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Ronald Reagan
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Ronald Reagan

The neutrality of this article is disputed.
Ronald Reagan

Order: 40th President
Term of Office: January 20, 1981-January 20, 1989
Predecessor: Jimmy Carter
Successor: George H. W. Bush
Date of Birth: Monday, February 6, 1911
Place of Birth: Tampico, Illinois
Date of Death: Saturday, June 5, 2004
Place of Death: Bel Air, Los Angeles, California
First Lady: Nancy Reagan
Profession: Actor and labor union leader
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: George H. W. Bush

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911June 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).

Table of contents
1 Early life and career
2 Early political career
3 Presidency
4 Foreign Interventions
5 "War on Drugs"
6 "The Great Communicator"
7 Miscellaneous
8 Legacy and retirement from public life
9 Cabinet
10 Supreme Court appointments
11 Related articles
12 Further reading
13 External links

Early life and career

Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, the second of two sons to John (Jack) Reagan and Nelle Wilson. His great-grandfather 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.[1]. Such a ceremonial genealogy would necessarily contain much guesswork, as his ancestry beyond four generations is not known with certainty.

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.

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.

In 1928, Reagan entered Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois majoring in economics and sociology, graduating in 1932. 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 second-rank leading man, aided by his clear voice and athletic physique. His first screen credit was the starring role the 1937 movie Love is On the Air. 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). Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, 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 the Attack on Pearl Harbor he was activated and assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in the Army Air Force, which made training and education films. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war. He attained the rank of captain.

Reagan married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. They had a daughter, Maureen in 1941, adopted a son Michael in 1946, and had a daughter born four months prematurely in 1947 who lived but one day. They divorced in 1948. Reagan remarried in 1952 to actress Nancy Davis at a time when she may have already become pregnant. (Their marriage was on March 4th; daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year.) In 1958 they had a second child, Ron.

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 – 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 both to 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 Las Vegas, Nevada as song-and-dance act's master of ceremonies. Dennis McDougal, author of the unauthorized Wasserman biography commented that "He and his board engineered it, thus giving MCA carte blanche control over US 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 US 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 portrayed the heel; at one point, he belts Angie Dickinson across a room.

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, 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.

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.

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. During his first term, he froze government hiring, but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget.

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 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.

In 1984, he was re-elected in a landslide over Carter's Vice President Walter Mondale, winning in 49 of 50 states and receiving nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. Much of his first election and this second term landslide is attributed to the then-named "Reagan Democrats", a newly emerged but mostly unorganized political force.


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 District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delanty were shot by 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," [1] and to his wife Nancy he jokingly commented, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Apparently he was quoting a remark made by boxer Jack Dempsey in 1926 explaining his loss of his heavyweight championship. After Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney, his wife Estelle Taylor asked him "What happened?" His reply was "Honey, I forgot to duck." Reagan often creatively quoted such witticisms.

As a politician and as President, he portrayed himself as being:

He is credited with:


Main article:

Part of President Reagan's first term in office focused on reviving an inherited economy exhibiting stagflation, a high rate of inflation combined with an economic recession. Partially based on supply-side economics (derided by opponents as "trickle down economics"), Reagan's policies sought to stimulate the economy with large across-the-board tax cuts. George H. W. Bush had called Reagan's economic ideas "voodoo economics" during the Republican primary campaign, prior to becoming his running mate. The tax cuts were to be coupled with commensurate reductions in social welfare spending, earning the scorn of many. Infamously, budget director David Stockman was ridiculed for suggesting ketchup be classified as a vegetable for federally financed school lunches.

After less than two years in office, Reagan rolled back a large portion of his corporate income tax cuts. Not only did Reagan retreat from proposed cuts in the Social Security budget, but he also appointed the Greenspan Commission which resolved the solvency crisis through reforms including increases in the payroll tax. Although Reagan achieved a marginal reduction in the rate of expansion of government spending, his overall fiscal policy was expansionary. Social programs grew apace at the behest of the Democratic-controlled Congress. Reagan's fiscal policies soon became known as "Reaganomics", a nickname used by both his supporters and detractors.

President Reagan's tenure marked what is considered by many a time of economic prosperity in the United States. GDP growth recovered strongly after the 1982 recession. Unemployment peaked at over 11 percent in 1982 then dropped steadily, and inflation dropped even more significantly. This economic growth generated greater tax revenue, although the new revenue did not cover an increased federal budget that included the military buildup and expansions of social programs. The result was greater deficit spending and a dramatic increase in the national debt, which tripled during Reagan's presidency. The U.S. trade deficit expanded significantly, particularly with buoyant Japan, economic inequality increased, and the overvalued U.S. dollar was distorting the world economy.

