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Ronald Reagan's Presidency:Conservative America

Updated on May 26, 2014

The United States went through many changes during the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The changes were socially, economically, business wise and a full push towards Conservatism. After the loss in Vietnam and the hippie movement, America had changed dramatically. Many believed, not for the better. Conservatives wished for the ways of common morals and values, so many rejoiced when Ronald Reagan won. All of the anti-war rhetoric from Vietnam had also pushed away the issue of defeating Communism that was still very much on the government’s agenda.

Ronald Reagan was conservative in most of his policies and like many other Conservatives, he believed that regulation and social programs had turned the government into a huge over-reaching entity. Ever since the New Deal in the late thirties, social programs and spending had increased substantially. Conservatives wanted to down-size the government and put more money into consumer’s hands. Reagan, as well as many others believed that regulation was hurting business and the economy by default. Reagan set out to deregulate businesses to open up America for better business.

To put the money back in the taxpayer’s hand, Reagan passed the Economic Recovery and Tax Act of 1981, also known as ERTA for short. This law was made to lower American’s tax bill by a quarter over the next three years. The downside to this was, it cut the federal government’s income by over 700 billion in five years and with less income, the government was forced to cut back on services. This is what the Conservatives wanted because they believed that the government had become too strong and the rich no longer wanted to support the poor.

There were some benefits to this train of thinking, mainly it broke up certain monopolies. In air travel and telecommunications, businesses were broke up and competition opened up consumers to better prices and services. Deregulation in banking allowed banks to take savings account money and invest in high-risk commercial real estate. Companies were also able to raise money by providing junk bonds with high interest rates, that many Americans lost money in. In the short term, people and the economy were making great money. With most things though, all good things come to an end, and by 1990, the federal government had to spend billions to bail out many depositors to prevent an economic collapse. Another negative aspect of the deregulation of the conservative Reagan administration was the effects to the environment. Before, there were regulations about business practices that harmed the environment, as well as regulations on the use of natural resources. This was a secondary cause of the lowered tax rate and government revenue. So, during this time, more tree were cut down, oil was drilled and minerals sought.

Another big change in America connected to Ronald Reagan’s presidency was the change in Unions. Before, Unions were one of the only ways that working-class Americans could guarantee fair wages and labor practices. One of the most powerful and only powers the Unions had was to strike, however Reagan’s action of personally firing over 11,000 air traffic controllers for breaking a strike clause changed that. In doing so, Unions started to deteriorate and numbers plummeted for membership. Businesses were then allowed to hire in permanent replacements for the strikers, taking away any power Unions actually had. Businesses then were able to roll back wages and lower working standards for many blue-collar workers.

One of the biggest changes though, was the change on nuclear power. For years, America and the Soviet Union had spent billions of dollars one upping each other in a nuclear arms race. Instead Reagan started the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the Star Wars project. So in place of pure aggressive actions of bigger and better bombs, Reagan decided that defensive pose was best. New defenses were developed to intercept and shoot down ballistic missiles shot towards us.

The fight against Communism changed dramatically as well in this time. The Soviet Union could not afford to continue matching America’s defense spending, so Reagan met with leaders to propose a treaty. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was agreed upon, which destroyed like missiles from both sides. This treaty was seen as a win for Reagan and America, as well as an end to the fight against Communism.

To stick to the Conservative culture, morals needed to be restored in their eyes and one issue that was addressed was drugs. From the free spirits and drug use of the sixties and seventies, Conservatives felt that the government should crack down on drug use. This is when the War on Drugs began, the same campaign that still goes on today.

Many Americans hailed Ronald Reagan as one of the best Presidents in history, however for every pro, there was a con. The economy boomed, then fizzled out. Profits were made, yet the Earth was stripped faster and more destructively than ever before. Taxes were slashed, however this also slashed social programs and much needed regulations. Rich people got richer, while poor people fell further and further into debt. His presidency caused many changes, it changed America back to its conservative roots.


Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., Anderson, V., Argersinger, P., Argersinger, J., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2011). The American Journey (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Do you think Ronald Reagan was a great President?

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    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      5 years ago from Cape Cod

      Reagan's union busting and failure to understand American workers has severely damaged the United States. Recovery is a long way and perhaps a Harry Truman or an FDR away.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Whoopee as an old hippy the conservative ambition of power, for the rich, by the rich and open only to the rich, gives me a rather large angry headache … the latest is legally rob the public purse by allowing private business to tender for government work. Way too expensive and its legal robbery….to be rich one needs to rob someone. Power corrupts and every country has a power group ready and willing to corrupt whatever it takes to plunder the world, these pirates dress more conservatively , in suits and don’t need to sail the sea in boats to plunder, not while the public purse is available and laws make it legal. The truth has great value, pity the rich manipulate it!!! Your work has my expectation for the younger generation pitched way up high, perhaps you guys can make equality a right not just a word.. Wish you guys all the luck, and I wait expectantly for you guys to do better than da hippy generation. Love your work and respect your aims!!

