Ronald Reagan's Obituary

[From page 1 of The New York Times, June 6, 2004]
(With thanks for proofreading and correction to George Dougherty)



40th President Fought Decade-Long Battle With Alzheimer's


     Ronald Wilson Reagan, a former film star who became America's 40th president, the oldest to enter the White House but imbued with a youthful optimism rooted in the traditional virtues of a bygone era, died peacefully on Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.
     To a nation hungry for a hero, a nation battered by Vietnam, damaged by Watergate and humiliated by the taking of hostages in Iran, Ronald Reagan held out the promise of a return to greatness, the promise that America would "stand tall" again.
     President Bush, who was in Paris for meetings with allies on the eve of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, said after he learned of Mr. Reagan's death, "A great American life has come to an end."
     Mr. Bush said that under Mr. Reagan, "America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt, and because of his leadership the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny."
     Mr. Reagan lived longer than any other United States president, spending his final years in seclusion and out of the public eye as he coped with the mental debilitation of Alzheimer's disease.
     In 1994, he touched the hearts of Americans again when, in a hand-written letter, he let it be known he was suffering from the illness. "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life," Mr. Reagan wrote. "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
     Last month, Nancy Reagan, the former first lady, said that his mental condition had worsened considerably. "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him," she said.
     When he first entered the White House, he was a vigorous 69-year-old Republican who called America back to the traditional values of a simpler era, promising he could make it "morning in America again."
     He managed to project the optimism of Roosevelt, the faith in small-town America of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the vigor of John F. Kennedy. In his first term he restored much of America's faith in itself and in the presidency, and he rode into his second term on the crest of a wave of popularity that few presidents have enjoyed.
     But late in 1986, halfway through his second term, Mr. Reagan and his administration were plunged into disarray by an effort to deal too rashly with the same kind of hostage crisis that he had accused former President JimmyCarter [sic.] of handling too gingerly.
     Contrary to official policy, Mr. Reagan's subordinates sold arms to Iran as ransom for hostages in Lebanon and diverted profits from the sales to the rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas then governing Nicaragua. A joint Congressional investigating committee reported that the affair had been "characterized by pervasive dishonesty and secrecy" and that Mr. Reagan bore ultimate responsibility for the wrongdoing of a "cabal of zealots."
     The deception and disdain for the law invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan's credibility and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress. Scrutiny of his appointees increased; Supreme Court nominees were rejected or withdrawn; and more of his aides were charged with ethics violations than in any other administration.
     But until the Iran-contra affair, Mr. Reagan enjoyed tremendous popularity. He used that popularity and a consummate political skill to push many of his major programs through Congress. And despite the affair, he crowned his two terms with a nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union that reduced the nuclear arsenals of both countries for the first time, setting the stage for a new relationship with the Soviets under the leadership of Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
     It was Mr. Reagan's good fortune that during his time in office the Soviet Union was undergoing profound change, eventually to collapse, setting off a spirited debate over Mr. Reagan's role in ending the cold war. His supporters argued that his tough policies were the coup de grace and his detractors attributed the end to the accumulated influence of 45 years of the American policy of containment. But wherever the credit was due, the thaw came on his watch.
     Michael R. Beschloss, the presidential historian, said he believed that the cold war had ended more quickly under Mr. Reagan than it would have had his opponent, Mr. Carter, been re-elected in 1980.
     "With Reagan," Mr. Beschloss said, "the Soviets could no longer con themselves into thinking they would prevail in the cold war because the American people had lost their will and strength and lost their taste for confronting Soviet aggression. They were sufficiently convinced that Reagan meant business."
     The Soviet economy, he said, was beginning to flag and Mr. Gorbachev was selected and "charged with improving the economy and making the best deal he could with the West."
     Mr. Reagan, meanwhile, was able to climb the rocky road back from the Iran-contra scandal so successfully that he handed over the office to another Republican, George Bush, who had been his loyal vice president for eight years.
     He won the hearts of Americans all over again in 1994 when, in a handwritten letter, he let it be known that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
     "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life," Mr. Reagan wrote in a poignant note that once again displayed his characteristic patriotism and optimism. "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
     For some time after the disclosure of the illness, Mr. Reagan continued to go to his office in Los Angeles and, occasionally, to play golf. But as the disease took its toll, he receded into the background while his official biographer, Edmund Morris, completed the story of his life.

`America Is Back'

     If the rise and fall and rise again of Ronald Reagan reads like the script of a made-for-television movie, the "Great Communicator" was indeed a made-for-television president. Seventy-seven years old at the end of his presidency, he never lost his boyish charm or his ability to look Americans in the eye and make them feel good about themselves. "America is back," he told them, and his confidence made them confident.
     Critics and supporters alike found it paradoxical that Mr. Reagan, who campaigned against government for most of his political life, was the man who restored popular faith in the presidency and the American government. The 40th president was a combination of ideologue and pragmatist who could compromise and still appear to be a man of unbending principle.
     His resilience and good humor after he was struck by an assailant's bullet in 1981 reinforced the public's affection for him. Gliding gracefully across the national stage with his boy-next-door good looks and his lopsided grin, he managed to escape blame for political disasters for which any other president would have been excoriated. If the federal deficit almost tripled in his presidency, if 241 marines he sent to Beirut were killed in a terrorist bombing, if he seemed to equate Nazi storm troopers with the victims of the Holocaust, he was always able to rekindle public support. He became known as the Teflon President.
     His Hollywood background, long considered a liability, became his greatest asset in the political arena, and he was a master at using it to captivate the American people.
     His extraordinary ability to communicate served him well until the Iran-contra affair. That is when his reluctance to deal with governmental processes, his habit of delegating authority and his failure to concern himself with facts, figures and details first became known to people outside his official family. Then a different image emerged: that of a passive president who reigned but did not rule.
     From the first moment of a political career that spanned more than two decades, Mr. Reagan was a crusader, trying to correct what he saw as the governmental excesses that began with the New Deal. He preached the gospel of self-reliance. "Government is not the solution," he said over and over. "Government is the problem."
     Against Mr. Carter's politics of sacrifice and retrenchment, Mr. Reagan offered an America of inexhaustible resources and boundless opportunity. And indeed, under his presidency came an end to the sharp inflation of the Carter years, along with a sustained economic boom that brought prosperity to regions hit hard by recession. But huge deficits, brought on partly by tax cuts and increases in military spending, made a mockery of his campaign pledge to balance the budget by the end of his first term.
     Mr. Reagan did not change course. The America of his deepest convictions was a nation favored by God that would triumph over its adversaries abroad and its troubles at home if only it had the will to be strong and the sense to let free enterprise solve its problems.

