Ronald Wilson Reagan
(February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004)
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). Born in Tampico, Illinois, Reagan moved to Los Angeles, California in 1937. He began a career as an actor, first in films and later television, appearing in over fifty movie productions and gaining enough success to become a famous man. Some of his most notable roles are in Knute Rockne, All American and Kings Row. Reagan served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and later spokesman for General Electric (GE); his start in politics occurred during his work for GE. Originally a member of the Democratic Party, he switched to the Republican Party in 1962. After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 as well as 1976, but won both the nomination and election in 1980. As president, Reagan implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed "Reaganomics", advocated controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, and spurring economic growth by reducing tax rates, government regulation of the economy, and certain types of government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, and ordered military actions in Grenada. He was reelected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming it was "Morning in America". His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire", he supported anti-Communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente by ordering a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries' nuclear arsenals.
Reagan left office in 1989. In 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier in the year; he died ten years later at the age of 93. He ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in an apartment on the second floor of a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, to John Edward "Jack" Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan. Reagan's father was of Irish Catholic ancestry, while his mother had Scots-English ancestors. Reagan had one older brother, Neil "Moon" Reagan (1908–1996), who became an advertising executive. As a boy, Reagan's father nicknamed his son "Dutch", due to his "fat little Dutchman"-like appearance, and his "Dutchboy" haircut; the nickname stuck with him throughout his youth. Reagan's family briefly lived in several towns and cities in Illinois, including Monmouth, Galesburg and Chicago, until 1919, when they returned to Tampico and lived above the H.C. Pitney Variety Store. After his election as president, residing in the upstairs White House private quarters, Reagan would quip that he was "living above the store again".
According to Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan, Reagan had a particularly strong faith in the goodness of people, which stemmed from the optimistic faith of his mother, Nelle, and the Disciples of Christ faith, which he was baptized into in 1922. For the time, Reagan was unusual in his opposition to racial discrimination, and recalled a time in Dixon when the local inn would not allow black people to stay there. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to stay the night and have breakfast the next morning.
Following the closure of the Pitney Store in late 1920, the Reagans moved to Dixon; the midwestern "small universe" had a lasting impression on Reagan. He attended Dixon High School, where he developed interests in acting, sports, and storytelling. His first job was as a lifeguard at the Rock River in Lowell Park, near Dixon, in 1926. Reagan performed 77 rescues as a lifeguard, noting that he notched a mark on a wooden log for every life he saved. Reagan attended Eureka College, where he was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and majored in economics and sociology. He developed a reputation as a jack of all trades, excelling in campus politics, sports and theater. He was a member of the football team, captain of the swim team and was elected student body president. As student president, Reagan notably led a student revolt against the college president after he tried to cut back the faculty.
Marriages and childrenEdit
In 1938, Reagan co-starred in the film Brother Rat with actress Jane Wyman (1917Template:Ndash2007). They were engaged at the Chicago Theatre, and married on January 26, 1940, at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather church in Glendale, California. Together they had two children, Maureen (1941Template:Ndash2001) and Christine (born June 26, 1947; died June 27, 1947), and adopted a third, Michael (born 1945). Following arguments about Reagan's political ambitions, Wyman filed for divorce in 1948, citing a distraction due to her husband's Screen Actors Guild union duties; the divorce was finalized in 1949. (He is the only U.S. president to have been divorced.)
Reagan met actress Nancy Davis (born 1921) in 1949 after she contacted him in his capacity as president of the Screen Actors Guild to help her with issues regarding her name appearing on a communist blacklist in Hollywood (she had been mistaken for another Nancy Davis). She described their meeting by saying, "I don't know if it was exactly love at first sight, but it was pretty close." They were engaged at Chasen's restaurant in Los Angeles and were married on March 4, 1952, at the Little Brown Church in the San Fernando Valley. Actor William Holden served as best man at the ceremony. They had two children: Patti (born 1952) and Ron (born 1958).
