How Ronald Reagan Changed the World


            In the early 1980s, the American people elected Ronald Reagan as President of the United States of America.  Many people claim that Reagan was one of the greatest presidents of all time, while others believe that the country would have been much better off had Reagan never been elected.  Regardless of their political preferences, it is undeniable that Ronald Reagan changed the world in the 1980s and his work as president will be forever remembered in the countless books of history.  Ronald Reagan ran as a Republican and was the absolute epitome of a conservative.  He worked to bring forth the ideal of conservatism in America and successfully captured and isolated that belief in the presidency.  As president, Reagan worked to bring the ideal of American exceptionalism back to the country, to set the economy on the right track, and to end the Communist threat that had been present since the end of World War II.  For all practical purposes, Ronald Reagan was a president who accomplished more than he set forth to do and did so famously; some would say infamously.  Nevertheless, Reagan accomplished more in his eight year presidency than most presidents of the 20th Century.  He is widely hailed as the man who ended the Cold War and will forever be remembered as the man who led to the conservative resurgence in America.  He was a man of profound ability and charisma and America is better off for having Reagan as the Commander-in-Chief during the latter portion of the 20th Century.

            Ronald Reagan was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois.  His mother, Nelle, was a homemaker; and his father, Jack, was a traveling salesman (Ronald Reagan).  The Reagan family moved often as Jack searched throughout the state for work and Ronald Reagan grew up in a very poor family.  Despite the hardships his family encountered, Reagan graduated from high school in Dixon, Illinois and earned a football scholarship to attend Eureka College (Reagan, “American Life” 43.  After graduating from Eureka, Reagan pursued a career in Hollywood where he starred in over fifty movies and eventually became the president of the Screen Actors Guild.  As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan worked to remove all suspected Communists from Hollywood; all the while instilling a conservative values in the liberal slanted film industry.  In 1964, the former actor, Ronald Reagan, delivered a nationally televised political speech on behalf of conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.  The speech became one of Reagan’s most pivotal speeches that completely changed his life.  In his speech, Reagan presented the country with his ideals of a perfect country, supported by his conservative values.  He also spoke about how America needs a strong national defense, a reduction of taxes, and the need to defeat the Communist threat in the Soviet Union.  He also stated, “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope for man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness” (Reagan, “Speaking” 36).  After his speech, Reagan was approached by many influential Republicans who urged him to run for Governor of California.  His speech, on behalf of Barry Goldwater became one of his greatest triumphs.

            Reagan initially refused when he was asked to run for governor; nevertheless, many influential Republicans got together and formed a fundraising group called “Friends of Reagan.”  They raised a great deal of money and in 1966; Reagan defeated the incumbent Democrat Governor of California (What Would Reagan Do?).  At that moment, his political career began and in 1981, Reagan assumed the role as President of the United States of America.  Throughout his presidency, Reagan set America on a course to defeat the Communist threat in the Soviet Union, to boost military funding, to cut taxes, and to return optimism to the American people.  Reagan worked relentlessly to accomplish his goals and in the process changed the world.  Many of his critics view the 1980s as a decade of unmitigated wealth and greed; and they praise Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for ending the Cold War.  From the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan worked to end the Cold War, not to appease the Soviets.  Former presidents had worked to open relations with the Soviet Union.  President Nixon had formed détente and Carter worked to appease the Communists.  However, “Reagan rejected Communism, détente, and containment, and set us on a course to win – not manage – the Cold War…” (The Great One).  Reagan met several times with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, and together they worked to compromise and create treaties that would eliminate the threat of short range nuclear weapons.  Many of the meetings with Gorbachev were productive, yet Reagan’s ideal of foreign policy was not as clearly defined as many of his critics may have wished.