A `Huck Finn Idyll'

     Those beliefs were a heritage of his prairie small-town beginnings. He was born at home in an apartment above a story in Tampico, a village in northwestern Illinois, on Feb. 6, 1911. His father, John Edward Reagan, who was working as a clerk in the H. C. Pitney General Store, called his new-born son "a little bit of a fat Dutchman," and the nickname Dutch stayed with him.
     Ronald Reagan was later to describe his father as a hearty Irish Roman Catholic who was restless, ambitious and an alcoholic. His mother, Nelle Wilson Reagan, was a gentle Scotch-Irish Protestant who passed on to her children her religious faith and her interest in amateur theater.
     The family was poor, but Mr. Reagan wrote in his first autobiography, "Where's the Rest of Me?" (Duell, Sloan, Pearce, 1965), that he had never been troubled by any sense of need. He liked to remember his boyhood as "a rare Huck Finn idyll," and he developed a sunny nature and an irrepressible optimism.
     He and his older brother, Neil, moved with their parents from one small Illinois town to the next. After living briefly in Chicago, they eventually settled in Dixon, where his father managed a shoe store for H. C. Pitney and Ronald finished grammar school and high school.
     Despite extreme nearsightedness (later corrected with contact lenses), he played football at Northside High School. In his junior year he also won his first role in a play, "You and I," by Philip Barry. He was not an especially attentive student but managed to get fairly good grades with the help of a nearly photographic memory.
     His name first appeared on the front page of a newspaper on Aug. 3, 1928, when he was cited for his 25th rescue as a lifeguard at Lowell Park in Dixon. In seven summers on the job he worked seven days a week, and the $15 a week, later raised to $20, helped pay for his college tuition.
     He had an unsophisticated, unpretentious manner that stamped him as a product of his youth in the heartland. Throughout his long public career in the movies, on television and in politics, he never lost the shy tilt of the head and the puckish grin so favored by Hollywood.
     He left Dixon to attend Eureka College, a small Christian school near Peoria. By his own account, he was concerned mainly with maintaining his eligibility for football and with acting in school productions.
     With the nation mired in the Depression, the 21-year-old graduate had few prospects. It was 1932, and with little notion of what he wanted to do, he returned to Dixon. He grew to admire Roosevelt, who used his masterly command of radio to steady a nation in despair, and a former teacher urged Mr. Reagan to try his hand at radio, where he might capitalize on his interest in sports and acting. After some big stations turned him down he landed a job at WOC in Davenport, Iowa, broadcasting University of Iowa football games.
     When the football season ended, Mr. Reagan was out of work again. But two months later, WOC hired him as a staff announcer for $100 a month. He learned how to read a script, rehearsing commercials until they sounded spontaneous. It was a talent he would use to great effect later in life.
     Soon he was transferred to WOC's sister station, WHO in Des Moines, the major Midwestern outlet for the National Broadcasting Company. He conducted interviews and covered football, swimming and track, but he became best known for his play-by-play of major league baseball games.
     His commentary became an exercise of imagination; he never saw any of the games he described so vividly. Instead, he recreated them from telegraphic reports from Chicago. In his 1965 autobiography, Mr. Reagan described what happened the day the wire went dead: "I had a ball on the way to the plate and there was no way to call it back. At the same time, I was convinced that a ball game tied up in the ninth inning was no time to tell my audience we had lost contact with the game." He proceeded to give meticulous descriptions of what may be the longest series of foul balls in baseball history, even describing in detail the redheaded boy who scrambled for a souvenir ball. It was a story he loved to tell.

Birth of the Gipper

     In 1937, on a spring training trip with the Chicago Cubs, Mr. Reagan took an airplane to Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. The flight was so turbulent that he refused to fly again for almost 30 years. But he took advantage of the trip to California to look up a friend from WHO, who by then had been in several movies. She arranged a meeting with an agent, the agent arranged a screen test, and by the time Mr. Reagan returned to Des Moines, a telegram was waiting. Warner Brothers was offering a seven-year contract beginning at $200 a week.
     His first role was made to order for him. He played a radio news reporter in "Love Is on the Air," the first of many "good guy" parts. From the B pictures that Hollywood churned out in those years he moved up to bit parts in A movies. In three years he landed the role he coveted above all, as George Gipp, Notre Dame's legendary Gipper, in "Knute Rockne -- All American." The film, with its heroic deathbed scene, provided Mr. Reagan with a line he came to use to inspire political supporters: "Win one for the Gipper."
     He had parts in major movies with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore and a chimp named Bonzo. Then, in 1941, he starred in "King's Row," which Mr. Reagan always called his finest picture.
     He played the role of a small-town playboy whose legs are amputated by a sadistic doctor. Awaking from surgery, he cries out in anguish, "Where's the rest of me?" That line became the title of the campaign autobiography he wrote with Richard G. Hubler before his race for governor of California.

Flights of Imagination

     He made 50 movies, a number of them about World War II. "The Hasty Heart," in 1950, took him overseas for the first and only time until he went into politics. In the war, poor eyesight had kept him from the front, and he spent his years in the Army making training films. But in his autobiography he wrote of wanting nothing more after the war than a good rest and time with his wife, the actress Jane Wyman; in fact, they had both been in Hollywood throughout the war.
     His flights of imagination remained equally vivid when he went to the White House. In 1983 he told Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel that as part of his war duties he had been assigned to film the Nazi death camps. One of his favorite stories, one that he told over and over again to different audiences, concerned a pilot in World War II who told his crew to bail out of their crippled B-17 bomber. When the tail gunner said he could not move because he was badly wounded, the pilot replied, "Never mind son, we'll ride it down together." When he told the story to a meeting of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society he added that the pilot was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. In fact, no medal was ever awarded for such an incident and the story came, almost word for word, from the script of a movie starring Dana Andrews called "Wing and a Prayer."
     "For Ronald Reagan, the world of legend and myth is a real world," said Patrick J. Buchanan, a longtime political ally who was Mr. Reagan's director of White House communications. "He visits it regularly, and he's a happy man there."