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 distribution of the benefits of economic growth among the rich and the poor.

Response to AIDS

Reagan's presidency saw the advent of HIV-AIDS as a widespread epidemic in the United States. Although AIDS was first reported in 1981, Reagan did not mention it publicly for several more years; while it is commonly stated that he did not do so until 1987, this claim appears to be erroneous, with documented instances in late 1985 and early 1986. Rock Hudson's death would be the catalyst, before then Reagan's peers considered themselves immune. His administration approached the epidemic as a series of local and state issues rather than with a national strategy, and politicians for the Department of Health and Human Services pleaded behind the scenes for adequate funding.

In deference to the views of the powerful religious right, who saw AIDS as a disease limited to the gay male community and spread by immoral behavior, Reagan prevented his Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, from speaking out about the epidemic. When in 1986 Reagan finally authorized Koop to issue a report on the epidemic, he expected it to be in line with conservative policies; instead, Koop's Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome greatly emphasized the importance of a comprehensive AIDS education strategy, including widespread distribution of condoms, and rejected mandatory testing. This approach brought Koop into conflict with other administration officials such as Education Secretary William Bennett.

Social action groups like ACT UP worked to raise awareness of the AIDS problem. In 1987, Reagan responded by appointing the Watkins Commission on AIDS, but its recommendations for increased funding went largely ignored by the Reagan and the subsequent Bush administration. The most memorable ACT UP slogan confronting the Reagan/Bush stance was SILENCE= DEATH.

Many socially conservative commentators saw Reagan's handling of the AIDS crisis as a common sense approach for a problem they believed was caused by social immorality. Members of the gay and lesbian communities, and other people who had AIDS or knew someone who did, saw his policies as anything from politically motivated willful blindness to outright contempt for groups affected by the disease.

Foreign Policy and the Cold War

on June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."]]

Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the detente 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.

Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, oversaw the massive military buildup that represented his policy of "Peace Through Strength." The administration revived the B-1 bomber program canceled by the Carter administration and began production of the MX "Peacekeeper" missile. In response to Soviet deployment of the SS-20, Reagan oversaw NATO's deployment of the Pershing II missile in West Germany despite widespread protests.

One of Reagan's more controversial proposals was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defense system which he hoped would make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear missile attack by the Soviet Union. By stationing these defenses in outer space the U.S. could circumvent the ABM_treaty, but this proposal soon led opponents to dub SDI "Star Wars."

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 respond that even the threat of SDI forced the Soviets into unsustainable spending to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent; Reagan himself suggested it would take decades for the program to be carried out. The program was supported by his successor, George H. W. Bush, though not eagerly pursued. Bill Clinton also supported it, though not actively. President George W. Bush supports a less ambitious National Missile Defense system.

The withering arms race was often matched with militant rhetoric which inspired dissidents and true believers, but also startled allies and alarmed critics. In a famous address on March 8, 1983, he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" that would be consigned to the "dustbin of history." After Soviet fighters downed Korean Airlines Flight 007 on September 1, 1983, he labeled the act an "act of barbarism... [of] inhuman brutality." Later in his presidency, while speaking in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 he challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." [1]

Third, Reagan announced support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against communist governments. When the Polish government suppressed Solidarity movement under Lech Walesa in late 1981, Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Poland. In a policy which became known as the Reagan Doctrine, his administration actively funded "freedom fighters" such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua.

Many Reagan supporters, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, credit him with winning the Cold War; this, however, is disputed, as the Soviet Union had shown signs of internal collapse (such as worker revolt in Poland which led to Solidarity) by the 1970s, before Reagan took office. Others also attribute the collapse of communism in 1989 in Central Europe and the Soviet Union to the mounting Soviet economic crisis and problems stemming from the economic and political reforms initiated by Soviet President Gorbachev.

Reagan had close friendships 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 to Camp David for casual retreats.

Foreign Interventions

As part of the policies that became known as the "Reagan Doctrine," the United States also offered financial and logistics support to the anti-communist opposition in central Europe (most notably the Polish Solidarity movement) and took an increasingly hard line against Communist regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua.

