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The Achievements and Failures of the Reagan Presidency
An American Presidency Project Exclusive Analysis in Commemoration of the 40th President's 100th Birthday
jump to: achievements | failures | strengthening the presidency | weakening the presidency

SANTA BARBARAFebruary 3, 2011

Reagan's 72nd BirthdayGreatest Achievements of President Reagan

The tax cuts of 1981. Signed in August, these enactments were a major reduction in domestic expenditures and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, were designed to lower federal revenues over a five year period in the amount of $737 billion.


• A letter to the Speaker of the House that proposed supplemental appropriations and amendments on March 10, 1981 from President Reagan. This document is significant because it was the first formal request sent to Congress seeking to reduce income taxes on the individual, a major component of ERTA.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43514)

• Statement on action by the Senate Budget Committee on a fiscal year 1982 budget resolution given on April 28, 1981. The President congratulates a committee for completing the Budget resolution for 1982. This was important because this was the first completed step that put the ERTA “firmly on track”.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43755)

• An address before a joint session of the congress on the    Economic Recovery Tax Act given on April 28, 1981. This major address, which was broadcast on radio and television, was the first major rally for support of the program and urged viewers to pressure Congress to approve the ERTA of 1981.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43756)

• A statement on action by the House of Representatives on federal budget legislation given on June 19, 1981. This document strives to raise support for the amendment to the Gramm- Latta Budget which would implement ERTA. Without this amendment, implementation of ERTA might not transpire.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43988)

• A July 27, 1981 address to the nation on federal tax reduction legislation. This address, which was broadcast on radio and television, was the last appeal to the nation for support of ERTA before it went to vote in early August. This last plea showed Reagan’s seriousness and dedication toward this program and could have influenced many who were unsure just before voting commenced.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44120)

The reduction of nuclear arms with the signing of the INF treaty together with Mikhail Gorbachev on December 8, 1987. This treaty eliminated all cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 kilometers.


• Remarks to reporters on intermediate-range nuclear force reduction on March 3, 1987 which state that Reagan has already begun the first step towards the reduction by having a draft written the following day. This began to lay the framework of the discussions and negotiations between the Soviets and Reagan.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33924)

• Remarks given on September 18, 1987 regarding the Soviet -U.S. diplomatic talks which states that Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze have issued a joint statement that agrees to conclude an INF Treaty.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=34808)

• Remarks given on October 30, 1987 to reporters regarding the Soviet-U.S. summit meeting. Reagan announces that General Secretary Gorbachev has agreed to meet with Reagan in Washington in December and they are expected to finalize and sign the INF Treaty.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33625)

• Address to the Nation on December 10, 1987. The official announcement was given that the INF Treaty has been signed, and the progress that has been made for U.S.- Soviet relations, not only in terms of arms, but a broad scope of issues.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33806)

During his second term as President, significant progress had been made toward accomplishing a genuine détente between the United States and the U.S.S.R. and ending the Cold War. At the end of his term in 1989, Reagan was credited with making a strong contribution to the level of world peace at that time.


• The President’s first news conference on January 29, 1981 exhibits Reagan feelings on the current state of détente with the Soviet Union. Reagan believes they have been treating it like a “one-way street” and only concerned with their state’s own interests. He makes it clear that to achieve a successful détente with the Soviets, there must be a “two-way street”.   
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44101)

• In a debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale on October 21, 1984, Regan outlines his vision of détente with the Soviet Union. His theory is described as a peaceful coexistence between the two major powers which will better contribute to world peace and reduction of nuclear weapons.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=39296)

• Address to the Nation on December 10, 1987. The official announcement was given that the INF Treaty has been signed, as well as the progress that has been made for U.S. Soviet relations, not only in terms of arms but a broad scope of issues.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33806)

Reagan achieved an agreement in April of 1988 with the Soviet Union over their withdrawal from their occupation in Afghanistan. Not only was the war was ended, but also this was the first time in 33 years that the Red Army withdrew from any conflict voluntarily.


