Ronald Reagan

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Popularly sterotyped as a dimwitted geriatric war-monger with a yearning to press the big red button, Ronald Reagan took control of the Whitehouse in 1981, at 69 the oldest ever incumbent of the Oval Office. During the subsequent eight-year two-term tenure of his presidency, he converted an uneasy defeatist United States almost brainwashed into looking down the barrel of expansionist Soviet military superiority into a nation of self-believers that had the brass to stare down the Soviet Union and provoke the demolition of the Berlin Wall.

From modest beginnings, born above a shop in Tampico, Illinois in 1911, Reagan possessed both grit and front in abundance, and possibly not a little luck. He started out on the wireless, broadcasting energetic and convincing commentaries on sporting events he wasn't even watching, and then went on to pursue what amounts to an undistinguished acting career in Hollywood. As demand for his thespian contributions waned, he turned to politics, striding rightwards while those around him, including those who could enhance his career, were leaning left.

Eventually, in 1980, Reagan won the presidency of the United States (at the second attempt, having failed in 1976) on a ticket of conservativism and anti-governmentalism. With scant regard for Cold War detente, Reagan immediately embarked on a far right agenda of defence spending partly paid for with drastic welfare programme roll-backs, which he secured with cheerful bumbling simplicity. Pushing an infectiously optimistic paternalistic mix of libertarianism and authoritarian moralism, Reagan won a landslide 49-state victory in the 1984 election to secure his second term.

In retrospect, his presidency will perhaps be remembered for three things. Firstly, on 30 March 1981, he was shot, John W. Hinkley's unsuccessful assassination attempt outside the Washington, D.C. Hilton Hotel apparently an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster. Secondly, during his first term, Reagan introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), colloquially known as the Star Wars programme, a controversial orbital weapons system designed to scare the pants off the USSR. And thirdly, his alleged commitment to the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, which essentially subverted the constitution of the United States, almost landed him in jug, but adroit mumbling and a faceful of grandfatherly smiles from the wily teflon-coated old ham ensured he got away scot-free.

In 1989, at the end of his tenure, despite the nation-rocking scandal, he left an America for once feeling good about itself, as well as shouldering the largest budget deficit in any nation's history.

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