Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 June 5, 2004) was the 40th
(19811989) President of the United States and the 33rd (19671975) Governor
of California. Reagan was also an actor in films before entering politics.
He lived longer than any other President (93 years, 119 days) and was the
oldest elected President (69 years, 349 days when taking office).
Reagan attended Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois , graduating in 1932
. Child of an alcoholic father, Reagan developed an early gift for storytelling
and acting . He was a radio announcer of Chicago Cubs 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 a superhuman ability to foul off pitches) until the wire
Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood as a second-rank leading
man, as his face and body were as handsome as his voice. 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 ). Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the
Navy and the campy Bedtime for Bonzo . He has a star on the Hollywood Walk
of Fame at 6374 Hollywood Blvd.
Reagan was commissioned as a reserve cavalry officer in the U.S. Army
in 1935. After Pearl Harbor he was activated and was assigned to the First
Motion Picture Unit in the Army Air Corps, which made training and education
films. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war.
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
. His final regular acting job was as host and performer on Death Valley
Early political career
Ronald Reagan began his political life as a liberal 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), aligning himself with Senator Joseph McCarthy and cooperating
with the House Un-American Activities Committee to "expose Communist influence
in Hollywood". He turned in several of his allegedly Communist co-workers,
although unlike many anti-Communists of the time he was strongly opposed
to the formal banning of the American Communist Party . His employment
by the General Electric company, delivering anti-communist speeches on
radio broadcasts and speaking tours, further enhanced his political image
in the anti-Soviet climate of 1950s America. By the 1964 election , Reagan
was an outspoken supporter of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater .
In 1966 , he was elected the 33rd Governor of California . 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
was marked by the Iran hostage crisis . Overseas press charged that the
Reagan camp had made a secret deal to keep the hostages imprisoned until
after the election. Most analysts believe President Jimmy Carter 's inability
to solve the hostage crisis played a large role in his defeat and Reagan's
victory. Reagan went on to be elected President that year and re-elected
in a landslide in 1984 .
On March 30 , 1981 , just 69 days into his Presidency, while leaving the
Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC President Reagan, Press Secretary James
Brady , a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer
were shot by a delusional John Hinckley, Jr. . Shortly before surgery to
remove the bullet from his chest (which barely missed his heart) he remarked
to his surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans,"  and to his wife Nancy
he jokingly commented, "Honey, I forgot to duck."
As a politician and as President, he portrayed himself as being:
in favor of tax cuts
in favor of smaller non- military government
in favor of removing regulations on corporations
supportive of business interests, both large and small
supportive of some individual liberties
tough on crime
He is credited with:
increasing military spending
deploying US Pershing II missiles in Germany in response to the Soviet
stationing of SS-20 missiles near Europe
pushing for the deployment of the Peacekeeper missile system
negotiating nuclear arms reduction treaties
proposing the Strategic Defense Initiative
arming and training anti-communist groups like the Contras and the mujahideen
selling arms to foreign allies such Taiwan , Israel , Saudi Arabia and,
lowering taxes significantly, reversing a historic trend towards higher
increasing the federal deficit
greatly escalating the " war on drugs "
ending the high inflation that damaged the economy under his predecessors,
Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford .
helping to 'win' the Cold War
firing air traffic controllers when they illegally struck
Part of President Reagan's first term in office focused on reviving an
inherited economy exhibiting stagflation, or both inflation and unemployment
. Reagan's policies, partially based on supply-side economics sought to
stimulate the economy with large across-the-board tax cuts . Most economists
agree that tax cuts stimulate the economy, but supply-siders say that they
have a much greater effect than most economists say they would. George
H. W. Bush had called Reagan's economic ideas "voodoo economics" prior
to becoming his vice-president. Reagan's policies soon became known as
" Reaganomics ", a nickname used by both his supporters and detractors.
These tax cuts combined with heavy military spending increases led to enormous
deficit spending and a dramatic increase in the national debt . The debt
increased by approximately 200% (tripled) between when Reagan took office
and when his successor, George H. W. Bush , took office.
On the other hand, this spending was slightly offset by increased tax
revenues, and some supporters of Reagan attribute this to the successful
use of supply-side economics tax policies. Critics of President Reagan
argue that despite his frequent pronouncements that he advocated smaller
and less intrusive government, federal spending and bureaucracy increased
in size during his administration. Not surprisingly, there is disagreement
over how much Reagan's policies contributed to the severe recession that
took place in 1982 , the strong economic expansion that began late in his
first term and ran throughout his second term, and the fall in the average
inflation-adjusted hourly wage for American workers that happened between
his 1981 swearing-in and his successor's 1989 swearing-in.
