Ronald Reagan
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Was Ronald Reagan a Good President?
President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan served as the 40th President of the United States from Jan. 20, 1981 to Jan. 19, 1989. He won the Nov. 4, 1980 presidential election, beating Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter with 50.7% of the votes, and won his second term by a landslide of 58.8% of the votes.

Reagan's proponents point to his accomplishments, including stimulating economic growth in the US, strengthening its national defense, revitalizing the Republican Party, and ending the global Cold War as evidence of his good presidency.

His opponents contend that Reagan's poor policies, such as bloating the national defense, drastically cutting social services, and making missiles-for-hostages deals, led the country into record deficits and global embarrassment. Read more...

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Reagan ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements on whether or not Ronald Reagan was a good president.

Did You Know?
  1. When Ronald Reagan was first elected on Nov. 4, 1980 at the age of 69, he was the oldest man ever to be elected President of the United States. He broke his own record with his reelection on Nov. 6, 1984 at age 73. [1]

  2. On Mar. 30, 1981, 69 days into Reagan's first term, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate the President outside the Washington Hilton hotel. Reagan was shot under his left arm, the bullet lodging in his lung and stopping within an inch of his heart. [2]

  3. Ronald Reagan appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to replace Justice Potter Stewart. O'Connor was confirmed by Congress on Sep. 21, 1981 by a vote of 99-0. [3]

  4. In his two terms as President, Reagan cut the budgets of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (by 40%), the Department of Commerce (by 32%), the Department of Agriculture (by 24%), the Department of Education (by 19%), and the Department of Transportation (by 18%). He never cut the budgets for the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, or State. [4]

  5. The federal debt was $994 billion when Reagan took office in 1981, and grew to $2.9 trillion when his second term ended in 1989. [36]
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Teacher Survey
Pro & Con Arguments: "Was Ronald Reagan a Good President?"
PRO Ronald Reagan a Good President

  1. Character: Reagan's charm, geniality, and ability to connect with average citizens as well as world leaders earned him the nickname "The Great Communicator." Through his speeches and actions, Reagan restored the confidence of the American public in the office of the president. Decades after he left office, Reagan's legacy remained strong with admirers wanting to add his portrait to Mount Rushmore and to US currency. [6]


  2. Crime: On Oct. 2 1982, Reagan launched a "War on Drugs" that helped reduce the high rate of casual drug use lingering from the 1970s. [7] He increased funding for the drug war from $1.5 billion in 1981 to $2.75 billion in 1986. [8] Reagan also signed eight major Executive Orders related to crime and justice as well as five major crime bills: Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1984, Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. [9]


  3. Defense: Reagan strengthened the weak, ineffectual, and vulnerable military which Carter left behind. The Reagan administration funded research and development of weapons systems, including stealth technology and precision weaponry, later used in both Persian Gulf wars. Reagan's largest peacetime defense buildup in history, which included larger training ranges and military pay increases, helped invigorate the American military from its Vietnam War-era despondency. [10]


  4. Economy: Reagan's economic policies, such as a reduction in government spending and regulation and cuts in taxes, resulted in an unprecedented 92-month long economic boom, from Nov. 1982 to July 1990, with expansion and growth in the GDP (+36%), employment (+20 million jobs), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+15%). [11]


  5. Education: After "A Nation at Risk", a negative report on the nation's educational system, was released in Apr. 1983, President Reagan increased the budget for the Department of Education by $6 billion over the next three years.[12] During the Reagan Administration, state education aid increased 20%, or almost $35 billion and, in 1988, it comprised a nearly 50% slice of revenue from all sources for education. [13]


  6. Environment: Between 1982 and 1988, Reagan signed 43 bills designating more than 10 million acres of federal wilderness areas in 27 states. This acreage accounted for nearly 10% of the National Wilderness Preservation System at the time. Reagan had signed more wilderness bills than any other president since the Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964. [14]