            The Reagan Administration dealt with foreign policy on the manner of “Peace through Strength,” they worked to isolate any world menace and to direct all immediate attention to that threat.  This ideal of foreign policy worked to threaten the Soviet Union and to make them aware that any danger they may pose would be dealt with in a quick and decisive manner.  In 1983, Reagan ordered the United States Marines to invade Grenada.  A coup d’état was taking place and a revolutionary group was trying to take control of the government to align with the Marxist Soviet Union (Reagan, “American Life” 449).  Although the troops were only in Grenada for a short period of time, they did quell the threat of a Communist uprising and Reagan shocked the world with his tough stance on global threats.  During his presidency, Reagan increased federal defense spending by 35 percent and began building nuclear weapons at an unprecedented rate (Ronald Reagan).  In 1986, one American serviceman was killed in a bombing in Berlin that injured 63 other members of the American military.  It became evident within hours that the terrorist attack had been planned and carried out by Mu’ammar Qadhafi, the leader of Libya.  Reagan was quick to order an air raid on key ground targets in Libya.  The strike was a success and many important buildings were destroyed.  Reagan addressed the nation shortly after the air raid and made several comments that were illustrative of his firm stance against terrorist actions.  He said, “When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in this world… we will respond so long as I’m in this Oval Office,” and to terrorist leaders around the world he said, “He [Qadhafi] counted on America to be passive.  He counted wrong” (Reagan, “Speaking” 288).  With that speech, Reagan imposed his views upon the world and he let the country know that he would not succumb to any foreign national threat.

            For all practical purposes, nearly all of the military actions of the 1980s were directed in some manner towards the Soviet Union.  The preemptive attacks on Grenada and Libya were used as threats against the Soviet Union and were meant to be symbolic of the fact that America would not hesitate to act.  Reagan used his strong military presence as a threat against the Soviets and many of Reagan’s naysayers still believe he used force in a manner contradictory to the astute power of the President of the United States.  However, the Reagan Administration used their military prowess to instill fear into all Communist threats worldwide.  The political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, speaks of powerful leaders, he writes, “…it is much safer to be feared than loved…” (Machiavelli 66).  Therefore, regardless of what critics may say, it would seem that Reagan’s use of military force throughout the world was effective and that Gorbachev feared his American counterpart.  Reagan used his superiority to his advantage when he met with Gorbachev to discuss the reduction of nuclear missiles.

            During the 1980s, Reagan increased the defense spending more than any president had done before; it was a part of his “Peace through Strength” foreign policy.  During this time, the production of nuclear missiles surged and the United States found itself in a mini-arms race with the Soviet Union.  In essence, the Reagan Administration outspent the Soviets in defense and nuclear weapon production.  In an effort to compete, the Soviets bankrupted themselves and had no choice but to dismiss their Marxist values.  Between the years of 1985 and 1988, Reagan met with General Secretary Gorbachev four times; in Switzerland, Iceland, Washington D.C., and Moscow (Reagan, “American Life” 545).  The meetings between the two world leaders were dramatic and Reagan walked out of the meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland after Gorbachev failed compromise.  The tensions were high during all of the meetings and many people feared that any mistake could lead to an immediate nuclear Armageddon.  Fortunately, no nuclear weapons were launched and the Reagan Administration triumphed over the Soviet Union.  In 1987, Reagan visited East Berlin and spoke at the Brandenburg Gate.  During his speech, he called for an end to Communism and a strengthening of individual liberty.  His speech as the Brandenburg Gate is often viewed as one of the most successful speeches of his presidency.  While speaking to a crowd of thousands, Reagan said to the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” (Reagan, “Speaking” 352).  Two years later, the Soviet Union agreed to tear down the Berlin Wall and within the year, Communist nations around Europe began to crumble.  Many Democrats in Congress and the mainstream media praised Gorbachev for bringing peace to European countries; they praised Gorbachev for capitulating and for keeping the warmongering Ronald Reagan from leading the country on the road to a nuclear war.  Many Americans who opposed the Reagan Administration were more than happy to give the credit to the Soviet Union; they believed Reagan was too overpowering and heartless to have been so successful.  Nevertheless, conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh writes, “The end of the Cold War and the defeat of Communism in the Soviet Union was a clear victory for American values, for the American way of life, for the republican, democratic, free-marked ideals of the United States of America” (Limbaugh “Ought to Be” 230).  Therefore, it would seem that Reagan played a major role in bringing an end to the 40 year Cold War.  Regardless of the beliefs and values one holds, Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War and quelled the Communist threat worldwide.  He changed the world!

