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Becoming a president in America is one of the most significant tests of leadership. The country has had over 45 presidents who have served one or both terms. Various things have measured the success of each leader’s failures. Ronald Reagan was the 40th president who served between 1981 and 1989. The successes and failures of Reagan are measured by the political and economical decisions and the foreign and domestic policies he put in place. Primarily Reagan was a good president, as his success outweighed his failures.
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Positive Contribution to America
During Reagan’s presidency, the economic climate in the US thrived. He was among the leaders who worked hard to reduce taxes in the country. The tax cuts in 1981 led to economic growth and a significant reduction in domestic expenditures. While some critics think this move increased the national debt, others felt that he reduced military expenditure, which led to a tax reduction (Cannon, 2017). During his administration, he supported the Federal Reserve more than any other leader before him. Reducing the marginal income tax rate from 70% to 28% was one of the greatest things he did for Americans (Reagan Library, n.d.). Such changes have been seen as a show of courage and willingness to take risks.
Domestic policies during Reagan’s time included tax reforms, social security reforms, and Medicare programs. Reagan has been considered an American at heart by many. The tax reforms helped the local population, and if his reforms were anything to go by, they reduced the burden on the citizens (Byrne, 2018). His social security and immigration reforms have also been lauded by many. In addition, he increased social security benefits for the elderly and expanded Medicare to cover disabled Americans for catastrophic costs (Reagan Library, n.d.). Such changes were considered populist, making most Americans love and support his presidency. However, while the social security and Medicare changes earned him love and support from many, economists felt it was not good for the economy because it increased social programs spending in the national budget (Crouse, 2018). Nonetheless, it helped alleviate some of the economic and social challenges Americans faced at the time.
Ending the Cold War and preventing further communist expansion to the rest of the world was also another outstanding Reagan`s achievement. Some experts argue that Reagan contributed to the end of the cold war, while others think other forces were at play. In his second term as president, he increased military spending to arm-twist Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR (Leffler, 2021). Increased military expenditure made it easy for the two superpowers to negotiate the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), which resulted in the reduction of nuclear weapons by both nations by 50% (Reagan Library, n.d.). The administration also helped countries like El Salvador and Grenada from falling into the hands of communists. Moreover, Reagan also worked with rebels in Nicaragua to fight the communist government. His administration’s foreign policy also helped most nations in South and Central America move away or avoid communist leadership.
Criticism of Reagan’s Presidency
Reagan made several errors during his presidency that made people judge him harshly. First, his greatest mistake was strengthening the presidential powers. He used his removal powers to lay off air traffic controllers who had gone on strike (Crouse, 2018). Forcing his chief-of-staff to resign was also seen as a road map to a unitary executive with unchecked power. Some commissions, like the United States Commission on Civil Rights, were considered free from presidential influence. Still, to some extent, Reagan extended his reach and changed three commissioners in the commission. Critics felt this move was one in the wrong direction. He also made some critical decisions that required the approval of Congress without consulting or getting their approval—for example, firing 12 inspector generals (Byrne, 2018). It was a statutory requirement that Congress would approve such decisions. Doing it singlehandedly only made critics look at his actions as one who increased presidential powers and reach.
Populism was one of his failures. Critics argue that his appetite for populism made him make decisions that hurt the economic condition of the US. For example, expanding the social security and Medicare benefits for the elderly and the disabled and the tax reforms hurt the economy, paving the way for a recession and mass unemployment (Cannon, 2017). While his actions pleased many suffering and struggling economically, they only gave short-term relief because the long-term ramifications hurt more people and the economy.
Most experts consider Reagan’s achievements and contributions to the US successful and promising. His decisions as president have left a mark on the world and America. The tax cuts he introduced and the social program expenditures have helped struggling Americans in their hour of need. Besides that, Reagan’s policies helped to make the world a better place by limiting the influence of communism. Like any other president, Reagan made mistakes, and while some have led the public to judge him harshly, he remains one of the best presidents America has ever had.
- Byrne, D. T. (2018). Ronald Reagan: An intellectual biography. University of Nebraska Press.
- Cannon, L. (2017, July 11). Ronald Reagan: Impact and legacy. Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/president/reagan/impact-and-legacy
- Crouse, E. R. (2018). America’s failing economy and the rise of Ronald Reagan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-70545-3
- Leffler, M. P. (2021). Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. The Reagan Moment, 24-42. https://doi.org/10.7591/cornell/9781501760686.003.0002
- Reagan Library. (n.d.). The Reagan presidency. Ronald Reagan. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/reagans/reagan-administration/reagan-presidency