  7. Foreign Policy: Reagan helped bring an end to the 46-year-old Cold War, through a combination of hostile, anti-communist rhetoric and a massive arms buildup followed by skillful diplomacy and disarmament. On Nov. 9, 1989, just over two years after his famous Brandenburg Gate speech, the Berlin Wall fell, marking the end of communism in Germany. [15] On Dec. 15, 1991, after four bilateral summits with Reagan, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union. [2][16]


  8. Health: On Apr. 7, 1986, Reagan signed the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) into law. As of Sep. 30, 2010, COBRA is still in effect and gives some workers who lose their health benefits, for example in situations such as job loss or reduction in hours worked, the right to choose to continue health benefits provided by their employer's group health plan. [17]


  9. Labor: When Reagan followed through on his Aug. 3, 1981 threat to fire 12,176 striking air traffic controllers (PATCO), he held the controllers to their signed affidavit stating that they would not "participate [in any strike] while an employee of the Government of the United States." [18] Reagan brought in military air traffic controllers as replacements to ensure there was no disruption of a major public service. [19] His actions helped curtail future frivolous strikes as they plummeted from an average of 300 each year in the decades before the PATCO strike to fewer than 30 in 2006. [20]


  10. Science/Technology: Reagan was a big supporter of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). In his 1984 State of the Union Address, Reagan announced plans for what came to be the International Space Station. [64] On Jan. 30, 1987, Reagan also announced that he planned to fund the building of the Superconducting Super Collider, a $4.5 billion dollar particle accelerator used for high energy physics research. [21][22]


  11. Social Policy: To "finally break the poverty trap," as Reagan stated in his 1987 State of the Union Address, he signed the Family Support Act on Oct. 12, 1988. [5] The Act required states to establish and operate a Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program (JOBS) to assure needy families with children obtain the training and employment necessary to avoid long-term welfare. [23] Reagan also helped save Social Security by passing the Social Security Reform Act of 1983. It provided extra revenue dedicated to securing the solvent future of Social Security. [24]


  12. Taxes: Through massive tax cuts, Reagan helped restore an economy that had both high inflation and unemployment left over from the 1970s. As he brought taxation down from 70% to 28%, Reagan proved that reducing excessive tax rates stimulates growth, increases economic activity, and boosts tax revenues. Government revenues from income tax rose from $244 billion in 1980 to $446 billion in 1989. [25]


  13. Other: Reagan helped to reduce inefficiencies in the federal bureaucracy. When Reagan took office, it took seven weeks to get a Social Security card and 43 days to get a passport. By the time he left office, both could be had in 10 days. [26]
CON Ronald Reagan a Good President

  1. Character: Reagan's hands-off leadership style manifested into an inability to control his administration from potentially illegal activities, e.g. the "Iran-Contra" scandal. [27] His "troika," the nickname given to Chief of Staff James Baker, Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, and Counselor Edwin Meese, made many of Reagan's key administrative decisions for him. [28]


  2. Crime: In a Sep. 28, 1981 speech to the International Chiefs of Police, Reagan claimed that people who commit violent crimes "are not desperate people seeking bread for their families; crime is the way they've chosen to live." [30] This attitude failed to address the stark realities underlying crime, namely the national culture of poverty and discrimination. Violent crime nationwide increased 21% from 1981-1989. [31] The "War on Drugs" wasted billions of dollars and escalated drug-related crime. [32][33]


  3. Defense: Reagan increased the defense budget for an unprecedented six consecutive years. This spending produced an unsustainable bubble in the defense industry that led to decades of restructuring. By the early 1990s the defense industry had too many factories and too many workers to support with its smaller budgets. For example, in the early 1980s there were 50 large defense suppliers to the US government. By 2004 there were five. [34][35]


  4. Economy: Reagan pledged during his 1980 campaign for president to balance the federal budget, but never submitted a balanced budget in his eight years in office. In 1981, the deficit was $79 billion and, in 1986, at the peak of his deficit spending, it stood at $221 billion. The federal debt was $994 billion when he took office in 1981 and grew to $2.9 trillion when his second term ended in 1989. [36] Reagan also added more trade barriers than any other president since Hoover in 1930. US imports that were subject to some form of trade restraint increased from 12% in 1980 to 23% in 1988. [37]


