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by By CARL LEUBSDORF
Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 11:23 AM
Ronald Reagan, the one-time movie actor who became one of the nation's most important 20th-century presidents, died today at his California home. He was 93.
Ronald Reagan, 93, dies at California home
04:02 PM CDT on Saturday, June 5, 2004
By CARL LEUBSDORF / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON – Ronald Reagan, the one-time movie actor who became one of the nation's most important 20th-century presidents, died today at his California home. He was 93.
Mr. Reagan, whose legacy combined extraordinary successes with some major missteps, was the oldest person ever elected president and lived longer than any other chief executive.
An icon to generations of Republicans who was seen by many as the ideological father of the current Bush administration, he had rarely been seen in public in recent years after his 1994 announcement that he had Alzheimer's disease.
His eight-year tenure included one of the longest economic expansions since World War II and the beginning of a new era in the U.S.-Soviet relations that led to the end of the Cold War.
He also reshaped the terms of domestic political debate, helped to create a new confidence among the American people and brought the Republican Party to its strongest position in a half century.
Mr. Reagan cut taxes but failed to reverse the steady growth of the welfare state and, while he helped the GOP control the Senate for six of his eight years in office, his party failed to break the Democratic grip on the House until six years after he left office.
His presidency was marked by record budget deficits, a series of scandals including the Iran-Contra affair abroad and the ethical problems of several top advisers.
But his memory was cherished by the Republican faithful, as well as by many other Americans. In every campaign since his retirement, GOP candidates for the White House have vowed to emulate his leadership and his policies.
During his two terms, Mr. Reagan survived a 1981 assassination attempt and 1985 surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon. He left office weeks before his 78th birthday in apparent good health.
But 6 ½ years later, he disclosed in a handwritten letter to the American people that he had Alzheimer's.
"I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life," he wrote on Nov. 5, 1994. Three months later, his biographer, Edmund Morris, disclosed that the former president hadn't recognized him for six months. Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease marked by memory loss and disorientation.
For several years, Mr. Reagan went to his office, entertained visitors and was seen near his California home. But in late 1999, his wife Nancy disclosed that he no longer recognized close friends and had stopped outside activities.
Historians agreed that Mr. Reagan's presidency was one of the most important of the post-World War II era.
"I think he'll probably turn out to have a rather significant place in American history," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.
Professor George Edwards, director of Texas A&M University's Center for Presidential Studies, agreed. "He had a lasting impact on defense policy and on domestic policy and he changed the terms of American politics," he said.
But there was less agreement on the merits of his contributions.
"I don't think he was a good president," Mr. or Dr. Edwards said, citing the degree to which his policies polarized the American people and the legacy of massive deficits that his successors struggled to control.
"But I certainly think he was an important president."
Ronald Wilson Reagan had a genial, yet confident manner that was the source of much of his popularity. It enabled him to become one of Hollywood's best-known leading men during the 1930s and 1940s and then move seamlessly into the world of politics.
But it was accompanied by a laid-back style of management that was a source of controversy throughout his years in public office. During the latter half of his presidency, for example, some of the Iran-Contra disclosures revealed he was unaware of what top aides were doing.
His successor, George H.W. Bush, spent much of his first year cleaning up the residue of the Reagan years in areas ranging from the financial collapse of the savings and loans industry to U.S. policy in Central America.
And both Mr. Bush and the man who unseated him in 1992, Bill Clinton, were forced to seek massive packages of spending cuts and tax increases to curb the national debt that had spiraled during the Reagan presidency.
Later, however, his standing began to rise. A 1999 survey of historians by C-SPAN, which rated presidents according to 10 categories of skills and leadership, placed Mr. Reagan in 11th place, just behind John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and well ahead of George Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Because he was the first president since 1960 to serve two full terms, Mr. Reagan enjoyed a historic opportunity to leave his imprint on the nation. He entered office vowing to restore America's global military supremacy and reverse the trends that built the modern welfare state.
