California prior to 1972. Although the decision was quickly overturned by constitutional amendment, there would not be another execution in California until 1992.
During his governorship, Reagan actively dismantled the public psychiatric hospital system, proposing that a community-based housing and treatment system replace it. According to some Reagan critics, the first objective was effectively accomplished, but the community replacement facilities were never adequately funded, either by Reagan or by his successors, contributing nationwide to current problems with homeless people, and an overfilling of jails and penitentiaries by people who would be better served with the earlier hospital system. Many of these ill people still are on the street. Also, a statewide teachers strike started in Los Angeles due to Reagan's cost cutting and poor budgeting at the same time.
Reagan tried to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, and again in 1976 over the incumbent Gerald Ford, but was defeated at the Republican Convention. He succeeded in gaining the Republican nomination in 1980. The campaign, led by William J. Casey, was greatly affected by the Iran hostage crisis; most analysts believe President Jimmy Carter's inability to solve the hostage crisis played a large role to Reagan's victory against him in the 1980 election. Reagan's showing in the presidential debates boosted his campaign. He seemed more at ease, almost making fun of the president with remarks like "There you go again," though these did not need to be factual rebuttals to be effective. Perhaps his most influential remark was a closing question to the audience, during a time of skyrocketing global oil prices and highly unpopular Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Reagan's victory was accompanied by an 11-seat change in the Senate from Democratic to Republican hands, giving the Republicans a majority in the Senate for the first time in decades. Upon his election, Reagan became the oldest president to enter office, at almost 70 years of age. (69 years, 349 days)
In the 1984 presidential election, he was re-elected in a landslide over Carter's Vice President Walter Mondale, winning 49 of 50 states and receiving nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. At the Democratic National Convention, Mondale accepted the party nomination with a speech that is believed to have constituted a self-inflicted mortal wound. In it he remarked "Reagan will raise taxes, I will raise taxes. Reagan won't tell you this, I just did."  (http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/conventions/chicago/facts/famous.speeches/mondale.84.shtml). 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. Despite a weak performance in the first debate, Reagan recovered in the second debate and was considerably ahead of Mondale in polls taken throughout much of the race. Much of Reagan's first election and this second-term landslide is attributed to the then-named "Reagan Democrats", a newly emerged but mostly unorganized political force.
- Main article: Reagan Administration
Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
Ronald Reagan portrayed himself as being conservative, anti-communist and expanding the military to those ends, in favor of tax cuts and smaller government. Reagan also liked to think of himself and was thought of by many others as being supportive of business interests and tough on crime.
Reagan's first official act upon taking the presidency was to remove the solar water heating panels  (http://www.northernskynews.com/backissue%20pages/UnitySolar.html) on the roof of the White House which had been placed there in the Carter administration, thus marking a sharp change from the previous administration's perceived greater environmental awareness. Perhaps the high point of the Reagan presidency's first 100 days was the freeing of American hostages in Tehran at the conclusion of the Iran hostage crisis, within minutes of his inauguration. While leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC on March 30, 1981, Reagan, his Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delanty were shot by John Hinckley, Jr.. Many superstitions apply this to the "zero factor" (See William Henry Harrison). It is believed that Reagan broke the chain by living to see the end of two terms. Reagan turned what could have been a low point in his first 100 days into another high point by remarking to his surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans," Reagan also said that he forgave Hinckley and hoped he asked God's forgiveness as well.  (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/weekly/aa120197b.htm) and to his wife Nancy, "Honey, I forgot to duck."
Vice President Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in 1984.
In the summer of 1981 Reagan fired a majority of the nation's air traffic controllers when they went on strike. This action proved to be a political coup for Reagan as the public came to perceive the strikers as greedy and unconcerned with public safety.
A large focus of Reagan's first term was on reviving the stagflation-troubled economy his administration inherited. His administration sought to fight the high inflation recession with large across-the-board tax cuts, controversially combined with reductions in social welfare spending. Reagan's fiscal theories soon became known as "Reaganomics". The end result was that public spending as a percentage of the national income, steadily growing in the pre-Reagan era, now folded to a steady level that it has fluctuated around ever since  (http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2004_10/friedman-reagan.pdf). Also, in order to achieve increases in military spending to fight the Cold War, the administration had to allow increases in spending on social programs, resulting in record deficit spending and a tripling of the national debt by the end of his second term. At the same time, Reagan was able to bring inflation down from 13 percent in 1979 to under 4 percent in 1982. Unemployment also dropped from 7.5 percent in the year that Reagan took office to 5.2 percent in the year that he left. Proponents often note that Reagan used his veto on public spending projects 78 times in all.
A renewal of the "war on drugs" was also declared during his presidency, spearheaded by Mrs. Reagan's high profile "Just Say No" series of messages.
President Reagan was criticized by the gay rights movement and others for not responding quickly enough to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. The first official mention of the disease in the White House was on October 15, 1982 when Reagan's press secretary Larry Speakes, in response to a reporter's inquiry about "the gay plague," said "I don't have it, do you?" to general laughter. Reagan's communication director Pat Buchanan argued that "AIDS is nature's revenge on gay men."
C. Everett Koop, Reagan's surgeon general, later revealed, "Because transmission of AIDS was understood primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs, the advisers to the president took the stand, they are only getting what they justly deserve." After the death of Rock Hudson, AIDS finally received greater media attention, and under intense political pressure Reagan did eventually appoint the Watkins Commission to study the issue.
Though Reagan made the abolition of communism and the implementation of supply-side economics the primary focuses of his presidency, he also took a strong stand against abortion. He published "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation," which decried what Reagan saw as a disrespect for life, promoted by the practice of abortion. Many conservative activists refer to Reagan as the most pro-life president in history.
Although Reagan's second term was mostly noteworthy for matters related to foreign affairs, his administration supported significant pieces of legislation on domestic matters, including an 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.
Foreign policy and interventions
Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the détente observed by his predecessors Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Sensing that planned economies could not compete against market economies in a renewed arms race, he made the Cold War economically and rhetorically hot. The administration oversaw a massive military build-up that represented a policy of "Peace through strength." Many Reagan supporters credit Reagan administration military polices with winning the Cold War. Others argued, however, that the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union was due more to internal separatist problems and the depressed global price of crude oil, on which the Soviet economy during those years depended heavily.
Among European leaders, his main ally and undoubtedly his closest friend was the Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who always supported Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets.
Reagan, left, in one-on-one discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev
, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1985 to 1991.
Although the administration negotiated arms reduction treaties such as the INF Treaty and START Treaty with the USSR it also aimed to increase strategic defense. A controversial proposal, named the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), sought to deploy a space-based defense system Reagan hoped would make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear weapon missile attack. Critics dubbed the proposal "Star Wars" and argued that SDI was unrealistic and would likely inflame the Arms Race. Supporters responded that even the threat of SDI forced the Soviets into unsustainable spending to keep up.
Support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against what Reagan considered to be communist governments was also a part of administration policy as the Reagan Doctrine. Following this policy, the administration funded "freedom fighters" such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan (calling them "an inspiration to those who love freedom"), the Contras in Nicaragua (whom he considered the "moral equivalent of our founding fathers", despite their killing of thousands of civilians), and Jonas Savimbi's rebel forces in Angola. The administration also helped fund central European anti-communist groups such as the Polish Solidarity movement and took a hard line against the Communist regime in Cambodia. Covert funding of the Contras in Nicaragua would lead to the Iran Contra Affair while overt support led to a World Court ruling against the United States in Nicaragua v. United States.
At the same time the administration considered paramilitary groups resisting Israeli occupations, such as Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Palestinian guerrillas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and left-wing guerrillas fighting US-backed right-wing military dictatorships in Honduras and El Salvador to be terrorists. The Reagan administration also considered guerrillas of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK or Spear of the Nation) and other anti-apartheid militants (e.g. the PAC) fighting the apartheid government in South Africa to be terrorists. These same groups were and still are in many places, considered to be freedom fighters just as Reagan's freedom fighters were often considered terrorists (especially the Contras).
U.S. involvement in Lebanon followed a limited term United Nations mandate for a Multinational Force. A force of 800 U.S. Marines was sent to Beirut to evacuate PLO forces. The September 16, 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Beirut (see Sabra and Shatila Massacre) prompted Reagan to form a new multinational force. Intense administration diplomatic efforts resulted in a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel. U.S. forces were withdrawn shortly after the October 23, 1983 bombing of a barracks in which 241 Marines were killed. Reagan called this day the saddest day of his life and of his presidency.
A communist coup on the small island nation of Grenada in 1983 led the administration to develop an invasion plan to restore the former government. The resulting Operation Urgent Fury was successful.
Initially neutral, the administration increasingly became involved in the Iran-Iraq War. At various times the administration supported both nations but mainly sided with Iraq, believing that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was less dangerous than Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The American fear was that an Iranian victory would embolden Islamic fundamentalists in other Arab states, perhaps leading to the overthrow of secular governments 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 United States also provided intelligence information and weapons to the Iraqi military, although most Iraqi weaponry was supplied by Germany, Britain and the USSR. The Administration also did not act to prevent the supply of some biological and "dual use" materials to Iraq by American companies, which Iraq claimed were required for medical research.
Concurrent with the support of Iraq, the Administration also engaged in covert arms sales to Iran in order to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The resulting Iran-Contra Affair became a scandal. Reagan professed ignorance of the plot's existence and quickly called for an Independent Counsel to investigate the scandal. The President was eventually found to be culpable of lax control over his own staff. A significant number of officials in the Reagan Administration were either convicted or forced to resign as a result of the scandal.
In 1985, on an official visit to West Germany, Reagan laid a wreath at a cemetery where approximately 50 SS soldiers were buried along with many German regular army veterans of both World Wars. This visit incited a great deal of controversy; see Bitburg for more details concerning the visit.
"The Great Communicator"
Speaking in front of the Berlin Wall
on June 12
Ronald Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
Reagan was dubbed "The Great Communicator" for his ability to express ideas and emotions in an almost personal manner, even when making a formal address. He honed these skills as an actor, live television and radio host, and politician, and as president hired skilled speechwriters who could capture his folksy charm.
Reagan's style varied. Especially in his first term, he used strong, even bombastic language to condemn the Soviet Union and communism. 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" ( (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1983/32183e.htm)) introduced the phrase "rendezvous with destiny" to popular culture. Other speeches recalled America as the "shining city on a hill", "big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair" ( (http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/second.asp)), whose citizens had the "right to dream heroic dreams" ( (http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/first.asp)). On January 28, 1986, after the Challenger accident, he postponed his State of the Union address he planned to give that evening and addressed the nation on the disaster. While doing so, he quoted John Gillespie Magee, Jr.'s poem, High Flight, to console the nation: "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.'" ( (http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/challenger.asp)) To this date, he remains the only president to have postponed his annual State of the Union address.
It was perhaps Reagan's humor, especially his one-liners, that disarmed his opponents and endeared himself to audiences the most. Discussion of his advanced age led him to quip in his first debate against Walter Mondale during the 1984 campaign, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." On his career he joked "Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book."
Both opponents and supporters noted his "sunny optimism", which was welcomed by many in comparison to his often smiling, but somewhat dour and serious, immediate Presidential predecessor. His style of relating to others had often been described as avuncular – in the demeanor of an uncle, one not responsible for discipline but who can provide well-meaning guidance.
"The Great Prevaricator" and Other Criticisms
A frequent objection by his exasperated detractors, however, was that his personal charm also permitted him to say nearly anything, however wildly untrue, and yet prevail — a particularly devastating advantage in election debates and press conferences that earned him the nickname "the Teflon president" (i.e., to whom nothing sticks). For example, Reagan reversed his position on the 1980 Olympic boycott no fewer than five, distinct times, on the fifth reversal claiming he had never changed his position. His denial of awareness of the Iran-Contra illegalities was belied by quotations in now-archived notes by his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, that he (Reagan) could survive violating the law or Constitution but not the negative public image that "big, strong Ronald Reagan passed up a chance to get the hostages free." Critics also faulted Reagan for his slow response to the AIDS crisis, for considering Nelson Mandela a terrorist, and for policies they said increased social inequality.
Quotes and witticisms
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."  (http://www.authenticgop.com/)
On August 11, 1984, Reagan's sound check for his weekly national radio address was taped and later broadcast by reporters. He said: "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." The remark was almost universally regarded as a joke, however some still wondered if it did not express Reagan's truest wishes.
President Reagan, with his Cabinet and staff, in the Oval Office (Feb. 4, 1981)
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Ronald Reagan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (6683 words)
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