Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States and previously the Governor of California, was, to those more familiar with him only as a star of B movies, a somewhat surprising choice. Yet he had already been involved in politics for some time, if in a relatively minor way, as both president of the Screen Actors Guild and the representative for General Electric. He began his political life as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican Party in 1962 rather late in life at the age of 51.
He was strongly in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964 an dspoke out publicly for him. After this show of strength he was persuaded to seek the California governorship which he won two years later. He first ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 , and also in 1976, but it was 1980 before he won both the nomination and eventually the election. He wasa to serve two terms. Early Life Reagan himself explains that nickname Dutch in his autobiography . Apparently when his father first set eyes on him he decided tha this new born son looked like a little Dutchman.
He was to have been called Donald, but someone else in the family beat him to it so Ronald was chosen instead. Born in Illinois, he was the youngest of four children. His father John was a salesman of Irish descent and his mother Nelle was Scots/English. Reagan claims that it was from his father that he learned the value of hard work, and also how to spin a story. Both parents taught him to judge people as individuals and frowned upon any sort of racial or religious discrimination. The family seem to have moved around a lot as John Reagan sought better work.
Reagan believed that being bought up in a small town was advantageous to him as a politician:-. Growing up in a small town is a good foundation for anyone who decides to enter politics. You get to know people as individuals, not as blocs or members of special interest groups. You discover that, despite their differences, most people have a lot in common: Every individual is unique, but we all want freedom and liberty, peace, love and security, a good home, and a chance to worship God in our own way. He describes his mother taking part in theatrical performances.
One day she tried to persuade her youngest son to memorize a speech and then to deliver it – but he was reluctant. His brother was already expected to enter show business in some form, but Ronald describes himself as being much shyer. Eventually he agreed and to his delight people laughed and applauded. The future president feels that this was a huge turning point in his life. It is obvious from reading his autobiography how important Reagan felt these early influences and incidents were in molding his future and his character.
Early Political Life In the 1930s and 40s Reagan had been a loyal supporter of the Democratic Party, in part because it was due to the ‘New Deal’ that he obtained work After the end of the Second World War he switched his allegiance to the Republican Party and supported Dwight Eisenhower in both 1952 and 1956 and then Richard Nixon in 1960 against John F. Kennedy. In 1964 that Reagan became a national political figure as a result of a televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater, this despite the fact that for a majority Goldwater was viewed as a dangerous, right-wing extremist according tot the National Archives Web page, Ronald Reagan.
It was an important speech because it convinced several members of the Californian business community that here was a man with the charm needed to promote their brand of right-wing extremism. Reagan had already proved himself to be a right winger when, as President of the Actors Guild, he had refused to have anything to do with fellow actors who expressed left wing views. Reagan was approached about the possibility of becoming the Republican Party candidate for the Governorship of California.
With promises of tax cuts, and helped by a smear campaign against his opponent Pat Brown, he had an easy victory. Having once taken up the post of governor Reagan quickly established himself as a leading no-nonsense conservative political figure. The promised tax cuts never came however. In fact during his period in office there was the largest tax increase any state had ever demanded in the country’s history. He initiated dramatic budget cuts which included a hiring freeze for state agencies. Student fees were raised and when protests ensued state troopers were sent to deal with their protest meetings.
When re-elected in 1970 with only a 2 % majority Reagan introduced a series of welfare reforms such as tightening eligibility requirements for welfare aid and requiring the able bodied to seek work rather than continue to receive benefits. Some saw this as an attack on black people, but in fact it was white women who were in the majority when it came to collecting benefits. President Gerald Ford twice offered him cabinet posts, but these offers were refused and in 1975 Reagan tried unsuccessfully to oppose Ford for the presidential candidacy of the Republican Party.
Stephen Moore in his review of Craig Shirley’s book ‘ Reagan Revolution’ said:- It is my firm conviction after reading this book that if Reagan had won the Republican nomination against Jerry Ford in ’76 he would have been swept into the White House that year in a landslide, America’s economic collapse of the late 1970s would have been averted, and the Cold War would have ended a decade earlier. By 1980 Reagan was already 68 years old, a fact which went against him. Together with this he was inclined to make factual mistakes when interviewed.
On a more positive note he promised a “patriotic crusade” which would reduce the size and scope of government as well as rebuilding American military power and self-respect and so restore traditional American values. During the campaign news broke that then president Jimmy Carter was trying to negotiate a deal with the Iranian authorities in order to get the American hostages held there released. If Carter was successful and got the hostages released before the election he might well be elected for a second-term. Micheal Deaver, Reagan’s presidential campaign manager later told the New York Times:
One of the things we had concluded early on was that a Reagan victory would be nearly impossible if the hostages were released before the election… There is no doubt in my mind that the euphoria of a hostage release would have rolled over the land like a tidal wave. Carter would have been a hero, and many of the complaints against him forgotten. He would have won. Achievements as President Only a few weeks into his presidency Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin. He was able to treat the whole affair with aplomb and was soon back in his office. The way he dealt with the matter hugely increased his popularity.