Stormy Times for a Union Leader

     Mr. Reagan had married Miss Wyman in 1940. They had a daughter, Maureen, and adopted a son, Michael. Miss Wyman divorced him in 1948, after Mr. Reagan had become active in the Screen Actors Guild. Miss Wyman told the court that although she did not share his interest in the guild, Mr. Reagan insisted that she attend meetings. Finally, she said, "there was nothing in common between us, nothing to sustain our marriage."
     He was stunned by the divorce and often said his life did not become whole again until 1952, when he married Nancy Davis. An actress who was the daughter of a prominent Chicago surgeon, she became his political partner and adviser as well as his wife. They had two children, Patricia and Ronald.
     Mr. Reagan never became a major star, but he continued to make movies and threw himself into the work of the guild. He was elected its president and re-elected five times, through some of the stormiest years in the history of the film industry. Mr. Reagan led his union's intercession in a jurisdictional struggle between two movie unions, one dominated by gangsters, the other accused of being led by Communists.
     When he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 to testify about Communist influence in the movie industry, Mr. Reagan refused to name names before the committee. But the historian Garry Wills said the Federal Bureau of Investigation file on Mr. Reagan that was later released disclosed that he had named people in secret.
     In those years Mr. Reagan was a Democrat and, as he later put it in his autobiography, "a near-hopeless hemophiliac liberal." In 1950 he actively supported Helen Gahagan Douglas, the liberal Democrat who was defeated by Richard M. Nixon in a California senatorial campaign that became a portent of an era of Red-baiting.
     But behind the scenes, as president of the guild, he worked closely with the Motion Picture Industry Council to weed out Communist influence in Hollywood.
     In 1952 the Music Corporation of America offered Mr. Reagan the role of host on one of its first major productions, General Electric Theater. It was on that broadcast that he became familiar to the first television generation, a familiarity that was to serve him well later.

For G.E., Country, and Goldwater

     During his years on General Electric Theater, Mr. Reagan became the company spokesman, visiting G.E. plants around the country to give speeches and bolster employee morale. Hundreds of times a year he delivered a speech warning of a growing tide of government control and wasteful government programs. He was apparently so convincing that he convinced himself.
     In 1962 he changed his party registration to Republican from Democratic, and two years later, with a polished version of the General Electric speech, Mr. Reagan burst onto the national political scene in a fund-raising appearance for Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate. Here is how Lou Cannon described the event in his biography "Reagan" (Putnam, 1982):
     "On Oct. 27, 1964, a washed-up 53-year-old movie actor named Ronald Reagan made a speech on national television on behalf of a Republican presidential candidate who had no chance to be elected. ... Most of Reagan's address was standard, anti-government boilerplate larded with emotional denunciations of Communism and a celebration of individual freedom. His statistics were sweeping and in some cases dubious. His best lines were cribbed from Franklin Roosevelt, and he quoted from nearly everybody else as well."
     Mr. Cannon said the oratorical effort turned out to be the biggest moment in the Goldwater campaign, raising a million dollars.
     Within a few months a group of wealthy Californians -- Holmes Tuttle, A. C. Rubel and Henry Salvatori -- formed a committee, Friends of Ronald Reagan, to initiate his 1966 candidacy for Governor.
     After Mr. Reagan defeated the incumbent, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, by almost a million votes, his friends underwrote the most expensive inaugural celebration in California history. When Mrs. Reagan did not like the Victorian mansion provided for the governor, the friends bought the Reagans a house in Sacramento, just as they would buy the couple a house in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles after they left the White House. The same California millionaires bought designer dresses for Nancy Reagan when she was first lady, until the practice was criticized as a breach of ethics.

Moving Beyond Sacramento

     In Sacramento, Mr. Reagan found a Legislature controlled by Democrats who were unwilling to adopt his proposals to freeze hiring and cut the number of state employees. Time after time, the ideologue gave way to the pragmatist.
     Mr. Reagan signed a succession of tax increases to erase the state's deficit. Mr. Reagan, who was later to oppose legalized abortion, signed a bill that essentially permitted abortion on demand. In his two terms, the budget more than doubled and the number of state employees grew by 34,000.
     Mr. Reagan, who had been re-elected in 1970, decided not to seek a third term. In early 1975, nearing his 64th birthday, he left Sacramento to write a syndicated column, broadcast a daily radio commentary and prepare to run for the presidency.
     In 1968 he briefly ran in the presidential primaries as the Republican to the right of Mr. Nixon. Eight years later he nearly wrested the nomination from the incumbent, Gerald R. Ford.
     In the early months of the 1980 campaign, Mr. Reagan made television appearances and sought to stay above the battle, acting as if the nomination was his. But George Bush won the Iowa caucuses in January. Abruptly Mr. Reagan changed his tactics, campaigning long and hard in New Hampshire, at one point working 21 consecutive days. By demonstrating vigor, Mr. Reagan defused concerns about his age (he turned 69 during the campaign) and won New Hampshire, drawing more than half the votes.
     On July 16, 1980, in Detroit, the Republican National Convention jubilantly awarded Mr. Reagan the nomination for president. His choice of Mr. Bush as his running mate was a blow to his conservative followers, but it reassured moderates who had viewed Mr. Reagan as a dangerous ideologue.
     In his acceptance speech, Mr. Reagan called on Americans to "recapture our destiny," attacking what he called the Democratic legacy: "a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity."

The 1980 Campaign

     Most opinion polls showed a close race to the end. The nation was in the grip of crises foreign and domestic. For all its military strength, it was powerless to liberate 52 Americans held hostage by Iran since November 1979. At home, consumer prices had risen 12.4 percent in one year, and in October 1980 a million and a half more people were out of work than in January.
     Mr. Reagan criticized the Carter administration for its policies abroad -- the Panama Canal treaties, the second strategic arms limitation agreement, the response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- and warned that a continuing Communist threat required a stronger military.
     He also said that Mr. Carter had created an economic disaster that threatened the ethical and financial foundations of American family life.
     Mr. Reagan promised that if elected he would cut federal tax rates 30 percent over three years, reduce government spending and hiring, eliminate gift and estate taxes and balance the budget by 1984. He said the government should turn welfare and other social programs back to the states. He urged a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion and opposed government financing of abortions for poor women. He called for a return of God to the classroom and prayer in the schools. He spoke against limitations on buying and owning firearms.
     A week before the election Mr. Reagan and Mr. Carter faced each other in a 90-minute televised debate in Cleveland. Mr. Reagan asked a question that later became a campaign refrain, not only for him but for a host of future candidates: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
     And when Mr. Carter went on the attack, Mr. Reagan replied in a faintly exasperated tone with another oft-quoted line: "There you go again."
     Two days before the election, Iran announced tough terms for the release of the American hostages, and national attention was once again focused on the year-old crisis that had frustrated Mr. Carter. On Nov. 4, Mr. Reagan's victory was so overwhelming that Mr. Carter made the earliest concession statement of any major Presidential candidate since 1904.

