For decades Ronald Reagan has been gone from public life, and yet he remains alive in the minds of many Americans. Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. He was the fortieth president of the United States and is the only movie actor to ever become president. President Reagan is remembered for his conservative values, anti-communism, Reaganomics, and appealing personality. Reagan often referred to America as a “City upon a Hill” and saw America as a beacon of hope and refuge for all people around the world.
(Brown, 163) Reagan had charm and an ability to connect with people ranging from average citizens to world leaders. His natural, remarkable skill as an orator earned him the nickname ‘The Great Communicator.’ While in office, President Reagan restored the confidence of the American public through his speeches and actions. Reagan attended Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois from 1928-1932. In college, Reagan played football (although he hardly played his first season) and joined the drama society.
Reagan gained popularity within his freshman year.
In 1928, Reagan gave a speech and led a student strike protesting the laying off of college professors. This speech was Reagan’s first taste in politics and he later declared; “Giving that speech – my first – was as exciting as any I ever gave. For the first time in my life, I felt my words reach out and grab an audience, and it was exhilarating.” (Reagan, 31) The stock market crashed, in 1929, which was his sophomore year of college, and his father’s shoe store was forced to close.
Even during the difficult times, Reagan remained optimistic. When recalling these times Reagan said, “There was a spirit of warmth and helpfulness and, yes, kindliness abroad in the land that was inspiring to me as we all clung to the belief that, sooner or later, things would get better.” (Reagan 32)
Reagan was cast in many plays and his junior year he won a prestigious acting award. In 1932, with Reagan’s winsome personality, he was elected class president his senior year. After his graduation from college, rather than immediately pursing acting (which was his ultimate dream and goal), he pursued becoming a radio announcer. Reagan faced rejection after rejection and it took a long time before he found a stable job. Because of this, Reagan moved to Chicago in search of a radio station he could join. Unfortunately, because of Reagan’s lack of experience, he was repeatedly turned down and was unsuccessful in his pursuit. Finally, Reagan returned home to Illinois – desperate and discouraged. His persistence eventually paid off as he was hired to be a sportscaster for WHO radio station in Des Moines, Iowa. Reagan described baseball games played by the Chicago White Sox and the Cubs.
Traditionally this spot was brief and not very exciting. However, Reagan made an art of describing the game to listeners. Reagan became WHO’s celebrity speaker, speaking mostly to men in fraternities and boys’ clubs. He enjoyed telling them sport stories and sharing the moral values he had learned from his mother, who was a woman of faith. Thus, most, if not all, his advice derived from Christian moral teachings. In 1937, he traveled to California with the Cubs with a plan to audition at Warner Brothers. Reagan succeeded and was hired for the starring role in the movie “Love Is on the Air”. By the end of 1939, Reagan had starred and appeared in nineteen films. In most movies he was portrayed as a kind, easy-going guy, which was much like Reagan himself. Reagan acted in over fifty movies over the course of twenty-seven years. He also was the president of the Screen Actors Guild union from 1947 to 1952. In the 1950s, Reagan became the host and spokesman for the General Electric Theater which was a television drama. As the spokesman, he traveled around the country and gave inspirational speeches.
However, because his speeches were conservative, he became controversial for the company and was fired as their spokesman and host in 1962. In the presidential elections of 1960, Reagan delivered 200 speeches in support of Nixon’s campaign for president. In 1962, Reagan officially changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. This was in part because of his wife’s (Nancy Reagan) conservative political views. In 1964, Reagan gave a thirty-minute speech called “A Time for Choosing”. This speech was described to be “the most successful political debut since William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic convention with his ‘Cross of Gold’ Speech”. It generated up to one million dollars toward Republican candidates. It launched Reagan into the spotlight. In 1966, Reagan ran for governor of California. The incumbent derided him for his star role in a movie with a chimpanzee. Reagan turned it to his advantage and portrayed himself as an ordinary citizen frustrated with his state’s inefficient government. The public loved Reagan’s personality and his genuineness, affability, and self-deprecating sense of humor. Because of this, Reagan won by a landslide with almost one million votes. During his two terms as governor, from 1967 – 1975, Reagan instituted major reform in the California welfare programs and erased a substantial budget deficit inherited from the previous governor.
The administrative style Reagan used as governor was basically the same approach he would use later for presidency. Reagan focused on larger issues of policy and vision and let assistants and the head of departments manage the day-to-day business. In 1977, toward the end of his second term as governor, he started “Viewpoint Commentary” which was a radio series. Reagan wanted to connect with the American public, like Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his ‘Fireside chats’. He wanted to build a political rapport through “Viewpoint Commentary”. A couple years later, Reagan concluded his broadcasts in October of 1979 and announced that he was running (a second time) for the Republican Presidential nomination. His “Viewpoint Commentaries” gained popularity for Reagan and all his hard work and efforts paid off. Before he became president, Reagan always had written his own speeches. However, as president Reagan had so many public appearances and speeches to give, that he needed help from the White House staff. Reagan was a hero to many Americans and was a strong president who cared for his country. Fifty-two Americans were held as hostages in Iran since November of 1979. On January 20th, 1981, on the day of Reagan’s inaugural ceremony, Iran released the American hostages. This ended a 444-day hostage streak that began during Carter’s presidency. Reagan helped fix the American Economy and in 1987 his “Tear Down This Wall Speech” helped end the cold war.
Ramesh Jaura explains how this speech made a positive effect and helped end the cold war. “It was certainly not torn down in response to U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s historic speech of June 12, 1987. But the address Reagan delivered that day on the 750th anniversary of the founding of the city of Berlin is considered by many to have affirmed the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and the fall of communism”. (Rosalyn, 44) However, as president, Reagan had both successes and failures, and many people disagreed with his conservative values. His successes with economic policies reduced government spending and taxes. Reaganomics included Reagan’s deregulation, tax cuts, and domestic spending restraints which helped restore the American economy and bring taxation down from 70% to 28%. The lower tax rates were helped grow the economy and boosted tax revenues. This resulted in an economic boom in November of 1982 that lasted two decades. Not only did Reagan cut tax rates, but the Tax Reform Act he passed in 1986 simplified the income-tax code, eliminating most tax shelters. Because of Reaganomics, 16 million new jobs were created. Reagan also rebuilt the United States military by increasing defense spending and increased the size of military forces. His efforts helped to ensure America was still a military superpower.
A few other achievements Reagan had include: appointing the first woman to the United States Supreme Court, reducing number of nuclear arms, progressing to an end of the Cold War, making the Soviet Union leave Afghanistan, helping form the rescue mission in Grenada, and passing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Before Reagan was president it took seven weeks to get a Social Security card and forty-three days for a passport. After Reagan’s presidency, both could be received in ten days. Although it has now been decades after Reagan’s presidency, his legacy remains strong, with admirers today, wanting to add his portrait to Mount Rushmore as well as to our currency. Reagan recounted the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and encouraged patriotism, and hard work. In Reagan’s final letter to the American people, in 1994, he shares the news that he had Alzheimer’s. “I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for it’s future. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” (Ron Reagan, 220) Even when facing such a grim diagnosis, Reagan responded with grace, strength and optimism.