A political leader of the twentieth century, elected president in 1980 and 1984. Reagan went into politics after a career as a film actor. He served as governor of California from 1967 to 1975 and became a leading spokesman for conservatism in the United States. As the nominee of the Republican party, promising to work toward a balanced federal budget, he won a large victory over President James Earl Carter in 1980 and an even larger one over Walter Mondale in 1984. Early in his presidency, Reagan persuaded a Congress controlled by Democrats to increase spending on defense and to reduce taxes. The federal budget was to be balanced by reductions in spending outside of defense, but Reagan and the Congress were never able to agree on these. Accordingly, the federal government went deeper into debt throughout Reagan's presidency. Reagan nevertheless was able to reduce the size and activities of the federal government outside of defense.
Note: His foreign policy was heavily affected by his opposition to communism; for example, he sent troops to the Caribbean island of Grenada to help put down a revolution in 1983 and aided the opponents of the Marxist government of Nicaragua. The Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,” was his favored approach to the problem of nuclear weapons. A scandal arose in his administration in the late 1980s, when it was learned that Reagan's subordinates had arranged a secret sale of weapons to Iran and an illegal transfer of the profits to rebels in Nicaragua, but investigators did not charge that Reagan himself was part of the arrangement (see Iran-Contra Affair). He met with the premier of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1985, 1986, and 1987, and reached agreements on reduction of nuclear weapons. Reagan survived an attempted assassination in 1981.
Note: In 1984, at age seventy-three, Reagan became the oldest person ever to be elected president.
Note: Reagan, a highly popular president, was called the “Great Communicator” for his efforts to explain government problems and projects on a level that could be widely understood.