Aaron Zuniga-Bennett Essay
In the early 1980s, the American people elected Ronald Reagan as President of the United States of America. Many people claim that Reagan was one of the greatest presidents of all time, while others believe that the country would have been much better off had Reagan never been elected. Regardless of their political preferences, it is undeniable that Ronald Reagan changed the world in the 1980s and his work as president will be forever remembered in the countless books of history. Ronald Reagan ran as a Republican and was the absolute spirit of a conservative. He worked to bring forth the ideal of conservatism in America and successfully captured and isolated that belief in the presidency. As president, Reagan worked to bring the ideal of American exceptionalism back to the country, to set the economy on the right track, and to end the Communist threat that had been present since the end of World War II. For all practical purposes, Ronald Reagan was a president who accomplished more than he set forth to do and did so famously; some would say infamously. Nonetheless, Reagan accomplished more in his eight year presidency than most presidents of the 20th Century.
He is widely hailed as the man who ended the Cold War and will forever be remembered as the man who led to the conservative resurgence in America. He was a man of profound ability and charm and America is better off for having Reagan as the Commander-in-Chief during the latter portion of the 20th Century. Ronald Reagan was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. His mother, Nelle, was a homemaker; and his father, Jack, was a traveling salesman (Ronald Reagan). The Reagan family moved often as Jack searched throughout the state for work and Ronald Reagan grew up in a very poor family. Despite the hardships his family encountered, Reagan graduated from high school in Dixon, Illinois and earned a football scholarship to attend Eureka College (Reagan, “American Life” 43). After graduating from Eureka, Reagan pursued a career in Hollywood where he starred in over fifty movies and eventually became the president of the Screen Actors Guild. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan worked to remove all suspected Communists from Hollywood; all the while encouraging conservative values in the liberal slanted film industry. In 1964, the former actor, Ronald Reagan, delivered a nationally televised political speech on behalf of conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
The speech became one of Reagan’s most fundamental speeches that completely changed his life. In his speech, Reagan presented the country with his ideals of a perfect country, supported by his conservative values. He also spoke about how America needs a strong national defense, a reduction of taxes, and the need to defeat the Communist threat in the Soviet Union. He also stated, “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope for man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness” (Reagan, “Speaking” 36). After his speech, Reagan was approached by many influential Republicans who urged him to run for Governor of California. His speech, on behalf of Barry Goldwater became one of his greatest triumphs. Reagan initially refused when he was asked to run for governor; nevertheless, many influential Republicans got together and formed a fundraising group called “Friends of Reagan.” They raised a great deal of money and in 1966; Reagan defeated the needed Democrat Governor of California (What Would Reagan Do?). At that moment, his political career began and in 1981, Reagan assumed the role as President of the United States of America.
Throughout his presidency, Reagan set America on a course to defeat the Communist threat in the Soviet Union, to boost military funding, to cut taxes, and to return optimism to the American people. Reagan worked relentlessly to accomplish his goals and in the process changed the world. Many of his critics view the 1980s as a decade of unmitigated wealth and greed; and they praise Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for ending the Cold War. From the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan worked to end the Cold War, not to appease the Soviets. Former presidents had worked to open relations with the Soviet Union. President Nixon had formed compromise and Carter worked to appease the Communists. However, “Reagan rejected Communism, détente, and containment, and set us on a course to win – not manage – the Cold War…” (The Great One).
Reagan met several times with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, and together they worked to compromise and create treaties that would eliminate the threat of short range nuclear weapons. Many of the meetings with Gorbachev were productive, yet Reagan’s ideal of foreign policy was not as clearly defined as many of his critics may have wished. The Reagan Administration dealt with foreign policy on the manner of “Peace through Strength,” they worked to isolate any world menace and to direct all immediate attention to that threat. This ideal of foreign policy worked to threaten the Soviet Union and to make them aware that any danger they may pose would be dealt with in a quick and decisive manner. In 1983, Reagan ordered the United States Marines to invade Grenada. A coup d’état was taking place and a revolutionary group was trying to take control of the government to align with the Marxist Soviet Union (Reagan, “American Life” 449).