            Although his greatest success may have been bringing closure to the Cold War, Reagan also accomplished a great deal in the United States of America.  When he left office in 1989, the economy was breaking records and benefitting from the longest period of peacetime prosperity without recession or depression (Ronald Reagan).  People were making money in America and thanks to Reagan’s tax cuts; they were able to keep more of what they earned.  The Reagan Administration began an economic policy that became identified as “Reaganomics” or trickle-down economics.  Reaganomics was the belief that tax cuts for the rich, middle class, and poor would work to stimulate the economy.  If the rich had more money, they would create more businesses and opportunity, the middle class would then be able to become business owners, and higher the poor.  It is a social hierarchy of job creation and the nation experienced 96 months of peacetime economic growth (Limbaugh, “Told You So” 122).  In 1990, George H.W. Bush disbanded the policy of Reaganomics and the 96 months of economic growth ended almost immediately.  Many historians, to this day, view the 1980s as a decade of greed where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  They also discredit the policy of Reaganomics because they do not believe the rich paid their fair share of taxes.  Nevertheless, economic figures are illustrative of how much the rich truly pay in taxes.  It seems that the top 1% of income earners pay nearly 40% of all federal income taxes in the United States (What Would Reagan Do?).  Therefore, even if the 1980s were deemed as a decade of greed, it would seem that greed is good.  Reagan worked to reduce onerous taxes in order to return the wealth to its rightful owners, the workers.  The Reagan Administration did not hand out money; rather, they let people keep more of what they had already earned.  In return, consumerism rose and the money was immediately deposited back into the national economy.

            Therefore, it would seem that the tax cuts and policy of Reaganomics worked very well in the 1980s; the economic growth experienced in that decade has yet to be matched.  Regardless of one’s political affiliation, it is undeniable that tax cuts work and the economic policy of the Regan Administration should be implemented into our system now, during the present economic crisis.  The implementation of tax cuts, both on income and corporations, provided working class Americans with the incentive to work and to achieve.  No longer were people afraid of earning; the tax cuts prevented hard working Americans from being punished with onerous and unmitigated taxation.  This era of economic growth restored a feeling of optimism in America, especially after the failures of the Carter Administration and the record setting unemployment rate of the late 1970s.  Ronald Reagan’s policies, both foreign and domestic, made people proud to be Americans once again.  During the 1980s, Americans were not being villainized and condemned, they were being praised.  Reagan restored the feeling of confidence in America and brought forth a generation of strong, nationalistic Americans.

            Ronald Reagan was a success as President of the United States, not only because of his charisma and communication skills, nor simply because of his policies.  Ronald Reagan was a success because the American people loved him.  In 1984, during his campaign for a second term, the electorate illustrated their reverie for him and he won in the largest landslide victory ever recorded.  He was unanimously re-elected in 49 of the 50 states (What Would Reagan Do?).  His unprecedented victory astonished the world and many of his political detractors wondered how he could be so popular.  Once again, the political philosopher Machiavelli offers insight into how a person should be a successful leader.  Machiavelli wrote in 1513, “…he should inspire his citizens to follow their pursuits quietly, in trade and in agriculture and in every other pursuit of men, so that one person does not fear to adorn his possessions for fear that they be taken away from him, and another to open up a trade for fear of taxes” (Machiavelli 91).  In essence, Reagan accomplished all of these aforementioned goals during his presidency.  His policy of a strong national defense worked to make people feel comfortable and unafraid of a Communist attack, and his policy of Reaganomics allowed people to become entrepreneurs without a fear of being taxed out of business.  For all practical purposes, Reagan epitomized the values of a good leader as prescribed by Niccolo Machiavelli; he restored the power and the faith to the people while simultaneously ruling under the facade of being a decisive and fearful leader when handling foreign threats.

            In the end, it is apparent that Ronald Reagan accomplished a great deal during his administration.  His most important accomplishments stem from restoring optimism in Americans, the unmitigated growth of economic prosperity, and bringing an end to the Cold War.  Many of his political opponents still work to destroy the successes of his administration and they blame him for being too demanding and too dangerous.  They thought his actions during the 1980s were detrimental to the growth and prosperity of America.  On January 11, 1989, during his farewell address to the nation, he said, “My friends: We did it.  We weren’t just marking time.  We made a difference.  We made the city stronger.  We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands.  All in all, not bad, not bad at all” (Reagan, “Speaking” 418).  The Reagan Administration was one of growth and success.  During his presidency, he changed America, let alone the world, for the better.  He had done what no president before him could, he set the nation on a course for unprecedented economic growth, and he led to the downfall of Communism and the Cold War.  His opponents viewed him as a failure; however, his policies greatly impacted the world.  If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would still be the last best hope for this country.

