On this day in 1911 Ronald Reagan was born to a poor family in small town Illinois. At 26 he moved to Hollywood as an actor, appearing in several big screen movies. He had few illusions about his status, however, regarding acting as a job he performed competently. He was a Democrat until the real world hit him at the age of 51, when he became a Conservative Republican. His 1964 speech supporting Barry Goldwater attracted the national spotlight, and from 1966 he served two terms as Governor of California.
In 1980 he was elected the 40th President of the United States, the oldest yet elected, and served two terms in which he transformed America and the world. At home he implemented supply side reforms, cutting taxes and regulations, and curbing government spending. Average annual GDP growth was 3.4%, and inflation dropped from 12.5% to 4.4%. Abroad he stood up against what he dubbed the “evil empire” of communism, and in a speech in Berlin urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
Significantly he backed the Strategic Defence Initiative (dubbed “Star Wars”) to implement a defence against ballistic missiles. Although critics derided it as fantasy, it was the top item that Gorbachev wanted stopped at the Icelandic summit, and it was Reagan’s refusal to do so that led to the breakdown of the talks. In fact it was instrumental in the collapse and defeat of the Soviet Union who realized they could not compete on economic, military and technological terms with the newly assertive and self-confident USA.
There was real warmth in his friendship with Margaret Thatcher, who implemented similar domestic and foreign policy initiatives in the UK, and the two formed an effective alliance. Reagan left behind him a prosperous and vibrant America, and within a year, he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of the subjugated Soviet satellite countries into economic and political freedom.
The world is a better place because Ronald Reagan lived in it and walked upon its stage, and we should all fondly remember and appreciate his legacy.