The Life of Ronald Reagan

Life Before Politics

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6th, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois to John and Nelle Reagan. He had one brother, Neil Reagan who was 3 years his senior. Because he disliked his name, Reagan went by “Dutch” for most of his childhood. Ronald moved a lot as a child, so he never really made permanent friends, so the Reagan’s grew very close, so much so that by high school he was calling his parents by their first names. For most of his childhood he was a rather introverted boy, playing with his tin soldiers or reading books on natural history. When the family finally settled in Dixon, Illinois, Wilson made lots of friends and “bloomed where he was planted”. He enjoyed swimming, fishing, hunting, and trapping, getting himself into lots of mischief, one time firing an illegal rocket at a bridge and earning a trip to the police station. As he grew up enjoyed sports and took part in numerous plays in church and school, earning respect and popularity along the way, eventually becoming president of the Student Body. At Eureka College, he swam and played football, becoming captains on both teams, and eventually became president of the Boosters and Student Council clubs. After college he had a lot of odd jobs here and there until he got a job as sportscaster in Des Moines and settled down. In 1937, the Sportscaster Reagan convinced his boss to let him cover the Cubs spring training in Los Angeles, but was really trying to make it in the movie industry. He lied to his new agent so he could at least score and interview with some Hollywood directors, and it worked. At Warner Bro’s. he turned down a further interview because he had to get back to Des Moines, which he immediately regretted. But a week after he got back his agent called him and told him that WB offered him a 1 year contract and $200 a month, to which he promptly agreed. While on the set of Brother Rat, he met the Oscar-winning actress Jane Wyman, and soon there were rumors of a possible romance between the two. Soon they were married and had two children. But after a miscarriage that traumatized Ms. Wyman, the couple got divorced. As he became more famous he started to perform in bigger movies until he starred in Knute Rockne, All American, which boosted him to stardom. He also played an amnesiac who lost his legs, which almost won him an Oscar. He considered it his finest role. While serving as a propaganda movie maker in WW2, he invited many of his Hollywood friends to help, making some of the most successful movies of the war. While making his movies, Reagan was one of the first Americans to see the horrific pictures of the German Concentration camp, and he would never forget it. After the war, he became increasingly political and throughout the 50’s he gave very conservative anti-communist speeches, but was a Democratic Liberal. But eventually became a middle-road Conservative. After finding his party, he turned to politics, running in the extremely liberal state for Governor of California…


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Reagan the Governor

In 1966, when Reagan announced his candidacy for Governor of California, he campaigned awfully, finding it difficult to give speeches to the large crowds of liberal Californians. His platform was lower taxes, less crime, welfare reform, and reduced government spending, of which he accused the Democrat nominee Pat Brown of doing. As Reagan got more comfortable in front of the cameras, his opponent got so confident that he vacationed in Europe for most of the campaign, which allowed Reagan to sweep in. After the results came out, the new Governor had 53 of the 58 counties and got more than a million more votes than Mr. Brown. Like most politicians, Ronald couldn’t do everything he promised while running. His priority was reduced government spending, which he addressed by budgeting 10% of each department, but the government was still in it’s record deficit, so he had to raise taxes (going against his platform) and eventually even sell the state jet. After the deficit crisis Reagan’s job was a little smoother, but he had to deal with an increasingly large anti-war movement in California that was sweeping across the nation in the late 60’s. After violent protests at University of California at Berkeley, he sent in the National Guard, one of the most controversial decisions while in office. But the people of California still loved him, and re elected him into office again in 1970, and after a successful term was encouraged to run again, but declined saying that governor should, like the president, be limited to two turns. Running against an incumbent like Gerald Ford is an extremely difficult task, but Ronald Reagan felt like he was up for it. Since he was at a disadvantage, his campaign revolved around bashing Ford and Nixon, strongly opposing Mr. Ford’s pardon to the “Draft Dodgers” of the Vietnam War, as well as the nuclear agreements with the Soviet Union. But he mostly criticized how big and powerful the government is, and how social welfare should be handed to states. He beat Gerald Ford, but lost to the Democrat nominee Jimmy Carter, which had a silver lining as he would be the favorite for the Republican ticket in 1980. His 1980 campaign was pretty much the same thing as he attacked Jimmy Carter and his unsuccessful dealings with the Soviet Union. He said that the USSR was winning the Cold War because the US military was so small, and proposed a massive build up. After beating George Bush for the Republican ticket, he beat Jimmy Carter in a landslide victory getting 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49 and won 45 million popular votes to Carters 34. The former actor had finally made it to office and it was his time to shine.