  5. Education: In his two terms in office, Reagan slashed federal aid to schools by more than $1 billion, and he cut the Department of Education budget by 19%. [4] One of Reagan's campaign promises was to abolish the Department of Education, which he considered a "bureaucratic boondoggle." After intermittent attempts to fulfill this promise, he gave up in 1983 due to lack of Congressional support. [38]


  6. Environment: As a president who said "trees cause more pollution than automobiles do," Reagan issued leases for oil, gas, and coal development on tens of millions of acres of national lands. Reagan's appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Anne Gorsuch, tried to gut the 1972 Clean Water Act, cut EPA funding by 25%, and mismanaged a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps. [39][40]


  7. Foreign Policy: Reagan broke his own vows not to make deals with terrorists or states that aided them. In the "Iran-Contra" scandal, Reagan's administration bypassed congressional restrictions on aiding Nicaragua's Contra guerilla fighters, in part by diverting money to them from the sale of missiles to Iran. [27] Reagan also initiated military involvement in Libya, Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Lebanon. [6]


  8. Health: Reagan almost completely ignored the growing AIDS epidemic. Although the first case of AIDS was discovered in the early 1980s, Reagan never publicly addressed the epidemic until May 31, 1987 when he spoke at an AIDS conference in Washington, DC. By that time, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with the disease and 20,849 had died. [41]


  9. Labor: On Aug. 3, 1981, Reagan ordered 12,176 striking air traffic controllers (PATCO) back to their jobs, disregarding the workers' complaints of stress, staff shortages, and outdated equipment. PATCO was one of the few unions that had endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election. Reagan repaid them by giving them only 48 hours to cancel the strike and banning them from federal service for life. The ban was not lifted until 1993 by President Bill Clinton. [42]


  10. Science/Technology: Reagan's over-ambitious space-based laser strategic defensive system, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or "Star Wars," proved to be too technically complex and expensive to complete. [26] From its inception in 1983 to its demise in 1993, the program cost taxpayers $33 billion dollars. [43]


  11. Social Policy: Reagan believed that widespread freeloading plagued welfare and social programs. As Reagan slashed spending in his first term on programs such as food stamps and subsidized housing, the poverty rate climbed from 12% to 15% and unemployment rose from 7% to 11%. [44]


  12. Taxes: Reagan's "voodoo" economic policy, where tax cuts were believed to somehow generate tax revenues, failed to account for his administration's excessive spending which increased from $591 billion in 1980 to $1.2 trillion in 1990. [45][46] Reagan both increased and cut taxes. In 1980, middle-income families with children paid 8.2% in income taxes and 9.5% in payroll taxes. By 1988 their income tax was down to 6.6%, but payroll tax was up to 11.8%, a combined increase in taxes. [24] Reagan pushed through Social Security tax increases of $165 billion over seven years. [47]


  13. Other: Reagan opposed many important civil rights measures that further alienated him and the Republican Party from African-Americans. On Mar. 16, 1988, Reagan vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act. He was opposed to extending provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He initially opposed making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. He was also loyal to apartheid South Africa, considering that country a friend and ally. [2][48]
Comment Comment
Background: "Was Ronald Reagan a Good President?"
Ronald Wilson Reagan served as the 40th President of the United States from Jan. 20, 1981 to Jan. 19, 1989. He won the Nov. 4, 1980 presidential election, beating Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter with 50.7% of the votes, and won his second term by a landslide of 58.8% of the votes. [2][49]

Reagan's proponents point to his accomplishments, including stimulating economic growth in the US, strengthening its national defense, revitalizing the Republican Party, and ending the global Cold War, as evidence of his good presidency.