A White House Change of Style

     Washington had not seen a president like Ronald Reagan for a long time. He showed no lust for power. He seemed to have no need to prove that he could work harder, or longer, on less sleep than anybody. Where his predecessor was criticized for involving himself in every detail, Mr. Reagan was a 9-to-5 president, a chairman of the board.
     He delegated authority to his staff. Associates said he left details to his subordinates and tended to rely on 3-by-5 index cards that they gave him for information he needed at meetings. He paced himself, got a good night's sleep and took afternoon naps when he could.
     Mr. Reagan kept light office hours and went to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., or his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., as often as he could. All told, he spent nearly a year of his presidency in California, said Mr. Cannon, who kept an eye on his schedule.
     With the arrival of the Reagans, the capital became suffused with a new elegance and glamour absent in the Carter years. Washington was soon dubbed Hollywood on the Potomac as Mr. Reagan's wealthy friends converged on Washington. Some helped Mrs. Reagan raise $822,641 to renovate the White House family quarters.
     In forming his administration, Mr. Reagan went against accepted political wisdom when he selected a Republican moderate, James A. Baker 3rd, as his chief of staff. Mr. Baker had been the campaign manager for Mr. Bush in the Republican primaries and had been on the Reagan team for only six months.
     But others had been with Mr. Reagan since the early days in California. Edwin Meese 3rd, Mr. Reagan's campaign chief of staff, was given cabinet rank as counselor to the president; Michael K. Deaver was named assistant to the president and deputy chief of the White House staff. A longtime family friend and a favorite of Mrs. Reagan, Mr. Deaver held a position that made him the final arbiter of whom the president saw and what papers reached the Oval Office.
     Mr. Reagan's cabinet appointments, however, were a reflection of the Republican establishment. Among his choices were Alexander M. Haig Jr., a retired Army general, for secretary of state; Caspar W. Weinberger, secretary of defense; Malcolm Baldrige, secretary of commerce; Raymond J. Donovan, secretary of labor, and Richard S. Schweiker, secretary of health and human services.
     Mr. Reagan sought to perpetuate his philosophy through his appointments to the federal judiciary. By the time he left office he had appointed nearly half the sitting judges, judges who will be issuing decisions well into the 21st century.
     He appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. He had no difficulty with his appointments of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman on the High Court in 1981 and Justice Antonin Scalia in 1986, though his elevation of William H. Rehnquist to chief justice that year provoked some opposition in Congress.
     Bur a year later, after the Republicans lost control of the Senate, he lost his first fight over a Supreme Court appointment when he nominated Judge Robert H. Bork. His next appointment, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, withdrew his name after it was disclosed that he had smoked marijuana when he was a law professor. Mr. Reagan succeeded in his third attempt; Judge Anthony M. Kennedy was confirmed in February 1988.

Mounting Ethics Troubles

     Before the end of Mr. Reagan's first term, more than a dozen officials in his administration faced charges of improper financial dealings, some minor, some major. There was cause to investigate some of Mr. Reagan's closest friends and advisers, including Lyn Nofziger, Mr. Deaver and Mr. Meese.
     When top Justice Department officials resigned in March 1988, criticizing Mr. Meese's ethics and his handling of the Iran-contra investigation, there were widespread calls for the attorney general's resignation. The Senate Democratic leader, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, called Mr. Meese "the crown jewel of the sleaze factor in Reagan Administration history." Mr. Meese resigned in August, 1988.
     Mr. Deaver remained an adviser even after he left the White House in 1985. He was convicted in 1987 of lying under oath to a federal grand jury and to a Congressional subcommittee about using his influence with the president to enhance his lobbying activities after leaving the White House. In September 1988, Mr. Deaver was given a suspended three-year prison sentence, placed on probation and fined $100,000.

`I Forgot to Duck'

     On the afternoon of March 30, 1981, the president, in office only two months, was leaving a Washington hotel where he had addressed a union convention. As Mr. Reagan turned to hear a reporter's question, John W. Hinckley Jr., a 25-year-old college dropout with an arrest record for carrying handguns, emerged from a crowd of onlookers and shot the him [sic.] and three other people with a .22-caliber pistol. James S. Brady, the president's press secretary, was left with permanent brain damage; a bullet penetrated Mr. Reagan's left lung.
     "Honey, I forgot to duck," he was reported to have told Mrs. Reagan when she arrived at the hospital. He was about to be taken into surgery to arrest a life-threatening loss of blood; he was in severe pain, but his sense of humor was reported to be intact.
     A jury found Mr. Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was sent to a Washington hospital for treatment.
     Mr. Reagan recovered his vitality with remarkable speed. Less than a month after the shooting, he addressed a joint meeting of Congress to urge passage of his economic program.
     He made an equally quick recovery from surgery four years later. On July 12, 1985, he entered Bethesda Naval Medical Center for what was expected to be a touring removal of a non-cancerous polyp in his colon. But doctors found a previously unsuspected growth in the upper tract of his large intestine. The next day, in nearly three hours of surgery, doctors removed a malignant polyp but found no evidence that the cancer had spread. Looking fit, he returned to the White House a week later.
     The president bounced back from three other operations -- two in 1985 and one in 1987 -- to remove cancerous skin lesions from his nose. His recovery from prostate surgery in 1987 was not as speedy. During his recuperation, which coincided with the unfolding of the Iran-contra affair, Mr. Reagan made few public appearances.

