The eighth episode of the podcast - Ronald Wilson Reagan - Part II, 40th President, Actor and name sake of Regan Airport in Washington, DC. Enjoy!
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"We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."
- Ronald Reagan
Starting in 1964, Ronald Reagan became ever more active in the political sphere. Not that he had been inactive as evidenced by his active campaigning for Nixon. In fact for almost 10 years, starting in 1954, Reagan had been gaining experience by touring the country and speaking to large crowds of GE employees as part of his contract with GE Theater and by running for honorary Mayor. So, when 1964 came, Ronald Reagan's political train had already gained momentum and was rolling down the tracks. A speech for Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign officially launched his political career as a Republican. As noted in his autobiography An American Life, Reagan always claims that he did not leave the Democratic party, it left him. It was a great disappointment to him, but determined as always he moved on. The same year "The Friends of Ronald Reagan" a political support group was formed, and the next year, 1965, Reagan announced his candidacy for Governor of California. In 1966, Reagan won the election in a landslide setting himself up for a potential 1968 Presidential bid. In 68, Reagan announced his candidacy for President at the Republican convention, but later joined in unanimous support for Nixon. Then, in 1970, he won re-election for a second term as Governor of California. In 1974, Reagan declined offers from the Ford administration to be ambassador to England (the court of St. James), and both Secretary of Transportation an Commerce. In 1976, he announced his candidacy for President. Although he lost the nomination to Ford after a strong primary, 1976 laid the groundwork for his presidential bid.
1979 dawned gray in the US. President Carter was beleaguered, the Misery Index was high, gasoline prices were high and American citizens were being held hostage. It was in this climate that Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for President. Entering 1980, it was not a slam dunk that Reagan would win the nomination, in fact, going into the primary in NH George H. Bush was the front runner because he had won in Iowa - until the first debate.
"We are the showcase of the future. And it is within our power to mold that future-this year and for decades to come. It can be as grand and as great as we make it. No crisis is beyond the capacity of our people to solve; no challenge too great."
- Ronald Reagan
It was in the debate moderated by the Nashua Telegraph, paid for by the Reagan Campaign because he believed all the candidates should have a voice - not just the front runners - that Reagan feels that he won the primary and possibly the election. On the occasion, Reagan was there with all the candidates behind him while Bush was on the other side of the stage. The moderator, Jim Breen, told the sound man to turn of Reagan's microphone though Reagan wanted to make an announcement to explain why there was a delay in getting the debate started. After the second time that Breen told sound to cut the microphone, Reagan got upset, stood up, grabbed the mic, asked if it was on and then after sitting back down in his chair said "I am paying for this microphone Mr. Green!" The crowd went wild. Reagan went on to trounce all five candidates in the primary, won the Republican nomination, and speaking a message of hope and strength, swept to victory in one of the most lopsided elections in US history.
In January 1981, shortly after being announced Time Magazine's Man of the year, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States and started the Reagan Revolution. Reagan's platform of across the board tax cuts removed the undue pecuniary tax burdens that freed up a new wave of investment and brought thousands of quality jobs into the US Economy. However, for each fight won on the tax front, there was a loss on the spending front as the Democratic held Senate and House - led by Tip O'Neil - continued to push for more spending to keep pace in social programs with the spending that Reagan proposed for building the US Military back into a top rate fighting force.
Note: These tax cuts were vastly different than the cuts that were offered by the Bush 43 administration. The cuts that the Reagan Administration proposed were put in place by a vastly simplified tax code - one that has been continuously modified since the change, making it almost as bad with loopholes as it was before the Reagan proposed changes. Also understand that even as high as taxes are again now, they are not nearly as high as they were in 1980 when Reagan took office. What he proposed was truly revolutionary. Also, the Democrats in that day were not the Democrats or the Republicans of the early Bill Clinton administration. If anything they were only slightly better at not spending than the current Republican congress which doesn't seem to have seen a spending bill or pork opportunity they don't like. So, while Reagan was pushing tax cuts and in theory decreasing revenue, congress was spending more. That is what caused the initial build up of the deficit in the early to mid-80's. Of course, by the late 80's the economy had done a complete about face and that's what lead to the surplus of money that was used to pay down the debt and deficit in the 90's. Now, back to the biography.