The defense buildup that marked his first term slowed dramatically during his second term amid signs that four decades of a U.S.-Soviet "Cold War" were coming to an end. When the Soviet Union broke apart during the presidency of Mr. Bush, supporters and critics disagreed over the extent to which Mr. Reagan's defense buildup was responsible.
"Some people will say that it led to the collapse of the Soviet empire," Dr. Edwards said. "Others will say it merely affected the timing. Quite frankly, I don't see there's a way to definitely decide that issue."
But even Mr. Reagan's political rivals agreed that his presidency had transformed the nation's domestic political environment, emphasizing limits on the role of the federal government that forced future presidents to make hard choices on how to allocate reduced federal resources.
"Even the Democrats no longer talk much about the expansion of social programs," said Benjamin Ginsberg, a Cornell University professor of government who wrote a book on the Reagan legacy.
Just as Mr. Reagan's success as a tax cutter was linked to his failure as a budget balancer, these other aspects of his presidency were also marked by contradictory forces:
• Foreign policy. Entering office with an outspoken, anti-Soviet policy, Mr. Reagan wound up putting U.S.-Soviet ties on a firmer footing by forging a working relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who took power midway through his presidency.
But his record also included failure to build on the Carter administration's progress in the Middle East, intervention in Lebanon that saw 241 Marines killed in a bomb blast, a Central American policy that neither produced stability nor ended Communist subversion and a failed effort to free U.S. hostages in Lebanon by selling arms to Iran.
• Defense buildup. Partisans credited his buildup in Pentagon spending with fostering improved U.S.-Soviet relations.
But public support for the buildup waned amid budget constraints spawned by the huge deficits, doubts about such major programs as the "Star Wars" space defense system and a major defense procurement scandal.
• American spirit. The first part of the Reagan presidency was marked by a patriotic surge that climaxed with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1986 centennial of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
But his second term was clouded by scandals that affected such close associates as Attorney General Edwin Meese and White House aides Lyn Nofizger and Michael Deaver
• Judges. Mr. Reagan appointed more federal judges than any predecessor and also filled three of the nine seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, appointments that both friend and foe expected would shift the federal judiciary strongly to the right.
His high court nominations played a key role in a 1989 decision to permit states to enact stiffer restrictions on abortions. But he was rebuffed by the Senate in his efforts to install Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg on the high court.
• Political realignment. Mr. Reagan's election was accompanied by a Republican resurgence that took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years and encouraged Republicans to believe they would soon become the nation's majority party for the first time since the 1920s.
But prospects for a national political realignment faded as Democrats regained the Senate in 1986 and the presidency in 1992.
Mr. Reagan got the major credit for the 1988 triumph of his vice president, Mr. Bush, the first time in 60 years that Republicans won a third straight White House term. And his presidency laid the basis for the stunning 1994 triumph that gave the GOP control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
A native of central Illinois, Mr. Reagan was, like many other modern presidents, the son of a strong mother and an unsuccessful father.
His father, Jack, was a shoe salesman who often changed jobs and drank too much. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon called him "engaging, if alcoholic." His mother Nelle, recalled by neighbors as very religious, imparted her interest in theater to her son.
As a teenager, he acted in high school plays and became renowned for his exploits over seven summers as a lifeguard in Lowell Park. A plaque credits him with saving 77 swimmers in the Rock River.
At nearby Eureka College, he played football, was an active member of the drama club and became student body president. After graduation, he got a job as a sports announcer with WOO in Davenport, Iowa.
During his days at WOO, and later at its sister station, WHO, Des Moines, he became well-known through the Middle West as a baseball and football announcer under the name of Dutch Reagan, a nickname given him at birth by his father who said he looked like "a little bit of a fat Dutchman."
