Dr. Brown: Then tell me, future boy, who's President of the United States in 1985?
Marty: Ronald Reagan.1981 to 1989. He was the sixteenth from the Republican Party, serving between Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush. Reagan is well-known for moving the country to the right politically, socially, and economically, and for his efforts to end the Cold War. Yes, he's the actor who became President (scroll down to read about his acting career). However, many of these jokes don't work very well, since, when his political career commenced in 1966, he was only the "former actor who's running for Governor of California". After he vacated that office, he became known as the "former two-term Republican Governor of California who's running for President." Which is a kind of scary concept, if you're unfamiliar with the clause which excludes all foreign-born people from becoming President. Actually, people today will more likely know Reagan as the conservative guy who was President in The Eighties. You usually either love or hate him. If you see someone in a film or TV show talking about how great Reagan was, then it's a surefire indication that the character (or his/her writer) is a Republican. Conversely, if you see someone in a film or TV show disparaging Reagan, expect the character (or writer) to hold mainly left-of-center beliefs. (There are Democrats do exist who think fondly of him, known as "Blue Dogs" or "Reagan Democrats", and there are also self-described conservatives who dislike him, mostly for his support for policies that they do not think are truly conservative.) British media substitute Margaret Thatcher for Reagan to precisely the same effect. Reagan's other use in popular culture is to evoke the 1980's, so expect him to be referenced in anything set in a Popular History version of that decade. Reagan is an icon for members of the Republican Party. In fact, most Republicans will couple him with Lincoln and Washington when they talk about their favorite presidents (Democrats will usually say Franklin D. Roosevelt instead). Funnily enough, he started off as a Democrat, and only started to vote Republican in 1952. This is a fact he would joke about in later life, saying that he didn't leave the Democratic Party — it left him! For what it's worth, Reagan always maintained that he never betrayed the New Deal, but that he thought the Democrats were starting to take it farther than FDR planned and that someone had to rein them in. Reagan always had a lot of respect for FDR even as he moved further to the right, remembering that Roosevelt's public work programs gave jobs to his father and brother during the Great Depression. He started his move into politics in 1964, when he delivered a well-received speech in favor of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. Goldwater lost that election with less than 40% of the popular vote. Reagan then went on to serve two terms as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, where he was usually pretty popular. It brought him to the national spotlight when, after Watergate, the Republicans were searching for a new leader. He tried to win the Republican ticket in 1976, but incumbent Gerald Ford won narrowly. He beat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election by a popular vote margin of just under ten percentage points, although he only got 50.7% of the popular vote due to a losing Republican primary candidate, John Bayard Anderson, running as a more moderate independent. The Electoral College victory was more emphatic (489 votes for Reagan, 49 for Carter, 0 for Anderson). Running mate George HW Bush, who also tried to win the Republican ticket in 1980, would go on to win the presidency himself in 1988. The Iran hostage crisis which plagued Carter's presidency saw its end just twenty minutes after Reagan was inaugurated when Iran released all of the dozens of Americans held since 1979.note Reagan was, and still is, the oldest man to hold the office of president, taking office just seventeen days shy of his 70th birthday and serving a full two terms. He is also the first president elected in a year ending in 0 who did not die in office since James Monroe (who was reelected in 1820), though he did come scarily close. Two months into the presidency, a man obsessed with Jodie Foster (and who wanted to be as famous as her) shot Reagan in 1981, possibly in imitation of Travis Bickle. Reagan wasn't actually aware that he had been shot for several minutes. He also was cracking jokes on his way to the hospital — one can only imagine the look on Nancy Reagan's face as he said, "Honey, I forgot to duck." His most notable line, however, was telling his surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans!" (The chief surgeon, a liberal Democrat, is said to have answered "Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans".) The public sympathy for the Commander in Chief was enormous, and his humor about the incident endeared him to many. This coincided with Reagan's economic proposals being debated by Congress, and many historians credit this outburst of popularity with helping much of it get passed. Most of his first term was spent on domestic issues, especially the economy. When he entered office, unemployment was above 7%, the economic growth was stagnating, and inflation was in the double digits. Whereas most of the Presidents in the decades before him supported either liberal or center-leaning economic policies, Reagan brought the first truly right-of-center economic plan since arguably the pre-New Deal era. In his inaugural address, he famously declared "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem," and he actively sought to decrease the size of the federal government and give more power to business, the states, and the average citizens. His economic policies are famously known as "Reaganomics." Reaganomics lowered taxes for all income groups (the top-income tax bracket saw their income tax drop by over 50% from the