Ronald Reagan

1981-1989

Elections

Election of 1980

Republican Candidate: Ronald Reagan

  • raised in Iowa by an impoverished Irish American father
  • Actor and sports announcer and Governor of California
  • Conservative
  • sided with the new right on social issues
  • he denounced the activist government and failed "social engineering" of the 1960s
  • championed the "common man," like FDR did
  • depicted big government as the enemy
  • preached a populist political philosophy that condemned federal intervention in local affair, favortism for minorities and the elitism of arrogant bureaucrats
  • aimed to win the working class and lower middle class white voters by implying that the Democrats had become the exclusive tool of its minority followers
  • drew ideas from "neoconservatives" including magazine editors Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol
  • neoconservatives called for free-market capitalism and harshly anti-soviet foreign policy, and questioned liberal welfare programs and affirmative- action policies, and called for traditional values and the centrality of the family

Democratic Candidate: Jimmy Carter

  • showed dignity in defeat
  • was attacked by Reagan for his faults in foreign policy and the big government philosophy of the Democratic party
  • professed charges that Reagan was a trigger happy cold warrior who might ignite nuclear war
  • hurt by the faltering economy, increasing inflation and raising interest rates


Independent Candidate: John Anderson


Outcome of the Election:

Popular Vote:

  • Carter: 41%
  • Reagan: 51%
  • Anderson: 7%

Electoral Vote:

  • Carter: 49
  • Reagan: 489
  • Anderson: 0

Election of 1984

Republican Candidate: Ronald Reagan

  • focused on foreign policy issues


Democratic Candidate: Walter Mondale

  • ran with the first woman to appear on a major party presidential ticket, Geraldine Ferraro
  • fatally tainted by his service as vice president to Carter


Outcome of the election:

Popular vote:

  • Reagan: 52,609,797
  • Mondale: 36,450,613

Electoral vote:

  • Reagan: 525
  • Mondale: 13

Issues and concerns over the national budget

  • Reagan's budget proposals approved expenditures of $695 billion
  • sought to dismantle the welfare state and to reverse the political evolution of the preceding half century
  • Reagan called for deep tax cuts amounting to 25% across the board reductions over a period of 3 years
  • July 1981: on television, Reagan pleaded congressional passage of the tax-cut bill
  • August 1981: congress approved a set of far-reaching tax reforms that lowered individual tax rates, reduced federal estate taxes, and created new tax free savings plans for small investors
  • unemployment reached 11 percent in 1982
  • businesses failed and several bank failures shook the nation's financial system
  • major automakers reported losses in 100s of millions of dollars due to competition with Japanese imports
  • income gaps widened between the rich and the poor
  • emergence of yuppies, young urban professionals
  • the excessive military spending of Star Wars, some $2 trillion, contributed to the overwhelming debt
  • massive borrowing to cover deficits kept interest rates high which elevated the value of the dollar

Reagan and the Cold War

  • March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev installed as chairman of the Soviet Communist party
  • Gorbachev announce two policies that required the soviets to shrink the size of their military machinery (ending cold war): Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring)
  • Glasnost: introduced free speech and a measure of political liberty
  • Perestroika: intended to revive the Soviet economy by adopting many of the free market practices of the west (profit motive and end to subsidized prices)
  • April 1985: Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would cease to deploy intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) targeted on western Europe, pending an agreement of their complete elimination
Four summit meetings
  1. November 1985: Gorbachev and Reagan meet in Geneva where he pushed the goal to eliminate the INF
  2. October 1986: meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland that ended in a stalemate
  3. December 1987: meeting in Washington D.C. where Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF treaty, banning all intermediate rage nuclear missiles from Europe
  4. May 1988: meeting in Moscow where Reagan warmly praised Gorbachev
  • The Cold War came to a kind of conclusion

Iran-Contra Imbroglio

  • Continuing grip on power of the left wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua
  • Reagan continuously requested that congress provide military aid to the contra rebels fighting the Sandinista regime but congress refused
  • some Washington officials saw a possible linkage between the problems of the Middle Eastern hostages and the Central American Sandinistas
  • 1985: american diplomats secretly arranged arms sales to the embattled Iranians in return for Iranian aid in obtaining the release of the American hostages held by Middle eastern terrorists (one was set free)
  • money for the payment of arms was given to the contras
  • these actions violated congressional ban on military aid to Nicaraguan rebels and the vow not to negotiate with terrorists
  • November 1986: news of the secret dealings broke
  • criminal indictments were later brought against individuals associated with the Iran-contra scandal, including Oliver North (guilty), John Poindexter (guilty) and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (pardoned)
  • Iran-contra affair casted a negative shadow over Reagan's foreign policy
  • out of the several Iran-contra investigation, pictures emerged of Reagan sleeping during meetings which portrayed him as lazy

Reagan's Economic Legacy

  • Reagan vowed to roll back government regulations, lower taxes and balance the budget
  • eased regulatory rules
  • pushed major tax reform bills through Congress in 1981 and 1986
  • balanced budget remained out of reach
  • combination of tax reduction and huge increases in military spending opened a vast revenue hole of $200 billion annual deficits
  • Reagan added nearly $2 trillion to the national debt over 8 years
  • much of the debt was financed by foreign lenders like Japan
  • Future generations would have to work harder, lower their standard of living or both to pay their debts off
  • 1986: congress passed legislation mandating a balanced budget by 1991 (inadequate)
  • the deficits represented political triumph (achieved Reagan's highest political objective of the containment of the welfare state)
  • Reagan ensured the long term perpetuation of his dearest political values
  • "Reaganomics"
  • long term trend toward a more equal distribution of income and an increasing squeeze on the middle class
  • median household income declined