Reagan Administration

From Academic Kids

Headed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989, the Reagan Administration was conservative, steadfastly anti-Communist and in favor of tax cuts and smaller government. It also liked to think of itself as supportive of business interests and being tough on crime. During its two term tenure, it saw the release of American hostages in Tehran, happening just minutes into his presidency, an attempted assassination, economic recovery, increases in military spending to fight the Cold War, and a tripling of the national debt. The administration declared a renewed war on drugs, but was criticized for being slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic. One of Reagan's most controversial early moves was to fire most of the nation's air traffic controllers who took part in an illegal strike.

Instead of détente, the administration confronted the Soviet Union through arms reduction treaties, increased military spending, and supporting anti-communist rebel groups. Proposed programs, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative sought to outspend the USSR. Many Reagan supporters credit the Reagan administration with winning the Cold War, although the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union may have been due to internal problems.

Some foreign interventions, such as the one in Lebanon, ended in failure, while others, such as the invasion of Grenada, were successful. Involvement in the Iran-Iraq War at times favored Iraq, believing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was less dangerous. The Administration also engaged in covert arms sales to Iran in order to fund anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The resulting Iran-Contra Affair became a scandal to which Reagan professed ignorance. A significant number of officials in the Reagan Administration were either convicted or forced to resign as a result of the scandal.

Contents

Presidency

Assassination attempt

Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
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Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

On March 30, 1981, just 69 days into his Presidency, while leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, President Reagan, Press Secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent, and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delanty were shot by John Hinckley, Jr. Shortly before surgery to remove the bullet from his chest (which barely missed his heart) he remarked to his surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans," [1] (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/weekly/aa120197b.htm) and to his wife Nancy he jokingly commented, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Apparently he was quoting a remark made by boxer Jack Dempsey in 1926 explaining his loss of his heavyweight championship. After Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney, his wife Estelle Taylor asked him "What happened?" His reply was "Honey, I forgot to duck." Reagan often creatively quoted such witticisms.

Positions

As a politician and as President, he portrayed himself as being:

Policies and decisions

He is credited with:

Domestic Policy

Reaganomics

Main article: Reaganomics

Part of President Reagan's first term in office focused on reviving an inherited economy exhibiting stagflation, a high rate of inflation combined with an economic recession. Partially based on supply-side economics (derided by opponents as "trickle down economics"), Reagan's policies sought to stimulate the economy with large across-the-board tax cuts. George H. W. Bush had called Reagan's economic ideas "voodoo economics" during the Republican primary campaign, prior to becoming his running mate. The tax cuts were to be coupled with commensurate reductions in social welfare spending, earning the scorn of many.

After less than two years in office, Reagan rolled back a large portion of his corporate income tax cuts. Not only did Reagan retreat from proposed cuts in the Social Security budget, but he also appointed the Greenspan Commission which resolved the solvency crisis through reforms including increases in the payroll tax. Although Reagan achieved a marginal reduction in the rate of expansion of government spending, his overall fiscal policy was expansionary. Social programs grew apace at the behest of the Democratic-controlled Congress. Reagan's fiscal policies soon became known as "Reaganomics", a nickname used by both his supporters and detractors.

President Reagan's tenure marked a time of economic prosperity in the United States. GDP growth recovered strongly after the 1982 recession. Unemployment peaked at over 11 percent in 1982 then dropped steadily, and inflation dropped even more significantly. This economic growth generated greater tax revenue, although the new revenue did not cover an increased federal budget that included the military buildup and expansions of social programs. The result was greater deficit spending and a dramatic increase in the national debt, which tripled during Reagan's presidency. The U.S. trade deficit expanded significantly, particularly with buoyant Japan, economic inequality increased, and the overvalued U.S. dollar was distorting the world economy.

There is disagreement over how much Reagan's policies contributed to the severe recession that took place in 1982, the strong economic expansion that began late in his first term and ran throughout his second term, and the distribution of the benefits of economic growth among the rich and the poor.