start of his presidency to the end), deregulation and less rigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws, support for business, less support for unions, less spending on domestic programs and more on the military, simplifying the tax code to prevent people from abusing loopholes (which affected both poor and wealthy people who abused loopholes, for the record), and stronger control of the monetary supply. The thought behind this was that tax cuts for the wealthy would allow them to spend more on philanthropic efforts and job creation that would benefit the average American - this is known as "trickle-down economics." He also wanted to cut back government spending and pay off the debt, but Congress was not willing to cut spending on most programs - as a result, the lower taxes and increased spending saw the federal debt increase by almost 200% during his eight years. When, in the first months of his presidency, the air traffic controllers went on strike, he said that it is illegal for federal workers to strike and he fired all 12,000 of them, putting the commercial air traffic under temporary military control. His administration also oversaw a major expansion of the War on Drugs and significant cuts for environmental programs. He signed a compromise bill in 1983 which ended the crisis with Social Security costs and helped save the program for a generation. The Equal Rights Amendment, a major issue during The Seventies, died under his watch; Reagan opposed the amendment. Like the policies of another President which significantly changed how the government handles the economy, it is still debated by historians, scholars, and economists how much his policies worked or whether they did at all. In 1982, the economy went through a major recession where unemployment reached 10.8% - higher than it did during the current recession. After that, both inflation and unemployment started to plummet and economic growth exploded for the rest of the decade. Supporters point out the increased economic growth during his two terms (it was the equivalent of the United States adding the entire economy of Germany, then the third-largest world economy), more jobs, and end to the uncontrollable inflation of the 1970's, and several people rising above the poverty line, including a record number of minorities. Critics contend that the huge deficits of the 80's and early 90's rest on his shoulders, and point out that he oversaw the creation of a rising income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country that is still a major problem, that the United States went from the world's largest creditor to the world's largest debtor, and that millions of homeless or impoverished went without adequate care. The truth is probably a mixture of both, for the record, and let us leave it at that. What can't be denied is that Reagan and his policies moved American politics to the right of center. In 1982 the House went to the Democrats, along with the Senate in 1986; Reagan maintained good relations with Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and usually found important compromises. He also strongly supported the leadership of Federal Reserve heads Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan (who he nominated in 1987, and remained there until 2006) and their efforts to control the monetary supply. Interestingly, despite his well-known advocacy for lower taxes, he did raise taxes several times during his presidency following his initial dramatic tax cut, and by the end about half of the tax cut had been taken back. Reagan is also the only two-term President since 1938 not to raise the minimum wage even once. There were some notable foreign policy concerns and incidents during his first term, for the record. Reagan rejected the détente of the 1970's and wanted to actively "roll back" the communist world. He had the toughest talk on the Soviet Union of any President since Harry Truman, notably calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire," and he lent support to many countries fighting the USSR or other communist forces. Controversially, several of the right-wing forces and dictatorships he armed committed human rights abuses, some of which are around and still do these things. This included sending arms to the Mujaheddin forces fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It's one of the most controversial parts of his presidency, since these groups would later use these arms to fight each other. Some of its members would go on to form both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, too. Following the Soviets in 1983 downing a Korean airliner which flew off course (a Congressman was on that plane, interestingly), Reagan imposed tougher sanctions on the USSR and suspending any Soviet passenger air service to the US. Wanting to avoid another such incident, he also decided to release the GPS program, which was in development in the military at the time, to the public, and the first satellite was launched in 1989. Military spending skyrocketed during the Reagan administration and Peace Through Superior Firepower reached its peak; Reagan believed that the American economy could outspend the Soviet economy on military buildups, bankrupt that country, and force them to the peace table without firing a single shot. He proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, which would basically create a system of space lasers to destroy any missiles being launched at America. While most scientists laughed at the idea and called it nearly impossible (critics famously nicknamed the idea Star Wars), the Soviet Union took it very seriously, and this is the point where they became much more willing to negotiate and consider more peaceful relations. He sent a peacekeeping force to Lebanon in 1982 to bring peace to the country following an invasion by Israel, but one year later a terrorist bombing at the barracks in Beirut killed more than 200 Americans and Reagan withdrew the forces. Two days after that