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40th President Became a Republican Icon

Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page C07

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 93, the 40th president of the United States, who transformed the Republican Party and substantially defined the terms of contemporary political debate during his two terms in office, died June 5 at his home in Bel Air, Calif., 10 years after he announced he had Alzheimer's disease.

Reagan, a movie actor who became one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century, dramatically reshaped U.S.-Soviet relations while serving as president from 1981 to 1989.

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He survived an assassination attempt in 1981 and colon cancer in 1985. His doggedly cheerful belief in the American dream persuaded voters to twice elect him, the oldest man and the only divorced one ever to hold the nation's top office.

He believed all things were possible, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the disarmament of all nuclear arsenals, which he proposed in a stunning arms-control summit. Conservatives pledged allegiance to his catechism of low taxes, small government, unregulated liberty and a strong military. But his budgets produced record deficits and a near-tripling of the national debt.

The Iran-contra arms deal provoked the seminal crisis of his administration. The "Reagan Doctrine" foreign policy of aiding anti-communist insurrections succeeded in Afghanistan with bipartisan congressional support and had partial successes in southern Africa and Cambodia, then occupied by Vietnamese troops. But Reagan failed to mobilize public support on behalf of his favorite anti-communist insurgents, the Nicaraguan contras, whom he called "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers."

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