Who were the major political players during the Reagan Administration? Who helped shape President Reagan's legacy?
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, served two terms. Quite a few of Reagan's staffers and Cabinet members came and went during his eight years as president, which is not unusual. The jobs that come with running the United States require such long hours and high stress that turnover is high. For example, many Secretaries of State serve only one term for a president, and it's not uncommon for the White House Chief of Staff to change a few times throughout a presidency.
Here are some of the people who played key roles during the Reagan Administration:
- George H.W. Bush: Reagan's Vice President for both terms, Bush kept a low profile and loyally defended Reagan and his objectives.
- Alexander Haig: Reagan's first Secretary of State, he was known for his brash communication style (such as his claim that he was in charge rather than Vice President Bush immediately following Reagan's assassination attempt, and his suggestion that a "nuclear warning strike" in Europe would scare the Soviet Union). Haig was also criticized for frequent disagreements with Reagan's Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. After various clashes with other members of Reagan's administration, Haig resigned after just a year and a half.
- George Shultz: Reagan's second Secretary of State remained in office through Reagan's second term. Through his diplomacy and trustworthiness, Shultz became one of the most popular and admired Secretaries of State in the 20th Century.
- Donald Regan: Reagan's first Secretary of the Treasury and a primary champion of Reagan's economic policies. Regan helped change the U.S. tax code, reducing income taxes, and decreasing taxes for corporations. In a surprise move in 1985, Regan switched jobs with White House Chief of Staff, James Baker.
- Caspar Weinberger: Reagan's first Secretary of the Defense, who oversaw a massive expansion of the U.S. military, which many historians credit with creating the economic and military pressure that started the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the flip side, Weinberger's massive military budget came at a cost: it tripled the U.S. debt.
- Edwin Meese: Reagan's second Attorney General, Meese assisted Nancy Reagan on her "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign. Meese launched programs to educate the public about the dangers of illegal drugs, and he sought cooperation from drug-producing countries to stop the flow of drugs into the United States. Meese was also known for conducting an in-depth study of pornography's effect on American society.
- Sandra Day O'Connor: Reagan's first nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, O'Connor made history by becoming the first female Supreme Court Justice.
- Robert Bork: Reagan's third nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Bork was strongly opposed by many Americans because of his desire to roll back civil rights and suggestion of imposing a voting tax. Bork's nomination was rejected by the Senate.
- Oliver North: A National Security Council member who accepted partial responsibility for selling weapons to Iran and funneling the profits to a rebel group (the Contras) bent on overthrowing the Nicaraguan government. This became the biggest scandal during Reagan's presidency. During Congressional hearings, North's testimony indicted Reagan, who claimed to have no knowledge of the Iran-Contra dealings. Reagan's adamant promises that he "did not remember" taking part in the Iran-Contra discussions are what some historians believe to be the first sign of Reagan's Alzheimer's disease, which claimed his life in 2004.
- James Brady: The White House Press Secretary who was permanently disabled and nearly killed during the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan. After his recovery, Brady become an vocal advocate of gun control.
- Tip O'Neal: Speaker of the House of Representatives for most of Reagan's presidency, O'Neal was a liberal Democrat who opposed almost all of Reagan's policies, once going so far as calling Reagan "a cheerleader for selfishness." Despite their political disagreements, O'Neal and Reagan were good friends who had dinner together each week.
- Nancy Reagan: Nancy Reagan took a more political role than most First Ladies. She founded the successful Just Say No drug awareness campaign. Some claim that Nancy had a voice in President Reagan's political decisions, including the selection of White House staffers and Reagan's Cabinet members. Nancy was very protective of her husband, and she faced an onslaught of criticism when a story revealed that she consulted an astrologer to help plan the president's schedule after his assassination attempt. Nancy's interest in high fashion following years of growing informality in the White House garnered both praise and criticism.