The Resurgence of Conservatism
The Triumph of Conservatism
President Jimmy Carter's administration appeared to be stumped and faltering when it was unable to control the rampant inflation or handle foreign affairs. It also refused to remove hampering regulatory controls from major industries such as airlines.
Late in 1979, Edward Kennedy ("Ted") declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the election of 1980. His popularity sputtered and died when the suspicious 1969 accident in which a young female passenger drowned arose.
As the Democrats ducked out, the Republicans, realizing that the average American was older and more mature than during the stormy sixties and was therefore more likely to favor the right, chose conservative and former actor Ronald Reagan, signaling the return of conservatism. New groups that later spearheaded the "new right" movement included Moral Majority and other conservative Christian groups.
In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in Milliken v. Bradley that desegregation plans could not require students to move across school-district lines. This reinforced the "white flight" that pitted the poorest whites and blacks against each other, often with explosively violent results.
Affirmative action was another burning issue, but some whites used this to argue "reverse discrimination." In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in University of California v. Bakke that Allan Bakke had not been admitted into U.C. because the university preferred minority races only; the Court ordered the college to admit Bakke. The Supreme Court's only black justice, Thurgood Marshall, warned that the denial of racial preferences might sweep away the progress gained by the civil rights movement.
The Election of Ronald Reagan, 1980
Ronald Reagan backed a political philosophy that condemned federal intervention in local affairs, favoritism for minorities, and the elitism of arrogant bureaucrats. He drew on the ideas of the "neoconservatives"-supporting free-market capitalism, questioning liberal welfare programs and affirmative-action policies, and calling for reassertion of traditional values of individualism and the centrality of family.
Ronald Reagan won the election of 1980, beating Democratic president Jimmy Carter.
The Regan Revolution
The Iranian's released the hostages on Reagan's Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981, after 444 days of captivity.
Reagan assembled a conservative cabinet when he took office. Much to the dismay of environmentalists, James Watt became the secretary of the interior.
A major goal of Reagan was to reduce the size of the government by shrinking the federal budget and cutting taxes. He proposed a new federal budget that called for cuts of $35 billion, mostly in social programs like food stamps and federally-funded job-training centers. On March 6, 1981, Reagan was shot. 12 days later, Reagan recovered and returned to work.
The Battle of the Budget
The second part of Reagan's economic program called
for tremendous tax cuts, amounting to 25% across-the-board reductions
over a period of 3 years. In August 1981, Congress approved a set
of tax reforms that lowered individual tax rates, reduced federal estate
taxes, and created new tax-free saving plans for small investors.
With the combination of budgetary discipline and tax reduction, the "supply-side"
economics would stimulate new investment, boost productivity, promote
dramatic economic growth, and reduce the federal deficit.
For the first time in the 20th century, income gaps widened between the rich and the poor. Some economists located the sources of the economic upturn in the massive military expenditures. Reagan gave the Pentagon nearly $2 trillion in the 1980s. He plunged the government into major deficit that made the New Deal look cheap.
Reagan Renews the Cold War
Reagan's strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union was simple: by enormously expanding U.S. military capabilities, he could threaten the Soviets with an expensive new round in the arms race. The American economy could better bear this new financial burden than could the Soviet system. In March 1983, Reagan announced his intention to pursue a high-technology missile-defense system called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as Star Wars. The plan called for orbiting battle satellites in space that could fire laser beams to vaporize intercontinental missile on liftoff.
In 1983, a Korean passenger airliner was shot down when it flew into Soviet airspace. By the end of 1983, all arms-control negotiations were broken, and the Cold War was intensified.
In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, seeking to destroy the guerrilla bases from which Palestinian fighters attacked Israel. Reagan sent peacekeeping troops, but after a suicide bomber killed 200 marines, he withdrew the force. In 1979, Reagan sent "military advisors" to El Salvador to prop up the pro-American government. In October 1983, he dispatched a heavy-fire-power invasion force to the island of Grenada, where a military coup had killed the prime minister and brought Marxists to power. Overrunning the island and ousting the insurgents, American troops demonstrated Reagan's determination to assert the dominance of the United States in the Caribbean.
Round Two for Reagan
Ronald Reagan overwhelmingly won the election of 1984, beating Democrat Walter Mondale and his woman vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.
Foreign policy issues dominated Reagan's second term. Mikhail Gorbachev became the chairman of the Soviet Communist party in March 1985. Committed to radical reforms in the Soviet Union, he announced two policies, Glasnost and Perestroika, aimed at ventilating the Soviet society by introducing free speech and a measure of liberty, and reviving the Soviet economy by adopting many of the free-market practices, respectively. The two policies required the Soviet Union to reduce the size of its military and concentrate aid on the citizens. This necessitated an end to the Cold War. In December 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the IFN treaty, banning all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. The two leaders capped their friendship in May 1988 at a final summit in Moscow.