                                                                                                 Annotated Bibliography

Coulter, Ann.  What Would Reagan Do?.  21 September 2005.  Web.  17 March 2010.  This website stores many of the weekly articles written by conservative columnist Ann Coulter.  She writes for and is a lawyer for the conservative publication Human Events.  This article in particular offers insight into why Reagan was so revered and respected both during and after his presidency.  It offers a great bit of research and will be beneficial to my paper because it will allow me to gain another viewpoint on how politicians of the future should act in order to be successful.

Limbaugh, Rush.  See, I Told You So.  New York:  Pocket Star Books, 1993.  See, I Told You So, is the second book written by Rush Limbaugh, directly after the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.  The book is about the change in political agenda over the past twelve years, including the entire Reagan Administration.  It illustrates how profound Mr. Reagan was and the repercussions he made throughout the country.  It is a good source for my paper because it details the beginning and end of the Reagan Revolution.

Limbaugh, Rush.  “The Great One.”  National Review 28 June 2004: 36.  Academic OneFile.  Web. 17. Feb. 2010.  This article debuted in the highly acclaimed conservative publication National Review a few weeks after the death of Ronald Reagan.  The article was written by the “King of Radio” Rush Limbaugh.  Mr. Limbaugh illustrates how successful Reagan was throughout his presidency and how his conservative ideals and values further progressed his success as president.  Although the article is fully in support of the Reagan Administration, it still offers insight into why Reagan is still hailed as one of America’s greatest presidents.  The article helped further my essay be incorporating the voice of another significant member of the conservative community, Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh, Rush.  The Way Things Ought to Be.  New York:  Pocket Books, 1992.  Another book written by Rush Limbaugh, this book is about the Presidency of Ronald Reagan and the critical review many people had of his administration.  The book goes into great deal explaining the policies and attitudes of Reagan’s two-term presidency and works to push forth the ideal of American conservatism.  Although I am using many Rush Limbaugh articles in this essay, they are valuable resources allowing me to further my paper by including the thoughts and feelings of Mr. Reagan’s critics.  The Way Things Ought to Be is a valuable resource.

Machiavelli, Niccolo.  The Prince.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.  This source was written by Niccolo Machiavelli, undoubtedly one of the greatest political philosophers of all time.  The book is an homage to a prince and educates leaders on how they should act and lead if they yearn to be respected and loved.  It offers many examples of good and powerful leaders and many traits described by Machiavelli in 1513 are illustrious to the goals set forth by the Reagan Administration in the 20th Century.  This source will allow me to incorporate some history into my essay and should greatly benefit my paper not only in a textual, but in a philosophical manner.

Reagan, Ronald.  An American Life.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.  The source was an autobiography written by Ronald Reagan.  It is a detailed account of his life from birth, to college, to Hollywood, to California, and eventually the Presidency of the United States of America.  The source is extremely beneficial because it is written by Ronald Reagan himself and allows the reader to gain an insight into why he is the way he is.  The autobiography answers many questions about the Reagan Administration and is undoubtedly biased towards his personal views on issues.  This source is very beneficial to my essay and allows me to more fully understand the life and times of Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Reagan, Ronald.  Speaking My Mind.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.  This source is a collection of speeches Ronald Reagan made throughout his presidency.  It is a collection of his most influential and memorable speeches and allows the audience to more fully grasp the absolute grace of the Reagan Administration.  Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator” for a reason and this source is illustrative of his ability to communicate with the American people and the world.  The source was beneficial to my paper and allowed me to grasp the full context of his speeches and the reasoning behind the message.  The collection of speeches furthered my research a great deal.

“Ronald Reagan.”  Web.  17 March 2010.  This article in particular hails directly from the government operated White House website and gives a detailed biography of former President Ronald Reagan.  It is a very credible source, whereas it comes directly from the government, and it offers a lot of detailed information about who Reagan was and why he was such an effective leader.  For all practical purposes, this website will be used primarily to write about his history and lifestyle; a necessary element of any research paper.