In his first State of the Union address Reagan made mention of many famous men – Washington, Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and General Douglas MacArthur so he was lining himself up alongside these greats , but they were in the past. He did look back to the past, but only as a means of dealing with the future:- Forging this new partnership for America we could achieve the oldest hopes of our Republic— prosperity for our nation, peace for the world, and the blessings of individual liberty for our children and, someday, all of humanity.
This speech was to set the tone for his presidency, which would end the Cold War with the Soviet Union, as well as reversing the twin problems of excessive inflation and high unemployment figures. He thus dealt with three of the nation’s most important problems in the 1970’s. He was able for instance to obtain an overhaul of the complicated income tax code. This meant that it afterwards exempted millions of people with low incomes. By the end of Reagan’s double term the Nation was enjoying its longest recorded period of peacetime prosperity, with neither depression or recession of the economy.
Once he had made his mind up he did not easily deviate as when, having embarked upon a course of tax cuts as well as reductions in Government expenditures, he continued what felt what was an important strengthening of America’s defense forces even though this led to a large deficit. Prior to becoming president Reagan had no experience of foreign affairs, yet many would claim this as his strongest area. In foreign policy the aim was “peace through strength. ” Defense spending increased by a huge 35 percent, but at the same time relations with the Soviet Union greatly improved.
The White House web page, ‘President Ronald Reagan’ tells how, in personal meetings with the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan was able to negotiate a treaty that would bring an end to intermediate-range nuclear missiles. He acted strongly against foreign terrorism and when it was discovered that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub American bombers were sent to Libya. He was able to maintain the free flow of oil during the Iran-Iraq war by sending in escorts to the oil ships.
In his earlier career he had stood out against communism and as president he gave support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Central America, Asia, and Africa. No president has total success, but nevertheless Reagan’s double term was marked by a number of successes. He was hailed as the great communicator, this despite the fact that when unscripted he made obvious mistakes. According to the Center for Public Affairs Reagan’s greatest contribution was giving freedom to millions, as it was during his term of office that the Cold War between East and West finally began to thaw.
The web site writer puts this down to his strength of character and his inbuilt knowledge of what is right and what is not. Later Life “Reagan may not have been a great president, but he was a great American who had a compelling vision of his country. ” said his biographer Lou Cannon as reported on the Ronald Reagan web page in the National Archives. After serving two full terms in office, Ronald Reagan would have been able to look back with satisfaction, especially at the achievements of his innovative program known as the Reagan Revolution, otherwise known as Reaganomics.
The aim of this program was outlined in his campaign pledge of 1980 when he said he intended to restore ‘the great confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism’ It intended to reinvigorate the American people making them more self reliant and less dependent upon government aid. In his final formal speech in January 1989 President Reagan looked back on his terms of office. He remembered his many critics – critics he had on the whole confounded. Those who had said his foreign policies would cause war or his economic policies would bring about collapse.
To them he said :- The fact is what they call `radical’ was really `right. What they called `dangerous’ was just `desperately needed. ‘ Conclusion The present governor of California, another movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the day after Reagan’s death in June 2004 would become Ronald Reagan Day. Part of the proclamation, as reported on the Travel and History web page dedicated to Reagan read :- Ronald Reagan was the quintessential American patriot, an eternal optimist who led our nation with unmatched courage, soul and wit. With invigorating energy, he set out to accomplish daunting tasks laden with grave risks, but great rewards.
For this, our nation’s 40th president became a hero, not only in he eyes of Americans, but to people in every corner of the globe who were looking to be led with unyielding strength and vision. Mikhail Gorbachev, ( paragraph 14 Ronald Reagan, National Archives) writing from a very different stand yet with an equally positive point said :- Ronald Reagan was a statesman who, despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway and change our relations for the better, stop the nuclear race, start scrapping nuclear weapons, and arrange normal relations between our countries.
I do not know how other statesmen would have acted at that moment, because the situation was too difficult. Reagan, whom many considered extremely rightist, dared to make these steps, and this is his most important deed. Ronald Reagan, although he enlisted, did not fight in the Second World War, yet he was for many a hero, not least in his final speech in 1994 in which he bravely announced that he had Alzheimer’s disease. Shankar Vedantum writing in the Washington Post on June 4th 2004 says that his openness served in part to take away the stigma of such a disease.
Using the Reagan name has meant many millions were raised for research and pressure was bought on his long time admirer President Bush to relieve federal restriction on necessary stem cell research. 10 years after that brave declaration his wife Nancy described his condition just weeks before his death in 2004 at the age of 93:- Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.