His opponents contend that Reagan's poor policies, such as bloating the national defense, drastically cutting social services, and making illegal arms-for-hostages deals, led the country into record deficits and global embarrassment.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on Feb. 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. He graduated in 1932 from Eureka College with a BA in social sciences and economics and moved to Iowa to become a radio sports announcer. A screen test in 1937 won him a contract in Hollywood and, over two decades, he appeared in 53 films. In 1949 Ronald Reagan divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman, and married Nancy Davis in 1952. He was the only president to have been divorced (as of Oct. 11, 2010). After six years as president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving intermittently between 1947 and 1960, Reagan was elected Governor of California on Nov. 5, 1966 and reelected on Nov. 5, 1970. [2]

At the age of 69 in 1981 and 73 in 1985, Reagan was the oldest man ever elected President (as of Oct. 11, 2010). [1]
Reagan waves just before attempted assassination
(Click to read more)
President Reagan waves to onlookers just before attempted assassination.
Source: "Reagan Assassination Attempt," www.statemaster.com (accessed Sep. 9, 2010)


On Mar. 30, 1981, 69 days after Reagan's inauguration on Jan. 20, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate the President outside the Washington Hilton hotel. Reagan was shot under the left arm, the bullet lodged in his lung, and missed his heart by less than an inch. [2]

When Ronald Reagan took office the US economy had 9% inflation with 20% interest rates. [50] To combat these effects Reagan established what came to be known as "Reaganomics," economic policies that included increased defense spending, lower personal income taxes, reduced spending on social services, and decreased business regulation. [51]

The President and his cabinet emphasized supply-side economics, believing that slashing taxes will stimulate economic growth. They passed legislation such as the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which included the largest tax cuts in the postwar period, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. As a result, the top marginal tax rate on individual income was reduced from 70% to 28% and the overall tax code was restructured. [37][52]

13,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off the job in a nationwide strike on Aug. 3, 1981. Two days later, Reagan announced that they were in violation of legislation prohibiting strikes by government employees because of public safety and, if they did not report to work within 48 hours, their jobs would be terminated. Only 1,300 returned to their jobs. [42] It was an event that changed the landscape of US labor relations - major strikes plummeted from an average of 300 each year in the decades before to fewer than 30 in 2006. [20]

On Aug. 19, 1981, Ronald Reagan fulfilled his campaign pledge to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court  by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to replace Justice Potter Stewart. Congress confirmed O'Connor's appointment on Sep. 21, 1981 by a vote of 99-0. [3]

In the fall of 1981, the US economy took a turn for the worse, experiencing its worst recession since the Depression. The Federal Reserve increased interest rates to combat the 14% inflation rate. By Nov. 1982, unemployment reached 10.8%, thousands of businesses failed, farmers lost their land, and many sick, elderly, and poor became homeless. [2] The official unemployment rate reached 11.5 million in Jan. 1983, and Reagan's disapproval rating rose to 50%, from a low of 18% in early 1981. [53][54]
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Star Wars Railgun
(Click to enlarge image)
Artist's conception of the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), aka "Star Wars"
Source: "Rush to Failure," harvardmagazine.com, May-June 2000


On Mar. 8, 1983, Reagan gave what came to be known as his "Evil Empire Speech,"  that warned against ignoring "the aggressive impulses of an evil empire," the USSR. [55] That same month, on Mar. 23, President Reagan announced the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), nicknamed "Star Wars," a space-based defense system intended to deter an attack on the US by intercepting Soviet nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). [56] 

In Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove his truck into a US Marine barracks, killing 241 Marines. This tragedy caused the US to reconsider Reagan's placement of the Marines as peacekeepers of a cease-fire during the Lebanese civil war. US troops left Lebanon in Feb. 1984. [57] In that same month, on Oct. 25, 1,900 US Marines invaded the small island nation of Grenada. The invasion was partly over safety concerns for American medical students in the country and partly to weaken a recent Marxist coup; it emphasized Reagan's drive to undermine any spread of Communism. The move was both denounced by the United Nations and supported by many Americans. [6][58] The US accomplished its military objectives in Grenada: the students came home unharmed and the Marxist government was deposed. [2]

