Reagan, Ronald

The Hollywood actor, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was the fortieth President of the United States of America. His terms of office were between 1981-9. Ronald Reagan was born the second of two sons to Nelle and John Reagan on 6 February 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. He attended high school in Dixon and then continued his studies at Eureka College, where he and majored in economics and sociology.

It was in Dixon, where the young Reagan came to be known for his exploits as a lifeguard. He spent his summers life guarding at Lowell Park, Rock River, where in the course of six years, he assisted 77 strugglers out of the water. He played on the football team, and also took part in school plays foreshadowing his own movie star career. Following his graduation in 1932, he became a radio sports announcer. A screen test in 1937 netted him a contract in Hollywood. He appeared in 53 films during the next twenty years.

When Ronald Reagan became President of the Screen Actor’s Guild (1946-1948), he guided the Guild through a trying strike period, which was also characterized by a hunt for Communists in Hollywood. It became clear at a later stage that the Communist Party in the USA was behind the strikes. It was acting on instructions from its counterparts in the Soviet Union.

Reagan had two children, Maureen and Michael from his first marriage (to actress Jane Wyman). His divorce from Wyman was finalized on 28 June 1949. In 1952 he married another actress, Nancy Davis, and they had two children, Patricia Ann and Ronald Prescott. His first of two autobiographies Where’s the Rest of Me was published in 1965.

Political career

In 1966 he became Republican Governor of California by a margin of a million votes, and was re-elected in 1970. He won a landslide victory in the 1980 presidential election based on a programme of reduced taxation and increased defence expenditure against world communism. As his running mate he chose former Texas Congressman and United Nations Ambassador George Bush. On 20 January 1981 he was inaugurated as President, but 69 days later a would-be assassin shot him outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. He recovered quickly and returned to his office. At the age of 69, he was the oldest man ever sworn into the Presidency.

Reagan reduced federal social and welfare programmes, cut back on taxes, and increased defence spending by heavy government borrowing. He campaigned against so-called Soviet involvement in Latin America, especially in Nicaragua and Grenada. There was a steady improvement in relations with China during the Presidency, linked with a large increase in trade.

There was national legislation to strengthen Civil Rights, but increasing disputes regarding budget policies. These in-house disagreements, together with balance-of-payments deficits, gave rise to a serious stock-market collapse in October 1987. Congress increasingly obliged Reagan to reduce proposed defence payments in order to give more balanced budgets.

Reagan stood for a second term in 1984, overwhelmingly defeating the Democrat, Walter Mondale, thereby creating a renewal of national self-confidence for Reagan and Bush. Intransigence on the Strategic Defense Initiative blocked advance on nuclear arms control in 1986, at the end of which the so-called ‘Iran-gate’ scandal broke. In spite of strong anti-terrorist talk, the administration was exposed for the commencement of secret negotiations for arms sales to Iran. The profits went illegally to Contra forces in Nicaragua.

Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon on 13 July 1985, which led to the first-ever invocation of the Acting President clause of the 25th Amendment, and on 5 January 1987 he underwent prostrate surgery, which caused more uncertainties about his health.

The Democrats gained control of the Senate in the 1986 mid-term elections. Meetings on nuclear arms control started in Geneva in 1985, was followed up at Reykjavik in 1986, and in Washington in 1987. The presidency ended with an ever-rising annual Federal budget deficit.

When Reagan left his office in 1989, he said that he would remain active on “the mashed potato circuit” and, hopefully, spend some much longed for time at his beloved California ranch. Unfortunately these activities were short-lived. In 1992, only four years after retiring from office, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. In an emotional letter to the American people in 1994, he announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By 2004, Reagan could no longer walk, speak coherently, and had trouble with even the most basic tasks. He died on 5 June 2004.