THE REAGAN PRESIDENCY
inaugural address after taking the oath of office on January 20, Ronald Reagan
called upon Americans to "begin an era of national renewal." In
response to the serious problems facing the country, both foreign and domestic,
he asserted his familiar campaign phrase: "Government is not the solution
to our problem, government is the problem." He hoped that
Arguably the first conservative
When Reagan took office the economy was one of the double-digit inflation and high interest rates. During the campaign Reagan promised to restore the free market from excessive government regulation and encourage private initiative and enterprise.
Reagan's economic policies came to be known as "Reaganomics," an attempt, according to Lou Cannon, to "balance the federal budget, increase defense spending, and cut income taxes." The President vowed to protect entitlement programs (such as Medicare and Social Security) while cutting the outlays for social programs by targeting "waste, fraud and abuse." Reagan embraced the theory of "supply side economics," which postulated that tax cuts encouraged economic expansion which in turn increased the government's revenue at a lower tax rate.
During his first year in office, Reagan engineered the passage of $39 billion in budget cuts into law, as well as a massive 25 percent tax cut spread over three years for individual, and faster write-offs for capital investment for business. At the same time, he insisted on, and for the most part, was successful in gaining increased funding for defense.
Although inflation dropped from 13.5% in 1980 to 5.1% in 1982, a severe recession set in, with unemployment exceeding 10% in October, 1982 for the first time in forty years. The administration modified its economic policy after two years by proposing selected tax increases and budget cuts to control rising deficits and higher interest rates. After the 1982 downturn, the reduced inflation rate (under 5% for the remainder of the administration) sparked record economic growth, and produced one of the lowest unemployment rates in modern U.S. history (unemployment hit a 14 year low in June of 1988). As Reagan left office, the nation was experiencing its sixth consecutive year of economic prosperity.
The economic gains, however,
came at a cost of a record annual deficit and a ballooning national debt. The
budget deficit was exacerbated by a trade deficit. Americans continued to buy
more foreign-made goods than they were selling. Reagan, however adhered to his
free trade stance, and signed an agreement to that effect with
Reagan's domestic policies had a major impact on the American people and will have for many years. He followed p the passage of the largest tax cut in
Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to the position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and appointed three justices to the bench: Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and the first woman named to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O' Connor. In all of the court appointments, Reagan chose individuals who he believed would exercise "judicial restraint."
Reagan consistently received very high approval ratings, although he was not popular with some minority groups, particularly blacks, many of whom did not benefit from the economic prosperity. In 1986, over 30 percent of the black population had an income below the official poverty level. While many labor leaders disliked Reagan, especially after he fired the air traffic controllers, when they refused to end their strike (1981), he was popular with labor union members.
Reagan encouraged the development of "private sector initiatives" as well as federalism, with the objective of transferring from the federal government some of the responsibilities believed to be better served by private business or state and local government.
As the president called for international cooperation to stop the influx of illegal drugs, especially cocaine, into the U.S., First Lady Nancy Reagan led the campaign against drug abuse, urging the nation's youth to "just say no."
At the heart of Reagan's foreign policy was the prevention of communist expansion. This was demonstrated in the Western Hemisphere by the strong financial and military support of the Contras against the communist Nicaraguan government, the aid given to the government of El Salvador in their fight against the communist guerrillas, and the U.S. invasion of Grenada when that nation was perceived as falling under Cuban domination in 1983, and the support given to rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. While effort for peace in
Reagan believed that the nation
should negotiate with the
When pro-U.S. dictators in
The darkest hour of the Reagan
administration would become known as the Iran-Contra affair. After lengthy,
nationally televised hearings, a special congressional hearings review board
reported that Reagan authorized the sale of arms to
The Reagan Legacy
The eight years of the Reagan presidency was one of the most dynamic periods, in recent
A month before the election of his successor, Reagan looked back on his eight years in office: "I am the same man I was when I came to Washington," he said, "I believe the same things I believed when I came to Washington, and I think those beliefs have been vindicated by the success of the policies to which we hold fast." About his foreign policy, he said, "At every point on the map that the Soviets have applied pressure, we've done all we can to apply pressure against them." He went on "And now we are seeing a sight many believed they would never see in our lifetime: the receding of the tide of totalitarianism."
There is little doubt that the
many changes effected by the Reagan presidency will play a major role in shaping