Chapter 39

The Resurgence of Conservatism



By the 1980s, the American population was aging and more people were living in the South and West. The led to the emergence of a new politically conservative movement.


The Election of Ronald Reagan, 1980

Ronald Reagan was a neoconservative who opposed a big government, supported the "common man's" rights, and opposed favoritism for minorities. He tried to spin the Democrats as a party who supported big government and only supported minorities. Like neoconservatives, he also supported free-market capitalism, supported anti-Soviet policies, opposed liberal welfare programs and affirmative-action policies, and he called for the reassertion of traditional values of individualism and the centrality of family.

Ronald Reagan overwhelmingly won the election of 1980, beating Democratic president Jimmy Carter.


The Reagan 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.

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, including 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

Reagan called for substantial tax cuts, and 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.

Reagan supported "supply-side" economics: reducing taxes will enable businesses to produce more goods, which will lower prices, increase consumer spending, and create more jobs. Reagan believed that this would stimulate new investment, boost productivity, promote dramatic economic growth, and reduce the federal deficit. (Reaganomics)

In 1981-1982, the economy slipped into a recession as unemployment rose and banks closed. The anti-inflationary polices that caused the recession of 1982 had actually been created by the Federal Reserve Board in 1979, during Carter's presidency.

During the 1980s, income gaps widened between the rich and the poor.

By the mid-1980s, the economy had recovered. Economists speculated that the economy had recovered because of Reagan's massive military expenditures.  Reagan gave the Pentagon nearly $2 trillion in the 1980s. This massive expenditure led to an unbalanced federal budget and it substantially increased the national debt.


Reagan Renews the Cold War

Reagan's strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union was to initiate a new arms race and outspend the Soviets. He expected that the American economy could better support an expensive arms race than the Soviet Union's economy.

In March 1983, Reagan announced a 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 shoot down intercontinental missiles.

In 1981, the USSR declared martial law in Poland. 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.


Troubles Abroad

In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, seeking to destroy the guerilla 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 support the pro-American government.  In October 1983, he sent forces to the island of Grenada, where a military coup had killed the prime minister and brought Marxists to power. 


Round Two for Reagan

Ronald Reagan overwhelmingly won the election of 1984, beating Democrat Walter Mondale and his female vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.

Foreign policy issues dominated Reagan's second term. 

Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. He was committed to reforming the country with two policies: Glasnost sought to allow free speech and political freedom and Perestroika sought to adopt capitalistic economic policies. These two policies required the Soviet Union to reduce the size of its military and concentrate aid on its citizens.  This necessitated an end to the Cold War.  In December 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, banning all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. 


The Iran-Contra Imbroglio

Reagan was plagued by 2 problems: American hostages were held by Muslim extremists in Lebanon, and Nicaragua was run by a left-wing Sandinista government. To circumvent Congress's ban on sending arms to the Nicaraguan rebels who fought Sandinista, the Reagan administration secretly sold arms to Iran (who helped free hostages) and then diverted the money from the sales to the 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 Reagan's record in foreign policy.

Reagan's Economic Legacy

Reagan's tax cuts and huge increases in military spending caused $200 billion in annual deficits, which added $2 trillion to the national debt during Reagan's administration. However, Reagan's large budget deficits helped make future social welfare programs seem economically infeasible. Thus, Reagan had achieved his goal of limiting the expansion of welfare programs.

In the early 1990s, median household income declined.


The Religious Right

In 1979, Reverend Jerry Falwell founded a political organization called the Moral Majority.  He preached against sexual permissiveness, abortion, feminism, and the spread of gay rights.  The organization became an aggressive political advocate of conservative causes.


Conservatism in the Courts

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. 

Reagan sought to use the Supreme Court to fight 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, signalling 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. 

On "Black Monday," October 19, 1987, the stock market dropped 508 points, which was the largest one-day decline in history. 

The Republicans nominated George H. W. Bush for the election of 1988.  The Democrats chose Michael Dukakis. Despite Reagan's recent problems in office, George H. W. Bush won the election.


George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War

In 1989, thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators protested in Tiananmen Square in China.  In June of 1989, China's autocratic rulers brutally crushed the movement.

In 1989, several communist regimes in Europe collapsed, including Poland, 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 overthrow Gorbachev. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the Soviet Union's president, as the Soviet Union had dissolved into its component parts, 15 republics loosely confederated in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with Russia as the most powerful state. Boris Yelstin, the president of the Russian Republic, was the dominant leader of the CIS. The demise of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War.

Ethnic warfare broke out throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1991, the Chechen minority tried to declare its independence from Russia, but Yelstin sent in Russian troops.

As a result of reduced defense spending after the Cold War, America's economy suffered.

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, the civil war ended in 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, it demanded the immediate withdrawal of Iraq's troops.  After Hussein refused to comply by the mandatory date of January 15, 1991, the United States led a massive international military deployment, sending 539,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region.

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 bombing the Iraqis and then send in ground troops and armor. On February 23, the land war, "Operation Desert Storm," began.  It only lasted 4 days, and Saddam Hussein was forced to sign a cease-fire on February 27

Because the allies had only agreed to liberate Kuwait, Bush decided not to invade Baghdad to overthrow Saddam. Thus, Saddam stayed in 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. He opposed affirmative action. 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. Bush was forced to increase taxes to generate revenue for the federal government.


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