Ronald Wilson Reagan

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Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911- June 5, 2004) was the fortieth President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, following Democrat Jimmy Carter and preceding Republican George H. W. Bush. Considered by some conservatives to be the greatest American president, Ronald Reagan is often credited with leading America peacefully through the Cold War (though this ended after he left office in 1989), lowering taxes (despite supporting major tax increases in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Highway Revenue Act)[1], promoting a free economy, and staunchly opposing socialism and communism. Perhaps most controversially, Reagan is often credited by conservatives for ending the Cold War in victory for the United States. Few historians and scholars share this interpretation. Some (such as Tony Judt in Postwar) credit the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev or (such as Jan Kubik in The Power of Symbols against the Symbols of Power) cite Pope John Paul II[2], while many more (see for instance Gail Stokes' The Walls Came Tumbling Down, Timothy Garton Ash's Inside the Magic Lantern and Vladimir Tismaneanu's Reinventing Politics) contend structural weaknesses and domestic opposition movements within the Communist bloc played the decisive role in the collapse of communism, meaning Reagan's actions were inconsequential to the end of communism. Reagan was strongly opposed to the concept of big government, advocating a reduction in the size and budget of the federal government, although during his terms in office the government size and budget both increased rather than decreasing. During his terms in office, he faced a divided government split between Republican and Democratic control. Reagan also served two terms as governor of California from 1967–1975. He is often referred to as "The Great Communicator".

In one of his most famous challenges to Soviet communism in Europe, Reagan gave a speech in West Berlin where he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." However, the impact of this exhortation is questionable. Critics noted that Gorbachev, as the leader of the Soviet Union, did not actually have the final say in the status of the Berlin Wall, since it was located entirely on the territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and thus at the discretion of East German party leader Erich Honecker, who stubbornly resisted Gorbachev's exhortations for reform. Thus, as critics maintain, Reagan's speech did more to burnish his image as an ardent anti-Communist in the West than it did to influence developments within the Eastern bloc.

His economic policy became known as "Reaganomics," which provided lucrative tax breaks to the rich with the theory that the wealthy would spend their tax savings on consumer goods, causing money to trickle down to the poor. In the Republican primary debates in 1980, George H.W. Bush, later Reagan's running mate and successor as president, criticized Reagan's "trickle-down" policies as "voodoo economics." Other critics of "Reaganomics" noted that the idea of "trickle-down" economics was a highly inefficient means for boosting the incomes of lower-class Americans, since it would be easier and more direct simply to give tax credits and other incentives directly to the poor, giving rise to the criticism that the whole idea of "trickle-down" economics was window dressing meant to make large tax breaks for the rich more publicly palatable.

Early Life

Reagan was born and raised in Illinois and attended Eureka College, where he quickly developed a reputation as a "jack of all trades", excelling in the areas of athletics and theater. He became a radio sports announcer after graduation, and then a famous actor, leading the Screen Actors Guild. Ironically, Reagan was thus the only president to ever lead a labor union, traditionally considered bastions of liberalism. (It should be noted that Reagan considered himself a liberal during the early parts of his life). Reagan wanted to enlist in the military during World War II, but his eyesight was not good enough. Instead, he heroically used his acting skills to make military training films [1].

Presidential Legacy

Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiativeof 1983 became popularly known as "Star Wars," the name given to it by critics because they thought its concept of atmospheric missile defense was pure fantasy like the popular George Lucas films. This plan was never actually instituted and no space-based missile defense system has ever been tested successfully. While supporters of Reagan claim SDI gave the United States a large amount of leverage in its standoff with the Soviet Union, most political scientists and historians note that Star Wars played a fairly minor role in the calculus of Soviet policy-making, where internal structural problems were paramount.

Miscellaneous Facts

Reagan's 1994 announcement that he had Alzheimer's Disease brought large amounts of public attention to the disease.

Reagan was a lifeguard for seven years growing up, and was said to have saved 77 people [2].

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located in Simi Valley, California [3].

Reagan is also the only president ever to have starred in a film co-starring a chimpanzee, "Bedtime for Bonzo" (1951).