Reaganomics I: Big Changes

     Two weeks after he took office, on Feb 5, 1981, Mr. Reagan delivered a speech from the Oval Office. "I regret to say that we're in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression," he declared. With inflation raging, growth flagging and interest rates soaring, he said, "it's time to try something different, and that's what we're going to do."
     What he proposed came to be called the Reagan revolution. Almost overnight it transformed the national debate over domestic policy. From the beginning of the New Deal, the question had been what federal programs to expand. Under Mr. Reagan the question became what programs to cut.
     "Feeding more dollars to government is like feeding a stray pup," he told the National Association of Manufacturers. "It just follows you home and sits on your doorstep asking for more."
     Mr. Beschloss, the historian, said: "Because Mr. Reagan was a wonderful communicator, he was able to make the case for less government and for moving power away from Washington. The idea took stronger hold than it would have without him. He became the embodiment of the conservative movement and hurried it along."
     Reaganomics, as his economic program became known, was based on the theory that a cut in taxes would stimulate economic growth, generating higher revenues and making the deficit disappear. In the 1980 Republican primaries Mr. Bush called this supply-side plan "voodoo economics." And Mr. Reagan's own director of the budget, David A. Stockman, suggested that the president was simply proposing a repackaging of economics intended to favor the rich, whose gains would ultimately trickle down through the rest of the economy.
     Despite widespread criticism of the idea, Mr. Reagan was able to sell the program to Congress, both a tax cut and a $28 billion increase in the military budget.

Reaganomics II: Deficits

     The administration had to fight harder to cut federal spending programs created to help the needy, but it had some notable successes. CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, under which more than 300,000 of the poor were employed in 1980 and 1981, was eliminated. Eligibility standards were tightened for food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Medicaid rolls were reduced, and limits were put on Medicare payments.
     In the first years of the Reagan administration, when unemployment was rising, insurance for workers who lost their jobs because of foreign competition was scaled back. Middle-income college students became ineligible for government-backed loans and more than a million people lost their food stamps. In 1981, the Department of Agriculture proposed that ketchup be considered a vegetable in calculating the nutritional values of school lunches. The suggestion caused such an uproar that the rule was never instituted.
     When Social Security disability benefits were cut off for 500,000 people, the federal courts restored payments to 200,000, but the cuts furthered the perception that the administration was heartless.
     Despite the many budget cuts, the deficit kept growing. After he left government, Mr. Stockman wrote a book, "The Triumph of Politics" (Harper & Row), in which he described how, on behalf of Mr. Reagan's programs, he had exaggerated the administration's success in reducing spending and minimized the projected deficit. He said he invented the "rosy scenario," making optimistic assumptions about future growth, inflation and interest rates.
     "If the Securities and Exchange Commission had jurisdiction over the White House," Mr. Stockman wrote, "we might have all had time for a course in remedial economics at Allenwood penitentiary."
     Within six years the deficit more than doubled, from $79 billion in Mr. Reagan's first year in office to $173 billion. In the 1987 fiscal year it dropped back to $150.4 billion but edged up again in 1988.
     Still, Mr. Reagan repeatedly refused to consider tax increases. "I don't want to hear any more talk about taxes," Mr. Stockman quoted him as saying. "The problem is deficit spending."
     He repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to require that the budget be balanced, and for the authority to veto individual items in budgets passed by Congress.
     But by the middle of 1982, with a recession continuing and deficit projections soaring, Mr. Reagan grudgingly agreed to a $98.6 billion increase in excise and other taxes. But he refused to call them taxes, insisting on the term "revenue enhancers."

Reaganomics III: Boom and Crash

     After the 1981-82 recession, Mr. Reagan presided over the longest economic expansion in history, one that saw the creation of 16 million jobs. By his seventh year in office the stock market was reaching an all-time high. Inflation had dropped and the prime interest rate was down, partly a result of the collapse of oil prices and partly from the policies of the Federal Reserve.
     But Mr. Reagan got the credit, just as he had gotten the blame for the recession and the deficit. Economists noted that foreign capital pouring into the country had shielded the deficit, but warned that it would be only a matter of time before that buffer disappeared.
     Mr. Reagan also got much of the credit for the 1986 overhaul of the federal tax code, hammered together by a bipartisan coalition in Congress. The changes, among the most sweeping ever, reduced the rates for most taxpayers and curbed or eliminated many exemptions that enabled people to shelter income from taxation.
     "Had Reagan not moved up front, it would have gone nowhere," said the economist Alan Greenspan, whom Mr. Reagan later named to head the Federal Reserve. "He was the first president to succeed in doing it."
     On Oct. 16, 1987, The Wall Street Journal reported that the economy was one of the bright spots in a Reagan administration that was increasingly paralyzed by its Iran-contra troubles. Then, on Oct. 19, the stock market suffered the most severe single-day decline up to that point in history, dropping 508 points.
     The market meltdown highlighted the administration's failure to deal with the budget and trade deficits and the failure of supply-side economics to encourage investment and productivity. Economists' warnings that the administration was mortgaging the country's future were finally heeded, and the president and Congress agreed to a deficit-reduction package.

Reaganomics IV: Balance Sheet

     Unemployment declined, but more people were living below the poverty line, and the homeless became a national concern. When Mr. Reagan was asked about the problem in 1984, he replied that some needy people might be "homeless by choice."
     Economists vary widely in their assessment of Mr. Reagan's record.
     "We know for a fact that Reagan has and will have a more profound effect on the American economy than any president in the post-World War II period," Mr. Greenspan said in an interview before his appointment to the Federal Reserve. "The problem is that it is not exactly clear whether the very strong pluses or strong minuses will prevail."
     On the plus side, Mr. Greenspan said, Mr. Reagan "instituted an extraordinary change in tax policy." And he said Mr. Reagan had been responsible "for a fairly pronounced slowing" in the growth of social benefit programs. On the minus side, Mr. Greenspan cited the "extraordinary budget deficits which have occurred as a consequence of the original tax proposals."
     Prof. James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University, said the Reagan legacy was "a crippled federal government."
     "He tried to squeeze ambitious growth of defense spending into a budget he was simultaneously depriving of tax revenues," Professor Tobin said. "Legislators of both parties, most of whom knew better, deserve a share of the blame for their supine surrender to the president's program."