Reagan considered the anti-Communist rebel groups such as the Contras and Afghan mujahideen to be freedom fighters and the "moral equivalent of our [America's] founding fathers" fighting against Communism. In contrast he considered socialist forces and enemies of U.S. geopolitical allies such as the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Palestinian guerrillas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and left-wing guerrillas fighting right-wing military dictatorships in Honduras and El Salvador to be terrorists. The Reagan administration also considered guerrillas of the ANC's armed wing Mkhonto 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, despite many people throughout the world (most likely including the black majority in South Africa) considered the freedom fighters.

This has led some to charge that Reagan was undertaking secret and illegal guerrilla wars to unseat socialist governments around the globe. Perhaps his most controversial action in this respect was his administration's support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua and Latin America

During the 1980s the Reagan administration sponsored a campaign of political violence by Contra guerrillas (a proxy paramilitary based in Honduras and Costa Rica, largely consisting of former Somoza regime soldiers) against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The resulting insurgency killed over 50,000 people, mostly civilians.

Under the Carter Administration, the Sandinistas had received tacit U.S. support in their coup against the previously U.S.-backed right-wing military dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty, which had ruled the country for several decades. An interim, coalition Junta took power in 1979 and the Sandinista leader, and in 1984 Daniel Ortega became Nicaragua's first elected President. As the years progressed, the Oretega government became more socialist, with the more moderate factions of the coalition being expelled from government. Suppression of political dissent increased, as did accusations of state-sponsored human rights abuses. As well, Ortega was an open supporter of dictator Fidel Castro's Cuba and many members of the Sandinista government sought to model Nicaragua along similar lines.

The leftist nature of the Sandinista government and its support for Cuba distressed many in the Reagan administration, who viewed the country as a key Cold War battleground, in danger of becoming a Communist proxy state. As a result, covert support began to flow to the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels, whom Reagan had described as "the moral equal of our founding fathers."

However, the Contras were condemned as terrorists by many. They were accused of attacking farms and other civilian targets, as well as murdering, torturing and mutilating civilians and committing other war crimes, as documented by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. [1] The Contras were also accused of being involved in illicit drug-trafficking. Leftist critics such as Noam Chomsky and others have accused the U.S. government of inciting the Contras to attack civilians, and providing them with the positions of the Nicaraguan Army to avoid engagement with the security forces.

Critics of Reagan argue that this constituted state sponsorship of terrorism and an attempt to overthrow an elected government. Nicaragua decided to take their case to the World Court in Nicaragua v. United States. In an unprecedented decision in the history of world justice, the World Court sanctioned the U.S. for "unlawful use of force" for "sponsoring paramilitary activity in and against Nicaragua", ordering the U.S. government to pay billions of U.S. dollars in compensation. Father Miguel D'Escoto, Foreign Minister under the Sandinista government, supposes that the U.S. owes his country between 20 and 30 billion U.S. dollars. [1]

Supporters of Reagan claim the Sandinista regime was neither democratic nor harmless, but rather a Communist dictatorship in the making, supported both militarily and economically by Cuba and the Soviet Union. The administration refused to participate in the World Court proceeding and dismissed the outcome as partisan and irrelevant.

Due to the pressures of the covert Contra war, the Sandinista President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega eventually held the country's second elections, which he and his party lost, thus ending Nicaragua's brief period of socialist rule. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a former Junta member who led a 19-party "anti-Sandinista" alliance was elected in his place.

Through its desire to quell leftist governments and Marxist insurgencies in the region the Reagan administration was accused of sponsoring right-wing military dictatorships throughout Latin America, and the CIA and U.S.-based School of the Americas are accused of training human rights abusers such as Honduran death squads in assassination and torture techniques.

However, near the end of his term Reagan was instrumental in supporting the transition of Latin American democracy, giving generous foreign aid packages to states that held free elections.

Lebanon (1982-1984)

In early June of 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with massive force, driving all the way to Beirut and putting the Palestinian fighters and residents, as well as the Lebanese civilian population of that city, under siege. On June 6, the United States joined a unanimous U.N. Security Council Resolution demanding that Israel withdraw from Lebanon and that the border cease-fire be observed by all parties. Amidst a great international furor the scene was set for a common American-French-Italian military intervention, Israel justified its breech of the previous cross-border cease-fire by citing the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London and a build-up of Palestinian armaments in South Lebanon.