Response to AIDS

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Then-Vice President Bush, right, meets with President Reagan, left, in 1984.

Reagan's presidency saw the advent of HIV-AIDS as a widespread epidemic in the United States. Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, Reagan did not mention it publicly for several more years. Critics of Reagan typically state that he did not do so until 1987, but this claim is false, as he discussed funding for AIDS research in a press conference in 1985. [3] (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1985/91785c.htm) [4] (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1986/20686c.htm) The death from AIDS of his friend Rock Hudson helped motivate Reagan to support more active measures to contain the spread of AIDS, although in retrospect those measures are still seen by Reagan's critics as inadequate.

Possibly in deference to the views of the powerful religious right, which saw AIDS as a disease limited to the gay male community and spread by immoral behavior, Reagan prevented his Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, from speaking out about the epidemic. When in 1986 Reagan finally authorized Koop to issue a report on the epidemic, he expected it to be in line with conservative policies; instead, Koop's Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome greatly emphasized the importance of a comprehensive AIDS education strategy, including widespread distribution of condoms, and rejected mandatory testing. This approach brought Koop into conflict with other administration officials such as Education Secretary William Bennett.

Social action groups like ACT UP worked to raise awareness of the AIDS problem. In 1987, Reagan responded by appointing the Watkins Commission on AIDS, which was succeeded by a permanent advisory council, and subsequently (under the administration of President Clinton) by the "AIDS czar".

Many socially conservative commentators saw Reagan's handling of the AIDS crisis as a common sense approach to a problem they believed was caused by social immorality. Members of the gay and lesbian communities, and other people who had AIDS or knew someone who did, saw his policies as anything from politically motivated willful blindness to outright contempt for groups affected by the disease.

Regardless of the aesthetic merits (or lack thereof) of the administration's approach to the disease, discretionary spending by the Federal government on AIDS research programs for both prevention and treatment increased steadily during Reagan's two terms in office, and afterwards. [5] (http://www.fas.org/spp/civil/crs/96-293.pdf)

Air traffic controllers

On August 5, 1981, Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order to return to work. Ironically, PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, had been one of the few unions that had supported Reagan over Carter in the election nine months previously. Reagan's handling of the strike proved to be a political coup for him when public opinion turned against the controllers and the union, who were perceived as being concerned more with money than with public safety.

The breaking of the strike also had a significant impact on labor-management relations in the private sector. Although private employers nominally had the right to permanently replace striking workers under the National Labor Relations Act, that option was rarely used prior to 1981, but much more frequently thereafter. Some, including Alan Greenspan, have credited Reagan's action restoring flexibility to the business environment that had prevented American companies from hiring and held back the economy.

"War on Drugs"

Reagan's policies in the "War on Drugs" emphasized imprisonment for drug offenders while cutting funding for addiction treatment. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the U.S. prison population. Critics charged that the policies did little to actually reduce the availability of drugs or crime on the street while resulting in a great financial and human cost for American society. Due to this policy and various cuts in spending for social programs during his Presidency, some critics regarded Reagan as indifferent to the needs of poor and minority citizens. Nevertheless, some surveys showed that illegal drug use among Americans declined significantly during Reagan's presidency, leading supporters to argue that the policies were successful.

The Judiciary

During his 1980 campaign, Reagan pledged that if given the opportunity, he would appoint the first female Supreme Court justice. That opportunity came in his first year in office when he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Potter Stewart. In his second term, Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to succeed Warren Burger as chief justice and named Antonin Scalia to fill the vacant seat. All of these appointments were confirmed by the Senate with relative ease. However in 1987 Reagan lost a significant political battle when the Senate rejected the nomination of Robert Bork. Anthony Kennedy was eventually confirmed in his place.

Reagan also nominated a large number of judges to the United States district court and United States court of appeals benches: most of these nominations were not controversial, although a handful of candidates were singled out for criticism by civil rights advocates and other liberal critics, resulting in occasional confirmation fights.