Domestic Policy: Changing Rules

     When Mr. Reagan accepted the Republican nomination for re-election in summer 1984 in Dallas, he told the delegates that Americans confronted a choice: a government of pessimism and fear or a government of hope. Walter F. Mondale, his Democratic opponent, he said, did not represent mainstream America.
     On Nov. 8, Mr. Reagan scored one of the biggest victories in American political history, winning 525 electoral votes to Mr. Mondale's 13. At the beginning of his second term, he said the nation "was poised for greatness." Then, with a line that sounded like an echo from his first national political speech in 1964, he said, "We must never again abuse the trust of working men and women by spending their earnings on a futile chase after the spiraling demands of a bloated federal establishment."
     The effort to reduce the size of that establishment was a constant of the Reagan presidency. His campaign pledge to reduce government policing of business was most effectively redeemed in the broadcasting and energy industries. Banking was another major area of deregulation, The disastrous consequences of which were to become clear after Mr. Reagan left office in the savings and loan scandals that could cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars.
     The Federal Trade Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were curbed by budget cuts and by the appointment of conservative administrators who were often accused of opposing the missions of the agencies they headed.
     To put an end to what he called the "adversary relationship" between government and business, Mr. Reagan's Justice Department reined in its antitrust division. In a move that environmentalists said was intended to aid timber, oil and mining companies, the Interior Department removed thousands of acres of public lands from the protected category.
     Although there were efforts to reduce farm price supports, federal spending on this program rose, reaching an all-time high in 1986. Still, a worldwide surplus of grain caused prices to plummet, and there were more farm foreclosures in the Reagan years than at any time since the Depression.
     The Reagan administration also sought to shift government activities to the private sector, a move that would automatically result in a cut in government spending. In 1986, for example, the administration persuaded Congress to authorize the sale of Conrail, the federal corporation that ran much of the rail freight system.
     Mr. Reagan's opposition to governmental interference in the private sector made him a strong advocate of free trade with foreign countries. But he pressured Japanese manufacturers to accept a voluntary quota on automobile exports and gave some trade protection to steel, textiles and motorcycles. In the first year of Mr. Reagan's second term, the United States, once the biggest creditor nation, became the biggest debtor nation in the world despite some efforts on his part to alter the trade balance.

Civil Rights Entrenchment

     The Reagan administration also challenged the longstanding view that the government should aggressively protect civil rights. The budget for the Civil Rights Commission, the agency that monitors federal civil rights activities, was cut. The civil rights division in the Justice Department led an attack on court-ordered measures to correct discrimination, based on the administration's opposition to quotas as discriminatory against whites. But the courts repeatedly upheld affirmative action in the workplace, saying it helped overcome past discrimination against minorities.
     The administration's actions provoked bitter criticism from civil rights advocates. Jack Greenberg, who served for many years as counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Mr. Reagan had "showed a clear hostility to civil rights aspirations."

Foreign Policy: New Doctrines

     No sooner had Mr. Reagan taken the oath of office at noon on Jan. 20, 1981, than the 52 American hostages who had been held in Iran since Nov. 4, 1979, were released in accordance with an agreement that President Carter had completed only hours before. The timing of the release led to questions about whether Mr. Reagan or his staff had struck a private deal with the Iranians.
     Although Mr. Reagan said little about Iran in his Inaugural Address, the battle against terrorism became the cornerstone of his foreign policy, and he sounded a warning.
     "Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will," he said. "When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act."
     Halfway into his first year in office, Mr. Reagan made good on his promise of swift retaliation against terrorists and the country he accused of supporting them. On Aug. 19, 1981, American planes shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra in a dispute with the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, who claimed that the gulf was Libyan territory.
     Five years later, in April 1986, Mr. Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli to punish Colonel Qaddafi for his supposed role in a terrorist attack on a discotheque in West Germany that killed an American soldier. Some reports said the target of the retaliatory raid was Colonel Qaddafi himself.
     In 1985 Mr. Reagan sent F-14 fighters to intercept an Egyptian plane carrying four Palestinian terrorists and forced it to land in Sicily. The hijackers, who had seized the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and killed an American passenger, were taken into custody by Italian officials.
     The "Reagan Doctrine" was the name given to the administration's policy of supporting forces fighting Soviet-backed governments in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola. Although support of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan was to have lasting repercussions in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Reagan believed Soviet withdrawal from that country was a vindication of his policies.
     In keeping with this doctrine, the administration persistently supported the contras fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. (The Sandinistas were ultimately ousted in national elections in 1990.) In El Salvador, the Reagan administration supported the government against a Marxist insurgency.
     In October 1983, Mr. Reagan sent American forces to Grenada in a mission to rescue American students in medical school on that Caribbean island and to evict a Grenadian government that he called "a brutal group of leftist thugs."

Frustration and Statesmanship

     Until the Iran-contra scandal, Mr. Reagan's most searing setback in foreign affairs came in fall 1983. Over the objections of some top advisers, he had dispatched a force of marines to Beirut to be part of a multinational force to bring a semblance of calm to Lebanon. On Oct. 23 a terrorist driving a truck laden with explosives crashed into the Marine compound, killing 241 Americans. Four months later, phe [sic.] President withdrew the Marine contingent.
     In 1987, after the Iran-contra scandal became public knowledge, there was more misfortune when Mr. Reagan ordered American warships to the Persian Gulf to protect Kuwaiti tankers under attack by Iran. In an unusual arrangement, the president also permitted Kuwaiti tankers to fly the American flag, a decision intended to prevent Soviet domination of the gulf and to permit tankers to move without interference.
     Calamity befell the plan when 37 American sailors were killed by a missile fired from an Iraqi plane at the American frigate Stark. A year later, the Navy warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian commercial airliner over the gulf after mistaking it for an attacking F-14 fighter jet. All 290 people aboard the plane were killed.
     In 1984, on a 10-day trip to Europe, Mr. Reagan toured the beaches of Normandy in a celebration of the 40th anniversary of D-Day. At Pointe de Hoc, against the sweep of the cliffs and beaches that have become indelibly associated with the victory over fascism, Mr. Reagan delivered one of the most memorable speeches of his Presidency. The scenes were captured in film that was used to introduce Mr. Reagan at that summer's Republican National Convention. His travels were meant to send an import message to the voters back home: that the domestic reformer had come of age as a statesman.
     A year later, a trip to Europe produced a major embarrassment for Mr. Reagan. On the eve of a visit to West Germany, in which he was scheduled to stop at a cemetery in Bitvurg, it became known that Nazi storm troopers were among those buried there. The president rejected advice to cancel the stop, and there was an uproar when he tried to justify it saying that the German soldiers buried there were victims of Nazism, "just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."
     Mr. Reagan was not a strategic thinker, his own aides said; he thought in terms of anecdotes, not analysis. His knowledge of international developments was considered thin, and those who met with him said his participation in discussions was usually limited to what his staff had provided him on the 3-by-5 cards.
     In his biography of Mr. Reagan, Mr. Cannon noted the President's tendency to misspeak: "He did not know enough. And he did not know how much he didn't know. Because of Reagan's knowledge gaps, his presidential news conferences became adventures into the uncharted regions of his mind."