• An official statement released on December 27, 1981 clearly outlines the pressure being put on the Soviets for this war. Reagan backs his position by stating that the international community shares the same opposition to the Soviet invasion. (Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43388)

• On March 10, 1982, Reagan announced that March 21, 1982 will be recognized as Afghanistan Day in the U.S. and other parliaments throughout the world. This was done to honor the courageous fighters of Afghanistan and to condemn the evil acts of oppression and aggression by the Soviets.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=42248)

• On March 21, 1983, Reagan again wishes to recognize the suffering and tremendous fighting the Afghans have had to endure under Soviet imperialism, as well as to further condemn the Soviet occupation. Therefore, a second Afghanistan Day is declared on March 21, 1983.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=41077)

• Regan declares a third Afghanistan Day on March 21, 1984.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=39663)

• Regan declares a fourth Afghanistan Day on March 21, 1985. This time he reminds the nation that the Soviets are in violation of UN resolutions which have passed by an overwhelming majority of the international community.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38371)

• December 27, 1987, the eight year anniversary of the Soviet invasion, Reagan addresses the nation and continues his effort to appeal to public support for the withdrawal of the Soviets.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33870)

• Regan declares three more Afghanistan days each year following the 1985 proclamation attempting to reverse the actions of the Soviet policy towards Afghanistan.
(Links: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=37032 | http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33994 | http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35578)

• On April 11, 1987 Regan announced that an agreement has been reached with the Soviets, and that in Geneva they will officially sign a contract solidifying the terms of their withdrawal.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35655)

• Lou Cannon, The Role of a Lifetime, claims that the administration had covertly funded the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invasion. However, no documentation online could be found. This significantly influenced the later Soviet withdrawal more so than public pressure from Reagan.
(Link: —  Not Available)

• On December 27, 1988, Regan’s statement on the 9th anniversary of the Soviet invasion describes the steps of withdrawal that the Soviets have already met and their future completion of withdrawal timetable.  This is the official declaration of the end of the Soviet invasion given by Reagan.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35296)

The nomination and eventual appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, who became the first female Supreme Court Justice.


• On October 14, 1980, seeking to renergize presidential campaign, Reagan promised to put a women in the first Supreme Court vacancy during his term in office. This was a strategy to boost his low ratings which proved to be successful.
(Link: — http://womensissues.about.com/od/genderwarriors/a/HistoryWomenSCOTUS_2.htm)

• Fulfilling his promise, on July 7, 1981, Reagan announces that Sandra Day O’Connor will be nominated for the vacant seat in the Supreme Court.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44042)

• Regan officially thanks the Senate for the smooth and quick confirmation of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44281)

The release of the Air Traffic Controllers who went on strike with demands that would have cost taxpayers $700 million a year. Reagan released them from their positions and their jobs were filled with workers who found their disputed pay and circumstances acceptable and fair.


• On August 3, 1981 Reagan announces the strike and their unfair demands which would be burdensome to taxpayers. He declared if they do not return to duty in 48 hours, their jobs would be forfeited.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44138)

• According to Lou Cannon, The Role of a Lifetime, no one at the time took Regan seriously. However, after Regan showed his use of instinct and decisiveness, people in Washington began to take him seriously.
(Link: —  Not Available)

 The rescue mission of Grenada on October 25, 1983 that deposed of the communist leaders who gained control through a violent coup and rescued the 800 American medical students held captive there.


• As early as February 24, 1982, Reagan shared his concern with the public over the communist influence over Grenada and their possible “dark future” of becoming a Communist beachhead. This influenced his position and decision making when chaos later erupted in Grenada and American lives were in jeopardy.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=42202)

• According to Lou Cannon, The Role of a Lifetime, the overwhelming majority of Americans approved the Grenada operation, as shown by Wirthlin’s polls. A jump in Reagan's approval ratings can be seen in the Gallup polls.
(Link: —  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/popularity.php?pres=40&sort=time&direct=DESC&Submit=DISPLAY)

• At the conclusion of the invasion, Reagan gave a nationally televised speech on October 27, 1983 that beautifully wove together the core principles of these preceding few months — patriotism and anticommunism.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40696)

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which budgeted $1.7 billion to fund the war on drugs in America and increase the severity of punishments for drug related offenses.


• These remarks moments before signing the act on October 27, 1986 reflect the level of commitment and passion Regan, as well as his wife Nancy, had in combating the drug problem America faced in the 1980s.
(Link: —  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36654)

• The official statement on singing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act also contains several provisions reforming the Freedom of Information Act which enhanced the ability of law enforcement agencies to better fight the war on drugs. This was a very important aspect of Regan’s efforts to combat drugs.
(Link: —  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36661)

• On April 16, 1988, Regan gave a radio address to the nation that updated the public on the progress of the war against drugs. The successes were clearly mentioned, but warned America that it still has a long fight ahead of her to becoming a drug free country. The conclusion of the address was that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was the right choice to make and that it was delivering its promises.
(Link: —  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35685)

The Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 that focused on advance missile defense technologies to bring global stability and offset the  the nuclear Soviet threat.


