'A Man Who Changed the World'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

'A Man Who Changed the World'


Byline: By David Williamson Western Mail

Former Conservative minister Lord Heseltine last night paid tribute to Ronald Reagan, claiming he had changed the world.

As plans were being finalised for the burial of the 40th President of the United States, who died late on Saturday at the age of 93, the Swansea- born peer said one of Reagan's greatest achievements was proving the Soviet system was 'bankrupt' of credibility.

Lord Heseltine said that when he was a young man many people had assumed that socialism was irreversible as they watched former colonies look to China and the Soviet Union for economic advice.

He said, 'That turned out to be a complete misjudgment.

'Today there is virtually not a country of any significance left that doesn't subscribe to democratic economics.'

Lord Heseltine briefly met the President in 1985 when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress.

'I think he was a brilliant orator,' he said.

He was also impressed by Reagan's legendary ability to reassure and communicate with the American people, particularly in times of international turmoil.

Lord Heseltine said, 'I happened to be in America when he did the response to the Korean air disaster [when Soviet fighters shot down a civilian airliner]. He did a brilliant job.'

Conservative Welsh spokesman Nigel Evans MP travelled to San Francisco in 1979 to help in Reagan's battle for the Republican presidential nomination.

The then 23-year-old believed Reagan would be a president who could stand up to the Soviet Union and change the world's political climate.

Mr Evans spoke of the personal charisma of the man who enchanted millions of Americans at a time of Cold War fears.

'The fact he shared with the people of America that he had Alzheimer's - I thought that was so touching.' From film star to US leader: Ronald reagan, the B-movie star who became the 40th President of the United States, was the only professional actor to have reached the White House.

Throughout his two terms, from 1981 to 1989, Reagan's brand of Republican conviction politics ensured a firm and enduring friendship with Margaret Thatcher, and the US-United Kingdom special relationship was never closer than during those years.

At the age of 69, Reagan was the oldest man to have been elected President. His huge personal popularity coupled with the failings of the colourless Democrat President, Jimmy ('the peanut farmer') Carter, enabled him to restore the Republicans to the White House in a spectacular landslide victory in 1980.

He focused much of his presidency on the economy - his particular brand came to be known as 'Reaganomics' - and on the Cold War. He vastly increased military spending, driving the federal budget deficit in 1984 up to more than $180bn.

During his years in power, Reagan saw the deaths of three Soviet leaders: Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Cherenenko. This presented him with a new and completely different challenge, the relatively young Kremlin successor Mikhail Gorbachev.

Soviet-US relations were in a parlous state, especially as Reagan had referred to Russia as an 'empire of evil'. And at one point, Reagan became known - largely because of his movie career, decades earlier - as the 'cowboy president' eager for a showdown with the Kremlin.

Sometimes he alarmed his allies by the ferocity of his anti-communist rhetoric, though he softened his position during the 1984 re-election campaign, and succeeded in dividing Americans over his hard-line approach towards Marxist Cuba and Nicaragua.

Reagan's presidency was punctuated by crises in foreign policy - but with successes in his dealings with Congress on domestic issues.

But when he left the White House, just days short of his 78th birthday, he could have boasted - if he had chosen to - that the Cold War with the Soviet Union had nearly thawed, and several Eastern bloc nations had either broken free or were on the verge of breaking free from Kremlin domination. …

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