attack he ordered a successful military operation in Grenada to overthrow a Marxist government and rescue American medical students there. Reagan was a strong ally of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and he was also the first American President to address the British Parliament. In 1984, America sent its first ambassador to the Vatican. The 1984 victory over Democratic candidate Walter Mondale (previously Carter's second in command) was the second-largest electoral beatdown in U.S. historynote — a 49-state landslide, with Mondale only winning his home state of Minnesota (and even then, by a small margin) and Washington, DC. Citing the economic recovery and rising public faith in government, he declared that it was "Morning in America." One of his most notable moments during the second election was when he was asked if his advanced age hindered his ability to fulfill his duties as President. Reagan shot back "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," and then calmly drank a glass of water. The entire audience laughed and applauded, and even Mondale himself was caught on camera laughing. During his second term in office, he became the first President affected by the Acting President clause of the Twenty Fifth Amendment - in both 1985 and 1987, Reagan underwent surgery, and Bush was acting President for a few hours. His second term was mostly centered on foreign affairs. The United States began to go after Middle East terrorists, notably when they bombed Libya after a terrorist attack in Germany was linked to the Libyan regime. Public disapproval of the apartheid government in South Africa exploded in his second term, but Reagan wasn't willing to impose sanctions or boycott products from the country. Understandably, he's not very well-liked down there. He supported a revolution in the Philippines which brought down a corrupt military dictatorship. A war between Iran and Iraq saw the United States providing aid to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and years after Reagan's death it was revealed that he helped them carry out chemical weapons attacks on Iranians. Remember, this was just a few years after the Iran hostage crisis, so Iran was America's biggest enemy abroad besides the USSR. El Salvador and Nicaragua were plagued by violence and civil war during the 1980's, and Reagan supported the anti-communist fighters in the conflicts. Congress placed a ban on any aid to the rebels in Nicaragua, known as the Contras. In 1986, this caused a huge scandal which nearly ended the Reagan presidency. It was revealed that he had okayed an arms sale to Iran (which, remember, had a public policy of wanted to destroy the United States) in return for the Iranians helping to free American hostages in Lebanon. Then, members of his administration used this money to aid the Contras. This is called the Iran-Contra scandal, and all of this, of course, was blatantly illegal. Reagan declared that he had indeed given his approval of the arms sale but that he didn't know about giving the money to the Contras. Several members of his administration were impeached and convicted, his popularity dropped almost overnight by about 15%, and a Congressional investigation declared "If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have." Whether he really knew about the full-extent of the scandal is still hotly debated today.note This wasn't the only scandal to plague the Reagan administration, though it is the most well-known. The total number of government officials who were investigated, indited, or convicted during the Reagan years was 138, larger than that of any other President. Reagan himself usually managed to escape scandals while maintaining a good deal of public faith, leading many critics on the left to nickname him "Teflon Ron." Domestic concerns were still vibrant during his second term, however. First Lady Nancy Reagan went on the "Just Say No" campaign to prevent youths from taking drugs. While her intentions were admirable, it is a case of amazing irony that nearly all of the young celebrities who participated would grow up to be drug addicts, including Whitney Houston. The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, the night he was supposed to give his State of the Union address; instead he gave a very moving tribute speech to the seven astronauts who were killed, and it is widely regarded as a high-point for his presidency. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986) made it a crime to (knowingly) hire illegal immigrants and also granted amnesty to most of the millions already living in the country. He also made a lot of important nominations to the judicial branch. When Chief Justice Warren Burger died that year, he nominated sitting Justice William Rehnquist to take his place, and he would head the SCOTUS until 2005. Reagan appointed a number of conservative Justices to the Court and moved them right of center; two sitting Justices, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, were put on the Court by Reagan. The first woman on the Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, was nominated by Reagan - she was the swing vote on many important cases, leading many to joke that she was the one really in charge of the judicial branch. It was during Reagan's time in office that AIDS was recognized. It is widely alleged the he did little about it until his friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson died from AIDS. In reality, Reagan inaugurated federal action on AIDS research and treatment in 1981, allocating half a billion dollars in the years prior to Hudson's death, with over 5 billionnote more coming in the years following. In 1988, he signed a bill which granted reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Crime rates, especially in urban areas, were very high during the Reagan administration - twice as high as they are now, in fact. However, the most notable policy of Reagan's second term, and probably his most important