Iran-Contra Affair: Zeal and Denial

     By late 1986, the president had become obsessed by the hostages being held in Lebanon by allies of Iran; aides said he mentioned them at almost every staff meeting. Two national security advisers, Robert C. McFarlane and Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, and a National Security Council staff assistant, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North of the Marines, were emboldened by his concern to undertake some extremely unorthodox measures to try to free the hostages.
     Publicly, Mr. Reagan had condemned Iran as an outlaw state "run by the strangest collection of misfits, Looney Tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich." Yet Mr. Reagan's own security council staff conceived and put into operation a secret plan to supply weapons to Iran as ransom for the American hostages. Under this scheme, profits from the sales were earmarked for the contras, whom Mr. Reagan had called "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers."
     When the secret operation was first reported, Mr. Reagan denied that it existed. On Nov. 13, 1986, het [sic.] said, "In spite of the wildly speculative and false reports about arms for hostages, we did not, repeat, did not trade arms or anything else for hostages." But almost four months later, he ruefully referred to that remark in a speech to the nation. "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true," he said, "but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."
     The facts and evidence were presented in the report of a commission led by former Senator John G. Tower, and later in the majority report of a Congressional investigating committee, showing that Mr. Reagan had approved shipments of weapons to Iran months before he issued his first public denial. The findings of the Tower commission, in early 1987, left open the question of whether Mr. Reagan, then 76 and just recovering from prostate surgery, had the vigor to recover and the ability to reverse a lifelong habit of detachment.
     After Mr. Reagan's Alzheimer's became known, questions were raised as to whether he had already started to have memory lapses when he was president, especially in the Iran-contra affair. He had often said he would step down if he felt his capabilities had been reduced and had expressed concern that his mother's Alzheimer's might have been passed on to him. Doctors did not rule out that a subdural hematoma resulting from a fall from a horse in 1989, after he left the White House, might have also affected his memory.
     The 1987 report of the Tower commission noted: "The president did pretty well...for the better part of five years. And then all of a sudden the style and the consequences failed him." The report said Mr. Reagan's staff not only failed to make up for his deficiencies but also took advantage of his inattention. Mr. Reagan liked to say that in his years in the White House he lived over the store. But the Tower commission said in effect that nobody was minding the store.

‘This Happened on My Watch’

     On March 4, 1987, a week after the Tower report was issued, Mr. Reagan appeared on television, looking healthy and alert, to deliver what was seen at the time as the most important speech of his presidency. To demonstrate that he was back in charge, he outlined actions to correct the flaws in the way his White House had operated. As chief of staff he appointed former Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who was more conciliatory and more collegial than the man he replaced, Donald T. Regan.
     Accepting the sharp criticism of the Tower commission report, Mr. Reagan said that what had started as a strategic opening to Iran had "deteriorated in its implementation into trading arms for hostages." He said, "This runs contrary to my own beliefs, to administration policy and to the original strategy we had in mind." He accepted "full responsibility" for the Iran-contra affair: "As the Navy would say, this happened on my watch."
     Yet even after Mr. Poindexter and Mr. North were indicted on charges of conspiracy, theft and fraud in the affair in 1988, Mr. Reagan declared that he still believed that Mr. North was a hero and that his former aides were not guilty. He said, "I just have to believe that they're going to be found innocent, because I don't think they were guilty of any wrongdoing or any crime."
     On Mar 4, 1989, Mr. North, who had left the Marines, was found guilty of three felonies, including destroying and falsifying official documents, and acquitted of nine other charges. On July 15 he was fined $150,000, placed on probation for two years and ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service. On Sept. 16, 1991, a federal judge dismissed all charges against Mr. North. Prosecutors said they would not be able to show that the trial had not been affected by televised Congressional testimony that Mr. North had given under immunity.
     For the same reason a divided federal appeals court on Nov. 15, 1990, threw out five felony convictions of Mr. Poindexter. In June 1990, Mr. Poindexter had become the first person in the Iran-contra affair to receive a jail term, and the highest White House official since Watergate sentenced to a prison term for illegal acts committed in office.
     Mr. Reagan was not brought to court, but he faced the judgment of history. The historian C. Vann Woodward said in an interview that he knew of "nothing comparable with this magnitude of irresponsibility and incompetence."
     Mr. Woodward observed: "This is not simply the self-serving of a politician who was using illegal methods. This involved the country's policy and its foreign relations and reputation."

Long Struggle, on Arms Control

     Mr. Reagan had sought a place in history as a president who dealt forcefully with terrorists and took vigorous action to rescue Americans taken hostage anywhere in the world. Perhaps even more than the president, it was said, Nancy Reagan was concerned that the Iran-contra scandal would damage her husband's place in history. She pressed for an arms agreement with the Soviet Union, hoping it would establish his reputation as statesman and peacemaker and undo some of the damage.
     But distrust of the Soviet Union had been a hallmark of Mr. Reagan's political career. He had labeled it the "evil empire" and his suspicions were confirmed in September 1983 when a Soviet jet fighter shot down a South Korean airliner, killing 269 people and plunging Soviet-American relations into a new and bitter round of recrimination.
     Chances for an arms agreement seemed slim. In his first term, Mr. Reagan was less concerned with arms control than with an arms buildup to counter Soviet military power. In 1979, as a candidate, he had opposed ratification of the strategic arms limitation agreement, saying it strongly favored the Soviets. (Although that agreement never came to a vote in the Senate, his administration continued to observe its terms until late 1986, when the United States exceeded the limits.)
     In 1981 Mr. Reagan said SALT had not brought any arms reductions, and, proposing a new beginning, called for "Strategic Arms Reduction Talks," with the felicitous acronym Start.
     He had promised in his 1980 campaign that his top strategic priority would be to close "the window of vulnerability" through which he believed the Soviet Union could launch a successful nuclear first strike. As president, he essentially speeded the strategic modernization program sought by Mr. Carter. He began procurement of the B-1 bomber. In accordance with a decision of the Carter administration, some medium-range missiles were deployed in Europe. The administration strengthened the Navy and pushed for modernization of bombers and missiles, helicopters and tanks.
     Some analysts believe that buildup, along with military exercises and reconnaissance that were seen from the Soviet perspective as provocative, may have strengthened Soviet hawks and actually delayed efforts by Mr. Gorbachev to bring reform to the Soviet Union.

