With the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth this Feb. 6, it is fitting to recall the achievements of one of the greatest Presidents in the history of this nation:
1. Ending the Cold War: The Cold War had raged since World War II and communism‘s quest for world domination remained an existential threat to the United States when President Reagan took office. Reagan reversed the policy of detente and stood firm against the Soviet Union, calling it the Evil Empire and telling Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in Berlin. He was relentless in pushing his Strategic Defense Initiative and gave aid to rebels battling Soviet-backed Marxists from Nicaragua to Angola. Those efforts were critical in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet empire and essentially ended the Cold War.
2. Reaganomics: Reagan’s mix of across-the-board tax cuts, deregulation, and domestic spending restraint helped fuel an economic boom that lasted two decades. Reagan inherited a misery index (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates) of 19.99%, and when he left office it had dropped to 9.72%. President Obama take note: Under Reaganomics, 16 million new jobs were created.
3. Revitalizing the GOP and the conservative movement: The Republican Party was at its nadir after Watergate, but Reagan was able to form a winning coalition of fiscal conservatives, family-values voters, blue-collar Reagan Democrats and neo-conservative intellectuals and set the stage for future GOP electoral gains. His free-market, small-government, pro-liberty conservatism helped to revitalize the GOP and his influence resonates today as conservative candidates still invoke Reagan as their standard-bearer.
4. Peace through Strength: The military was diminished during the Carter years, but Reagan reversed that by rebuilding the armed forces. His Peace Through Strength philosophy was manifested by his reviving the B-1 bomber that Carter canceled, starting production of the MX missile, and pushing NATO to deploy Pershing missiles in West Germany. He increased defense spending by more than 40%, increased troop levels, and even got much-needed space parts into the pipeline. Those efforts ensured that America remained a military superpower.
5. Morning in America: It was basically a slogan for Reagan’s 1984 reelection bid, but Morning in America symbolized a new beginning for the country. Reagan’s jaunty optimism and an economic boom was a much-needed tonic for a country that had experienced the malaise of the Carter years and the traumas of Watergate and Vietnam.
6. Star Wars: Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative was derided by his opponents as being technologically unfeasible, but the mere threat of the U.S. building the system was instrumental in the Soviet Union’s collapse. The successful use of Patriot missile batteries in the first Gulf War proved the critics wrong, and the missile defense system that ensued has lessened the threat of ballistic missiles.
7. Nuclear weapons cuts: Even as massive demonstrations were held in Europe against Reagan’s hawkish stance on nuclear arms, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty he signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. He also laid the framework with Gorbachev for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which reduced both countries’ arsenals of nuclear weapons.
8. Voiced values: Reagan gave voice to the values that had served America well—thrift, patriotism, and hard work—and often recounted the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. He also championed the causes of the pro-life and family-values movements that sought to counter the societal upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.
9. Tax reform: Not only did he cut tax rates, but the Tax Reform Act of 1986 simplified the income-tax code by eliminating many tax shelters, reducing the number of deductions and tax brackets. Reagan’s dream of tax returns fitting on a postcard has been nullified as Congress has regressed and continued to make the tax code more complex, necessitating a new push for reform.
10. Taking on PATCO: Early in his administration, members of the federal air traffic controllers union (PATCO) went on strike, violating a federal regulation. Declaring the strike a “peril to national safety,” Reagan gave the workers an ultimatum and ended up firing more than 11,000 of the controllers, sending a strong signal that union workers needn’t be coddled.