The Reagan Revolution and the Return of American Conservatism by Matt Zupon

On February 6th, 1911, in a small apartment in Tampico Illinois, a very special baby entered the world (WhiteHouse.gov). A baby that would one day grow up to start his professional life as an exuberant radio host, an energetic actor, an accomplished governor, and arguably one of the greatest American Presidents throughout history. A man who would stun celebrities with his marvelous talent and Soviets with his quest for global liberalization. A man who would transform the sluggish economy of the 1970’s into a period of rapid economic expansion in the 1980’s. A man who would cast his gaze lovingly upon our flag, our troops, and our highest office.

Although people debate Reagan’s lasting influence in America and the world, even his sharpest critics cannot deny that his love for freedom and heart of gold shaped the entire decade of the 1980’s and the decade to follow. People loved Reagan’s ability to forgive and forget, highlighted best by his forgiveness of John Hinckley Jr. On March 30th, 1981, the newly inaugurated President Reagan’s secret service rushed him to the George Washington University Hospital after suffering a gun wound from his potential shooter, John Hinckley Jr. In an amazing display of faith and compassion, President Reagan wrote in his diary, “I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn’t ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. Isn’t that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all God’s children and therefore equally beloved by him. I began to pray for his soul.” (Reagan, 12). Many politicians in Washington today loathe those solely for opposing their viewpoints, let alone assaulting them.

Ronald Reagan’s popular approach to bold, honest, straight-talking politics greatly influenced millions of the electorate to head to the polls and vote for him and his agenda. In the election of 1980, former California Governor Ronald Reagan challenged President Jimmy Carter to holding the helm of the American people at the White House. Due to a lackluster economy, a weakened foreign policy, and an incompetent Presidential cabinet, incumbent Carter lost in a landslide election with Reagan winning 489 electoral votes, 50.7% of the popular vote, and 44 states to Jimmy Carter’s mere 49 electoral votes and only 6 states (plus Washington D.C.). When Ronald Reagan challenged America’s former Vice President Walter Mondale, who served under President Carter, he won by an even larger margin. President Reagan finished first in 49 states, trailing Mr. Mondale in only his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C. This time President Reagan received 525 electoral votes to Mondale’s 13, the highest in Presidential history, along with 58.4% of the popular vote (The American Presidency Project). Clearly, Ronald Reagan’s popularity among voters reverberated strongly in our capital city.

Ronald Reagan shook up the DC establishment the minute he landed in the White House. In fact, many people refer to the 1980’s as the “Reagan Revolution” due to his massive cultural influence. After many uninspiring, flawed leaders of the prior decade, Ronald Reagan would transform America into the “Shining city atop a hill” that he so fervently mentioned. Domestically, Reagan passed unprecedented legislation at the time. Of all the initiatives Reagan passed for America, most herald him as the champion of tax reform. The tax bill breezed through the House and Senate and relieved millions of Americans from the heavy taxes imposed during the progressive half of the 20th century. Though many argue, clear fact exists that the Reagan tax cuts “ stimulates growth, reduces tax avoidance, and can increase the amount and share of tax payments generated by the rich.” (Frenze, 3). On top of Reagan’s fox-like cunningness to work with Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill and the Senate Democrats in 1981, he likewise passed an even larger tax reform bill in 1986 which would not change until the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act from President Trump (H.R.1 – 115th Congress (2017-2018)), proving that Reagan severely shaped the future of taxes in America.

Ronald Reagan indirectly affected American culture with foreign affairs. Most notable for his hardline stance against the communist East, especially his quote “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Robinson), President Reagan relentlessly strived for global liberalization from communist forces. Even though the Berlin Wall would not fall until 1989, after his incumbency, and the Soviet Union would soon collapse in 1991, many attribute the efforts taken by President Reagan as the final nail in the coffin.  Due to this liberalization of Eastern Europe, America saw a massive influx of Russian immigrants following the 1991 collapse. In fact, former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, moved to the United States and obtained citizenship in 1993 (Felicity). With this influx of Russian people followed Russian culture into the everyday lives of Americans. Reagan’s harshest critics condemned his hardline approach to communism.