In August, an agreement between the Lebanese government and the United States defined the mandate for a Multinational Force (inluding 800 U.S. Marines) as "to provide appropriate assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces as they carry out" responsibilities for the safe evacuation of the departing PLO, the safety "of the persons in the area" (generally interpreted to mean the Palestinian non-combatants remaining in Beirut), and to "further the restoration of the sovereignty and authority of the Government of Lebanon over the Beirut area." The deployment was to be for 30 days or less.

On August 25, the Marines went ashore in Beirut, four days after the French troops arrived. The PLO evacuation was completed without significant incident. The Marines redeployed to their ships on September 10. Following September 16, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.

On September 20 a horrified President Reagan announced the formation of a new Multinational Force in consultation with France and Italy. He defined the mission as "enabling the Lebanese Government to resume full sovereignty over its capital." Reagan continued that for the Multinational Force "to succeed it is essential that Israel withdraw from Beirut." The president said that the purpose of this Force was "not to act as a police force, but to make it possible for the lawful authorities of Lebanon to do so themselves."

The deployment of the 1,800 United States Marines began on September 29. A day before, President Reagan told a press conference: "And the Marines are going in there into a situation with a definite understanding as to what we're supposed to do. I believe that we are going to be successful in seeing the other foreign forces leave Lebanon. And then at such time as Lebanon says that they have the situation well in hand, why, we'll depart."

On April 18 1983, a car bomb exploded at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 17 U.S. foreign service and military personnel and over 40 Lebanese employees and citizens. The technique employed driving a vehicle packed with explosives to the front entrance for detonation there by a suicide bomber.

The result of intense American diplomatic efforts, on May 17, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement ending the State of War between the two countries and providing for a phased Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, contingent on the withdrawal of Syrian and Palestinian forces.

On October 23, just after dawn, 241 Marines died when a truck packed with explosives blew up a Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport. At that same moment a similar explosion blew up a French military barracks a few kilometers away, killing 56 French troops. The October 23 suicide bombers used the identical technique that had been used six months earlier to blow up the American embassy.

The attack was extremely demoralizing for the United States, and although Reagan initially stated he would "resist those who seek drive us out of that area", the continued Marine presence in Lebanon became very unpopular among the American public, who compared the military mission in the former French colony with the Vietnam War. On February 7 1984, President Reagan announced that he had asked for a plan for redeployment of the Marines from Beirut to ships offshore. On February 7 and 8, more than 100 U.S. embassy employees and all embassy dependents were evacuated from Beirut. On February 26, redeployment of the last Marines serving with the Multinational Force from their positions in Beirut to ships offshore was completed.

Grenada and Angola

In 1983, Reagan ordered a formal military invasion, dubbed Operation Urgent Fury, of the small island nation of Grenada after it underwent a Communist coup.

In 1986, representing the global promise he felt was inherent in the success of the Reagan Doctrine, Reagan invited anti-Communist Angolan leader Jonas Savimbi to The White House, where he spoke of Savimbi winning "a victory that electrifies the world." Conservatives and influential foreign policy analysts at the Heritage Foundation vigorously supported the Reagan doctrine, leading to the flow of American weapons to anti-Communist paramilitary groups on several continents.

Iran-Iraq War

When the Iran-Iraq War broke out following the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979, the United States initially remained neutral in the conflict. However, as the war intensified, the Reagan administration would covertly intervene to maintain a balance of power, supporting both nations at various times.

For a period the Reagan administration sponsored Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, believing him to be a less dangerous and radical Arab leader than Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The U.S. and its allies gave weapons and tactical support to Iraq, and some illegal deals were done in which chemical and biological materials were given to the Iraqis, ostensibly for humanitarian purposes, but ultimately used to make chemical weapons and biological weapons. The Iraqis in turn used these against Iranian conscripts and Kurdish guerrillas and civilians. Several commentators have since argued that Iraq could not possibly have invaded Kuwait in 1991 if not for the weapons Saddam received from the U.S. and its allies, although others cite Soviet influences in Iraq as being far more significant.

Concurrent with the support of Iraq, the Administration also engaged in covert arms sales to Iran. Certain factions of the Reagan cabinet believed that supporting various non-government militia forces in Iran could perhaps provoke an internal coup by more moderate forces who could depose Khomeini.

Iran-Contra affair

Main article: Iran-Contra Affair

During his administration, there was a major scandal and investigation of his administration's covert support of the 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 in Lebanon.

Reagan quickly called for the appointment of an Independent Counsel to investigate the wider scandal. His cooperation with counsel helped Iran-Contra from seriously damaging 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 Reagan himself was considered personally honest by most Americans, other scandals occurred involving bribery, corruption, and influence peddling among some of Reagan's aides and subordinates, resulting in a significant number of 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 Representative Patricia Schroeder to dub him the "Teflon President", a term that has been occasionally attached to later Presidents and their scandals.


