Ronald Reagan


DN’s Special Coverage of Reagan’s Presidency

On June 5, 2004, former President Ronald Reagan died after suffering for more than a decade from the mind-destroying illness of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 93 years old.

Ronald Reagan served as president through much of the nuclear race between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the Cold War. He defeated President Jimmy Carter in a 1980 election that was marked by the secret arms-for-hostages deal. Reagan left office on a high note on Jan. 20, 1989. The last Gallup Poll of his presidency gave him a 63 percent approval rating, the highest for any departing president since FDR.

Among Republicans and other conservatives, Reagan’s presidency is remembered as a revolution. Current president George Bush has evoked his name consistently throughout his time in power. The network and newspaper coverage of his death has brought forth a chorus of praise from Democrats and Republicans.

Much of the reporting and commentary has represented a dramatic revision of the history of the Reagan years in office. We spend the week focusing on the policies of Reagan’s administration.


Central America and the Iran-Contra Scandal
The 8 years Reagan was in office represented one of the most bloody eras in the history of the Western hemisphere, as Washington funneled money, weapons and other supplies to right wing death squads. And the death toll was staggering–more than 70,000 political killings in El Salvador, more than 100,000 in Guatemala, 30,000 killed in the contra war in Nicaragua. In Washington, the forces carrying out the violence were called "freedom fighters." Reagan described the Contras in Nicaragua as, "our brothers, these freedom fighters and we owe them our help. They are the moral equal of our founding fathers."

The Middle East
The policies of the Reagan administration in the Middle East, specifically during the Iran-Iraq war, fueled one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern times in which more than a million people were killed. Chemical weapons were used and two of the most ancient societies on earth were devastated. During Reagan’s years in power, the U.S.armed Iran and normalized relations with Iraq, selling weapons to both sides of the conflict.

FLASHBACK: The Reagan-Saddam Connection

Afghanistan and the Roots of 9/11
During Reagan’s 8 years in power, the CIA secretly sent billions of dollars of military aid to Afghanistan to support the mujahedeen–or holy warriors–against the Soviet Union, which had invaded in 1979. The U.S.-supported jihad succeeded in driving out the Soviets but the Afghan factions allied to the US gave rise to the oppressive Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

The U.S. Invasion of Grenada
On October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the small Caribbean nation of Grenada. The fiery leftist President Maurice Bishop had been assassinated days earlier. When U.S. forces moved in they landed at the airport, and killed more than a dozen Cubans and more than 40 Grenadian soldiers. The U.S. quickly consolidated its occupation of the island and expanded its force to more than 7,000. By December a pro-American government was established.

South Africa
The dominant view is that the US was on the right side in South Africa, that it opposed apartheid. But nothing could be further from the truth, particularly when Reagan was president. Reagan labeled Mandela’s African National Congress a notorious terrorist organization, while continuing Washington’s support for the apartheid regime.

The Nuclear Race

Following the discovery of the first cases of AIDS in 1981, it soon became clear a national health crisis was developing. Scientists, researchers and health care professionals at every level expressed the need for funding but the Reagan White House remained silent on the subject for years while thousands of Americans were dying from the disease.

After taking office in 1981, Reagan began a sustained attack on the government’s civil rights apparatus, opened an assault on affirmative action and social welfare programs, embraced the White racist leaders of then-apartheid South Africa and waged war on the tiny, Black Caribbean nation of Grenada.

Under Reagan, the number of homeless people went from something so little it wasn’t even written about widely in the late 1970s to more than 2 million when Reagan left office. Homeless rights activists say the single most devastating thing Reagan did to create homelessness was when he cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and overhaul tax codes to reduce incentives for private developers and low-income homes creating a major crisis for low-income families and individuals.

Class and Organized Labor
Many critics view Reagan’s administration as one of the worst in history for organized labor. After a prohibited strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, Reagan fired more than eleven thousand air traffic controllers, jailed strike leaders and ultimately abolished the union, paving the way for a crackdown on organized labor.