Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911 – 2004) was an American politician who served as the 33rd Governor of California and the 40th President of the United States. He became president at a time when US was gripped by a feeling of despondence due to high inflation and unemployment; and reverses in the Cold War. Reagan’s optimistic outlook lifted the spirits of many Americans. He immediately set about bringing changes in US foreign and domestic policy. The economic policy of Ronald Reagan, known as Reaganomics, brought about a considerable decrease in unemployment and inflation; and initiated one of the largest peacetime economic booms in US history. His foreign policy was dominated by the Cold War with USSR. Along with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan played a key role in bringing about a peaceful end to the Cold War; his greatest achievement in foreign affairs. Here are the 10 major accomplishments of Ronald Reagan, who is regarded as one of the most influential presidents in American history.
Note: The post was originally published on Feb 11, 2017
#1 HE SERVED AS THE 33RD GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA
In 1937, Ronald Reagan went to Hollywood. His acting career spanned more than 25 years and he featured in more than 50 films. His first political activities were associated with being a union leader. Reagan served as the President of the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union for actors, from 1947 to 1952 and again in 1958–1959. Reagan’s national political career took off after his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech in support of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater during the 1964 US presidential election campaign. Reagan ran for Governor of California in 1966 and defeated the incumbent Democrat Edmund G. Brown by nearly a million votes. He was re-elected in 1970 and served as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. He didn’t seek re-election to a third term. As governor, Reagan froze government hiring and approved tax hikes to balance the budget in his first term; and enacted major reform of the welfare system during his second term. Reagan turned California’s budget deficit to a surplus during his governorship.
Cannon, Lou; Beschloss, Michael (2001). Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio: A History Illustrated from the Collection of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum.
#2 Reagan was re-elected as President with the largest electoral college victory
After failing to get the Republican ticket in the 1976 Presidential Elections, Ronald Reagan ran for US president in 1980 against the incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Reagan won the election by a landslide. He won 489 electoral votes carrying 44 states. In comparison, Carter won just 49 electoral votes representing six states and Washington, D.C. Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States on January 20, 1981. At that time he was the oldest person to be inaugurated as president with an age of 69. In 2016, Donald Trump was elected President at the age of 70, surpassing Reagan’s record. In the 1984 US Presidential Elections, Reagan was re-elected. He won 49 of 50 states; won a record 525 electoral votes; and received 59% of the popular vote. Reagan’s 1984 landslide victory is the largest electoral college victory in American history.
“Reagan Buries Carter in a Landslide.” In CQ Almanac 1980, 36th ed., 3-B-5-B. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1981.
#3 He changed the course of the Cold War through the Reagan Doctrine
When Ronald Reagan assumed office, the influence of the Soviet Union was on the rise and it had just invaded Afghanistan. In the previous decade, the US policy regarding USSR had been that of Détente (“relaxation of tension”) and administrators assumed the Cold War would continue for the foreseeable future. Reagan, however, believed that Soviet economy was weak and increased pressure would make it crumble. He adopted a more aggressive approach and reversed the policy of Détente by ordering a massive build up of the US armed forces. He adopted a strategy known as the Reagan Doctrine by which US provided open and covert support to anti-communist forces in Soviet-backed communist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Though controversial, the policy did diminish Soviet influence in certain regions. US aid to guerilla fighters in Afghanistan raised the cost of Soviet occupation and accelerated the Soviet defeat. For example, in Afghanistan, the Reagan administration provided support to the Afghan rebels which ultimately led to ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The advocates of Reagan Doctrine consider it as an important contributor in ending the Cold War.
Coll, Steve (July 19, 1992). “Anatomy of a Victory: CIA’s Covert Afghan War”. “Washington Post”.
#4 HE INTRODUCED THE STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE
Mutual assured destruction (MAD) is a military strategy and national security policy by which if a side is attacked by nuclear weapons, it will strike back with full force leading to escalation of the war and possibly complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. MAD was applied during Cold War by both sides to deter direct conflict. Reagan was a vocal critic of MAD. In 1983, he introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which aimed to protect US from attack by nuclear ballistic missiles by interception and destruction of attacking missiles. It was considered dangerous as it undermined the “assured destruction” required for MAD. SDI is seen by some as a measure by Reagan to start an economic war through a defensive arms race to cripple the Soviet economy, which was already weakened. SDI did put pressure on the Soviet Union to build their own anti-ballistic missile system. Although SDI never fully developed, its research and technology paved the way for some anti-ballistic missile systems of today and it gave US a competitive advantage in the field of missile defense.
#5 RONALD REAGAN PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ENDING THE COLD WAR
Ronald Reagan shifted his policy towards the Soviets from “peace through strength” to a mixture of firmness and reassurance when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in USSR. The two leaders held four summit conferences between 1985 and 1988. During the third summit in December 1987, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) was signed by Reagan and Gorbachev. The INF treaty eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles with short and intermediate range. 2,692 of such weapons were destroyed due to it. Reagan’s firm but fair policy towards the Soviet Union played a key role in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end. Other major factors include Mikhail Gorbachev coming to power; and citizens of Eastern Europe who rejected Communist regimes. It is to be noted that without these important factors it would have been impossible for Reagan to end the Cold War. In November 1989, 10 months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was opened. The Cold War was unofficially declared over at the Malta Summit on December 3, 1989; and the Soviet Union collapsed on December 26, 1991.