    • kaiyan717 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from West Virginia

      Thanks for your response, I apoligize for using an unworthy source, however my first source was my College History book. This was a paper I had to write on the issue and I wanted to find some online sources to comply with my book. Our history has amazed me to be honest, what a ride. It just seems to every pro, there is a con and our history seems to go in these cycles. That being said, there is no perfectly correct thing any president could do because everytime a law helps one group, it hurts another. So I like to learn what our country has done, to help gauge where we are going. But thank you for your personal insight.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      5 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I am even more impressed now that I know you’re so young and writing about this issue. But when people criticize the Reagan era what is forgotten is how bad things really were and the mindset of people at that time. It was desperate; even worse than the problems now. The problems were growing: Soviet expansion in Afghanistan and Central America, the Hostage Crisis, and the horrible economy. Things needed to be done differently. Paul Volcker did his part and Reagan did his as well. It was shock therapy.

      To respond to your points:

      1. The main purpose of Garn-St. Germain was to make it easier to pass on property to an heir. That may sound like rules for wealthy people but it helped a lot of small farmers and middle class folks who invested in real estate. In the context of the time, it was absolutely necessary. Whether or not it caused the Savings & Loan crisis has not been decided in my mind. Certainly it played a role. As one who works in financial regulation (govt auditor), I would have hesitated to do it. But Reagan should not get all the blame on that one just as Clinton should not get all the blame for the Glass Steagall repeal.

      2. As for the environmental issue, economic pressures cause strain on your natural resources. So does bloated Federal spending (think Canada, whose shale ops pay for their large budgets). Energy was and still is the driving force in the economy. We had just come off two gas crises, inflation was ridiculous and the top tax rates were still very high (in 1981-86). Imposing further restriction at that moment would have been devastating. Was acid rain a problem? Of course it was. But high unemployment was the bigger problem. Parks are great, but if the economy stinks we could up living in them. And in the end it worked out. The air and water are cleaner than they were 40 years ago. That’s because we had higher revenues driven by a better economic situation. People care more about the environment when the stress of finding a job and living hand to mouth are alleviated.

      My only “beef” with your response was using Salon as a source. That’s like me using the Daily Caller was a source. They’re both political rags.

      I’m thrilled that you care and in a few years you’ll come around to see my point of view. :)

    • kaiyan717 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from West Virginia

      To be honest, I was born in 1984, however this was written with due dilligence and research. I have included quotes from secondary sources easy to look up to back my paper and claims. I do not wish to make anyone defensive, and I appreciate you reading my humble article. Thanks and have a great day.

      President Reagan argued that the health effects of air and water pollution and exposure

      to hazardous chemicals had been grossly overrated,6 and urged that the

      federal government relinquish to the states its long-standing control of lands

      in the West under federal statutes that had restricted mining, oil extraction,

      and the clear-cutting of timber.7

      After three years of much talk and little action, the EPA wanted Reagan to make a major budget commitment to reducing the causes of acid rain. The EPA’s proposal was assailed as wasteful government spending by Reagan’s OMB and was rejected by Reagan, who questioned the scientific evidence on the causes of acid rain and was reluctant to impose additional restrictions on industry.

      President Ronald Reagan signed into law H.R. 5930 in 1982, extending Carter’s deregulations, adding a few of his own as well.

      Bank regulations were eased. In 1982, the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was passed, which removed restrictions on loan-to-value ratios for Savings and Loan banks. Reagan's budget cut also reduced regulatory staff at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. As a result, banks invested in risky real estate ventures (sound familiar?). Reagan's deregulation and budget cutting contributed to the Savings and Loan crisis of 1989.

      Reagan came to office with a diagnosis, most famously put in his inaugural speech, that government is not the solution, but the problem. This was put forward as the reason why the 1970s were so shaky, why we were experiencing more instability. Reagan made a big and wrong diagnosis, with extraordinary consequences, and a lot of the country bought it.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      5 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Nice article, but I disagree with much of it. As someone from a working class family who were on food stamps in the 1970s and one who remembers Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan was a savior. The economic boom only helped my dad. The standing of the United States in the world only improved. A very evil empire was defeated. That alone puts Reagan as one of the greats.

      As for deregulation, the airline industry was deregulated under Carter. The real banking deregulation took place in the late 90s (trading rules changes and Glass-Stegal was repealed, signed by Clinton). I did not agree with it. But Reagan was not to blame. Yes, the S & L scandal occurred on Reagan's watch, but that was an oversight failure (particularly in the Senate as well as banking regulators).

      As for your contention that the environment was harmed during his presidency, I would like to see proof of that. Since 1970, air and water quality have risen dramatically. That rise did not stop from 1981-1989. It kept going. Was the environment a priority for Reagan? No. The issues of the day, inflation and the Cold War, had to trump that issue. He did what he needed to do. We are stronger today because of it.


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