Dinner Topics for Wednesday
Ronald Reagan, American Champion of Liberty
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Reagan
Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan!
Ronald Wilson Reagan February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American actor and politician. He was the 40th President of the United States (1981–89), and served as the 33rd Governor of California (1967–75) before his presidency.
Born and raised in small towns in Illinois, Reagan graduated from Eureka College and then worked as a radio broadcaster. He moved to Hollywood in 1937, where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later in television. Reagan served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and later as a spokesman for General Electric (G.E.); his start in politics occurred during his work for G.E. Originally, he was a member of the Democratic Party, but due to the parties’ shifting platforms during the 1950s, he switched to the Republican Party in 1962.
Perseverance in seeking Presidency
After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater‘s presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and in 1976, but won both the nomination and general election in 1980, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter.
As president, Reagan implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed “Reaganomics“, advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, escalated the War on Drugs, and ordered an invasion of Grenada to reverse a Communist coup.
He was re-elected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming that it was “Morning in America“. His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran–Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire“, he supported anti-communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente in favor of rollback by escalating an arms race with the USSR. Reagan subsequently negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries’ nuclear arsenals. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred soon afterward.
Reagan left office in 1989. In 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease earlier in the year; he died ten years later at the age of 93. A conservative icon, he ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents and is credited for generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in an apartment on the second floor of a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911, the son of Nelle Clyde (Wilson) and John Edward “Jack” Reagan. Reagan’s father was a salesman and a storyteller, the grandson of Irish Catholic immigrants from County Tipperary, while his mother was of half Scots and half English descent (Reagan’s maternal grandmother was born in Surrey, England). Reagan had one older brother, Neil (1908–96), who became an advertising executive. As a boy, Reagan’s father nicknamed his son “Dutch”, due to his “fat little Dutchman“-like appearance, and his “Dutchboy” haircut; the nickname stuck with him throughout his youth. Reagan’s family briefly lived in several towns and cities in Illinois, including Monmouth, Galesburg, and Chicago, in 1919, they returned to Tampico and lived above the H.C. Pitney Variety Store until finally settling in Dixon. After his election as president, residing in the upstairs White House private quarters, Reagan would quip that he was “living above the store again”.
According to Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan, Reagan had a particularly strong faith in the goodness of people, which stemmed from the optimistic faith of his mother, Nelle, and the Disciples of Christ faith, which he was baptized into in 1922. For the time, Reagan was unusual in his opposition to racial discrimination, and recalled a time in Dixon when the local inn would not allow black people to stay there. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to stay the night and have breakfast the next morning.
After the closure of the Pitney Store in late 1920, the Reagans moved to Dixon; the midwestern “small universe” had a lasting impression on Reagan. He attended Dixon High School, where he developed interests in acting, sports, and storytelling. His first job was as a lifeguard at the Rock River in Lowell Park, near Dixon, in 1927. Over a six-year period, Reagan reportedly performed 77 rescues as a lifeguard, notching a mark on a wooden log for each one. Reagan attended Eureka College, where he became a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, a cheerleader, and majored in economics and sociology. He developed a reputation as a jack of all trades, excelling in campus politics, sports and theater. He was a member of the football team, captain of the swim team and was elected student body president. As student president, Reagan led a student revolt against the college president after he tried to cut back the faculty.
After completing fourteen home-study Army Extension Courses, Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve on April 29, 1937, as a private assigned to Troop B, 322nd Cavalry at Des Moines, Iowa. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps of the cavalry on May 25, 1937.
Reagan was ordered to active duty for the first time on April 18, 1942. Due to his poor eyesight, he was classified for limited service only, which excluded him from serving overseas. His first assignment was at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, as a liaison officer of the Port and Transportation Office. Upon the approval of the Army Air Force (AAF), he applied for a transfer from the cavalry to the AAF on May 15, 1942, and was assigned to AAF Public Relations and subsequently to the First Motion Picture Unit (officially, the “18th Army Air Force Base Unit”) in Culver City, California. On January 14, 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant and was sent to the Provisional Task Force Show Unit of This Is The Army at Burbank, California. He returned to the First Motion Picture Unit after completing this duty and was promoted to captain on July 22, 1943.
In January 1944, Reagan was ordered to temporary duty in New York City to participate in the opening of the Sixth War Loan Drive. He was reassigned to the First Motion Picture Unit on November 14, 1944, where he remained until the end of World War II. He was recommended for promotion to major on February 2, 1945, but this recommendation was disapproved on July 17 of that year. While with the First Motion Picture Unit in 1945, he was indirectly involved in discovering actress Marilyn Monroe. He returned to Fort MacArthur, California, where he was separated from active duty on December 9, 1945. By the end of the war, his units had produced some 400 training films for the AAF.
Reagan never left the United States during the war, though he kept a film reel, obtained while in the service, depicting the liberation of Auschwitz, as he believed that someday doubts would arise as to whether the Holocaust had occurred.
Prayer in schools and a moment of silence
In 1981, Reagan became the first president to propose a constitutional amendment on school prayer. The school prayer had previously been banned by the supreme court in 1962, and Reagan’s election reflected an opposition to the courts decision. Reagan’s 1981 proposed amendment stated: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any state to participate in prayer.” In a message to Congress, Reagan said that his proposed amendment would “restore the simple freedom of our citizens to offer prayer in public schools and institutions.” In a nationally televised speech the following day, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson lauded Reagan’s speech and said the moment of silence would “ensure that children grow up to be decent and upright.” In 1984, Reagan again raised the issue, asking Congress “why can’t [the] freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?” In 1985, Reagan expressed his disappointment that the Supreme Court ruling still bans a moment of silence for public-school, and said he had “an uphill battle.” In 1987 Reagan again renewed his call for Congress to support voluntary prayer in schools and end “the expulsion of God from America’s classrooms.” During his term in office, Reagan campaigned vigorously to restore prayer to the schools, first as a moment of prayer and later as a Moment of Silence.[120
1984 Presidential Campaign
1984 presidential electoral votes by state. Reagan (red) won every state except for Washington, D.C., and Mondale’s home state of Minnesota.
End of the Cold War
Reagan believed that if he could persuade the Soviets to allow for more democracy and free speech, this would lead to reform and the end of Communism.
Speaking at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to go further, saying:
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
He was first among post–World War II presidents to put into practice the concept that the Soviet Union could be defeated rather than simply negotiated with, a post-Détente strategy, a conviction that was vindicated by Gennadi Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman under Gorbachev, who said that the Strategic Defense Initiative was “very successful blackmail. … The Soviet economy couldn’t endure such competition.” Reagan’s aggressive rhetoric toward the USSR had mixed effects; Jeffery W. Knopf observes that being labeled “evil” probably made no difference to the Soviets but gave encouragement to the East-European citizens opposed to communism.