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#224: The Reagan Years

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President Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on June 1, 1988, before a fourth day of talks in Moscow
President Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on June 1, 1988, before a fourth day of talks in Moscow

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

This week in our series, we continue the story of the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

(MUSIC)

Soon after his presidency began, there was an attempt on his life. A gunman shot President Reagan in March nineteen eighty-one. Doctors removed the bullet. He rested, regained his strength and returned to the White House in twelve days.

President Reagan during a news conference at the White House on March 19, 1987
President Reagan during a news conference at the White House on March 19, 1987

The new president wanted to reduce the size of the federal government. He and other conservative Republicans wanted less government interference in the lives of Americans.

President Reagan won congressional approval for his plan to reduce income tax rates. Many Americans welcomed the plan. Others were concerned about its effects on the national debt. They saw taxes go down while defense spending went up.

To save money, the Reagan administration decided to cut spending for some social programs. This pleased conservatives. Liberals, however, said it limited poor peoples' chances for good housing, health care, and education.

(MUSIC)

President Reagan also had to make decisions about using military force in other countries. In nineteen eighty-three, he sent Marines to Lebanon. They joined other peacekeeping troops to help stop fighting among competing groups. On October twenty-third, a truck carrying explosives bombed Marine housing at Beirut International Airport.

RONALD REAGAN: "There was nothing in its appearance to suggest it was any different than the trucks or cars that were normally seen on and around the airport. But this one was different. At the wheel was a young man on a suicide mission.

"The truck carried some two thousand pounds of explosives, but there was no way our Marine guards could know this. Their first warning that something was wrong came when the truck crashed through a series of barriers. The guards opened fire, but it was too late. The truck smashed through the doors of the headquarters building in which our marines were sleeping and instantly exploded."

Two hundred forty-one Americans were killed.

(MUSIC)

Two days later, Marines led an invasion of the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Communist forces were rebelling against the government there. Cuban soldiers were guarding the streets. President Reagan said he feared for the safety of American students at a medical school in Grenada. He sent the Marines to get them out safely.

The Marines quickly defeated the communist forces. Many Americans were pleased. Others were angry. They said Grenada was invaded only to make people forget about what happened in Lebanon.

(MUSIC)

President Reagan speaks to Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London on June 7, 1984
President Reagan speaks to Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London on June 7, 1984
The next year, nineteen eighty-four, was a presidential election year. It looked like no one could stop President Reagan. His warm way with people had made him hugely popular. He gained support with the military victory in Grenada. And, by the time the campaign started, inflation was under control. The Republican Party renominated Ronald Reagan for president and George Bush for vice president.

There were several candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination. One was the first African-American to seek the presidency, Jesse Jackson. He was a Protestant clergyman and a longtime human rights activist.

The candidate who finally won the nomination was Walter Mondale. He had been a senator and had served as vice president under President Jimmy Carter. The vice presidential candidate was Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. It was the first time a major party in the United States had nominated a woman for national office.

Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro on July 19, 1984, at the end of the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco
Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro on July 19, 1984, at the end of the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco
GERALDINE FERRARO: "Tonight, the daughter of working Americans tells all Americans that the future is within our reach if we're willing to reach for it. [Applause]"

One issue in the election campaign was taxes. Political candidates often try to avoid talking about taxes with voters. But former Vice President Mondale did talk about the issue. He said taxes would have to be raised to pay for new government programs.

WALTER MONDALE: "The American people will have to pay Mr. Reagan's bills. The budget will be squeezed. Taxes will go up. And anyone who says they won't is not telling the truth to the American people."

This was a serious political mistake. President Reagan gained even more support as a result.

The two candidates agreed to debate on television. During one debate, President Reagan looked old and tired. He did not seem sure of his answers. Yet his popularity was not damaged. On Election Day, he won fifty-nine percent of the popular vote.

On Inauguration Day, the weather was bitterly cold in Washington. All inaugural activities, including the swearing-in ceremony, were held inside.

President Reagan's first term began with an attempt on his life. Six months after his second term began, he faced another threat. Doctors discovered and removed a large growth from his colon. The growth was cancerous. The president was seventy-four years old. Yet, once again, he quickly regained his strength and returned to work.

(MUSIC)

For years, the United States had accused Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi of supporting international terrorist groups. It said he provided them with weapons and a safe place for their headquarters.

In January nineteen eighty-six, the United States announced economic actions against Libya. Then it began military training exercises near the Libyan coast. Libya said the Americans were violating its territory and fired missiles at them. The Americans fired back, sinking two ships.

On April fifth, a bomb destroyed a dance club in West Berlin. An American soldier and another person were killed. The United States said Libya was responsible. President Reagan ordered a bombing raid on the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Muammar Gadhafi escaped unharmed but said his adopted daughter was killed.