• According to Lou Cannon, The Role of a Lifetime, Reagan began to seriously conceive this program on July 31, 1979 after taking a tour of the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado. There he discovered that if another state were to launch a nuclear weapon at the U.S., there would be nothing to do except give a fifteen minute warning to that city. (Link: —  Not Available)

• Reagan strongly believed that American ingenuity could conquer technological obstacles. This belief is what drove his pursuit of SDI, despite the uncertainties. He related this principle during a speech on February 7, 1983 at a White House ceremony commemorating the bicentennial year of air and space flight.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40850)

• According to Lou Cannon, Reagan recalled a meeting with the with Joint Chiefs of Staff where they told him that his idea could be implemented. After this meeting Reagan made the official push for the missile defense program.
(Link: —  Not Available)

•  On March 23, 1983, in an address to the nation on defense and national security, it was officially announced that SDI would begin to form, due to the Soviet threat and consultation with his advisors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff who informed Reagan that the program was feasible.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=41093)

Greatest Failures of President Reagan

The Iran-Contra Affair in which arms were traded for hostages and the proceeds were given to the anti-communist rebels, the Contras in Nicaragua.


• A Memorandum sent January 17, 1986 titled, Covert Action Finding Regarding Iran, from John Poindexter to Reagan recommends the sale of 4000 TOW weapons to Iran for the release of American hostages. The memo is authorized with Reagan’s signature. This document is significant because it provides undeniable proof that Reagan was clear that his administration trading arms for hostages and was doing so with his authorization.
(Link: —  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/15-Reagan%20Finding%201-17-86%20(IC%2002181).pdf)

• Personal notes from Oliver North taken in 1986 in regards to his meeting Manuel Noriega. North proposed that in return for Noriega’s assassination of Sandinista leadership and helping the Contra’s, U.S. pressure would subside in regards to Panama’s drug smuggling and the U.S. would help “clean up” their image. There is also mention of establishing training camps in Panama for Contra operatives. These notes signify Noriega’s. involvement and what the U.S. would give in return for his assistance.
(Links: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/9-North%20notes%208-24-86.pdf |

• Personal notes from Caspar Weinberger that describe conversations which Reagan was determined to trade arms for hostages, quote “President sd. he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn't answer charges that 'big strong President Reagan passed up chance to free hostages.” Weinberg and Secretary of State Shultz objected to Reagan’s position vehemently. These notes represent the point in which leaders in his own administration disagreed with him and attempted to sway the President from his course.
(Link: —  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/14-Weinberger%20Diaries%20Dec%207%20handwritten.pdf)

• Document written on April 4, 1986 by Oliver North which makes the clear connection between the arms for hostages deals and the backing of the Contras. Before the release of this document, it was unclear that a connection existed between the two events.
(Link: —  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/16-Diversion%20Memo%204-4-86%20(IC%2002614).pdf)

• Excerpts from George H.W. Bush’s diary between November 4-5, 1986 which note his full understanding of the entire affair. This is significant because Bush failed to disclose his diary  to investigators and then pardoned several players in the affair.
(Link: —  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/19-Bush%20Diary%2011-4-86.pdf)

• Memorandum For Record by Caspar Weinberger on November 10, 1986 which describes an important meeting in the Oval Office with the President and other members of the administration. This is significant because it is the first of several attempts by the administration to produce a unified response to the scandal which was growing in popularity.
(Link: —   http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/20-Weinberger%20Memo%2011-10-86%20(IC%2003732).pdf)

• November 13, 1986 Reagan addressed the nation, denying a variety of charges and stating: "We did not—repeat—did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we."
(Link: —  href=http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36728

• Subsequently Reagan appointed the Tower Commission (Special Review Board for the National Security Council) which issued a report highly critical of his management.
(Links: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33991 and http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/PS157/assignment%20files%20public/TOWER%20EXCERPTS.htm

The Robert Bork appointment to the Supreme Court and Reagan’s refusal to withdraw the nomination even after it was a clear and certain failure. This was not only an embarrassment to the Reagan administration, but hurt his relationship with the Senate and created tremendous amounts of ill will.


