As the United States grappled with the challenges and changes of the modern era; it began to experience a renewed interest in conservatism and other ideological and cultural issues. America sought to reassert itself globally, both politically and economically, leading the way in the globalization of the world. Along with the vast, awe-inspiring changes in science and technology, the U.S. would also be inspired by the growth of Christian fundamentalism and a reduced faith in the government’s abilities.
The United States has entered a time period in which it has been, both domestically and globally, both a winner and a loser.
From the West Coast came a former actor, turned governor, turned President to lead our nation out of one its darkest eras, the Cold War. Ronald Reagan began as his political career as a Democrat, but became disenfranchised with the party and switched allegiances to the Republican Party, touting a strong right-wing rhetoric. Combining both the Old and New Right voter blocks to win election; Ronald Reagan would eventually appeal to voters of all stripes with his strong foreign policy, “voodoo” economics and a robust, though controversial, domestic agenda. He would lead our country from famine to feast in the 1980’s, guiding the U.S. through a recession and a resurgence in the economy and the stock market.
The 1970s closed on sour notes. The economy was mired in a deep recession, with little hope in sight for recovery. Fifty-two hostages were still being held in Iran, and the U.S. seemed powerless to do anything about it. Although President Carter was re-nominated by the Democratic Party for a second term, there was little chance he could win.
Hollywood could not have created a better leading man than Ronald Reagan for America in the 1980s. In fact, Hollywood did help mold him, first as a film actor, then as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and then as governor of California. Reagan was an unabashed conservative and fervent patriot. Even if people did not like his politics, it was hard not to like the man. He was upbeat, optimistic, and tough. He easily won the election in 1980, after he asked Americans in his debate with Carter, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" The answer was clearly no, and Reagan won the chance to try his hand at the presidency.
It was immediately as if a veil on the nation's malaise had been lifted. During Reagan's inauguration ceremony, the Americans held hostage in Iran were released. Reagan immediately set out to slash the size of government, instituting more than $30 billion in program cuts. Reagan's agenda was temporarily set back when he was shot and seriously wounded two months after taking office. Reports of his upbeat attitude and hospital banter ("I hope you are all Republicans!" he told the surgeons) further endeared him to the American people.
"Reaganomics" became the hallmark of his presidency. He borrowed from the 1920s with his trickle-down economic philosophy, in which tax cuts for the wealthy are supposed to translate into more jobs, more investment, and a healthier economy. It did not quite work out that way, and the economy continued to sputter. One of the issues was that Reagan was a staunch Cold Warrior, and authorized many new and expensive defense programs. Without money in the budget, the national deficit ballooned to then-historic proportions.
None of this seemed especially important to the American people in the short term. They loved a president who sent fighters to bomb Libya for its involvement in shielding terrorists who bombed a European nightclub, killing an American soldier. When air traffic controllers employed by the government went on strike, Reagan fired more than eleven thousand of them. His reputation as a "get tough" president easily won him a second term in 1984, when he faced Democratic Party nominee Walter Mondale.
Ironically, the same man who eagerly testified for the McCarthy committee about the evils of