Some Americans said the raid was cruel. Others praised it. President Reagan said the United States did what it had to do.

(MUSIC)

The president also wanted to intervene in Nicaragua. About fifteen thousand rebel troops, called contras, were fighting the country's communist government. President Reagan asked for military aid for the contras. Congress rejected the request. In fact, it banned all aid to the contras.

At that same time, Muslim extremists in Lebanon seized several Americans. The Reagan administration looked for ways to gain the release of the hostages. It decided to sell missiles and missile parts to Iran in exchange for Iran's help. After the sale, Iran told the extremists in Lebanon to release a few American hostages.

Not long after, serious charges became public. Reports said that money from the sale of arms to Iran was used to aid the contra rebels in Nicaragua. Several members of the Reagan administration resigned. It appeared that some had violated the law.

President Reagan said he regretted what had happened. But he said he had not known about it. Investigations and court trials of those involved continued into the nineteen nineties. Several people were found guilty of illegal activities or of lying to Congress. No one went to jail.

Most Americans did not blame the president for the actions of others in his administration. They still supported him and his policies. They especially supported his efforts to deal with the Soviet Union.

(MUSIC)

At the beginning of his first term, President Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." To protect the United States against the Soviets, he increased military spending to the highest level in American history. Then, in nineteen eighty-five, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union.

Reagan and Gorbachev held four summit meetings, in Geneva, Switzerland; Reykjavic, Iceland; Washington and Moscow. Each leader agreed to destroy hundreds of nuclear missiles. President Reagan also urged General Secretary Gorbachev to become more democratic. He spoke about the Berlin Wall, which communists had built to prevent citizens from crossing between East and West Berlin.

RONALD REAGAN: "General Secretary 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. [Cheering] Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." [Cheering]"

About this time, a new sense of glasnost, or openness, was beginning in the Soviet Union. It was also a time of perestroika, or restructuring.

(MUSIC)

The American economy grew rapidly during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Yet, at the end of his presidency, many Americans were concerned by what he left behind. Increased military spending, together with tax cuts, had made the national debt huge. The United States owed thousands of millions of dollars. The debt would be a political issue for presidents to come.

Yet, Ronald Reagan will be remembered as one of America's most popular presidents. Above his burial place at the Reagan Library in California are these words, which speak to Reagan's belief in humanity: "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."

(MUSIC)

Next week in our series, we'll look at life in the United States in the nineteen seventies and eighties.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

Contributing: Jerilyn Watson

This was program #224. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

里根1981年1月就任总统,3月份就遭到暗杀。所幸医生取出了里根身上的子弹,里根总统身体迅速康复,短短12天后就回到了白宫。

里根希望缩小联邦政府规模。他和共和党的其它保守派希望政府能少插手美国民众的生活。里根提出的降低收入所得税税率的计划得到了国会批准。这项计划受到了很多美国人的欢迎,但是另外一些人则担心这样做会增加国家债务,因为有目共睹,税率下降的同时,美国的国防开支却在上升。

为了节省开支,里根政府决定减少在一些社会保障项目方面的开支,这样做合了保守派的意。但是自由派却提出:减少社会保障会限制穷人在住房、保健和受教育等方面的机会。

里根任期内还数次下令出军海外。1983年,里根派遣美国海军陆战队前往黎巴嫩,跟其他维和部队一起,制止黎巴嫩交战各方的冲突。10月23号,一辆装满炸药的卡车在贝鲁特国际机场附近的美国海军陆战队营地爆炸。里根总统说:"从外表看,这辆卡车跟机场附近常见的卡车没什么两样,但是这辆卡车不同寻常,驾驶舱里坐着的年轻人,身负自杀爆炸的使命。卡车上装着大约两千磅的炸药,但是我们的海军陆战队员不可能知道,直到卡车冲破几道路障,他们才觉得不对劲,这时候开枪,但是已经太晚了。卡车冲破海军陆战队员们睡觉的主楼大门后爆炸。"这次袭击造成241个美国人丧生。

两天过后,美国海军陆战队又对加勒比海岛国格林纳达发动进攻。当时,那里的共产武装跟政府对抗,古巴士兵在街道上巡逻。里根总统说,他为格林纳达一个医学院里美国学生的安全感到担心,因此派海军陆战队去把他们解救出来。

美国海军陆战队迅速击败了共产武装,很多人为此欢欣鼓舞,但是另外一些人却感到愤怒,他们指责说,里根政府进攻格林纳达,目的就是为了让大家尽快忘记黎巴嫩发生的事情。

1984年是美国大选年。这次总统大选,似乎没有谁能挑战里根。里根总统德高望重,在格林纳达的军事胜利更增加了他的威望。与此同时,通货膨胀也得到了控制。共和党提名里根和布什参选连任。

