That Reagan Magic
By Paul Bacon

The caption beneath Ronald Reagan's high school yearbook picture read, "Life is just one grand sweet song, so start the music." For all its cloying sentimentality, the statement was quite remarkable coming from the son of an itinerant, alcoholic shoe salesman, a testament to the unflagging optimism that America came to expect from its 40th president.

Reagan swept to victory after a dismal Carter presidency and announced on inauguration day the return of 52 American hostages held for more than a year in Iran. The exuberance continued as the former actor won over Congress, making cuts in domestic spending while simultaneously slashing taxes. The joyride came to a screeching halt, however, when the president was nearly killed by a crazed gunman and returned to the White House with his faculties appreciably diminished.

Conserving his waning energy for "the big picture," America's oldest chief executive remained focused on his longtime arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union. Reagan's efforts to outspend the Communist regime on defense were successful and helped to initiate the peaceful end to the Cold War. Despite his complicity in the Iran-Contra scandal and the ballooning of the national deficit during his administration, Reagan is widely credited with restoring America's confidence in itself.


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