The Soviet Union and the Cold War
Like many successful American politicians, Reagan had great stage presence,
as well as great instincts for cultivating positive responses from the
public. His calm speaking voice and forceful language earned him the nickname
"the Great Communicator." On March 8 , 1983 he called the Soviet Union
an "Evil Empire" and later in his presidency while speaking in front of
the Berlin Wall he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear
down this wall". Some historians believe that all of those traits would
have been meaningless without his perceived enthusiasm for America and
strong personal belief in the individual.
While many Reagan partisans credit him with winning the Cold War , scholars
attribute the collapse of communism in 1989 in Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union to the mounting Soviet economic crisis and the failure of the economic
and political reforms initiated by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev .
Reagan's policies included strong support of the U.S. military and the
doctrine of "peace through strength." One of his more controversial proposals
was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a missile defense system which
he hoped would make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear missile attack by
the Soviet Union . SDI was dubbed "Star Wars" by opponents, connoting the
impractical or fantastic, and Reagan was given the nickname "Ronnie Raygun"
by some wags.
Critics of SDI argued that the technological objective was unattainable
in practical terms, and that the attempt would be likely to increase the
Arms Race , as well as increasing the instability of future international
crises. Other critics saw the extraordinary expenditures involved in the
multiple distinct SDI programs as a military-industrial boondoggle.
Supporters call SDI the nail in the coffin of the arms race with the
Soviet Union through the application the strategy of technology . They
saw SDI as an attempt to convince the Soviets that their nuclear missile
arsenal wwould become obsolescent, burdening the Soviets with addition
spending on new technology to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.
Reagan had a close friendship with many other conservative political
leaders across the globe, especially Margaret Thatcher in Britain , and
Brian Mulroney in Canada . Reagan had a great desire for establishing personal
relationships with other heads of state, often inviting them to his ranch
or Camp David for casual retreats.
As part of the policies that became known as the Reagan Doctrine , the
United States also took an increasingly hard line against Communist influences
in Latin America, which often involved the controversial support of anti-Communist
military dictatorships with poor human rights records. This has led some
to charge that Reagan was undertaking secret and illegal guerilla wars.
In 1983 Reagan ordered a formal military invasion of the small island nation
of Grenada after it underwent a Communist coup. Near the end of his term,
Reagan was also instrumental in supporting the transition of Latin American
democracy, giving generous foreign aid packages to states who held free
During his administration, there was a major scandal and investigation
of his administration's covert support of wars in Iran and Nicaragua in
what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair . Two members of administration,
National Security Advisor John Poindexter and Col. Oliver North had hatched
an elaborate plot to sell arms to the Iranian government and give the profits
to the anti-Communist Contras guerillas in Nicaragua, who were engaged
in a bloody civil war. Both actions were contrary to acts of Congress .
Reagan professed ignorance of the plot, but admitted that he had supported
the initial sale of arms to Iran, on the grounds that such sales were supposed
to help secure the release of Americans being held hostage by the Iranian-backed
Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon .
Reagan's quick call for the appointment of an Independent Counsel to
investigate the wider scandal, and cooperation with counsel, kept Iran-Contra
from ending his presidency. It was found that the President was guilty
of the scandal only in that his lax control of his own staff resulted in
his ignorance of the arms sale. Although considered personally honest by
most Americans, President Reagan and his term in office saw several other
scandals of bribery, corruption, and influence peddling involving Reagan's
aides and subordinates, resulting in more than 130 officials in the Reagan
Administration either being convicted or forced to resign their posts to
avoid prosecution. The failure of these scandals to damage Reagan's reputation
led Congressman Patricia Schroeder to dub him the " Teflon President",
a term that has been occasionally attached to later Presidents and their
"War on Drugs"
Reagan's policies in the " War on Drugs " emphasized imprisonment for drug
offenders while cutting funding for addiction treatment. This resulted
in a dramatic increase in the USA's prison population. Critics charged
that the policies did little to actually reduce the availability of drugs
or crime on the street while resulting in a great financial and human cost
for American society. Nevertheless, it was an important part of Reagan's
policy of being tough on crime. Due to this policy and various cuts in
spending for social programs during his Presidency, Reagan was regarded
by some critics as indifferent to the needs of poor and minority citizens.
