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Ronald Reagan

(1911—2004) American Republican statesman

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(b. Tampico, Illinois, 6 Feb. 1911; d. Los Angeles, California, 5 June 2004)

US; President 1980–8 The son of a bankrupt store manager, Reagan was educated at Eureka College, Illinois, and became first a radio sportscaster in Davenport, Iowa, and then a film actor in Los Angeles after 1934. His role in the film King's Row gave him, finally, star status. Through the later 1930s he was an official of the Screen Actor's Guild. A liberal Democrat, he was a member of both Americans for Democratic Action and United World Federalists. Clashing with ‘communists’ in the Guild he became an active anti-Communist and appeared as a ‘friendly witness’ in the 1949 hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. With his film career declining after 1952 he became a paid speaker for the General Electric Corporation. He first appearance before the national public came in 1964 when he made a televised speech supporting Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for President.

In 1966 Reagan defeated Pat Brown to become the Republican Governor of California seeking to impose tax cuts of 10 per cent across the board. He found that budgets could be cut only slowly and went on to preside over the largest budgets and some of California's largest ever tax increases. Personally opposed to abortions, he had to accept an extension of abortion rights and, though enraged by student lifestyles and anti-Vietnam activities, he increased spending on higher education. He presided over a return to the use of the death penalty and sacked homosexuals on his staff, always denying that he did so. Re-elected in 1969, his second term was marked by a greater willingness to compromise with Democrats and, generally, to present the ‘soft face’ of conservatism. In part he did so in order to position himself to challenge President Ford for the Republican nomination for President in 1976. He failed, but during a tough campaign he articulated growing official and public fears that the Russians were rearming during the period of détente while the USA was facing economic obsolescence because of business taxes and regulation and social dissolution because of welfare dependence. Three years later President Carter's volte-face on defence and welfare gave these concerns legitimacy. Reagan campaigned on a platform of less government, lower taxes and balanced budgets, family values, and peace through military strength. He was able to ride to the White House on a tide of widespread, if shallow, ‘conservative’ sentiment, but his margin in the popular vote presaged difficulty in legislating his programme.

Reagan's accession ushered in a short-lived period of popular acceptance of supply-side economics at home and bellicosity abroad. The normal political ‘honeymoon’ given to a new President was lengthened by a failed assassination attempt in March of 1981. In domestic policy, with the support of conservative southern and western Democrats, a programme of large, phased tax cuts and increased defence expenditure was instituted. Cuts in welfare and education budgets were partially accepted by Congress as was a programme of business deregulation and tightened control over the supply of government information. Admirers of the British Official Secrets Acts, Reagan's staff contemplated similar legislation until they realized that they themselves would have to take loyalty oaths and lie detector tests.


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