How one US President defined a decade for an entire generation.
Shane Cubis

9 Mar 2017 - 4:38 PM  UPDATED 9 Mar 2017 - 4:38 PM

In recent years, politicians on both sides of the fence have gestured to Ronald Reagan as the epitome of a successful US president. Republicans have deified him like a fallen Roman emperor, while Democrats including Barack Obama have quoted him to lend bipartisan credence to their economic agendas. What was it about “The Great Communicator” that causes such adulation to this day?

The Cold Warrior who came in from the warmth

Although possessed of the folksy, down-home warmth of a Hollywood actor on the right, Reagan ramped up the rhetoric when to came to telling the USSR they were definitely the baddies in this motion picture. In 1983 he made a famous speech in which he urged his audience not to “ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire”. By 1987 he was appearing at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin to call upon Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” It’s as iconic a catchphrase as those of his political descendant, Arnie.

On screen, from chimp flicks to Back to the Future

If you’re a BTTF buff, you’ll know Reagan laughed his arse off at the scene where Marty tells Doc Brown who the president is in 1985, only for the Doc to reply, “The actor?!” Bedtime for Bonzo is probably the most remembered of his films – and not just because political satirists used the titular chimp whenever they could. But decades of life in the public eye definitely worked in The Gipper’s favour, as did the ability to lie convincingly on camera, presumably.

Dodging scandal like a guerilla in the South American jungle

Speaking of which, the Iran-Contra Affair was a major black eye for Reagan’s administration. Secretly selling arms to embargoed Iran in order to secure the release of US hostages and fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua... none of this sounds like the action of a forthright leader. In the end, Colonel Oliver North took the fall and Reagan skated free of any controversy by claiming he didn’t know it was happening: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

Surviving the world’s most famous attempt to impress Jodie Foster

John Hinckley was a man in love. Having seen Jodie Foster’s performance in Taxi Driver, he knew there was only one way to win her heart: kill the President. Hinckley’s 1981 assassination attempt failed, but a bullet ricocheted into Reagan’s chest and he was touch-and-go for a while. In the aftermath, Reagan’s popularity soared and he won the NRA’s adoration by reinforcing his opposition to gun control. (Oh, and he started believing God had saved his life because he had a greater purpose.)

Oh, and all that legislation he done

It’s mainly to do with Reaganomics, arming the Mujahideen in their war against the godless Commies, trying to get prayer back in schools and declaring war on drugs.

The Eighties airs Wednesday nights at 8:30pm. You can watch previous episodes streaming on SBS On Demand:

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