On August 5 , 1981 , Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers
who ignored his order to return to work. Ironically, PATCO , the air traffic
controller's union, had been one of the few unions that had supported Reagan
over Carter in the election nine months previous.
In the spring of 1983, Reagan sent US Marines into Lebanon . Following
several smaller bombings, a truck bombing of their barracks killed 241
Marines. Two days later Reagan invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada
. Three months later, Reagan withdrew the Marines from Lebanon.
On July 13 , 1985 , Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps
from his colon , causing the first-ever invocation of the Acting President
clause of the 25th Amendment . On January 5 , 1987 , Reagan underwent prostate
surgery which caused further worries about his health.
Reagan was widely criticized in 1985 for an incident related to an official
visit to West Germany . On April 11, the White House announced that Reagan
would be visiting the Bitburg military cemetery, to lay a wreath in honor
of German soldiers who died in both World Wars. This became controversial
when it came to public attention that a small number (variously reported
as 49 or 56) of gravesites contained remains of soldiers who had served
in Waffen-SS units. Despite protests from various quarters, most notably
Elie Wiesel , Reagan proceeded with the visit on the grounds that it would
promote reconciliation between the former adversaries.
Legacy and retirement from public life
Reagan was in many ways the founder of the modern Republican Party. His
redefinition of fiscal conservatism as being focused on tax cuts without
significant regard to a balanced budget (" Reaganomics "); his opposition
to progressive taxation , greater environmental protection and regulation,
and abortion ; the importance of the Moral Majority and its supporters
in his governing coalition; and even his support of missile defense systems
have all become trademarks of subsequent Republican leaders, including
George W. Bush . Reagan's immediate predecessors such as Richard Nixon
and Dwight Eisenhower would not have recognized any of these as part of
the Republican platform.
In 1992 , four years after leaving office, Reagan was diagnosed with
Alzheimer's disease . As the years went on, the disease began to slowly
take over the former President's brain and body, forcing him to live his
post-presidency in quiet isolation. He informed the nation of his condition
himself when on November 5 , 1994 a letter he wrote was released announcing
he had Alzheimer's disease. He can now no longer speak coherently and has
trouble with even the most basic tasks. His health was further destabilized
by a fall in 2001, which shattered part of his hip and rendered him virtually
On February 6 , 1998 , Washington National Airport in Washington, DC
was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport . Also, the aircraft
carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was christened March 4 , 2001 , making
it one of the very few United States Navy ships to be named for a living
In November 2003 , Reagan and his family were the subject of a controversial
television miniseries, The Reagans . In response to the unflattering docu-drama,
a number of Congressional Republicans introduced the "Ronald Reagan Dime
Act" (HR 3633), a bill that would replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt 's
portrait on the United States dime with Reagan's. The bill did not have
widespread support and appeared unlikely to be put up for a vote. In 2004
, Reagan turned 93, making him the oldest former president in American
Reagan died at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California on June
5, 2004 at 1:09 PM local (Pacific) time. He died of pneumonia, with his
wife Nancy and their children Patti and Ron present. He is survived also
by his son Michael, from his first marriage to Wyman; his daughter Maureen
preceded him in death in 2001.
Reagan was given a full presidential state funeral on June 9, the first
since Lyndon Johnson. With 4,000 people in attendance, Reagan's national
service at the National Cathedral on June 11 included eulogies by George
W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney. Numerous
other past and present world leaders attended the service, including Mikhail
Gorbachev. He was buried that evening at sunset in a private ceremony,
with 600 people in attendance, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
in Simi Valley, California, which included remarks from his three surviving
Nancy Reagan lays her head on the flag draped casket of President Reagan.Reagan
holds the record for the longest-living President in American history.
John Adams lived a record 90 years and 247 days before Reagan surpassed
it on October 11, 2001.
- "This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity
for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess
that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our
lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.", nationwide televised
speech supporting Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign, October 27,
- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!", speech at the Brandenburg Gate,
Berlin, June 12, 1987. 
- "Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the
walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders. ...
The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the
- "What does an actor know about politics?", criticising Screen Actors
Guild president Ed Asner for his views on foreign policy.
- "I know all the bad things that happened in that war. I was in uniform
for four years myself," defending his visit to the Bitburg Military Cemetery.
- "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,"
during a radio microphone test in 1984.
Supreme Court appointments
Sandra Day O'Connor - 1981
William Rehnquist - Chief Justice, 1986 (an associate justice since 1972