Although the troops were only in Grenada for a short period of time, they did suppress the threat of a Communist uprising and Reagan shocked the world with his tough stance on global threats. During his presidency, Reagan increased federal defense spending by 35 percent and began building nuclear weapons at an unprecedented rate (Ronald Reagan). In 1986, one American serviceman was killed in a bombing in Berlin that injured 63 other members of the American military. It became evident within hours that the terrorist attack had been planned and carried out by Mu’ammar Qadhafi, the leader of Libya. Reagan was quick to order an air raid on key ground targets in Libya. The strike was a success and many important buildings were destroyed. Reagan addressed the nation shortly after the air raid and made several comments that were illustrative of his firm stance against terrorist actions.
He said, “When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in this world… we will respond so long as I’m in this Oval Office,” and to terrorist leaders around the world he said, “He [Qadhafi] counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong” (Reagan, “Speaking” 288). With that speech, Reagan imposed his views upon the world and he let the country know that he would not succumb to any foreign national threat. For all practical purposes, nearly all of the military actions of the 1980s were directed in some manner towards the Soviet Union. The preemptive attacks on Grenada and Libya were used as threats against the Soviet Union and were meant to be symbolic of the fact that America would not hesitate to act.
Reagan used his strong military presence as a threat against the Soviets and many of Reagan’s naysayers still believe he used force in a manner contradictory to the astute power of the President of the United States. However, the Reagan Administration used their military ability to inflict fear into all Communist threats worldwide. The political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, speaks of powerful leaders, he writes, “…it is much safer to be feared than loved…” (Machiavelli 66). Therefore, regardless of what criticizers may say, it would seem that Reagan’s use of military force throughout the world was effective and that Gorbachev feared his American equivalent. Reagan used his superiority to his advantage when he met with Gorbachev to discuss the reduction of nuclear missiles.
During the 1980s, Reagan increased the defense spending more than any president had done before; it was a part of his “Peace through Strength” foreign policy. During this time, the production of nuclear missiles surged and the United States found itself in a mini-arms race with the Soviet Union. In principle, the Reagan Administration outspent the Soviets in defense and nuclear weapon production. In an effort to compete, the Soviets bankrupted themselves and had no choice but to dismiss their Marxist values. Between the years of 1985 and 1988, Reagan met with General Secretary Gorbachev four times; in Switzerland, Iceland, Washington D.C., and Moscow (Reagan, “American Life” 545). The meetings between the two world leaders were dramatic and Reagan walked out of the meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland after Gorbachev failed compromise.
The tensions were high during all of the meetings and many people feared that any mistake could lead to an immediate nuclear Armageddon. Fortunately, no nuclear weapons were launched and the Reagan Administration triumphed over the Soviet Union. In 1987, Reagan visited East Berlin and spoke at the Brandenburg Gate. During his speech, he called for an end to Communism and a strengthening of individual liberty. His speech as the Brandenburg Gate is often viewed as one of the most successful speeches of his presidency. While speaking to a crowd of thousands, Reagan said to the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” (Reagan, “Speaking” 352). Two years later, the Soviet Union agreed to tear down the Berlin Wall and within the year, Communist nations around Europe began to crumble. Many Democrats in Congress and the mainstream media admired Gorbachev for bringing peace to European countries; they praised Gorbachev for surrendering and for keeping the warmongering Ronald Reagan from leading the country on the road to a nuclear war.
Many Americans who opposed the Reagan Administration were more than happy to give the credit to the Soviet Union; they believed Reagan was too overpowering and heartless to have been so successful. Nevertheless, conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh writes, “The end of the Cold War and the defeat of Communism in the Soviet Union was a clear victory for American values, for the American way of life, for the republican, democratic, free-marked ideals of the United States of America” (Limbaugh “Ought to Be” 230). Therefore, it would seem that Reagan played a major role in bringing an end to the 40 year Cold War. Regardless of the beliefs and values one holds, Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War and suppressed the Communist threat worldwide. He changed the world! Although his greatest success may have been bringing closure to the Cold War, Reagan also accomplished a great deal in the United States of America.