1984 Election Results Map
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Map of the 1984 US presidential election results.
Source: "Ronald Reagan," www.newworldencyclopedia.org (accessed Sep. 17, 2010)
Reagan won a second term in 1984 by a landslide, receiving 58.8% of the popular vote. He also won a record 525 of a possible 538 electoral college votes, the highest in US history (as of Oct. 11, 2010). Reagan won every state but Minnesota, the home state of his opponent Walter Mondale. [49]

Between Nov. 19, 1985 and Dec. 8, 1987, President Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, at four summits to discuss their countries' bilateral arms race. The meetings culminated in their Dec. 8, 1987 signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a bilateral treaty which required the elimination of all intermediate range ground-launched missiles. [2][59][66]

On Nov. 25, 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese publicly confirmed that $10-$30 million of profits from the sale of US arms to Iran had been diverted to the anti-communist guerilla Nicaraguan Contras. National Security Adviser John Poindexter resigned and National Security Aide Col. Oliver North was fired, both for their involvement in what came to be known as the "Iran-Contra" affair. President Reagan claimed that he did not learn of the Iran-Contra diversion until Meese told him about it on Nov. 24, 1986. [63] The Feb. 26, 1987 Tower Commission's Report, a study by an independent commission appointed by Reagan, found no evidence linking Reagan to the fund diversion. However, the report did determine that Reagan's disengagement from the management of the White House led to the actions of his administration. [2]
Ronald Reagan at Brandenburg Gate West Berlin, June 12, 1987
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President Reagan delivering a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987.
Source: "Reagan's Brandenburg Concerto," www.the-american-interest.com (accessed Sep. 28, 2010)


On June 12, 1987, Reagan delivered a famous address in West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate which had separated communist East Berlin from democratic West Berlin since 1961. In his speech, the president questioned whether reforms in the Soviet Union were profound or "token gestures," and challenged Gorbachev to prove his efforts at openness: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" [15]

In his two terms in office, Reagan continually tried to balance the budget by cutting federal spending. He cut the budgets of many federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (by 40%), the Department of Transportation (by 18%), the Department of Education (by 19%), the Department of Commerce (by 32%), and the Department of Agriculture (by 24%). Reagan never cut the budgets for the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, or State. [4]

President Reagan also presided over the biggest peacetime defense buildup in history. Reagan expanded defense spending from $178 billion in 1981 to $283 billion by 1988, an increase of 58.9%. [5]

During Reagan's presidency, total national debt increased from $994 billion in 1981 to $2.9 trillion in 1988. [36] The deficit grew from $74 billion in 1980 to $155 billion in 1988, and unemployment was at a 14-year low, 5.5%, by mid-1988. [60][2] On Jan. 20, 1989, Ronald Reagan left the White House with the highest approval rating, 68%, of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. [61]

In 1993, Reagan experienced recurring episodes of confusion and forgetfulness and was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's Disease. He disclosed his condition in a Nov. 5, 1994 letter to the American people hoping to "promote greater awareness of this condition." [62] Ronald Reagan died in California on June 5, 2004 at the age of 93. [2]
Video Gallery  

President Reagan delivers his first Inaugural Address on Jan. 20, 1981
Source: "President Reagan 1981 Inaugural Address," www.youtube.com (accessed Oct. 14, 2010) 
President Reagan's remarks on the air traffic controller (PATCO) strike in a press conference Q&A on Aug. 3, 1981.
Source: "Remarks and Q&A with Reporters on the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) Strike," www.youtube.com (accessed Oct. 14, 2010)
 
Excerpts of President Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987.
Source: "Reagan at Brandenburg Gate - 'Tear Down this Wall'," www.youtube.com (accessed Sep. 30, 2010) 
President Reagan's Farewell Address to the Nation, his last public address from the White House, on Jan. 11, 1989
Source: "President Ronald Reagan - Farewell Address," www.youtube.com (accessed Oct. 14, 2010)
 


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