There are very few people over the course of history who changed the conditions of people living in their time, and there are even fewer people who also changed the way how the coming generations would live. Ronald Reagan was one of these people. Ronald Reagan through his policies shaped the United States of America for better and for good. By the time he became president, America was immersed in some serious problems. The US was facing defeat on many fronts. The US was entangled in difficulties in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cambodia and Ethiopia. It was also under the immense pressure from the OPEC oil cartel in the 1970s. The USSR was violating many treaties and invaded Afghanistan and there was nothing we could do. We even lost a good friend in the region in the form of Shah of Iran. And to top of all of this, things were not that well at home either. These were the times when Reagan rose to power to get the American people out of all these crises.
Till the late 1970s a lot of countries had come under the domination of the USSR. It was the belief of a number of analysts that after the defeat in Vietnam the US would succumb to the Soviets in the Cold War. But Reagan along with his companions, through complex strategies, turned all of this in the favor of the US and thwarted rather than ‘containing’ the ambitions of the USSR. And all of this was achieved through tactics which did not include any violence or bloodshed. Although during his two tenures the defense budget increased markedly but relations with the USSR also improved. According to Lettow (2006) making Gorbachev agree on the treaty to eliminate medium-range nuclear missiles was a breakthrough in this regard. According to Bartels (1991) he increased the military budget by about 40%. Following the Reagan Doctrine, he supported anti-communist forces in Central America and Asia but without any direct and conspicuous US involvement. Briefly put the Reagan Doctrine was about fighting the worldwide influence of Soviet Communism at the end of the Cold War. According to this doctrine it was better to support the democracy and freedom movements in the third world countries rather than become isolated. Reagan gave the American people hope and optimism.
Reagan also won many important battles on the economic front. Growth is of vital importance to raise living standards partly through advancement in technology, science and medicine through research. Reagan made it crystal clear from the outset that it is not the government which can increase economic growth; it is rather its enemy. But what the government can do is that it can produce an environment which is suitable for growth and creativity. Reagan encouraged entrepreneurship among the nation because the government with all its bureaucratic structure cannot take risks and quick decisions. To make the conditions friendly for growth, Reagan lowered the taxes, decreased government regulation in different sectors of the economy and thus made it easier for the enterprises to operate. This resulted in one of the longest periods of peaceful economic growth in the history of the United States. New ideas converted into sellable products and thus a lot of jobs were created for the average American citizen. Reagan through his policies showed the power of the free market and showed that capitalism still works. He even privatized some of the institutions owned by the government to demonstrate the fact that many of the problems that the government cannot handle can be tackled with the help of the private sector. When Reagan started as president, the inflation rate was about 7% and the unemployment rate was close to 7%. Reagan introduced reforms based on supply side economics and supported the laissez-faire theory. He stimulated the economy through tax reductions (“Cry Wolf Again?,” n.d.). The GDP figure kept on rising after the economic recession in the early 1980s and kept on growing at a rate of 3.4% per annum.
Not only Reagan made his mark in countering the threat of Communism and in shaping America’s economic future with his economic policies but he left a mark on the American society in the form of his other legacies. He was a proponent of the ‘New Federalism’ which restored power back to the states, the power which had gradually shifted to the center, to the capital Washington. The reason behind this restoration was the simple logical fact that since states are much closer to the people so they are in a better position to solve their problems rather than to rely on the center to solve everything. Reagan also put a check on judicial activism by placing young judges who understood and respected the delicate division of power among different institutions of the government in the constitution like the Congress and the President. The placement of young judges meant that these policies will continue to shape the future of the coming generations even long after he is not the president. Ronald Reagan restored the confidence of the people in the presidency which was quite unlike his predecessors. Both words and actions of Reagan have touched the heart of the American people and have again aroused in them the sense of pride that the people had in their country. In his speeches he frequently referred to America as the Promised Land and the ‘last best hope of man on earth’. The legacy that Reagan has left behind for his people is a very noble one and has truly shaped our country in many ways.