Upon becoming President, Reagan moved quickly to undermine Soviet efforts to subdue the government of Afghanistan, which the Soviet Army had invaded in 1979.

Islamic mujahideen guerrillas were covertly supported and trained, and backed in their jihad against the occupying Soviets by the CIA. The agency sent billions of dollars in military aid to the guerrillas.

Reagan praised the mujahadeen as freedom fighters battling an evil empire, stating, "To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom. Their courage teaches us a great lesson—that there are things in this world worth defending. To the Afghan people, I say on behalf of all Americans that we admire your heroism, your devotion to freedom, and your relentless struggle against your oppressors." (March 21, 1983 [1]).

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, some of these actions have been re-examined and become more controversial. Some say this support of radical Islamists led to the rise of the oppressive Taliban regime and Al-Qaida. [1] It has also been alleged that Osama bin Laden, the future Al-Qaida leader, received training by the CIA or an allied intelligence agency.

"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 U.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. Due to this policy and various cuts in spending for social programs during his Presidency, some critics regarded Reagan as indifferent to the needs of poor and minority citizens. Nevertheless, some surveys showed that illegal drug use among Americans declined significantly during Reagan's presidency, leading supporters to argue that the policies were successful.

"The Great Communicator"

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" ([1]) 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" ([1]), whose citizens had the "right to dream heroic dreams" ([1]). After the 1986 Challenger accident, he quoted an Air Force hymn 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.'" ([1])

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.


During his California 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, neither by Reagan nor 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.

On August 5, 1981, Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers who had 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 previously. Some, including Alan Greenspan, have credited Reagan's action restoring flexibility to the business environment that had prevented American companies from hiring and held back the economy.

In the spring of 1983, Reagan sent U.S. Marines into Lebanon. Following several smaller bombings, a truck bombing of their barracks killed 241 Marines. Three months later, Reagan withdrew the Marines from Lebanon.

On July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polypss from his colon, causing the first-ever invocation of the Acting President clause of the 25th Amendment. On January 5, 1987, Reagan underwent surgery for prostate cancer which caused further worries about his health, but which significantly raised the public awareness of this "silent killer."

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 together with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 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 the remains of soldiers who had served in Waffen-SS units. Despite protests from various quarters, most notably Elie Wiesel, Reagan carried out the visit on May 5 on the grounds that it would promote reconciliation between the former adversaries.

Legacy and retirement from public life

Reagan is in many ways the father of the modern Republican Party. Among the positions that he propelled forward are the following:

In 1989, after the inauguration of George H. W. Bush as president, Ronald Reagan returned to California, to writing his autobiography, to riding his horses and chopping wood on his ranch and to the new house in Bel-Air. In the fall, Fujisankei Communications Group of Japan had hired him to make two speeches and attend some ceremonies. Reagan's weekly fee was about two million dollars, more than he had earned during eight years as president.

Reagan's retirement was marred by an allegation against him dating back decades. In April 1991, major newspapers carried the report that Selene Walters claimed that, in 1952, Reagan, when he was President of SAG, had raped her in her home. The charge was publicized in muckraker Kitty Kelley's unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan.

In 1992, Reagan was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. As the years went on, the disease slowly destroyed the former president's mental capacity, forcing him to live his post-presidency in quiet isolation. He informed the nation of his condition himself on November 5, 1994 in the form of a personal letter. A tragic anecdote told of this time is of his removing from a friend's aquarium a ceramic model of the White House; he reportedly said, "I know this is important, but I don't know why." His ailing health was further destabilized by a fall in 2001, which shattered part of his hip and rendered him virtually immobile. By 2004 Reagan had begun to enter the final stage of Alzheimer's.

On February 6, 1998, Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia (near Washington, D.C) was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Also, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was christened on March 4, 2001, making it one of the very few United States Navy ships to be named after a living person. On June 15, 2001, the United States Army Kwajalein Missile Range was renamed the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, or Reagan Test Site.

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 children.

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.


Supreme Court appointments

Reagan appointed the following Justices to the
Supreme Court of the United States:

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Preceded by:
Jimmy Carter
President of the United States
Succeeded by:
George H. W. Bush
Preceded by:
Pat Brown
Governor of California
Succeeded by:
Jerry Brown