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). At age 69, he was the oldest person elected President. Before entering politics, Reagan was a popular motion picture actor, as well as head of the Screen Actors Guild, and a motivational speaker. He was a Democrat in the 1940s, becoming a Republican in the 1960s and a leading backer of Barry Goldwater's ill-fated presidential campaign in 1964. For two terms, he served as governor of California. His persuasive speaking style earned Reagan the accolade "The Great Communicator." His economic and foreign policies have formed the base of the conservative movement since 1980. He was an anti-communist who negotiated arms reductions with the Soviets; his policies are sometimes credited with accelerating the demise of the Soviet Union. The most prominent scandal of his administration was the Iran-Contra Affair, where members of his administration exchanged arms with Iran for hostages and used the proceeds to fund the Contras, a para-military, anti-leftist group in Nicaragua. Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter to win the election of 1980; his landslide carried in the first Republican-controlled U.S. Senate in 26 years, and reduced the Democratic majority in the House. His economic policy of supply-side economics, commonly referred to as "Reaganomics," is noted for a 25% cut in the income tax, reduction in interest rates, increased military spending, increased deficits and national debt, increases in domestic inequality, a shift of the relative tax burden from the very rich to the middle and working classes, and continued deregulation of business. A recession took place in 1981-1982 followed by the then longest economic expansion in American history commencing in 1982. In other domestic issues he did not succeed in significantly changing social policies such as welfare and abortion during his presidency, but he did create a more conservative federal judiciary through appointments to the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts. He emphasized his skepticism concerning the ability of the federal government to remedy problems, particularly economic ones. His solution was to withdraw government involvement in planning and control by reducing taxation and regulation in order to allow the alleged self-correcting mechanism of the free market to assert itself. He said on his day of inauguration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Many credit him for restoring psychological optimism to an America that was in deep malaise in 1980 and for advocacy of a freer hand for the private sector rather than governmental control. In foreign policy his Administration is noted for the vast buildup of the military. Reagan was committed to the ideologies of democratic capitalism and anti-communism. His ability to survive economic downturns, reverses in Congress, foreign crises and even scandals involving Executive Branch employees with relatively high approval numbers earned him the sobriquet "The Teflon President" (a term coined by Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder). The Berlin Wall, and with it ultimately the Soviet Bloc, collapsed in November of 1989, shortly after he left office. Many credit Reagan with being instrumental in the 1991 downfall of the Soviet Union. Historians have not yet formed a consensus, with some considering Reagan to be a leading figure in orchestrating the collapse of Soviet Communism in 1991 ; other historians believe the demise of the Soviet Union was inevitable, and that Reagan hastened the day.  In 1988, Reagan's Vice President, George H.W. Bush was elected President, marking the first election in 60 years where the outgoing and incoming presidents were from the same party. Reagan's presidency influenced the culture of the 1980s and the modern Republican party. He was the only U.S. President to be shot by an assassin (on March 30, 1981) while in office and survive. He received a state funeral after his death in Bel-Air, California, in 2004 at age 93, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a decade.
Published: September 18, 2006, 3:31 pm