accomplishment overall, were his peace talks with the Soviet Union's leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When he entered office, the Soviet Union was already very wobbly, suffering from terrible economic standing, incompetent handling of the invasion of Afghanistan, and growing resistance to the Soviets in Eastern Europe, especially the Solidarity movement in Poland. More economic sanctions from the United States, the increased military spending, and the defeat of communists in several regions (especially Latin America) only made things worse for them. Gorbachev became of the USSR's leader in 1985 and was determined the change the country for the better. He made the country more free and democratic, ended restrictions on free speech, (eventually) ended the invasion of Afghanistan, and moved the economy to the center with stronger emphasis on making markets freer. Reagan and Gorbachev met several times from 1985 to 1989, and they held four summits together. Both of them agreed on the threats of nuclear weapons and wanted to end the military buildup and make the world a safer place. In 1987, Reagan made a speech before the Berlin Wall where he stated "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Later that year, he signed the INF Treaty with Gorbachev, which saw both countries dismantle over 2,500 nuclear missiles. The two of them also agreed to reduce their forces in Europe. Gorbachev visited Washington and Reagan visited Moscow, and both were well-received in the other country's capital. It was clear that, in just a few years, the Cold War had thawed significantly. Less than a year after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was torn down, the countries of the Eastern bloc overthrew the communist regimes in place since 1945, and Bush and Gorbachev declared that the Cold War was officially over. The USSR would itself dissolve into 15 independent states in 1991, with Russia taking over several of the Soviet Union's old places in the world. How much of it was a direct result of Reagan's actions is debated. Gorbachev, at least, sided with those who claimed that Reagan was responsible for its end, and he always praised Reagan when he had the chance. Towards the end of his presidency, the economy started to walk on shaky ground again. On October 19, 1987, the stock market dropped by over 500 Dow Jones points in a single day. Starting that year, the Savings & Loans institutions went through a major crisis after Reagan deregulated them. Lasting until 1995, 747 of the country's 3,234 S&L associations went under, a shocking change for what used to be one of the safest investment opportunities in America. Reagan had to spend over $125 billion to help save the programs. The deficits continued to rise more and more, too. Additionally, inflation started to go up again, doubling in the last two years of his presidency. In 1988, Reagan's Vice President, George HW Bush, gained the Republican ticket and won the election by a significant landslide. Along with the end of the Cold War and the reduction of military spending that resulted (the United States economy was used to over forty years of huge military budgets, and these suddenly going away caused some issues), these problems probably helped cause the 1992 recession which caused Bush to lose reelection to Bill Clinton. Many supporters contend that these were just bumps on the road, and that the Reagan administration helped pave the way for the great economy of the 1990's. Critics say that Reagan was the root cause of the 1992 recession and even the current Great Recession. Leave it at that, please. In 1991, he also wrote a moving editorial in support of the Brady Bill, a gun control bill named after his personal secretary who was shot and permanently handicapped during his attempted assassination; it was passed by Clinton in 1993. Appropriately enough for a former actor, Reagan was very much in touch with the popular culture of the time, and became known as the "Great Communicator" for his speaking skills. Reagan started the practice of weekly radio broadcasts to the American people, which recalled Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats; his successors have continued to do this, with the current President, Barack Obama, starting to use the Internet as well. He called the Soviet Union an evil Empire, and quoted Back to the Future (he reportedly found the above lines from that movie quite amusing) in a State of the Union Address. His favorite television show was Family Ties, which may or may not be related to the fact that one of the show's lead characters admired Reagan. Ironically, in private, he and Gorbachev became good friends, and this helped thaw U.S.-Soviet relations leading into George H.W. Bush's term. After leaving office, when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he said it was making the American people believe in themselves again. Reagan was so great with public relations and convincing the people to support his policy proposals that he is known as "the Great Communicator." Late in his life, Reagan began succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease. The time and speed of its onset is somewhat contended, especially as to how much of his tenure as president was possibly compromised by it. As a result, the most well-known satirical portrayal of Reagan is as a bumbling Cloudcuckoolander or, at the very least, a doddering old man. He is the Ur Example of many recent examples of President Buffoon, most notably, a recurring list a statements such as "more of our imports come from overseas", "how hard it is to put food on your family", etc. These are often immediately redistributed to George W. Bush or Dan Quayle, who are actually the source of some of them. Unfortunately, much of this kind of humor, and above all of the quite real statements of "do not recall" during the Iran-Contra affair, became a Funny Alzheimer's Moment, i.e. not so funny any more (and the "imports" knee-slapper misses that two of