While in California covering spring training in 1937, an agent from Warner Brothers signed him to play the part of a radio announcer in a movie called Love Is on the Air. That was the first of about 50 movie roles, ranging from his best-known part as ill-fated Notre Dame football star George Gipp in Knute Rockne – All American to a part opposite a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo.
He married actress Jane Wyman, served in the military in a noncombat role during World War II and became active in the Screen Actors Guild when Congress was investigating Communist influence in all walks of American life, including Hollywood.
His increasing political involvement played a role in ending his first marriage. But through his union activities, he met Nancy Davis, an aspiring actress and the daughter of a strongly conservative Chicago physician. She , who became his second wife.
Later, Mr. Reagan became host of the GE Theatre, a television program sponsored by General Electric Co., and he began a new career speaking to business groups as his political views veered to the right.
He gained attention in the political world with a nationally televised speech for the doomed 1964 GOP candidacy of Barry Goldwater. Two years later, he was elected governor of California.
In 1968, Mr. Reagan made an abortive run for the White House. But eight years later, after the end of his second gubernatorial term, he nearly blocked the nomination of Gerald Ford, who became the nation's first unelected president when Richard Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal.
In 1980, though 69 years old and considered too conservative, Mr. Reagan capitalized on discontent with Democrat Jimmy Carter's handling of the economy and the Iranian capture of 66 U.S. hostages to win the White House.
Four years later, he carried 49 of the 50 states against his Democratic rival, former Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
But he failed to lay out a new agenda and, as time passed and issues came up on which there was no firm notion of where he stood, "his type of management, his incuriosity and his sense of not taking hold of details caught up with him," Mr. Hess said.
That occurred most spectacularly in the bungled effort to sell arms to Iran in the hopes of freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. It became public in November 1986, at about the time that the GOP loss of the Senate ended talk of a Reagan-led political realignment.
"He suffered because he really didn't have a successful second term," said Kevin Phillips, a Republican analyst and author.
But Mr. Hess noted that few presidents have enjoyed successful second terms.
"An administration runs out of energy and becomes a lame duck after the sixth year elections," he said. "His failures in the second term were not unique." He correctly predicted that Mr. Reagan's personal shortcomings would seem less significant over time.
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||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 11:35 AM
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 11:35 AM
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 12:48 PM
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 12:57 PM
||laughing with satisfaction
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 1:22 PM
|It's a shame...
||Walker, Texas Plumber
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 2:44 PM
|Justice is served.
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 3:07 PM
||Walker, Texas Plumber
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 3:18 PM
|everyone should be sad
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 3:39 PM
|It's sad indeed
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 4:52 PM
|Some background on this scum
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 5:12 PM
||Sunday, Jun. 06, 2004 at 6:49 PM
|And then there was the S & L 500+ billion rip off
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 1:16 AM
|You mean like Whitewater?
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 3:30 AM
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 4:15 AM
|You mean like Silverado?
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 6:17 AM
|more tidbits on St. Raygun
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 8:47 AM
||Monday, Jun. 07, 2004 at 1:02 PM
|what a swell guy
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 6:44 AM
|my logical retort
||generic IMC conservative
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 7:08 AM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 9:04 AM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 9:08 AM
|Reagan was the shiznit
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 12:37 PM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 2:52 PM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 3:15 PM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 4:32 PM
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 4:36 PM
|full spectrum asshole
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 8:09 PM
|full spectrum beats JUST shit brown
||Kill a Com for Mom
||Friday, Jun. 11, 2004 at 10:36 PM
|is there such a thing as fascist victory?
||Saturday, Jun. 12, 2004 at 2:20 AM
||Saturday, Jun. 12, 2004 at 7:35 AM
||Saturday, Jun. 12, 2004 at 7:41 AM
||Saturday, Jun. 12, 2004 at 5:34 PM
|I'd agree with that
||Sunday, Jun. 13, 2004 at 3:55 PM
||Monday, Jun. 14, 2004 at 2:23 PM
||Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2004 at 7:33 AM
||Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2004 at 7:44 AM
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