The Iran-Contra Imbroglio
Two foreign policy problems arose to Reagan: the continuing captivity of a number of American hostages seized by Muslim extremist groups in battered Lebanon; and the continuing grip on power of the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Money from the payment for arms to the Iranians was secretly diverted to the contras, who fought the Sandinista government, although it violated a congressional ban on military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels. In November 1986, news of the secret dealings broke and ignited a firestorm of controversy. Reagan claimed he had no idea of the illicit activities. Criminal indictments were brought against Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. The Iran-contra affair cast a shadow over the Reagan record in foreign policy, tending to obscure the president's achievements in establishing a new relationship with the Soviets.
Reagan's Economic Legacy
Ronald Reagan had taken office vowing to stimulate the American economy by rolling back government regulations, lowering taxes, and balancing the budget. Supply-side economic theory had promised that lower taxes would actually increase government revenue because they would stimulate the economy as a whole. The combination of tax reduction and huge increases in military spending caused $200 billion in annual deficits. The large deficits of the Reagan years assuredly constituted a great economic failure. By appearing to make new social spending both practically and politically impossible for the foreseeable future, though, the economic deficits served their purpose. They achieved Reagan's highest political objective: the containment of the welfare state.
In the early 1990s, median household income actually declined.
The Religious Right
In 1979, Reverend Jerry Falwell founded a political organization called the Moral Majority. He preached with great success against sexual permissiveness, abortion, feminism, and the spread of gay rights. Collecting millions of dollars and members, the organization became an aggressive political advocate of conservative causes.
Conservatism in the Courts
The Supreme Court had become Reagan's principal instrument in the "cultural wars." By the time he had left office, Reagan had appointed 3 conservative-minded judges, including Sandra Day O'Connor, the first women to become a Supreme Court Justice. Reaganism rejected two icons of the liberal political culture: affirmative action and abortion.
Affirmative Action - In two cases in 1989 (Ward's Cove Packing v. Antonia and Martin v. Wilks), the Court made it more difficult to prove that an employer practiced racial discrimination in hiring.
Abortion - In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court had prohibited states from making laws that interfered with a woman's right to an abortion during the early months of pregnancy. In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), the Supreme Court approved a Missouri law that imposed certain restrictions on abortion, signaling that a state could legislate in an area in which Roe had previously forbidden them to legislate. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Court ruled that states could restrict access to abortion as long they did not place an "undue burden" on the woman.
Referendum on Reagansim in 1988
Corruption in the government gave Democrats political opportunities. Signs of economic trouble seemed to open more political opportunities for Democrats as the "twin towers" of deficits-the federal budget deficit and international trade deficit-continued to mount. On "Black Monday," October 19, 1987, the stock market plunged 508 points-the largest one-day decline in history.
The Republicans nominated George Bush for the election of 1988. Black candidate Jesse Jackson, a rousing speech-maker who hoped to forge a "rainbow collation" of minorities and the disadvantaged, campaigned energetically, but the Democrats chose Michael Dukakis. Despite Reagan's recent problems in office, George Bush won the election.
George Bush and the End of the Cold War
After receiving an education at Yale and serving in World War II, George Bush had gained a fortune in the oil business in Texas. He left the business, though, to serve in public service. He served as a congressman and then held various posts in several Republican administrations, including ambassador to China, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, and vice president.
In 1989, thousands of prodemocracy demonstrators protested in Tiananmen Square in China. In June of that year, China's autocratic rulers grew angry and brutally crushed the movement. Tanks and machine gunners killed hundreds of protestors. World opinion condemned the bloody suppression of the prodemocracy demonstrators.
In early 1989, the Solidarity movement in Poland toppled the communist regime. Communist regimes also collapsed in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Romania. In December 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and the two Germanies were reunited in October 1990.
In August 1991, a military coup attempted to preserve the communist system by trying to dislodge Gorbachev from power. With support of Boris Yelstin, the president of the Russian Republic (one of the several republics that composed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR), Gorbachev foiled the plotters. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president. He had become a leader without a country as the Soviet Union dissolved into its component parts, 15 republics loosely confederated in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with Russia the most powerful state and Yelstin the dominant leader. The demise of the Soviet Union finished to the Cold War.
Throughout the former Soviet Union, waves of nationalistic fervor and long-suppressed ethnic and racial hatreds were exposed. In 1991, the Chechnyan minority tried to declare its independence from Russia. Boris Yelstin was forced to send in Russian troops. Ethnic warfare in other communist countries was took place as vicious "ethnic cleaning" campaigns against minorities arose. Western Europe was now threatened by the social and economic weakness of the former communist lands.
Now that the Soviet Union had dissolved and there was no longer a Cold War, America's economy suffered. During the Cold War, the U.S. economy had been dependent upon defense spending.
In 1990, the white regime in South Africa freed African leader Nelson Mandela, who had served 27 years in prison for conspiring for overthrow the government. Four years later, he was elected as South Africa's president. In 1990, free elections removed the leftist Sandinistas in Nicaragua from power. In 1992, peace came to El Salvador.
