Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States on November 4, 1980. At the age of 69, he was the oldest man and the first movie star ever sworn into that office. During his two terms in office, the popular president helped raise the nation’s spirits. He also oversaw the creation of large budget and trade deficits and ultimately effected a historical truce in cold war with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Born on February 6, 1911in Tampico, Illinois, Reagan worked his way through Eureka college, had some success as a sportscaster and began an acting career with Warner Bros. in 1937. He was to appear in 53 films with an interlude in the US army. He married actress Jane Wyman in 1940, divorced in 1948 and in 1952 wed Nancy Davis. He moved into television in the 1950s and became the popular host of ‘Death Valley Days’ and spokesman for General Electric Company. Inheriting from his father a orientation in politics, Reagan shifted his views and spoke out against ‘big govt’ and Communism. By the 1960s he was a favorite Conservative speaker.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan [Illustrations by: Amarjeet Malik]
In 1966 he defeated the incumbent governor of California Democrat Pat Brown and began two four-year terms that made him a national figure. Reagan has been mentioned as a presidential contender in every campaign since 1968 and he tirelessly travelled the lecture circuit excoriating evils of liberalism. In 1980s he swept through the primaries to nomination.

Democrats began the campaign by underestimating Reagan’s strengths. His age was offset by robust health. Reagan the master of television phrased his views with an air of reasonableness, sailed through the election defeating Jimmy Carter, who was burdened by his failure to free Americans, held hostage by Iran and deteriorating economy. After inauguration, Reagan launched a bold programme that if carried to conclusion would fundamentally alter the US political economy. Reagan’s economic policy was cast into serious doubt by the fall when economic recession deepened.

He boosted defence spending to make it clear to the Soviets and the world that the US did not intend to lose. As president, he kept pressure on the Soviets at a time when they were beginning to fail internally. After eight years of Reagan and his constant efforts, the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1983 the economic picture brightened with resurgent stock market, low inflation and rising production. Early in 1984, Reagan announced his decision to run for a second term. Strong support came from Conservatives who approved of the military built-up and economic policies. The president’s radiant optimism plus the continued economic recovery produced a stunning victory. Reagan and Bush were inaugurated for 2nd term in January 1985. In July, Reagan underwent surgery to remove a cancerous intestinal polyp. Reagan’s fumbling performance at a second summit conference with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland during October 1986 deepened doubts about the 75-year-old president. His popularity was further eroded y the 1986 Irangate scandal (it had to do with the deals sanctioned by President Reagan to sell arms to Iran notionally in an attempt to open lines of communication with the Khomeini regime).

In 1988 elections Reagan opted out and contributed to George Bush’s election as president on November 8, 1988. As Reagan left Washington for retirement in California, his poll ratings were the highest of any president since World War II. Reagan’s popularity survived concerns over economic and other policy matters, for he possessed a leadership style that stressed inspiration over management. Reagan had helped to alter the mood of the country from a brooding pessimism to a more confident outlook and had decisively changed the political agenda.

In 1994, it was announced that the former president was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.