America’s 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan, died 14 years ago Tuesday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In many ways, Reagan defined our nation’s political landscape more than any other president in recent history, laying the groundwork for subsequent U.S. presidencies and setting the gold standard for the modern Republican party.
Reagan’s two-term presidency, which spanned the tumultuous 1980s, witnessed the end of the Cold War, the loosening of inflation’s grip on the nation and a dramatic reduction in federal taxes. An incredibly popular leader, Regan earned one of the highest approval ratings of any U.S. president.
A staunch conservative, Reagan was elected governor of California in 1967, making headlines for his stance against college students protesting the Vietnam War. During his tenure as governor, he reversed California’s budget deficit and defined himself as a die-hard Republican.
A populist at heart, Reagan ran for president as an outsider who would restore traditional family values to a nation experiencing cultural upheaval in the wake of the social changes that defined the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout his political career, his wife, Nancy, always stood by his side, eventually becoming his primary caretaker in his final years.
As president, Reagan implemented a wide range of economic and political reforms, nicknamed “Reaganomics,” that included significant cuts in government spending as well as reductions in federal income tax, capital gains tax and government regulations. His supply-side economic policies were founded in the belief that reducing taxes would spark economic growth in the U.S. During his eight-year tenure, inflation decreased from 12.5 percent to 4.4 percent.
Above all, Reagan was a master politician who expanded the reach of the Republican party at home and abroad.
However, his economic legacy is somewhat mixed. Although Reagan reduced taxes, lowered interest rates and inspired economic growth, he raised the national debt and federal budget deficit to record levels, largely due to dramatic increases in military spending. In addition, the supply-side tax cuts he enacted did not produce the major increases in revenue and spending he originally predicted.
A proponent of government deregulation, Reagan once remarked, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” However, deregulation led to a loosening of laws that effectively contributed to the savings and loan crisis as well as global warming.
Sadly, one of Reagan’s most enduring achievements was raising awareness of Alzheimer’s. He officially acknowledged that he had the disease in 1994 and began a long, slow decline that eventually culminated in his death in 2004.
American politics has been a roller coaster since America’s 40th President left office in January of 1989. Since then, U.S. presidents have made headlines for sexual liaisons with White House interns, Playboy bunnies and porn stars.
May America’s 40th President rest in peace and may his legacy in American politics, both on the public stage and in the private sphere, endure.