The Paradox of President Reagan's Leadership


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank Dan Mazmanian,Jack Knott, and other organizers of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Academic Symposium at the University of Southern California and Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, February 1-2, 2011, at which an earlier version of this article was presented,and Hugh Heclo for help in the preparation of this article.
  • As Hugh Heclo has observed, Reagan “showed how a politician with honest convictions does not need to slur his political rivals' character, competence, or good intentions” (2009, 31).


Ronald Reagan was a larger-than-life individual, a formidable politician, and an important president. But as in all presidents, his character was complex, resulting in a presidency of paradoxes, marked by some great successes and some unfortunate failures. Both Reagan's successes and failures stemmed from his character and style of political leadership. Reagan's broad vision and clear direction made his political ideals appealing. But paradoxically, what made his policy victories possible was his willingness, when faced with political reality, to make pragmatic compromises without seeming to abandon his ideals. This article will examine these paradoxes by analyzing the Reagan administration's transition into office, the contrasting White House staffs of his two terms, and the high and low points of his national security policies.