Both his Supreme Court nominations and his lower court appointments were in line with Reagan's express philosophy that judges should interpret law as enacted and not "legislate from the bench". By the end of the 1980s, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court had put an end to the perceived "activist" trend begun under the leadership of Earl Warren. However, general adherence to the principle of stare decisis left most of the major landmark case decisions (such as Brown, Miranda, and Roe v. Wade) of the previous three decades still standing as binding precedent.

Foreign Policy and the Cold War

Missing image
ReaganBerlinWall.jpg
Speaking in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the policy of détente observed by his predecessors Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Sensing that planned economies could not compete against market economies in a renewed arms race, he made the Cold War economically and rhetorically hot.

Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, oversaw the massive military buildup that represented his policy of "Peace Through Strength." The administration revived the B-1 bomber program canceled by the Carter administration and began production of the MX "Peacekeeper" missile. In response to Soviet deployment of the SS-20, Reagan oversaw NATO's deployment of the Pershing II missile in West Germany despite widespread protests.

One of Reagan's more controversial proposals was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defense system which he hoped would make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear missile attack by the Soviet Union. By stationing these defenses in outer space the U.S. could circumvent the ABM_treaty, but this proposal soon led opponents to dub SDI "Star Wars."

Critics of SDI argued that the technological objective was unattainable in practical terms, and that the attempt would be likely to accelerate the arms race, as well as increasing the instability of future international crises. Other critics saw the extraordinary expenditures involved in the multiple distinct SDI programs as a military-industrial boondoggle. Supporters respond that even the threat of SDI forced the Soviets into unsustainable spending to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent; Reagan himself suggested it would take decades for the program to be carried out. The program was supported by his successor, George H. W. Bush, though not eagerly pursued. Bill Clinton also supported it, though not actively. President George W. Bush supports a less ambitious National Missile Defense system.

The withering arms race was often matched with militant rhetoric which inspired dissidents and true believers, but also startled allies and alarmed critics. In a famous address on March 8, 1983, he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" that would be consigned to the "dustbin of history." After Soviet fighters downed Korean Airlines Flight 007 on September 1, 1983, he labeled the act an "act of barbarism... [of] inhuman brutality." Later in his presidency, while speaking in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 he challenged reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." [6] (http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/wall.asp)

Third, Reagan announced support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against communist governments. When the Polish government suppressed Solidarity movement under Lech Walesa in late 1981, Reagan imposed economic sanctions on the People's Republic of Poland. In a policy which became known as the Reagan Doctrine, his administration actively funded "freedom fighters" such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua.

Many Reagan supporters, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and some historians, credit him with winning the Cold War; this, however, is disputed, as the Soviet Union had shown signs of internal collapse (such as worker revolt in Poland which led to Solidarity) by the 1970s, before Reagan took office. Others also attribute the collapse of communism in 1989 in Central Europe and the Soviet Union to the mounting Soviet economic crisis and problems stemming from the economic and political reforms initiated by Soviet President Gorbachev. More recent review of Soviet records indicate that Soviet military spending did not rise, thus the "arms race" may not have had the crushing economic effect that it is often portrayed as having.

Reagan, left, in one-on-one discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1985 to 1991.
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Reagan, left, in one-on-one discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1985 to 1991.

Reagan had close friendships with many other conservative political leaders across the globe, especially Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and Brian Mulroney in Canada. Reagan had a great desire for establishing personal relationships with other heads of state, often inviting them to his ranch or to Camp David for casual retreats.

Foreign Interventions

Main article: Foreign Interventions of the Regan Administration

There were a number of foreigh interventions.

Miscellaneous

As Reagan was the oldest person to be inaugurated as president (age 69), and also the oldest person to hold the office (age 77), his health, although generally good, became a concern at times during his presidency.

On July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon, causing the first-ever invocation of the Acting President clause of the 25th Amendment. On January 5, 1987, Reagan underwent surgery for prostate cancer which caused further worries about his health, but which significantly raised the public awareness of this "silent killer."

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