In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for presidency on the campaign promise to restore "the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism” (Beschloss). At the end of his two terms, many of his supporters whole-heartedly believed that he had achieved his goal. Reagan’s impeccable public speaking skills and his gift for relating to people earned him the nickname “The Great Communicator.” His presidency is often referred to as the “Reagan Revolution” for its success in reinvigorating American morale and reducing the people’s reliance on the government. Reagan left office with a 68 percent approval rating, which is significantly higher than that of both his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and his successor, George H. W. Bush, who left office with approval ratings of 44 percent and 54 percent, respectively. In fact, Ronald Reagan is tied with Bill Clinton for the all-time highest approval rating upon leaving office since Gallup began asking about presidential approval almost 80 years ago (CBS News). According to a Gallup Poll conducted on February 18, 2011, Americans are most likely to say that Ronald Reagan was the nation’s greatest president. This data was collected in a survey where 1,015 Americans over the age of eighteen were asked, “Who do you regard as the greatest United States president?” (Newport). Clearly, Reagan is commonly revered as a very successful president, but how did he achieve such success? Many different aspects of Reagan’s presidency, such as military achievements, Reaganomics, immigration policy, and the war on drugs, must be noted to fully describe how he achieved his success, but one of the most important facets of his time in office was his approach to American federalism.
Reagan entered his presidency with the intentions of redefining how Americans viewed the intergovernmental system. Through the use of Executive Orders, Reagan explained his goals for this endeavor. True change can be seen in practice when examining the use of federal grants to states under the Reagan administration, as well as through analyzing intergovernmental social policy at the time. He wanted put his idea of “New Federalism” (not to be confused with Richard Nixon’s initiative of the same name) into action. Reagan’s new federalism was based upon the political philosophy of devolution, and its goal was to return to the federalism structure put in place by the Framers of the Constitution. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, devolution is defined as “the transfer of power from a central government to subnational (e.g., state, regional, or local) authorities.” This source goes on to say that “devolution usually occurs through conventional statutes rather than through a change in a country’s constitution.” By the 1980s, when Reagan took office, the federal government was much more powerful than how he felt the framers had intended for it to be. Both the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and the Lyndon B. Johnson administration had a lot to do with this.
Reagan spoke out many times against a large federal government. In his inaugural address, he stated, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" (On the Issues). He made it clear that it was his intention to cut back the size and scope of the federal government. He hoped to achieve this goal by not only reducing federal programs overall, but devolving control of certain necessary programs to the State and local governments.
Starting in 1933, the Roosevelt administration developed the New Deal. The New Deal was a four-year-long project consisting of economic programs aimed primarily at recovering the economy, providing relief for the unemployed and poor, and reforming the financial system to help prevent future depressions from occurring. The New Deal was largely opposed by