• The first announcement to the public on July 1, 1987 that Robert Bork would be nominated to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. This announcement to reporters came before the radio address to the public on July 4, 1987.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=34503)

• Statements regarding Bork’s American Bar Association rating on September 9, 1987. Bork received the highest rating possible from the ABA. Reagan emphasized this and portrayed Bork as the most qualified person for the job. However, the Democrat opposition ignored this important fact.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=34771)

• This statement on the Senate floor by Senator Kennedy set the tone for the Bork opposition and had a deep negative impact on the Bork appointment. The accusations of racism, sexism, and strong prejudices impacted the American public, thus diminishing public support for Bork’s appointment.
(Link: —  http://home.att.net/~midnightflyer/teddyk.html)

• Bork’s five day testimony before the Senate proved unimpressive. Bork answered questions in a strange manner and with awkward responses. The hearing also caused his public approval to diminish. This Washington Post-ABC news poll taken during and after the five day testimony shows the drop in public approval of the nominee.
(Link: —  http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P2-1345074.html)

• A radio address on October 3, 1987 given by Reagan that attempts to gain support and momentum for Bork despite the overwhelming evidence that his nomination will fail. This clearly shows Reagan’s mistake of not withdrawing the nomination in the face of certain defeat.  
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33500)

• Statement on October 23, 1987 by Reagan in which he announces the failure of Robert Bork’s appointment and his sadness about the political attacks Bork received.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33597)

• This radio address on October 31, 1987 signifies the end of the battle for Bork and the nomination of a new judge, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg. This time Reagan hopes the misery Bork had to endure will not be repeated to Ginsburg.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33627)

The failure in Lebanon. Reagan encouraging the Israel invasion and sending in the Marines with insufficient forces for their mission proved to be two dreadful mistakes compounded upon one another.


• In this address to the nation on October 3, 1983, Reagan states a position that would later change with the bombing of the Marine barracks and pressure from congress. Additionally, this position was not supported by any of his generals or secretary of defense. This was the position of U.S. holding its ground in Lebanon with a continued presence of the armed forces.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40612)

• According to Lou Cannon, The Role of a Lifetime, Reagan ignored the counsel of his military advisers that our forces should be pulled out of Beirut and their vulnerability there.
(Link: —  Not Available)

• On October 23, 1983 a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle inside the marine barracks killing hundreds of servicemen and women. Remarks given to reports indicate that at that time Reagan was still determined to stay the course in Lebanon. (Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40673)

• After immense pressure from Congress and public opinion, the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Lebanon was ordered on January 3, 1984.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=39694)

Strengthened the Power of the Presidency

Exercised his removal power by firing the air traffic controllers who went on strike, forced his White House Chief of Staff to resign, and many other removals strengthened the presidential power and his commitment to the unitary executive.


• On August 3, 1981 Reagan announces the strike and their unfair demands which would be burdensome to taxpayers. He declared if they do not return to duty in 48 hours, their jobs would be forfeited.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44138)

• The removal of Secretary of State Alexander Haig who was forced out when it became clear that he was not doing a good job and his administration’s goals could be better served without him. This is the letter accepting Haig’s resignation and Haig’s announcement to Reagan.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=42681)

• Reagan also forced the removal of Donald Regan from Chief of Staff and picked Baker over Meese. This statement on February 27, 1987 reflects this event.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33911)

• Members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights were thought to be insulated from Presidential power. However, Reagan strengthened the executive by exercising his removal power and removed three of the commissions members in 1983.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40818)

• The removal of 12 Inspectors general in 1981 without informing Congress of his reasons for removal which is a statutory Requirement.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43592)

Asserted the power to control the execution of laws directly. For example, the continuation and expansion of the regulatory review program.


• Two executive orders, #s 12,291 and 12,498, expanded Reagan’s control over the agencies. They did so by allowing OMB to eradicate the publications of regulations that they disapproved, and also mandating the substantive criteria that agencies had to use when issuing regulations.
(Links: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43424 | http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38024)

• Reagan’s objection of the legislative veto that would involve congress in the daily implementation of the law which is a responsibility allocated only for the President under the constitution.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43400)

Extensively controlled and carefully picked appointments under his administration. The appointees had deep loyalties to Reagan and his agenda, and no real loyalty to past programs or policies.


• The appointment of Robert C. McFarlane as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs on October 17, 1983.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40654)

• The appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to the President’s personal representative to the Middle East on November 3, 1983.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=40713)

• The appointment of Philip C. Habib as Special Envoy to Central America.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36956)

• The appointment of Kenneth M. Duberstein as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President on March 12, 1987.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33970)

The Berlin Wall speech on June 12, 1987 where Reagan memorably demanded that Mr. Gorbachev "tear down this wall" came to crystalize for many the rhetorical power of the Reagan prsidency.


• Regan’s remarks given on East-West relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin.
(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=34390)

The pocket veto of the proposed Whistleblowers Protection Act of 1989. This would have amended the Civil Service Reform Act in such a manner that would have taken away from the unitary executive.


(Link: — http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35314)

Weakened the Office of the Presidency

President Reagan never vetoed a Bill because it infringed upon Presidential power.

Documents: n/a

ŠThe American Presidency Project
The American Presidency Project expresses its gratitude to Robert Florkowski for assistance in compiling this report.

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