Observers described the Reagans' relationship as close, real, and intimate. During his presidency they were reported as frequently displaying their affection for one another; one press secretary said, "They never took each other for granted. They never stopped courting. "He often called her "Mommy;" she called him "Ronnie". He once wrote to her, "whatever I treasure and enjoy ... all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you." When he was in the hospital in 1981, she slept with one of his shirts to be comforted by his scent. In a letter to U.S. citizens written in 1994, Reagan wrote "I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.... I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience", and in 1998, while Reagan was stricken by Alzheimer's, Nancy told Vanity Fair, "Our relationship is very special. We were very much in love and still are. When I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it's true. It did. I can't imagine life without him.
Early political careerEdit
Reagan began his political career as a liberal Democrat, admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and active supporter of New Deal policies, but in the early 1950s he shifted to the right and endorsed the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 as well as Richard Nixon in 1960 while remaining a Democrat. His many GE speeches—which he wrote himself—were non-partisan but carried a conservative, pro-business message; he was influenced by Lemuel Boulware, a senior GE executive. Boulware, known for his tough stance against unions and his innovative strategies to win over workers, championed the core tenets of modern American conservatism: free markets, anticommunism, lower taxes, and limited government. Eventually, the ratings for Reagan's show fell off and GE dropped Reagan in 1962. Reagan formally switched to the Republican Party in 1962, stating, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me."
Reagan opposed certain civil rights legislation, saying "If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so". He later reversed his opposition to voting rights and fair housing laws. He strongly denied having racist motives. When legislation that would become Medicare was introduced in 1961, Reagan created a recording for the American Medical Association warning that such legislation would mean the end of freedom in America. Reagan said that if his listeners did not write letters to prevent it, "we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don't do this, and if I don't do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
Reagan endorsed the campaign of conservative presidential contender Barry Goldwater in 1964. Speaking for Goldwater, Reagan stressed his belief in the importance of smaller government. He revealed his ideological motivation in a famed speech delivered on October 27, 1964: "The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing." This "Time for Choosing" speech raised $1 million for Goldwater's campaign and is considered the event that launched Reagan's political career.
Reagan died at his home in Bel Air, California on the afternoon of June 5, 2004. A short time after his death, Nancy Reagan released a statement saying: "My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has died after 10 years of Alzheimer's Disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers." President George W. Bush declared June 11 a National Day of Mourning, and international tributes came in from around the world. Reagan's body was taken to the Kingsley and Gates Funeral Home in Santa Monica, California later in the day, where well-wishers paid tribute by laying flowers and American flags in the grass. On June 7, his body was removed and taken to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where a brief family funeral was held. His body lay in repose in the Library lobby until June 9; over 100,000 people viewed the coffin.
On June 9, Reagan's body was flown to Washington, D.C. where he became the tenth United States president to lie in state. In the thirty-four hours that it lay there, 104,684 people filed past the coffin.
On June 11, a state funeral was conducted in the Washington National Cathedral, and presided over by President George W. Bush. Eulogies were given by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and both Presidents Bush. Also in attendance were Mikhail Gorbachev, and many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq.
After the funeral, the Reagan entourage was flown back to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, where another service was held, and President Reagan was interred. He is the second longest-lived president in U.S. history, having lived 93 years and 120 days, just 45 days fewer than Gerald Ford. He was the first United States president to die in the 21st century, and his was the first state funeral in the United States since that of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.
His burial site is inscribed with the words he delivered at the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and that there is purpose and worth to each and every life."
President Reagan speaking in Minneapolis 1982. Ronald Reagan at a rally for Senator David Durenberger in Bloomington, Minnesota 1982 Reagan's legacy is mixed, but his historical reputation has risen steadily from the time he left office. Supporters have pointed to a more efficient and prosperous economy and a peaceful end to the Cold War. Critics argue that his economic policies caused huge budget deficits, quadrupling the United States national debt, and that the Iran-Contra affair lowered American credibility. As time has passed, he has generally come to be viewed in a more positive light, and ranks highly among presidents in many public opinion polls. In presidential surveys he has consistently been ranked in the first and second quartiles, with more recent surveys generally ranking Reagan in the first quartile of U.S. presidents.
