Ronald Reagan


From "supply side" economics to the end of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan presided over some of the most significant changes of 20th century. Frequently ranked in opinion polls among the most popular presidents, Reagan was both bold and controversial. Join Active Minds as we examine Reagan's life before becoming president, his years as Commander-in-Chief, and his lasting impact on the country and the world.

Key Lecture Points

  • On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan, former actor, past president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, and two-term governor of California became the 40th President of the United States. In his first inaugural address, Reagan spoke of a “new beginning” for the relationship Americans have with their government, stating: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
  • Many historians credit Reagan with bringing an end to the Cold War; his determination to increase U.S. military presence in Europe at a time when economic conditions in the Soviet Union forced that country to reduce its defense expenditures contributed to the collapse of the communist government.
  • In 1987, President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate—one of the few openings in the imposing Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany. In an impassioned speech many credit with forcing Mikhail Gorbachev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party, to tear down the wall, Reagan spoke of the need to end long-standing divisions and hatred. 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of a new relationship between the (former) Soviet Union and the United States.
  • The Soviet Union sent 30,000 troops into neighboring Afghanistan in December 1979 hoping to quell a coup that resulted in the overthrow of the pro-Soviet Afghani government. Within two years, the number of Soviet troops passed 100,000. Beginning in 1981, President Reagan authorized the CIA to train and support the mujihadeen—anti-Communist Afghani freedom fighters. Many mujihadeen became leaders within the Taliban and are now at war with the United States in Afghanistan.
  • The Reagan administration’s economic policies focused on four points: reducing government spending, reducing certain taxes, reducing government regulation over the financial (and other) industries, and reducing inflation by controlling the supply of money in circulation. These policies, which focus on the supply of goods and services (rather than demand), were dubbed “Reaganomics”. Today, economists and others debate whether the Reagan-era economic policies had a direct effect on the current economic crisis.
  • A growing number of editorials draw comparisons between the early years of the Reagan and Obama administrations: Both men were elected with tremendous popular support but found it quickly drain away after they were forced to face strong domestic problems centering on the state of the economy.

Exploration Questions

  • What do you think is the most important contribution of the Reagan Presidency?
  • What makes a president great? Do you consider Reagan a great president? Why or Why not?
  • If you could ask Reagan one question about his major presidential decisions, what would it be?
  • What parallels might you draw between the first 100 days of Reagan’s administration and that of President Obama?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you traveled to the former Soviet Union satellites either before or after the fall of the USSR? If after the fall, what are the differences since 1990?
  • Do you remember when the Berlin Wall fell? What was your reaction at the time?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Reagan, Ronald and Douglas Brinkley. The Reagan Diaries. Harper Perennial, 2009. 767 pages. During his presidency, Reagan kept a daily diary with his thoughts and observations of the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of his time in office.
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  • Noonan, Peggy. What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era. Random House Trade, 2003. 384 pages. Noonan was special assistant to the President and worked with Reagan and Bush on many of their famous speeches. This memoir gives an insider’s view of the Reagan and Bush administrations.
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