Study Guide

The Reagan Era People

  • Ronald Reagan

    Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was a Hollywood actor turned politician, who served as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, and as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. 

    A Roosevelt Democrat in his younger days, Reagan converted to conservatism during the 1950s and became the beloved standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the late-20th century.

    Reagan was elected to the presidency in 1980 and served two terms in office. His worldview, which combined optimism, patriotism, faith in the free market, and skepticism about the government, has become the dominant ideology of our time. Many Americans today consider Reagan to be among our greatest presidents.

  • Nancy Reagan

    Nancy Reagan (1921–2016) is the wife of Ronald Reagan, and former First Lady of both California (1967–1975) and the United States (1981–1989). 

    A Hollywood actress in her younger days, Nancy Reagan (née Nancy Davis) married Ronald Reagan in 1952, and the couple had two children. Nancy and "Ronnie" maintained a deeply affectionate relationship that lasted until Ronald Reagan's death from Alzheimer's Disease in 2004.

    During Reagan's presidency, Nancy took on a high-profile role in leading a nationwide campaign against drug use by children and teenagers. She became famous for touting its slogan, "Just Say No."

  • Arthur Laffer

    Arthur Laffer (1940–) is a conservative economist whose unorthodox ideas on tax rates and revenues heavily influenced Ronald Reagan's tax policies in the early 1980s.

    Laffer suggested that lower tax rates would actually lead to higher tax revenues for the government because the lower taxes would spur more economic activity by individuals and businesses, leading to faster economic growth. 

    But the Reagan tax cut of 1981, built upon Laffer's concepts, failed to increase tax revenues as Laffer suggested it would.

  • George Bush

    George H. W. Bush (1924–) is the oldest living United States president, and he occupied the White House from 1989 to 1993. 

    In a long career of public service, Bush also served as U.S. Representative from Texas, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of Central Intelligence, and Vice President of the United States. Bush is the father and namesake of 43rd President of the United States George W. Bush.

    In 1980, Bush ran against Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination for president. During the campaign, Bush memorably criticized Reagan's tax cut plans as "voodoo economics." While Bush's critique later proved to be mostly accurate, Reagan surged to victory in the primaries. 

    The two rivals resolved their differences, however, as Bush accepted Reagan's invitation to serve as his vice president. Upon Reagan's retirement from office after two terms, Bush won the Oval Office himself by defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

  • Oliver North

    Oliver North (1943–) was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps who became a key figure in the Reagan Administration's Iran-Contra Scandal in the late 1980s. 

    Iran-Contra led to North's conviction on three felony counts, but his convictions were later overturned on a technicality on appeal. North went on to frequently appear as a conservative pundit on Fox News Channel.

    During the 1980s, Colonel North was assigned to a posting at the National Security Council, where he worked closely with top Reagan Administration figures to implement American foreign policy. From his NSC office, North coordinated the day-to-day operations of the Iran-Contra Affair, illegally arranging to sell weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages, then unlawfully diverting the profits from those weapons sales to fund the anticommunist Contra guerillas in Nicaragua. 

    North famously said he thought the scheme was "a neat idea." North's sworn testimony before a congressional investigative committee became the iconic image of the Iran-Contra Affair. North proudly admitted his crimes and insisted he'd commit them again in the national interest.

  • Edwin Meese

    Edwin Meese (1931–), a conservative Republican lawyer, was for many years, a close adviser and confidant of Ronald Reagan. 

    Meese served as Reagan's chief of staff while Reagan was Governor of California (1969–1974) and later, as counselor to the president (1981–1985) and Attorney General of the United States (1985–1988).

    Meese, a diehard Reagan loyalist, drew sharp criticism for his leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Iran-Contra Scandal. As Attorney General, it was Meese's duty to investigate possible criminal activity within Reagan's inner circle related to Iran-Contra. But Meese agreed only reluctantly to head the investigation, and when he discovered possible lawbreaking, he tipped off administration insiders before securing critical documents, which allowed Colonel Oliver North to shred thousands of pages of potentially incriminating evidence. 

    Lawrence Walsh, who subsequently led his own inquiry into Iran-Contra as Independent Counsel, believed that Meese's investigation was a little more than a cover-up.

  • Mikhail Gorbachev

    Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, leading the USSR from 1985 until its collapse in 1991. 

    As General Secretary, he sought to reform Soviet communism through his new policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring), which granted citizens more political and economic freedoms than previously allowed. In 1989, Gorbachev allowed the Soviet satellite nations of Eastern Europe to peacefully overthrow their communist governments, effectively ending the Cold War

    The reforms Gorbachev unleashed eventually led—against Gorbachev's wishes—to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev's own ouster from power. Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

    During the 1980s, Gorbachev met several times in summit meetings with American President Ronald Reagan. The two leaders quickly forged a strong bond and even friendship, staking out a series of agreements on nuclear arms control. In 1992, former President Reagan personally bestowed the first annual Ronald Reagan Freedom Award upon Gorbachev in California.