Edwin Feulner, President of the Heritage Foundation, said that Reagan "helped create a safer, freer world" and said of his economic policies: "He took an America suffering from 'malaise'... and made its citizens believe again in their destiny." However, Mark Weisbrot, co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that Reagan's "economic policies were mostly a failure", and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post stated that Reagan was "a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest".
Many conservative and liberal scholars agree that Reagan has been the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, leaving his imprint on American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics. "As of this writing, among academic historians, the Reagan revisionists—who view the 1980s as an era of mixed blessings at worst, and of great forward strides in some renditions—hold the field", reports Rossinow (2007).
The first generation of writing about Reagan comprised studies on the right that approached hagiography, and on the left a devil theory, all relying on popular journalism for their facts. A second generation has emerged, based on newly available documents from the archives, that provides a much more sophisticated and complex view. The scholars of the second generation have reached a consensus, as summarized by British historian M. J. Heale, who finds that scholars now concur that Reagan rehabilitated conservatism, turned the nation to the right, practiced a pragmatic conservatism that balanced ideology and the constraints of politics, revived faith in the presidency and in American self respect, and contributed to victory in the Cold War.
The Cold War was a major political and economic endeavor for over four decades, but the confrontation between the two superpowers had decreased dramatically by the end of Reagan's presidency. The significance of Reagan's role in ending the Cold War has spurred contentious and opinionated debate. That Reagan had some role in contributing to the downfall of the Soviet Union is collectively agreed, but the extent of this role is continuously debated, with many believing that Reagan's defense policies, hard line rhetoric against the Soviet Union and Communism, as well as summits with General Secretary Gorbachev played a significant part in ending the War.
United States President Ronald Reagan and President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev meet in 1985. He was notable amongst post-World War II presidents as being convinced that the Soviet Union could be defeated rather than simply negotiated with, a conviction that was vindicated by Gennadi Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman under Gorbachev, who said that Star Wars was "very successful blackmail. ... The Soviet economy couldn't endure such competition." Reagan's strong rhetoric toward the nation had mixed effects; Jeffery W. Knopf, Ph.D. observes that being labeled "evil" probably made no difference to the Soviets but gave encouragement to the East-European citizens opposed to communism. That Reagan had little or no effect in ending the Cold War is argued with equal weight; that Communism's internal weakness had become apparent, and the Soviet Union would have collapsed in the end regardless of who was in power. President Harry Truman's policy of containment is also regarded as a force behind the fall of the U.S.S.R., and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan undermined the Soviet system itself.
General Secretary Gorbachev said of his former rival's Cold War role: "He was a man who was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War", and deemed him "a great President." Gorbachev does not acknowledge a win or loss in the war, but rather a peaceful end; he said he was not intimidated by Reagan's harsh rhetoric. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said of Reagan, "he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power... but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform." She later stated, "Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired." Said Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada: "He enters history as a strong and dramatic player in the Cold War." Former President Lech Wałęsa of Poland acknowledged, "Reagan was one of the world leaders who made a major contribution to communism's collapse."
Domestic and political legacyEdit
Ronald Reagan reshaped the Republican party, led the modern conservative movement, and altered the political dynamic of
the United States. More men voted Republican under Reagan, and Reagan tapped into religious voters. The so-called
"Reagan Democrats" were a result of his presidency.
Since leaving office, Reagan has become an iconic influence within the Republican party. His policies and beliefs have been frequently invoked by Republican presidential candidates since 1989. The 2008 Republican presidential candidates were no exception, for they aimed to liken themselves to him during the primary debates, even imitating his campaign stategies. Republican nominee John McCain frequently stated that he came to office as "a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution".