Ronald Reagan; as President, He Made Us Proud Again

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Stacy McCain, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ronald Reagan, one of the most popular U.S. presidents of the 20th century, transformed politics and government while ensuring that the United States would win the Cold War.

His death on Saturday at 93 stirred the nation's memories of the White House in the 1980s - of eight years in which Mr. Reagan restored the power of the presidency, cut taxes and nurtured prosperity, strengthened the military and made unabashed patriotism fashionable again.

Mr. Reagan's steely opposition to the Soviet Union - in a 1983 speech, he described it as an "evil empire" - is widely credited with ensuring the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe. In a 1982 speech to the British Parliament, he vowed that "the march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history."

Standing in front of the Soviet-built barricade dividing Berlin, Mr. Reagan in June 1987 called upon Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to end communist repression: "Open this gate, Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall."

In November 1989, 10 months after Mr. Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall - a symbol of communist tyranny for nearly three decades - was dismantled. The Soviet Union soon collapsed. A piece of the Berlin Wall went on display in Mr. Reagan's presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Elected president in 1980 at a time of economic stagnation and foreign-policy crisis, Mr. Reagan restored confidence in government and made his brand of optimistic conservatism a major force in American political life.

'Are you better off?'

For many, the nation's 40th president personified the American dream.

Rising from a poor Midwestern family to movie stardom on his talent and good looks, Ronald Wilson Reagan made a successful leap to politics in 1966 when he was elected governor of California.

Fourteen years later, Mr. Reagan won the nation's highest office, defeating the incumbent Democrat, President Carter, with 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

He won re-election in 1984 in a landslide, carrying an unprecedented 49 of the 50 states and nearly winning the 50th: He lost Democratic challenger Walter F. Mondale's home state of Minnesota by only 3,761 votes.

Dubbed the "Great Communicator" by campaign strategist Stuart Spencer in 1980, Mr. Reagan was known for his ability to frame a complex problem in simple terms and then offer an equally simple solution.

"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Mr. Reagan asked voters in 1980, near the end of his campaign to unseat Mr. Carter.

"Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we're as strong, as we were four years ago?"

In five brief questions, the candidate had laid out the priorities of his future presidency.

Mr. Reagan took office in 1981 at 69, making him the nation's oldest president.

He always cut a rugged, hardy figure, though: He was fond of horseback riding and brush-clearing on his California ranch. He survived a bullet wound in the chest in an assassination attempt three months after taking office. He recovered quickly after bouts with colon and skin cancer in his second term.

Those close to Mr. Reagan said his wife since 1952, Nancy, was the most important influence on him. She was his political confidante and sounding board, the one whose opinion he valued most.

The Reagans had two children, Patti and Ron. Mr. Reagan's first marriage, to actress Jane Wyman, produced daughter Maureen and adopted son Michael.

Keeping it simple

With a homey personal style, Mr. Reagan espoused a simple conservative philosophy. …