A few short months after his Inauguration on March 30, 1981 Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt by Presidential stalker John Hinckley, Jr. Characteristically, Reagan greeted wife Nancy as she visited him after surgery with "Honey, I forgot to duck" (borrowing Jack Dempsey's line to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney for the heavyweight championship." Interestingly enough, this episode had many of what would come to be considered the Christian Right (a major part of the Reagan Revolution) wondering if in fact Ronald Wilson Reagan might in fact be the prophesied anti-Christ because he survived a head wound and his full name had 6 characters in each part leading to the number 666. Thankfully, it turns out that he wasn't the anti-Christ - though there are some that might still argue that - and he did recover to continue governing the country. This is also quite interesting because, as it turns out in the following years, it was Reagan's own strong Christian faith that lead to him referring to the USSR as the Evil Empire. He was even questioned at one point regarding the Star Wars defense program because he had been discussing Armageddon with some friends. Funny, you never know how things work out.
In 1982 Reagan began what was the beginning of the end of the Cold War by announcing the joint US-USSR Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. Also in 1982, Reagan was required to handle the first military crisis in Beirut, Lebanon which also had to be dealt with in the following year, 1983, after a tragic bombing.
In 1983 Reagan, in response to a bloody coup that provided a perceived threat to US students, ordered US troops to invade Grenada to over throw the Marxist regime associated with Fidel Castro's Cuba. This was part of the global war that was constantly part of the US/Russia/Cuba tension, and which eventually lead to Reagan's biggest crisis in the second term of his Presidency.
In 1984 Reagan, not surprisingly, declared his bid for re-election. His eventual opponent was former Carter Vice President, Walter Mondale. In their first debate on October 7th, most people thought that Reagan looked bad, befuddled and confused. According to Roger Ailes, who was called in after that debate, it was because the team handling Reagan wasn't playing to his strengths and had burdened him with trying to memorize everything, every little fact and figure that had to be debated. Ailes had Regan relax, then asked him how he was going to cope with the burning question of age and his capacity to be the President during the next debate. Reagan's answer was brilliant and Ailes told him to use it during the next debate with Mondale on October 14th. Sure enough, the question did come, and herewith I present the transcript...
MODERATOR: Mr. Trewhitt, your question to President Reagan?
REPORTER: Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks, and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?
REAGAN: Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. If I still have time, I might add, Mr. Trewhitt, I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don't know which, that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.
That one response, in the same way "I'm paying for this microphone Mr. Green!" did so much for his 1980 campaign, assured voters that Ronald Reagan was indeed sound. It convinced them so much in fact, that Reagan again swept to one of the most lopsided victory in electoral history with only one state - Michigan, the home of Walter Mondale - carrying for the Democrats. And, as a side note, it's the only time I can recall in my memory that Massachusetts - where I live - actually didn't got Democrat!
In January 1985 Ronald Reagan was again inaugurated as President of the United States, and, unbeknownst to him, was to suffer a key loss to himself and his Presidency when Ed Meese was nominated and later confirmed as Attorney General. Why Meese was such a key was that he along with James Baker and Michael Deaver formed the Reagan "Troika". This group, more than anyone, because of their long ties - in some cases going back to his California Governorship - understood how Reagan operated and governed. Reagan was a famous delegator who believed highly in getting the best people in place and then getting their input. He was not a President like Bill Clinton after him, who was intimately involved in every detail of everything that went on in his administration. Unfortunately, those coming in to replace the Troika didn't understand his style and consequentially did not provide Reagan with the information and/or feedback with which he was accustomed - choosing to operate more independently. It was this failure by Reagan that lead to the scandal of his second term, Iran-Contra.
Because the scope of this podcast is limited and Iran-Contra could be discussed for hours if not days, let me limit the description to this. Iran-Contra involved selling weapons to Iran (an avowed enemy) to get money to support the Contra's - an anti-communist gorilla group in Nicaragua. It was not Ronald Reagan's finest hour. He did testify under oath, and not surprisingly, his knowledge of the details of certain happenings was sparse and inconsistent. Many attribute this to two causes. One, the Troika not being there to support him with the required information, and two - the possible first signs of the disease he was later diagnosed with - Alzheimer's. In my opinion, it was the first and not the latter that was his failing.
