The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 is often linked to a simultaneous improvement in the economy and the strengthening of the American self-image. The new decade also saw a spike in the Cold War before it thawed and disappeared. The trend of public budget deficits was amplified and social differences increased, while many experienced prosperity growth.
The 1980 and 1984 elections
Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president by an overwhelming majority in 1980. The incumbent president, Democrat Jimmy Carter, won only six states and got 49 electoral votes against Reagan’s 489. As a percentage of the national vote, Reagan got 50.7 percent, Carter 41.0 and Independent candidate John Anderson 6.6 percent.
Reagan won the Republican Party nomination after defeating George HW Bush, whom he elected as his vice presidential candidate, and Anderson, who thus voted as independent in the election itself. Reagan represented confrontational, outrageous currents on his right in his party, while Bush was considered the more moderate, established party circle man.
Carter was nominated after defeating challenger Edward Kennedy in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination, an unusual necessity for a sitting president.
Reagan’s victory over Carter has been interpreted differently. Some have seen it as a victory for the right-wing party and a mandate for policy change in the direction of stronger market solutions and the dismantling of public welfare schemes. Others have claimed that victory was primarily a resounding rejection of Carter and his failed attempts to remedy the 1970s economic downturn, industrial deaths, inflation and decay in major cities. The lack of a solution to the hostage drama in Tehran played a major role in the election campaign.
In both interpretations, widespread frustration with the weakening international status of the United States was important – Reagan made many Americans proud of his country in a way that Carter did not manage. He appealed to a nostalgic patriotism from the time before the 1960s changes, with references to the pioneering spirit of settlers as well as an idyllic version of 1950s suburban and family life.
Reagan was backed by the “new right side”, a collective term for organizations from the 1970s with a commitment to a more confrontational line in foreign policy, to curtailing government’s role in the economy, to Christian conservative issues such as school prayers and traditional family patterns, and a rejection of the criticism the US received for its role in Vietnam and other developing countries.
The support for Reagan also came from former Democratic core groups, such as industrial workers with relatives of Eastern and Southern European immigrants. They had belonged to the electoral groups that supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ” New Deal, ” but did not identify with the Democrats’ new martial law in the 1970s, such as equality, civil rights, environmental protection and war resistance. Reagan’s message of protecting taxpayers from welfare benefits also had increasing appeal in this group, nicknamed “Reagan Democrats,” which themselves had become stronger financially.
Reagan was re-elected in 1984 with a margin of victory even more overwhelming than the first. The Democrats’ Walter Mondale only won the state he himself came from. Reagan received 525 against Mondale’s 13 electoral votes, and 58.8 percent against Mondale’s 40.6.
Mondale, who was Carter’s vice president, won the Democrats’ nomination campaign as the party establishment candidate. He was fought hard by Senator Gary Hart and African-American Baptist priest Jesse Jackson. Mondale elected Congress Representative Geraldine Ferraro as Vice Presidential candidate; the first woman on a presidential ballot.
Reagan’s victory has been attributed to the upturn in the economy in the last year before the election, after several years of inflation and unemployment. With the slogan “Morning in America”, Reagan argued that he had led the United States out of the difficult 1970s, both nationally and internationally.
Liberalism and tax relief
Reagan had opted for a liberalist program in economic policy. In line with the theory that strengthening the supply side of the economy would create growth, taxes were sharply reduced, especially for high incomes. The marginal tax on income was lowered from 70 to 50 per cent. It should increase investment appetite, create jobs and increase supply and demand.
The cuts helped create an unbalanced budget, where the loss of revenue was not made up for. Social services were cut, while defense spending increased, resulting in a huge budget deficit and rising government debt. Throughout his presidency, Reagan agreed to raise some taxes to curb deficits, but not enough to correct the underlying imbalance.
Under the leadership of central bank governor Paul Volcker, deposited by Jimmy Carter, inflation came under control from 1983. The price was high interest rates and sharply rising unemployment. In 1983, unemployment was almost ten percent, before it began to decline and stood at 5.3 percent in 1989. Combined with the reduction in public budgets, unemployment created major social problems. In 1982, the economy was in recession – declining – then growing from 1983 to the decade. In the 1984 election year it was 7.3 per cent.
Restrained social policy
Reagan’s Christian right-wing supporters received fewer and fewer victories in practical politics than many had expected. He was primarily interested in combating the Soviet Union and limiting public intervention in the economy, and, to a lesser extent, in the moral and religious issues many followers engaged in. although two of the three judges Reagan appointed proved moderate.
Equality and minority issues were also disappointed by the progress made in the 1980s; politicians were far more passive in such matters than in the decade before.
The outbreak of AIDS in the United States, a country located in North America listed on computergees, first recorded in 1981, was met with inaction by political authorities and often cited in a derogatory manner as a problem for gay men. Attitudes were reflected in the population, where a softening took place from the mid-1990s. Around 100,000 Americans had developed AIDS in 1989.
Armor and disarmament
In its first presidential term, Reagan had adopted an almost irreconcilable attitude toward the Soviet Union and communism. Particularly famous was his 1983 formulation of the Soviet Union as “the Empire of Evil”. He also focused on a major upgrading and development of new rocket and nuclear weapons. Most noteworthy was a publicly funded industrial and military giant effort aimed at developing a system for launching high-altitude Soviet nuclear missiles (Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), sometimes referred to as “Star Wars”).
Reagan’s ideological intransigence came from 1985 in the shadow of his pragmatism as a politician, when he began a groundbreaking collaboration with new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. A summit between the two in November 1985 led to a reconciling dialogue between East and West and led to more fruitful negotiations on disarmament. In all, the heads of state held four summits, the highlight of which was the signing of the INF agreement in 1987, which limited the number of medium-range missiles in Europe.
For the Reagan administration, the reluctance of communism and subsequent cooperation with it did not stand as contradictions, but as an expression of a proper republican strategy, namely that the Soviet Union would enter into real negotiations only if the United States was strong. However, Gorbachev’s willingness to compromise must also be understood in the light of domestic policy changes in an economically weakened Soviet Union.
The relationship with Latin America was marked by a willingness to military confrontation where Reagan saw a danger of communist or leftist influence. In 1983 , a force invaded Grenada in the Caribbean. In Nicaragua, the Reagan administration supported guerrilla attacks by the contras against the leftist Sandinist regime, as part of the Iran-Contras scandal unveiled in 1986. In El Salvador, the authorities obtained extensive weapons supplies from the United States for use during the civil war in the country, as in Nicaragua for to avoid socialist influence. Extensive assaults on political opponents and civilians occurred without consequences for US support until about 1990.