Ronald Reagan's Presidency:Conservative America
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.