“Reagan and Gorbachev : How the Cold War Ended”. Wilson Center.
Cox, Michael. “Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War: The Debate Continues”. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
#6 His TERM SAW a considerable decrease in unemployment and inflation
Prior to the Reagan administration, the US economy experienced a decade of stagflation, a situation in which the inflation rate is high, the economic growth rate slows, and unemployment remains steadily high. The economic policy of Ronald Reagan, known as Reaganomics, was based on four main principles: restrained government spending, lower tax rates, reduced government regulation and tightening of the money supply to reduce inflation. During the Reagan administration, the unemployment rate was reduced by 1.6% from 7.1% in 1980 to 5.5% in 1988; 1.6% from 7.0% in 1980 to 5.4% in 1988and the inflation rate fell from 10.4% in 1980 to 4.2% in 1988. The misery index, the sum of inflation and unemployment rate, shrank from 19.99 to 9.72 during Reagan’s term, the greatest improvement record for a President since Harry S. Truman.
#7 REAGANOMICS LED TO ONE OF THE LARGEST PEACETIME ECONOMIC BOOMS
During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, among other things, top marginal tax rate on individual income was reduced from 70% to 28%; corporate income tax rate was reduced from 48% to 34%; and most of the poor were exempted from individual income tax. Real GDP per working-age adult increased at a 1.8% annual rate. During the Carter administration, this rate was only 0.8% annually. From November 1982, when Reagan’s economic policies began to take effect, to November 1989, shortly after he left office, 18.7 million new jobs were created; a record for a comparable period at that time. More than half of these jobs paid more than $20,000 a year. The amount of wealth produced during this seven year period was around $30 trillion worth of goods and services; again a world record. The economic reforms of Ronald Reagan resulted in one of the largest peacetime economic booms in American history. Reagan also simplified the tax code by reducing the number of tax brackets to four and slashing a number of tax breaks. This was done through his famous Tax Reform Act of 1986.
#8 HE TOOK UNPRECEDENTED FIRM ACTION WHEN PATCO WENT ON STRIKE
On August 3, 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. The strike was a violation of a federal law which prohibits government unions from striking. The strike also had national security implications as the air traffic included planes of airborne early warning and control (AWACS). Ronald Reagan declared the PATCO strike a “peril to national safety” and stated that if the air traffic controllers didn’t report to work within 48 hours, they would be fired. Only around 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work. On August 5, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order and banned them from federal service for life. The defeat of the PATCO strike is considered one of the most important events in 20th century US labor history. Reagan’s action, though controversial due to its far reaching consequences, led to a massive drop in illegal work stoppages against the federal government. In the decades before 1981, major work stoppages averaged around 300 per year; in the 2000s, that number fell to below 30.
Schalch, Kathleen (August 3, 2006). “1981 Strike Leaves Legacy for American Workers”. Morning Edition [NPR].
#9 HE INTRODUCED STRICT LEGISLATION FOR DRUG OFFENSES
Reagan considered drugs to be a major menace to American society. Soon after he became president, he promised drug-free workplaces, expanded drug treatment and stronger law enforcement. During his first five years as president, he strengthened drug enforcement by creating mandatory minimum sentencing; and forfeiture of cash and real estate for drug offenses. On October 27, 1986, Reagan signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that budgeted $1.7 billion to fund the War on Drugs. Among other things, the Act funded drug counseling; AIDS research; and international cooperation to limit drug production. Ronald’s wife Nancy Reagan played an important part in his War on Drugs through her “Just Say No” campaign to increase drug awareness among children and teenagers. She traveled to 65 cities in 33 states, raising awareness about the dangers of drugs.
Reamer, F.G. (2005). “Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences”.
“Thirty Years of America’s Drug War”. Frontline
#10 hE IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PRESIDENTS
In 1989, Reagan was made an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, one of the highest British orders. He is one of two US Presidents to have received the honor, the other being George H. W. Bush. The same year, Japan awarded him the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum, the highest Japanese order. On January 18, 1993, Ronald Reagan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States. In 1999, he was included in TIME magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2005, millions of Discovery Channel viewers voted Reagan as The Greatest American. Ronald Reagan is considered one of the most influential presidents of the United States. He continues to be an iconic figure in the Republican Party. The years of his presidency are known as the Reagan Era and the conservative “Reagan Revolution” he led had a permanent impact on US foreign and domestic policy.
“Order of the Bath”. The Official website of the British Monarchy.
Weisman, Steven R (October 24, 1989). “Reagan Given Top Award by Japanese”. The New York Times.
“TIME 100 Persons of The Century”. (June 06, 1999). TIME.
Wilson, James. “The greatest American? Lincoln? Einstein? No – it’s Ronald Reagan”. (June 28, 2005). The Guardian.