Ronald Reagan’s lasting impact stunned even his toughest opponents. Reagan’s popularity resonated so loudly that his vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, won the election of 1988 by a landslide. Even though he lost the election of 1992 to Democrat Bill Clinton, President Clinton favored many conservative ideals such as when he repealed Glass-Steagall (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act). After Clinton’s Presidency, Bush 41’s son, George W. Bush, won two terms in the elections of 2000 and 2004. Even Barack Obama’s interventionist and free-trade policies heralded Reaganism, and President Trump’s anti-establishmentism signals the early struggles the GOP faced with President Reagan in the 1980’s. Aside from altering the way Presidents think, Reagan transformed the GOP into the “Party of Reagan”, as many fellow Republicans in federal, state, and local governments challenge those around them to decrease regulation, decrease spending, cut taxes, and adopt a conservative viewpoint of life. Just as Franklin Roosevelt transformed half a century of Washington politics, Ronald Reagan inarguably mimicked this by sending shockwaves from Maine to California and transformed this country from past to present.

Ronald Reagan remained in the public spotlight for a few years following his exit from office but sadly rescinded to his California home following his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 1994. While opponents falsely used suspected traces of Alzheimer’s against him to undermine him for his age, the ill-fated President sadly obtained, and lost his life, to this terrible disease. In a statement by Reagan’s doctors at the time to the Reagan library, “Throughout their adult lives President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan have undergone annual physical examinations.  This continued during their years in the White House and subsequently at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. These yearly exams have included thorough memory testing and other clinical studies.Over the past twelve months we began to notice from President Reagan’s test results symptoms indicating the possibility of early stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Additional testing and an extensive observation over the past few weeks have led us to conclude that President Reagan is entering the early stages of this disease. Although his health is otherwise good, it is expected that as the years go on it will begin to deteriorate.  Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and no effective treatment exists that arrest its progression. We applaud President Reagan for the courage he has demonstrated by sharing this personal information with the American people. However, as his personal physicians, we respect the doctor/patient privilege and will not be making any further comment about his medical condition.” (“Physician’s Explanation of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis). President Reagan would lose his life on June 5th, 2004 in California, surrounded by his family. (“Library, California State”).

Though many relish the Reagan administration and all that occurred in America during the 1980’s, one must not forget that even the best make mistakes. After recovering from the monstrosity known as Watergate, many Americans felt relieved to have elected a trustworthy leader. However, an incident known as Iran-Contra scarred the Reagan administration to this day as the most negative point in the presidency. Members of Reagan’s administration illegally sold arms to Iran to help combat communism in the Middle East without Congressional approval  in 1987(“Central Intelligence Agency”). Due to this mishap, President Reagan faced a downward trend in the polls and impeachment hearings, which made very little traction and failed.

From a small town in Illinois to a radio station in Iowa, to stunning stars in Hollywood to dazzling Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento, to changing the way we all view and think about our government in Washington and freeing the Eastern hemisphere of our globe, President Ronald Reagan not only saw eight years of success but monumental, lasting changes that we still see to this day. Through tax reform, tearing down walls, tidying trade deals, and toughening our Constitutional rights, Ronald Reagan showed us that not only can Washington accomplish great tasks when united, but we, the people of the United States of America, can meet any goal when we all meet under a shared value, an all-encompassing virtue, the American creed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Though President Reagan may no longer celebrate the American creed with us on Earth, his ideas and liveliness lives on in many people today. Governors, Senators, mayors, Representatives, and even Presidents, both Democrat and Republican, herald the late “Great Communicator” through their policies, rhetoric, and approach towards elections. Too many people today hate one another for their differing political ideologies, but if we could all discuss the issues and work together to form a better America, perhaps we could ignite a second “Reagan Revolution” and truly make America great again.

Works Cited

Barringer, Felicity “Khrushchev’s Son to Reside Permanently in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Apr. 1993, www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/us/khrushchev-s-son-to-reside-permanently-in-us.html.

Beahrs, Oliver H, et al. “Physician’s Explanation of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis.”Physician’s Explanation of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis | Ronald Reagan Presidential Library – National Archives and Records Administration, www.reaganlibrary.gov/sreference/physician-s-explanation-of-ronald-reagan-s-alzheimer-s-diagnosis.

Brady, and Kevin. “H.R.1 – 115th Congress (2017-2018): An Act to Provide for

Reconciliation Pursuant to Titles II and V of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.” Congress.gov, 22 Dec. 2017, www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1.

Brinkley, Douglas, editor. The Reagan Diaries, by Ronald Reagan, HarperCollins, 2009.
Frenze, Christopher. “The Reagan Tax Cuts: A Lesson for Tax Reform.” www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/9576a929-37b4-497c-9b06-4bf3481f9f0a/the-reagan-tax-cuts-lessons-for-tax-reform-april-1996.pdf.

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