`Star Wars' and a Breakthrough

     On March 23, 1983, Mr. Reagan announced plans for a system of exotic, space-based defenses that would make nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. Former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger said the program, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which came to be called "Star Wars," was nothing but "a collection of technical experiments and distant hopes." But the president, Mr. Schlesinger said, treated it "as if it were already a reality."
     Nevertheless, minutes of Politburo meetings that have come to light, show that Mr. Gorbachev was, in the words of a Russian scholar, "obsessed" by the proposal, which he feared would lead to a new and more dangerous round in the arms race. Some Russian scholars say it was this fear, even more than the cost, that concerned the Soviet leader, because his scientists had assured him they could meet the threat at 10 percent of what it would cost the United States. But hardliners in the Reagan administration believed that heightened military spending would cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.
     Indeed, Mr. Gorbachev had come to recognize that he would have to find new sources of revenue as his country's economy declined, and a cut in the arms budget was a prime candidate.
     Just when it began to look as if Mr. Reagan would be the first president in two decades to fail to get any arms agreement with the Soviets, it was announced that he and Mr. Gorbachev would meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Oct. 11 and 12, 1986.
     There, Mr. Reagan proposed the elimination of all ballistic missiles by 1996. Mr. Gorbachev, not to be outdone, proposed the elimination of all strategic nuclear weapons, a proposal that, to the consternation of his aides, Mr. Reagan accepted. Mr. Reagan had found in Mr. Gorbachev a Communist he could deal with, and the tenor of the United States-Soviet relationship in his second term differed markedly from his first years in office.
     In February 1987, two days after the Tower commission issued its report on the Iran-contra affair, Mr. Gorbachev announced the Soviet Union's willingness to sign "without delay" an agreement to eliminate Soviet and American medium-range missiles in Europe within five years.
     For Mr. Reagan, the Soviet proposal provided an opportunity for a foreign policy breakthrough when he appeared immobilized by the Iran-contra scandal. The intermediate-range nuclear force, or I.N.F., treaty was signed the next December.
     "The importance of this treaty transcends numbers," Mr. Reagan said at the signing ceremony in the White House. "We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim Davorey no provorey -- Trust, but verify.` [sic.]
     Mr. Reagan's attitude toward the Soviet Union had evolved. With Mr. Gorbachev promising glasnost and perestroika, the restructuring of his country's political and economic system, Mr. Reagan reconsidered the "evil empire" and relegated it to another era.
     "My personal impression of Mr. Gorbachev is that he is a serious man seeking serious reform," the president said in 1988. "We look to this trend to continue. We must do all that we can to assist it."
     But along the way he urged the new Soviet leader to move farther, faster. On June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Mr. Reagan, in one of his most noted speeches, delivered a challenge to Mr. Gorbachev: "If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate, Mr. Gorbachev. Open this gate, Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall."
     Like a modern-day Joshua at the battle of Jericho, Mr. Reagan lived to see the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. "I never dreamed that in less than three years the wall would come down and a 6,000-pound section of it would be sent to me for my presidential library," Mr. Reagan wrote in his autobiography, "An American Life," (Simon and Schuster, 1990).

Time and the Man

     The former House speaker, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., Democrat of Massachusetts, said of Mr. Reagan: "Most of the time he was an actor reading lines who didn't understand his own programs. I hate to say it about such an agreeable man, but it was sinful that Ronald Reagan ever became president."
     Mr. O'Neill, who served in much of Mr. Reagan's tenure, said he had "known every president since Harry Truman and there's no question in my mind that Ronald Reagan was the worst." But, he added, "he would have made a hell of a king."
     But, in the view of Kenneth Lynn, professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Reagan "will remain as one of the most important presidents of the 20th century."
     Professor Lynn said in an interview: "He fulfilled a restorative function we desperately needed. His belief that we can come out of our travail with a renewed strength, his ebullience, his optimism and his lack of guilt in his personal life and in America in general were a breath of fresh air. To have someone speak in terms of possibility, of limitlessness rather than of limits, was an elixir, a real upper. He was the most important President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in those symbolic respects.
     Paul Johnson, the historian and journalist, gives Mr. Reagan credit for more than symbolic accomplishment. "Reagan's rearmament program, accompanied as it was by a resurgence in the U.S. economy, had a demoralizing effect on the Soviet elite," Mr. Johnson wrote in Foreign Affairs.
     "Thus," he continued, "the concept of perestroika was born, not merely of internal shame and exasperation at empty shops and shabby conditions, but of an external recognition that their chief ideological competitor, under Reagan's leadership, was far more formidable and durable than they supposed."
     But to many other historians and political scientists, Mr. Reagan's accomplishments will not secure his place among great American presidents.
     Thomas Cronin, the McHugh Professor of American Institutions at Colorado College, said Americans evaluated the greatness of a President on "criteria that are over and above popularity and re-election."
     Mr. Cronin credited Mr. Reagan with enhancing national security with the I.N.F. treaty but asked: "Did he expand opportunities for all Americans regardless of race, gender or income bracket? It's my view Reagan has not enlarged the equity factor nor the educational opportunities for most Americans."
     And the Reagan presidency was lacking in moral leadership, he said, an essential quality for greatness. "He was too late, too little and too lame when it came to human rights abuses at home and abroad," Professor Cronin said. "He was not willing to be a leader."
     Moments after the inauguration of George Bush as the nation's 41st President, Mr. Reagan returned to California, to writing his autobiography, to riding his horses and chopping wood on his ranch and to the new house in Bel-Air. There were some political appearances and a visit to Japan that occasioned an uproar when it became known that he was being paid $2 million by a Japanese communications group for his appearances there.
     Not a man given to introspection, he nevertheless wrote his autobiography with the help of a former journalist, Robert Lindsey, a narrative of his life and his presidency as he remembered it.
     There followed a round of television interviews in which he promoted the sale of his book. Barbara Walters asked him how he thought history would remember him.
     "Well," Mr. Reagan replied, "I hope it'll remember me on the basis that when I took office, I felt very strongly that our government had grown too officious and imposing too much on the private sector in our society, and that I wanted to see if the American people couldn't get back that pride, and that patriotism, that confidence, that they had in our system. And I think they have."