Ronald Reagan was one of the most important and remarkable presidents in American history. With all his achievements during his administration, he had considerably impacted the government and its systems. Looking back at his life history proved to be the initial step into taking a glimpse at the qualities and accomplishments of Ronald Reagan. Back to the time when the old American ideal demonstrated that the most seemingly ordinary people among us possess inner strengths, not easily visible, that will let them accomplish extraordinary things if given the chance.
Notably, the best aspects of Reagan’s personality and character were his modesty that caused him through his successes to be appealingly startled at how far he had traveled in life; his equanimity that allowed him to joke about his near-fatal shooting and writer that breath-taking farewell letter to Americans about his Alzheimer’s disease; his persistence that kept him faithful to basic principles; his sunny optimism that revived an America demoralized by the Vietnam defeat, the Watergate scandal, and frustration with the failures and the excesses of big government.
The future generations are likely to be impressed not much by Reagan’s personality and character but by his political skills that made him an exceptional leader. He was often exalted as a “great communicator” for his powerful speeches like the one praising “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day of his eulogy for the perished Challenger astronauts.
More telling were the spontaneous moments when Reagan summoned just the right words to change the American mind – at the 1976 Republican convention, when the defeated candidate gave an impromptu call to arms so stirring that some delegates lamented that they had nominated the wrong man, or in the 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, when he asked voters whether they were “better off that you were four years ago.
Like Dwight Eisenhower, he was self-confident enough to give others the credit when necessary and like Eisenhower, as president, he took the personal invective and poison out of what could have been some of the most bitter partisan battles of American history over economic, foreign, and social policy (Beschloss 2001). Above all, Reagan did what people should expect more than almost anything else from a political leader – risk his political career for high principle. In 1980, some of his advisers recommended that he pretend to be more benign toward the Soviet Union than he really was in order not to scare away moderate voters.
Reagan responded by saying that Americans had the right to know where he stood and that if after telling them, they gave him the presidency, he could claim a mandate to fulfill his campaign promises. Many Americans who disagreed with his foreign policy views voted for him anyway, taking Reagan’s boldness and candor as a sign that he would practice strong leadership in the White House. The result was a president who left an indelible stamp on history. Reagan argued that the Soviet empire was teetering and that if the West poured the pressure on Moscow, Americans had the chance to end the Cold War in people’s lifetime.
Distasteful as he found large budget deficits, he was willing to swallow them if they were essential to fuel a defense buildup that would impress the Kremlin with the renewed determination of America and the West. A considerable body of post-Soviet evidence suggests that Reagan’s defense increases and threats to build a strategic defense system did much to cause Soviet leaders to sue for peace. Reagan also championed and defined the conservative movement that took command of American politics in 1980.
He was the voice of Americans who were tired of what they saw as Washington-ordered social engineering and excessive meddling with the private sector and who wanted to revise and edit what they considered the excesses of the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society. Reagan did what presidents rarely manage to do: he created a political engine that outlived his presidency to carry on his ideas. Each of his successors has labored in his shadow. George Bush the elder worked to convince Reagan Republicans that he was one of them.
Bill Clinton felt compelled to assure Americans that “the era of big government is over. George W. Bush cast his candidacy and presidency as a vehicle to fulfill Reagan’s unfinished “revolution. People live today in a country and world that are largely the ones that Ronald Reagan made. Domestically, most Americans now believe that sending power to Washington should be a last resort and that the private sector is the most powerful source of prosperity. Abroad, as Reagan once controversially predicted, the “evil empire” is dead, Europe is united and people around the world are turning not to Lenin but to Jefferson. There were few who argue that Reagan was faultless.
Future critics probably wonder why Reagan, with his great heart, did not worry more about the disproportionate price that some Americans paid for “supply-side economics” or hold out more of a hand to African-Americans. They will lament that this otherwise commanding leader could have entangled himself in a scandal like Iran-Contra. With the Great Communicator at its head, the White House mounted the most effective public relations operation in history. Ronald Reagan shared few of these feelings of disquiet. He knew that the world was safer than when he took office and that a bright future lay ahead. Historians rank Ronald Reagan too low.
He did not destroy the liberal Democrats’ standing among lower- and middle-class Americans; his political success was a product of that change. Over a period of several decades liberals had eroded their base among middle-class voters. For the American political structure to maintain stability, the powerful American middle class must get most of what it wants most of the time. Reagan gave them that without much pandering or trimming of his message. If he fooled his countrymen, as some of his liberal critics charged, it was because they wanted to be fooled, which is the majority’s privilege in a democracy.
Reagan adjusted details in his conservative message as times changed and he surrounded it with new visual images, but the tune never changed much: America was God’s chosen nation destined to create his City on a Hill; the nation’s best days lay ahead in a future unbounded by limits; government was the problem, not the solution; Americans were overtaxed and overregulated; hard work, family, and community were the essential foundation of a healthy society; peace depended on strength; and the communist Soviet Union was an evil empire.
His countrymen said that Reagan made them feel proud to be Americans, and by their votes they indicated that that pride was more important to them than any deleterious effects they saw in his economic program. Reagan would later say that his greatest achievement was restoring the faith of Americans in their own capacities. His model was the iconic Franklin Roosevelt, the “happy warrior” who had inspired Reagan as a young man. Stylistically, at least, FDR was inside of Reagan.
Beyond doubt, the most politically stabilizing economic accomplishment of the Reagan years was the long-term reduction of inflation (Beschloss & Cannon 2001). The annual inflation rate, 12. 5 percent in the last year of the Carter presidency, was 4. 4 percent in 1988. Moreover, the unemployment rate fell from 7. 1 percent to 5. 5 percent and the prime interest rate by nearly six points to 9. 3 percent. These numbers reflected a fundamental change made possible by the Federal Reserve Board’s harsh strictures to control inflation and Reagan’s support of them.