Ronnie Reagan was the darling of the 1980’s America, at least to the Republicans. He was a two term President, whose style and policies were mirrored by Margaret Thatcher who ruled during the same period in the UK. He was born in Northern Illinois and started life as a sports commentator, mainly for the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
In his mid-twenties he started a new career as an actor in Hollywood. He had a few successful roles, but the Second World War curtailed his acting. He was an Air Force administrator for the duration and did not get back any good acting roles afterwards. He was famous as a B movie actor. The Cinema’s would show a shorter less serious film, a newsreel and then the main attraction. This was all before the television take over. One of his most famous roles was “Bedtime for Bonzo” about a Chimpanzee living in his home. Some opponents would claim he was out acted by the Chimp!
He had been a Democrat and represented other actors in the Screen Actors guild. He was always opposed to Nuclear weapons and the lunacy of “Mutually assured destruction”. He started to move to the right in the 1950’s, supporting Eisenhower in ‘52 and ’56. He was even further to the right when he supported the unpopular Barry Goldwater in 1964 and became a right-wing spokesman.
He was elected Governor of California in 1966 and stayed in the post until 1975. He was a strong opponent of the anti-war movement and would send in the National Guard and other armed groups to deal with the growing and protesting Social Revolution whose roots came from San Francisco in his state.
He ran for President in 1976 and was beaten to the nomination for the Republican party, by the sitting President Gerald Ford. He tried again in 1980 and won a famous victory against Jimmy Carter.
The previous 20 years of politics in the USA had been traumatic. The new dawn of the 1960’s was heralded by the young and popular John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated. His deputy Lyndon Johnson had to deal with Vietnam War, which was played out nightly on the evening news. Film reports coming back showing the atrocities of War, which had never been seen before, inspired the youth to protest. The country was deeply divided, and the social revolution took to the streets as violent clashes were also shown on TV. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 but his promise to end the war, did not come true until four years later. By then he was embroiled in the Watergate affair. People connected to him were using dirty tricks to defeat the Democrats. His impeachment followed in 1974. The country was on its knees politically. Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976. A well-meaning southerner, with little experience or the required toughness was not appreciated by 1980.
So, the stage was set for Ronnie. He ticked all the boxes for Republicans. He was a Christian, pro-business, anti-tax, for small Government, hated Communism and he spoke like a Cowboy. The reality was more-subtle. Paul Wolfen……, a neo-Conservative selected Reagan for the above reasons. An atheist who recognised the need for a moral code, he also had George H.W. Bush, James Baker and Alexander Haig, under him. These were the political heavyweights who got things done. With Reagan, the actor, on point delivering with his presentation to the country. It was a wise move and very successful.
They promoted supply side economics, reducing tax and controlling the money supply. Inflation was greatly reduced, business was stimulated, and the Government was made smaller and more efficient. A similar Monetarist policy was applied in the UK. Reduction in benefits would stimulate the lazy to get out and work. Whether it worked or not only history can decide. But unemployment did not fall and increased military spending increased the Budget deficit dramatically. The rich had more freedom financially and saw an increase in their wealth, but the plight of the poor became worse. Closure of traditional heavy industry led to the need for more benefits and failure of communities, the country would divide. He employed drastic cuts in social spending, except for the military. He acted tough and the poor suffered, but overseas the Communists knew they were up against a serious foe who would not back down.
He showed he could be tough, with the War on Drugs in 1982, bombing Libya in 1986 and middle eastern involvement. But he was lacking when it came to tackling the AIDS crisis. After 1000 deaths, his administration had only invested $1M in research. By his second term he had the USSR (Russia) in his sights.
The Cold War had been raging for 40 years since the Second World War. USA versus USSR, Capitalist West versus Communist East. They faced off with nuclear missiles, ready to destroy the planet. Somehow, we survived Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Afghanistan all were flash points that could have set a chain reaction of nuclear destruction that would end life completely. The 1965 film “Dr Strangelove” taught as to laugh at the ludicrous threat to human existence.
In his 1985 inauguration speech for his second term, Reagan claimed that the US was developing a Strategic Defence Initiative. This would be able to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles as they approached the USA. It was a bold claim that has not lived up to expectations, but the Russians started to talk peace. The new more progressive Soviet President was Mikhail Gorbachev, his country was buckling under the need to spend militarily and support the people with an agricultural system that could not cope. The threat of matching a Nuclear Defence system at vast expense led to talks.
Between 1985 and 1988 Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenal and formally end the Cold War. For those that lived under the shadow of nuclear destruction it was an end to that fear. The Berlin Wall came down symbolically and Communism was replaced by a Russian version of Capitalism.
He had always fought Communism. The Iran Contra affair was a complex financial arrangement that channelled funds to the Nicaraguan Contras, from covert funding of Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. He broke the law and then acted dumb claiming he did not know what he was signing. Considering he was 77 when he left office it is possible. But Congress had ruled against funding the Contras, Nicaragua had a democratically elected Socialist Government that had improved the people’s welfare dramatically. But there was blind opposition to anything left of centre in some circles and Reagan thought he was being patriotic in funding a War in his region.
SDI never did work, maybe it was never supposed to, but it stopped the threat of Nuclear War. Whether Reagan knew this, whether he was told it was all a ploy by someone cleverer than him, we do not know. Not yet anyway. There are many people who are poorer and weaker due to his bend of politics.
He put patriotism back into the heart of America. He led his country out of the darkness of the sixties and seventies and made America great again, the nightmare was now a dream again for some. A better President would have made it great for more of the people, but the USA has always had winners and losers.
But we have to say hail to the chief. His strength, courage, tenacity and down to earth common-sense defeated the greatest threat to life on earth.
For the land of the free and the home of the brave, Ronnie Reagan, we salute you!