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POTUS Years

The government under the Reagan Administration changed dramatically and adopted new policies both foreign and domestic. President Reagan changed the job itself forever by using speeches and the Television to the utmost advantage, something never before seen by the American people, earning him the nickname “The Great Communicator”. Three months into his presidency, Reagan was shot by a mentally disturbed man named John Hinckley, who shot him to impress the actor Jodie Foster. The bullet pierced his lung and barely missed his heart, and returned to office very quickly and more popular than ever. Soon after he returned 150,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike, and when they refused to return to work, Reagan had them fired. A portion of the US population were also angry at the President because he refused look at the drug and AIDS population as a problem the government could solve, but as a problem with America’s declining morals. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, the US economy was in a deep recession, and Reagan entered the office wanting to change it for the better. He proposed to do this cutting taxes, balancing the budget, and reducing government spending. His biggest policy in economics was the theory that if the government reduced taxes to the upper class, it would then “trickle down” into the middle and lower classes, which would then reduce government spending on welfare etc. This policy was soon dubbed “Reaganomics” because he backed this policy with such fervor. He slashed the taxes so much that the US was gaining barely any income tax, but it increased his popularity with the American people. While his domestic policies were very controversial, his foreign policies found a more common ground with the American people. From the start Reagan had declared the USSR an “Evil Empire” and was convinced that they were a large threat to America. His primary goal was to stop it from getting larger, but not getting involved in direct wars, like Vietnam. He also expressed the “ Window of Vulnerability” in which a preemptive nuclear strike by the Soviets could knock out the US nuclear defense systems, saying there needed to be a massive military build up. After massive protests, Reagan needed to appease the “dove” part of the population by beginning START, a nuclear arms deal to lower the amount of nuclear weapons. Although it failed, it gave way to later talks with the new leader Mikhail Gorbachev in which Reagan and Gorbachev hammered out a bunch of agreements. The consensus reached was that the USSR would withdraw its nuclear weapons and troops from it’s Eastern Europe satellites and the US would end the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative and reduce its nuclear arsenal. These talks arguably began the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. While there were many many other foreign events and policies under the Reagan Administration, this event was the biggest most eventful of the time..
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His Legacy

After he left office, he and his second wife Nancy retired to a residence in Bel Air, California where he wrote the autobiography, “An American Life.” He travelled around the globe giving speeches for $30-40,000, receiving criticism for accepting two million dollars to speak in Japan. Than tragedy struck. When he was in court for the Iran-Contra scandal that happened during his term, he frustratingly exclaimed he really didn't remember. After doctors ran some tests, they figured out that he was one of the millions of Americans that suffer Alzheimers, and really couldn’t remember the scandal. After he was diagnosed, he disappeared from public life, until he died in 2004. When one looks back, one sees how much he changed the job of being the President of the United States. Before him, being comfortable in front of the camera was bonus, after him it was a necessity. During his terms, the US had the largest peacetime defense budget, something that would take a long time to shrink. Out of his talks with Gorbachev, came the collapse of the Soviet Union and a large reducement in nuclear weapons. During his two terms, the middle and upper class thrived and the economy recovered from it’’s recession. He reduced the government and gavere power to the states, policies that stand today. All said Reagan was a momentous president and changed America forever.


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Reagan's 1985 Inaugural Speech

Jan. 21, 1985: Inaugural Ceremonies for Ronald Reagan

Bibliography

  1. "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

  2. "The Life of Ronald Reagan." History.com. N.p., n.d. Web.

  3. "Miller Center." American President: Ronald Wilson Reagan: Life Before the Presidency. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

  4. "Ronald Reagan." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.