Study Guide

Ronald Reagan in Crisis of Confidence

By Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

The Golden Boy of the Silver Screen

Born to Nelle and John Reagan in Tampico, Illinois in 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan was your typical all-American youth. He worked his way through school, attending Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology. He also played on the football team.

But Reagan was no simple-minded jock. He had well-rounded interests, including theatre, where he acted in school plays before earning a Hollywood contract in 1937. Over the next twenty years, Reagan appeared in over fifty films including, perhaps most famously, Knute Rockne, All American, in which he plays the talented yet fatally ill George "The Gipper" Gip. Success in this and other films catapulted Reagan to the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild.

It was during this presidency where Reagan shifted his political views from liberal to conservative, the result of his efforts to root out communist-sympathizers from the Hollywood ranks. His conservative policies, in conjunction with his popularity and likeability launched his political career, where he was elected Governor of California not once, but twice.

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

After winning the Republican nomination for president in 1980, Reagan set his sights on the White House. Standing in his way, however, was sitting president and Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter.

The election of 1980 was a study in contrasts. To analyze this dichotomy using emoji, Reagan would be the smiley, while Carter would use the frowny face. There was a lot of ill-feeling surrounding the Carter presidency. In addition to economic matters, resulting from the oil shock and subsequent recession, there were also foreign policy concerns ( *cough the Iranian hostage crisis, *cough).

The cherry on top of this malaise milkshake was the so-called "Crisis of Confidence" speech, in which Carter had urged the American people to commit themselves to a strict moral code of conservation and sacrifice in order to combat the policies of OPEC. Sensing the unpopularity of this message, Reagan made optimism a central tenet of his presidential platform. He intentionally positioned himself as the opposite of the gloomy Carter. An optimist, Reagan claimed that there was nothing wrong with the American people, that government needed to change, not the voters.

Feeding off of this hopeful tone, the smiley emoji trounced the frowny face in the 1980 election, with Reagan winning 489 electoral votes to Carter's 49. (Ouch.)

Reagan & the Kool Aid Man: Knocking Down Walls, Oh Yeah

As President, Reagan adopted a series of policies in line with supply-side economics. Toward this end, Reagan cut government spending, reduced taxes, and sought, wherever possible, to encourage deregulation of business and industry. Where he could defer to state or local jurisdiction—or to the private sector—he did so. The results of this so-called "Reagan Revolution" are still felt today, as his policies of limited government and reduced taxes remain the hallmark of contemporary conservative leaders.

In terms of foreign policy, Reagan is credited with helping to negotiate the closing acts of the Cold War, including, most famously, his plea to Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the infamous Berlin Wall, which separated East from West Berlin. These foreign policy successes, when combined with the relative economic prosperity of the 1980s, helped cement Reagan's legacy as one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century.

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