America's largest importers are Mexico and Canada. D'oh.). He was also the Trope Namer for The Capital Of Brazil Is Buenos Aires. As his Alzheimer's progressed, his family decided to keep him away from the public eye towards the end of his life. He died in 2004, and his state funeral saw the attendance of many famous world leaders and his former friends and allies, including both Thatcher and Gorbachev. He is the second-longest-lived President, with Gerald Ford ahead by less than two months. Currently, Nancy is a public advocate for stem cell research, believing that it could potentially lead to a cure for the disease, and she had very positive things to say when Barack Obama lifted restrictions on the research. He has an aircraft carrier, as well as quite a few other things, named after him. He is the first former President to benefit from an organized project to polish his presidential legacy after the fact. Grover Norquist's "Reagan Legacy Project" lists, among its goals, getting at least one major landmark in every state named after him, and at one point launched a campaign to get his image on the $10 bill, until it was discovered that legislation (signed into law by Reagan himself!) requires a person to have been dead for 50 years before they can appear on U.S. currency. He passed away in June of 2004 and, thus, is currently (until June 2054) ineligible. However, in 2005, the Presidential Dollar Coin act provided for the release of dollar coinage featuring all the presidents who were in office up to that point and died at least two years before the issuing of their coinage. Reagan's coin is scheduled for 2016. (This maybe considered less valuable since one-dollar coins have never been particularly popular in the United States). Humorously Republican Reagan, the oldest man ever elected president was one of two fully Irish-American presidents (as opposed to being "of Irish descent", of which there are eleven Presidents in total, including Barack Obama), the other being Democrat John F. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected President. In a nationwide public poll conducted by the Discovery Channel in 2005, Ronald Reagan was voted the greatest American of all time. Yes, he even ranked above George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Though, it is worth mentioning that the poll was conducted only a few months after his death and this probably helped a bit. Fun fact: Reagan was very, VERY addicted to jelly beans. He started eating them when he quit smoking, and he seriously had jelly bean cup-holders placed on government planes. When he won in 1980, he wanted a jelly bean flag of red, white, and blue to be created to the occasion. There were no blue-colored jelly beans at the time, so the Jelly Belly company created the blueberry flavor specifically for the ceremony. It ended up becoming one of their most popular flavors. Surely this was one of his finest accomplishments. Reagan's Movie Career Reagan appeared in quite a number of movies between 1937 and 1964, but nothing especially famous. Because he was extremely nearsighted, he could not go overseas and so spent World War II making training films. In 1940, he played real-life American Football Player George "The Gipper" Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne, All American (about a Notre Dame football coach), which featured the line, "Win one for the Gipper." "The Gipper" became one of Reagan's nicknames. Another film Reagan (in)famously played in was Bedtime for Bonzo, in which he costarred with a chimpanzee in a standard Ain't No Rule story, and eventually became his Never Live It Down film. (Actually, Reagan always displayed a sense of humor about this movie; he's famously said to have once signed a promo photo of himself and Bonzo with the inscription "I'm the one with the wristwatch.") He viewed That Hagen Girl, a 1947 melodrama co-starring Shirley Temple, as his real Old Shame. It's even rumored that Reagan tried to suppress or destroy copies of that film. There's also a common story that he was originally slated to star in Casablanca, which derives from a claim made by the Warner Bros. publicity office while promoting his film Kings Row. Like many similar claims made by the Warner Bros. publicity office during the period, it has no basis in fact. His most famous role was probably in the 1942 film Kings Row, which contains the famous line: "Where's the rest of me?" (his character had lost both of his legs.) Where's The Rest Of Me? was the title of his 1965 autobiography. He had a memorable Playing Against Type role as a brutal crime kingpin in his last film, The Killers (1964). He was also, ironically, strongly pro-union during this period, a two-time President of the Screen Actors Guild, named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and stood up to Herb Sorell's attempted take-over of SAG. Sorrell threatened those who opposed him, such as Reagan, saying, "There may be men hurt, there may be men killed before this is over." Sorrell's faction was financed by the CPUSA. Though often smeared by those who hate him as being involved in blacklisting, Reagan said at the time "As a citizen, I would hesitate to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology. However, if it is proven that an organization is an agent of foreign power, or in any way not a legitimate political party — and I think the government is capable of proving that — then that is another matter. But at the same time I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group, that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment." He also made a number of statements critical of McCarthyism as being un-American. He did, however, during the Red Scare in the late 1940s provide the FBI with names of people whom he believed to be communist sympathizers within the motion picture industry. Please remember the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment.
Tropes present in Reagan's life and legacy
Reagan in fiction:Anime and Manga