Perspective: How Ronnie Led Maggie a Dance; Chris Moncrieff Looks at the Reagan Years, When Britain Has Never Been Closer to America

The Birmingham Post (England), June 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

Perspective: How Ronnie Led Maggie a Dance; Chris Moncrieff Looks at the Reagan Years, When Britain Has Never Been Closer to America


Byline: Chris Moncrieff

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.

His victory provoked scenes of joy, for Carter was seen as a narrow-minded old puritan, even though he was 13 years younger than his successor.

Once more champagne flowed in the White House -which had been dull and dry throughout the Carter years.

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 180 billion.

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.

It was a bumpy relationship with the much younger Gorbachev, that had its highs and lows. And 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.

This was achieved through tough talking, touch negotiating - and one or two hairraising events as well.

But his friendship with Thatcher was tested in 1983 by the US invasion of Grenada, a member of the Commonwealth with a Marxist Government. She was furious that this took place with Britain -and in particular the Queen -kept in the dark.

However, Reagan withstood her fury, actually observing: 'She will get over it.' He was right. The end product was the elimination of an unpopular socialist regime, and the invasion did not affect their personal relationship.

His worst moment was on March 30, 1981, when, at the age of 70, he was shot in an assassination attempt by a young drifter, John Hinckley.

The bullet entered his left side, bounced off his seventh rib, punctured and collapsed a lung, and lodged an inch from his heart.

Reagan charmed Americans with his good humour during what was a frightening ordeal. When the injured president was sped to hospital, he joked to his wife Nancy: 'Honey, I forgot to duck.' Astonishingly, he was back in the White House 12 days after the shooting.

And although he was attacked by his critics as being 'dim and dumb', Reagan was actually a quick-witted individual and a leader, unafraid to take swift and tough decisions, a man who scorned detail but wielded the broad brush with masterly effect. …

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