Reagan's popularity enabled
him to weather the storm of the Iran-Contra affair.
former United States President Ronald Reagan a hero? Those who think
so point out the highlights of his presidency: the ending of the
Cold War, the economic success of a free-market era, and a shift
away from big government in favor of individual liberty. Those who
disagree are quick to name the downsides of his administration:
economic policies that benefited the rich while stripping away support
for the poor, a conservative stance that harmed the interests of
women, and weak enforcement of civil rights laws and other measures
designed to limit racial discrimination.
is he a hero? Perhaps the best answer is this: Reagan had a heroic
image and a lot of luck.
beginning of his presidency was full of both. At Inauguration Day,
his acting skills set a grandiose tone for his first term: "Unlike
his predecessors, he had seen no reason to take the oath of office
behind the Capitol, in the shade, overlooking a dull parking lot.
Instead, he staged the ceremony on the great building's front terrace,
where he could feel the sun on his face Ö He directed his oratory
down the sweep of its steps, the slope of its park, reverberantly
onward and outward, through loudspeakers and monitors and transistors,
along the expanding angles of Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues
and the grand axis of the Mall, crowded with thirty-two thousand
people, across the Potomac and over the Blue Ridge Mountains, west,
west, west," wrote Edmund Morris, in Dutch, a Memoir of Ronald Reagan.
then came the luck. On Reagan's first day in office, the Iran hostage
crisis ended. Fifty-three Americans, who had been held in Teheran
since November 1979, were released to the United States.
months later, after Reagan had been shot, the dual combination of
good fortune and a strong image again struck a favorable chord with
Americans. Right before the surgery to remove the bullet that lay
an inch from his heart, Reagan cracked a joke. "Honey, I forgot
to duck," he told his wife.
recovery from the operation was miraculously fast. The morning after
he was shot, Reagan was meeting with aides in his hospital room
and signing a bill into law.
the end of the Cold War, arguably Reagan's greatest achievement,
was largely a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
his inauguration, Reagan had taken a hard line against the Soviet
Union, calling its leaders "immoral" men. A number of official actions
against Communism followed. There was the suspension of economic
aid to the Polish government after it outlawed the Solidarity movement
of Lech Walesa. There were the increases in US defense spending.
was the invasion of Grenada, which resulted in the overthrow of
a newly installed pro-Soviet government. And there was military
support for Nicaraguan rebels and the El Salvadoran government,
factions of both countries who were perceived by the US to be less
inclined toward Communism.
these actions supported Reagan's image as a defender of the free
world, it was not until Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to General Secretary
of the Communist Party that Reagan had a real chance of ending the
Cold War. Coming to power in 1985, three years after the death of
Leonid Breshnev, Gorbachev faced an economy in ruins and Eastern
Bloc countries weary of Communist rule.
stage was set for reforms never before tried under the Communist
regime. Gorbachev and Reagan reached an agreement to destroy intermediate-range
nuclear missles in December 1987. By 1989, the increased freedoms
under Gorbachev's programs of glasnost and perestroika had initiated
independence movements within the Soviet Union as well as in Poland,
Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Berlin.
Two years after Reagan demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this wall,"
the East Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
Although the momentous event occurred after the end of Reagan's
presidency, it is arguably the last great symbol of his adminstration's