When he left office in 1989, the economy was breaking records and benefitting from the longest period of peacetime prosperity without recession or depression (Ronald Reagan). People were making money in America and thanks to Reagan’s tax cuts; they were able to keep more of what they earned. The Reagan Administration began an economic policy that became identified as “Reaganomics” or trickle-down economics. Reaganomics was the belief that tax cuts for the rich, middle class, and poor would work to stimulate the economy. If the rich had more money, they would create more businesses and opportunity, the middle class would then be able to become business owners, and higher the poor. It is a social hierarchy of job creation and the nation experienced 96 months of peacetime economic growth (Limbaugh, “Told You So” 122). In 1990, George H.W. Bush disbanded the policy of Reaganomics and the 96 months of economic growth ended almost immediately. Many historians, to this day, view the 1980s as a decade of greed where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. They also discredit the policy of Reaganomics because they do not believe the rich paid their fair share of taxes.
However, economic figures are illustrative of how much the rich truly pay in taxes. It seems that the top 1% of income earners pay nearly 40% of all federal income taxes in the United States (What Would Reagan Do?). Therefore, even if the 1980s were deemed as a decade of greed, it would seem that greed is good. Reagan worked to reduce onerous taxes in order to return the wealth to its rightful owners, the workers. The Reagan Administration did not hand out money; rather, they let people keep more of what they had already earned. In return, consumerism rose and the money was immediately deposited back into the national economy. Therefore, it would seem that the tax cuts and policy of Reaganomics worked very well in the 1980s; the economic growth experienced in that decade has yet to be matched. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, it is undeniable that tax cuts work and the economic policy of the Regan Administration should be implemented into our system now, during the present economic crisis. The implementation of tax cuts, both on income and corporations, provided working class Americans with the incentive to work and to achieve.
No longer were people afraid of earning; the tax cuts prevented hard working Americans from being punished with difficult and total taxation. This era of economic growth restored a feeling of optimism in America, especially after the failures of the Carter Administration and the record setting unemployment rate of the late 1970s. Ronald Reagan’s policies, both foreign and domestic, made people proud to be Americans once again. During the 1980s, Americans were not being villainized and condemned, they were being praised. Reagan restored the feeling of confidence in America and brought forth a generation of strong, nationalistic Americans. Ronald Reagan was a success as President of the United States, not only because of his charisma and communication skills, nor simply because of his policies. Ronald Reagan was a success because the American people loved him. In 1984, during his campaign for a second term, the electorate illustrated their reverie for him and he won in the largest landslide victory ever recorded.
He was unanimously re-elected in 49 of the 50 states (What Would Reagan Do?). His unprecedented victory astonished the world and many of his political detractors wondered how he could be so popular. Once again, the political philosopher Machiavelli offers insight into how a person should be a successful leader. Machiavelli wrote in 1513, “…he should inspire his citizens to follow their pursuits quietly, in trade and in agriculture and in every other pursuit of men, so that one person does not fear to adorn his possessions for fear that they be taken away from him, and another to open up a trade for fear of taxes” (Machiavelli 91). In essence, Reagan accomplished all of these aforementioned goals during his presidency. His policy of a strong national defense worked to make people feel comfortable and unafraid of a Communist attack, and his policy of Reaganomics allowed people to become entrepreneurs without a fear of being taxed out of business.
For all practical purposes, Reagan epitomized the values of a good leader as prescribed by Niccolo Machiavelli; he restored the power and the faith to the people while simultaneously ruling under the facade of being a decisive and fearful leader when handling foreign threats. In the end, it is apparent that Ronald Reagan accomplished a great deal during his administration. His most important accomplishments stem from restoring optimism in Americans, the total growth of economic prosperity, and bringing an end to the Cold War. Many of his political opponents still work to destroy the successes of his administration and they blame him for being too demanding and too dangerous. They thought his actions during the 1980s were detrimental to the growth and prosperity of America. On January 11, 1989, during his farewell address to the nation, he said, “My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger.
We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all” (Reagan, “Speaking” 418). The Reagan Administration was one of growth and success. During his presidency, he changed America, let alone the world, for the better. He had done what no president before him could, he set the nation on a course for unprecedented economic growth, and he led to the downfall of Communism and the Cold War. His opponents viewed him as a failure; however, his policies greatly impacted the world. If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would still be the last best hope for this country.
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