民主党参选总统提名的包括非洲裔美国人杰西.杰克逊,他是新教牧师,长期积极推动人权。最后,民主党提名沃尔特.蒙代尔为总统候选人。蒙代尔曾任国会参议员,是卡特任期内的美国副总统。蒙代尔的竞选搭档是联邦女众议员杰拉尔丁.费拉罗。费拉罗是美国历史上第一个获得总统副总统提名的女性。

费拉罗说:"今天晚上,美国劳动阶层的女儿告诉所有美国人,只要努力,未来就触手可及。"

1984年大选的议题之一是税率。政治参选人往往回避跟选民讨论纳税的问题,但是前副总统蒙代尔并非如此。他表示,只有提高税收,政府才有钱用于新项目。他说:"美国人民要为里根买单。政府预算会紧缩,税收要提高。如果有谁不这么说,那他就没跟美国人民讲实话。"

这是蒙代尔犯下的严重错误,反而让里根得到了更多的支持。蒙代尔和里根同意参加电视辩论。在其中一次辩论中,里根显得衰老疲惫,对自己的回答模棱两可,但这并没有让里根的民众支持率受到影响,里根最终在选举中得到了59%的选票。

宣誓就职那天,华盛顿严寒刺骨,一切跟宣誓就职相关的活动,都改在室内举行。里根第一个总统任期两个月时,曾遭到暗杀。里根第二个总统任期开始半年后,又接受了一个结肠癌手术,里根当时虽然已是74岁高龄,但还是迅速康复,返回白宫。

多年来,美国一直指责利比亚领导人卡扎菲支持国际恐怖集团,向他们提供武器和从事恐怖活动的指挥中心。1986年1月,美国宣布对利比亚采取经济行动,随后开始在利比亚沿海一带举行军事演习。利比亚说,美国侵犯了自己的领土主权,对参加演习的美军发射导弹。美国反击,击沉两艘战舰。

4月5号,西柏林一个舞厅受到炸弹袭击,打死了一个美军士兵和另外一个人。美国方面说,这次袭击是利比亚干的,里根总统下令空袭利比亚城市的黎波里和班加西。卡扎菲毛发未伤,但声称自己的养女在空袭中遇害。一些美国人认为,这些空袭是残酷的,另外一些人则对空袭行动表示支持。里根总统说,美国这样做是迫不得已。

里根总统还想出兵干预尼加拉瓜。当时,大约一万五千人的反政府武装跟尼加拉瓜共产政权战斗,里根主张武力支援反政府武装,遭到国会拒绝,国会宣布,禁止向尼加拉瓜反政府武装提供任何形式的援助。

与此同时,黎巴嫩的穆斯林极端分子扣押了一些美国公民。里根政府设法营救人质,决定向伊朗出售导弹和导弹部件,换取伊朗的支持。交易完成后,伊朗让黎巴嫩的极端分子释放了几个美国人质。

此后不久,有报导对美国政府提出严重指控,说向伊朗出售导弹的收入被用来支持尼加拉瓜的反叛武装了。为此,里根政府好几位官员辞职,政府里似乎确实有人在这件事上违反了法律。

里根总统表示,对发生此事深感遗憾,但自己并不知情。围绕此事展开的调查和审理一直持续到1990年代,一些人被判定从事非法行为,或是向国会撒谎,但是没有任何人为此入狱服刑。

大多数美国人并没有因为某些政府官员的所作所为而怪罪里根。他们一如既往地支持里根,支持里根的政策,特别是在对待苏联的问题上。

第一个任期之初,里根曾称苏联是"邪恶帝国"。为了保护美国安全,里根将军费开支增加到了史无前例的高度。1985年,戈尔巴乔夫上台。里根和戈尔巴乔夫在瑞士的日内瓦,冰岛的雷克雅未克,华盛顿和莫斯科先后举行了四次峰会,双方同意销毁数以百计的导弹,里根还敦促戈尔巴乔夫推动民主,里根谈到当年共产力量兴建的,将柏林分为东西两部分的柏林墙时说:"戈尔巴乔夫总书记,如果你要为苏联和东欧寻求和平,寻求繁荣,如果你寻求自由,就到这座大门前面来,戈尔巴乔夫先生,打开大门,戈尔巴乔夫先生,推倒这堵墙。"大约就是这段时间,开放和重建之风开始席卷苏联。

里根任期内,美国经济飞速发展。然而,里根期满卸任时,因为军费开支增长,税收减少,所以国债膨胀,让很多民众感到担心。里根留下的大笔国债,成了他的继任者们必须面对的政治问题。

里根是美国历史上最受欢迎的总统之一,美国加州里根图书馆安葬里根的墓碑上写着:"我从内心深处相信,人类都是善良的。正义终将战胜邪恶。每一个生命都有其存在的意义和价值"。

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