Study Guide

Ronald Reagan in Evil Empire Speech

By Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

From Starlet To President

Now, granted, we didn't know George Washington personally, but we can probably agree he was more focused on creating a new nation and less on the glitz and glamour of being president. (Then again, without indoor plumbing, could there really be anything glitzy or glamorous about anything, even the presidency?)

But Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy did have an interest in that fancy stuff, and had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle while living it up in Hollywood. Together, they redecorated the White House and bought lots of sparkly and expensive clothing—the exact opposite of George's style.

In fact, few presidents did sparkly better than Ronald Reagan, and really, he came by it honestly. He graduated college in 1932 and worked as a sports broadcaster with an NBC affiliate in Iowa. Then, just after enlisting in the Army Reserves, Ronnie was discovered by Warner Brothers and offered a contract.

He was eventually called up to active duty in 1942, but after World War II ended, Ronnie went on to make more than fifty movies. Yeah. Fifty.

A triple threat, really—broadcaster, actor, military man. And his resume would become even more impressive as he aged, although if anyone could've predicted a Reagan presidency, they likely would've pictured him running on the—gasp—Democratic ticket.

Political Beginnings

That's right. Ronald Reagan was a huge fan of FDR and the New Deal, and even campaigned for Eisenhower in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

However, in 1962, Ronnie jumped ship and crossed over to the GOP. It probably had something to do with the recent presidential election of 1960. (Source)

But whether you're a Donkey or an Elephant, you can't deny that the switch to Republican marked the beginning of Ronnie's penchant for leaving his political opponents in the dust with various landslide victories. He won the governor's seat from the incumbent in 1966, followed by his victory over then-president Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Remember we talked about how the Reagans had a reputation for being flashy and fancy? Well, even though we agree with ZZ Top about the appeal of a sharp-dressed man, it's a hard sell when much of the country is facing the worst recession since the Great Depression—which is exactly what happened to Reagan during his first administration.

On top of that, American society was overrun with drugs, and people were concerned about the AIDS epidemic. Reagan looked at these things as proof that the national moral compass was not exactly pointing due north. He thought the reform needed to begin on a more personal and spiritual level, and that translated into foreign policy decisions, too—hence his Evil Empire speech.

But despite frustration with the Reagans' lifestyle, the American people responded well to the president's focus on patriotic tradition, as well as his increasingly passionate belief that nuclear weapons shouldn't be used as a threat or a means of control. In 1983, Reagan spoke for the first time of his Strategic Defense Initiative, which called for the same scientists who created nuclear technology to develop means to render such weapons obsolete.

It became known as his Star Wars speech, which probably means he really was George Lucas' biggest fan and BFF.

A Presidential Sequel

And though there may have been lots of things going wrong in the country when Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, he'd also done lots of things right. Focusing on American traditions and touting their power made lots of voters happy, and his choice to appoint Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female justice on the Supreme Court was a huge victory for women.

People also responded quite well to his efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons. Been there, done that, do not want the t-shirt.

Reagan's second term reminded everyone why they'd elected him in the first place—he was the exact opposite of the previous president. He promised to be strong in the face of various "come at me, bro" challenges coming from the Soviet Union, he had charisma up the wazoo, and despite the glitz and glamour, he worked hard to accomplish some good things.

Toward the end of his presidency, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to begin the process of getting rid of nuclear arsenals. That in itself was a big win, but it was also the first time both sides agreed to let the other check in and see how things were progressing. It represented a pretty big change, and likely contributed to Reagan leaving the White House with the highest approval rating since FDR.

Yes, that FDR—the president Ronnie supported prior to becoming a Republican. As a movie star and all-around jokester (visit the Trivia section of the guide to see what we mean), we think he probably appreciated the irony.

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