The Persian Gulf Crisis
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, seeking oil. The United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion and on August 3, demanded the immediate withdrawal of Iraq's troops. After Hussein refused to comply by the mandatory date of January 15, 1991, the United States spearheaded a massive international military deployment, sending 539,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region.
Fighting "Operation Desert Storm"
On January 16, 1991, the U.S. and the U.N. launched a 37-day air war against Iraq. Allied commander, American general Norman Schwarzkopf, planned to soften the Iraqis with relentless bombing and then send in waves of ground troops and armor. On February 23, the land war, "Operation Desert Storm," began. Lasting only 4 days, Saddam Hussein was forced to sign a cease-fire on February 27. The war had failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power.
Bush on the Home Front
President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against citizens with physical or mental disabilities. In 1992, he signed a major water projects bill that reformed the distribution of subsidized federal water in the West. In 1990, Bush's Department of Education challenged the legality of college scholarships targeted for racial minorities.
In 1991, Bush nominated conservative African American Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Thomas's nomination was approved by the Senate despite accusations from Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
By 1992, the unemployment rate had exceeded 7%, and the federal budget deficit continued to grow.
Bill Clinton: The First Baby-Boomer President
For the election of 1992, the Democrats chose Bill Clinton as their candidate (despite accusations of womanizing and draft evasion) and Albert Gore, Jr. as his running mate. The Democrats tried a new approach, promoting growth, strong defense, and anticrime policies, while campaigning to stimulate the economy.
The Republicans dwelled on "family values" and selected Bush for the presidency and J. Danforth Quayle for the vice presidency.
Third party candidate, Ross Perot entered the race and ended up winning 19,237,247 votes, although he won no Electoral votes.
Clinton won the election of 1992, by a count of 370 to 168 in the Electoral College. Along with the presidency, Democrats also gained control of both the House and the Senate.
Presidency Clinton placed in Congress and his presidential cabinet minorities and more women, including the first female attorney general, Janet Reno, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Supreme Court
A False Start for Reform
Upon entering office, Clinton called for accepting homosexuals in the armed forces, but he had to settle for a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that unofficially accepted gays and lesbians.
Clinton appointed his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to revamp the nation's health and medical care system. When the plan was revealed in October 1993, critics blasted it as cumbersome, confusing, and stupid. The previous image of Hillary as an equal political partner of her husband changed to a liability.
In 1993, Clinton passed the Brady Bill, a gun-control law named after presidential aide James Brady, who had been wounded in President Reagan's attempted assassination.
By 1996, Clinton had shrunk the federal deficit to its lowest levels in ten years.
In July 1994, Clinton convinced Congress to pass a $30 billion anticrime bill.
On February 26, 1993, a radical Muslim group bombed the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people. On April 19, 1993, a fiery standoff at Waco, Texas between the government and the Branch Davidian cult took place; it ended in a huge fire that killed 82 people. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma, killing 169 people. By the time all these events had taken place, few Americans trusted the government.
The Politics of Distrust
In 1994, Newt Gingrich led Republicans on a sweeping attack of Clinton's liberal failures with a conservative "Contract with America." That year, Republicans won eight more seats in the Senate and 53 more seats in the House, where Gingrich became the new Speaker of the House.
The Republicans, however, went too far, imposing federal laws that put new obligations on state and local governments without providing new revenues.
Clinton tried to fight back, but the American public gradually grew tired of Republican conservatism; Gingrich's suggestion of sending children of welfare families to orphanages, and the 1995 shut down of Congress due to a lack of a sufficient budget package aided to this public disliking.
In the election of 1996, Clinton beat Republican Bob Dole. Ross Perot, the third party candidate, again finished third.
Clinton sent troops to Somalia, but eventually withdrew them. He also got involved with the conflicts in Northern Ireland, but to no positive effect. Before serving as presidency, Clinton denounced China's abuses of human rights and threatened to punish China. However, as president, Clinton discovered that trade with China was far too important to "waste" over human rights.
Clinton committed American troops to NATO to keep the peace in the former Yugoslavia and sent 20,000 troops to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti. He fully supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that made a free-trade zone surrounding Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. He then helped to form the World Trade Organization, the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). He also provided $20 billion to Mexico in 1995 to help its faltering economy.
Clinton presided over the 1993 reconciliation meeting between Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Yasir Arafat at the White House. Two years later, though, Rabin was assassinated, ending hopes for peace in the Middle East.
A Sea of Troubles
The end of the Cold War left the U.S. probing for a diplomatic formula to replace anti-Communism, revealing misconduct by the CIA and the FBI.
Political reporter Joe Klein wrote Primary Colors, mirroring some of Clinton's personal life/womanizing. Clinton ran into trouble with his failed real estate investment in the Whitewater Land Corporation.
In 1993, White House councilman, Vincent Foster, Jr. apparently committed suicide, perhaps overstressed at having to (possibly immorally) manage Clinton's legal and financial affairs.
As Clinton began his second term, the first by a Democratic president since FDR, there were Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.