However, before having to deal with Iran-Contra in 1986, Reagan had a busy 1985. Mid-year he underwent surgery for colin-cancer, and in October he was called on to lead the US response to the Achille Lauro hijacking. In the penultimate foreign policy moment in US-USSR history, on November 16, he started the Geneva Summit with Mr. Gorbachev. Finally, in December, the year was nicely wrapped up with an all-star tribute conducted in honor or Dutch Reagan.
1986 opened with both hope and tragedy. While the US made strides in talks with the USSR to open the year in January, we closed the month with the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and, with the gift that he always used to rally the nation's spirits, President Ronald Reagan conveyed the grief of regret and the hope, joy and pride in the Challenger astronauts that made us all proud to be Americans. In March, as a harbinger of things to come, the President addressed the nation regarding Nicaragua, and as summer dawned Reagan participated in the Centennial celebration for the Statute of Liberty. In October, with the leaves turning in the north of the country, Reagan traveled to Reykjavik for his ultimate moment and greatest success in US-USSR political history - the Reykjavik summit with Micael Gorbachev. Alas, the afterglow from Reykajavik was barely warn off when in mid-November the President addressed the nation regarding arms and the Contra aid situation. In late November the Iran-Contra scandal broke wide open and the Tower Commission was appointed to study the affair. As ever, the President chose to stand and speak with the nation, and in December he again addressed the nation regarding Iran-Contra - then, to cap the year and start the new one of 1987, he addressed the people of the USSR in a rousing New Year's Eve address.
In 1987 Reagan seemed to more fully gain back his form and hit stride again. He started the year in January by addressing the Congress in the State of the Union Address and stating "I'm back." Indeed he was. Reagan didn't hide as the Tower Commission reported in late February and he followed up the report again by speaking to the nation in March and August. In June, President Reagan visited Berlin and made what might be the most remembered one line of his political career when he said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" And though the wall did not come down in his administration, George H. W. Bush was there as President when the wall came down in 1989. The rest of the year saw Regan's administration dealing with much turbulence in the Gulf. Iraq bombed the USS Stark, Reagan had to address our Gulf policy. The year was also a battle on the legal front with much ado about justices when Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, saw that nomination defeated and then nominated and had appointed Judge Kennedy. And while all this was going on, the President was still able to be beside the first Lady as she underwent surgery for breast cancer. To wrap the year, the INF Treaty was announced and signed.
1988 was not as momentous as 1987 for policy, but the Reagan stayed busy. He was not finished with budget reform and started the year by addressing the issue in the State of the Union. He then presided over air strikes against Iranian oil platforms in the Gulf, deployed US forces to Honduras and saw the INF treaty ratified. The second half of the year was spent wrapping things up. Reagan endorsed Bush for the Republican nomination, gave his farewell address at the Republican National Convention, signed several trade agreements, participated at the ground breaking for the Reagan Presidential Library and in December, he participated in a mini-summit with Gorbachev in New York, then gave his final press conference.
In 1989, President Ronald Wilson Reagan gave his farewell address as a President to the nation, then departed to return to his beloved ranch and horses in California.
Ronald Reagan stayed active in the years to come before finally being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and settling down in his home in Los Angeles. He was as ex-President much as he was as President - an ambassador of good will and good cheer.
Ronald Wilson Reagan will be remembered as many things. Some say that he was the greatest President of the 20th century, others - the worst. He will be remembered as the B-movie actor turned politician, he may even be remembered for Iran-Contra. But regardless of what action or inaction Ronald Reagan will be remembered for specifically, his love, his positive message to believe in ourselves and believe in God and his ability - much like FDR - to capture our attention and inspire us to greatness will always be felt. Reagan fomented a political revolution in our country that has carried to this day. He was a standard bearer for integrity, kindness and freedom. And, where ever he went, Ronald Reagan left hope. Hope for our today and hope for our future.