After Reagan left office in January 1989, he returned to his brand new home in Bel Air, Los Angeles. He spent several years there with his wife, Nancy, and worked in his offices in the city. He wrote his autobiography An American Life and published several anthologies of his speeches. He also worked on the creation of the Ronald Reagan Library that now contains many his personal memoirs and diaries as well as many government documents generated during his years in office.
Reagan also returned to public speaking. He traveled throughout the country and across the globe addressing students, scholars, workers, and many others. He often charged $30,000 - $50,000 per speech. He also made headlines for accepting $2 million to deliver a speech in Japan.
His retirement, however, was not a completely happy one. In February 1990, Reagan was subpoenaed to testify in an investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan's personal diaries from the period in question were also subpoenaed. Reagan did testify in July 1992, but to the consternation of those at the hearing, Reagan claimed he couldn't remember anything about the scandal. In fact, Reagan claimed he couldn't even remember the name of the former chairman of his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Strangely enough, Reagan himself was even embarrassed that he couldn't remember. Reagan was discarded as a possible witness.
After several years of tests, doctors concluded that former President Reagan had become one of the millions of American afflicted by Alzheimer's Disease. Reagan had not been lying when he said he couldn't remember much about the Iran-Contra controversy because the disease had affected his memory to the point that parts of it were completely lost. Worse still, the disease would continue to affect his memory to the point that he might not be able to remember much of anything, even his children's or his wife's names. In 1994, Reagan published a letter addressed to the American public describing his disease and what he called the "sunset of his life." Soon after, he disappeared from public life.
The effects of Reagan's presidency were staggering. President Reagan brought a new wave of conservatism into Washington that soon spread throughout the nation. He attacked Big Government even though by the time he left office in 1989 he had increased the size and role of government in many ways. He created the largest peacetime army in United States history, and left Bush and future presidents with deficits and debts in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
In light of the publishing of critical memoirs–such as Donald Regan's–many recent historians have been looking deeper into the Reagan presidency to determine how the White House was really run and how policy was made. This is even more difficult considering the fact that former President Reagan couldn't provide any of his own insights after his disease fully set in and affected his memory. Many have accused Reagan of being a "puppet president" who only did what his advisors and his wife Nancy ordered him to do. They have suggested that Reagan's presidency was little more than one giant screen from which the famous actor could win audiences at home and fight the "evil empire" of the USSR abroad. Many economists agree that Reagan's economic policies hurt the economy, while his policies on drugs, AIDS, minorities, and women in America angered many and accomplished nothing. Finally, had it not been for Mikhail Gorbechev's efforts to end the Cold War, Reagan would have probably continued developing the US's nuclear weapons arsenal.
At the same time, however, Reagan brought life back into the Oval office–life that it really hadn't seen in decades. Unlike many of his predecessors, the former-actor-turned-President was extremely charismatic and likeable. Legend has it that Reagan earned his nickname "The Great Communicator" because he could engage any listener with his animated stories and convincing smile. His smile was so convincing and his charm so affable that voters loved him more than they had loved any other politician since FDR.
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