Chapter 30
The Conservative Ascendancy
1974 - 1991
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Part One:
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Chapter Focus Questions
What explains the weakness in the U.S. economy in the
What did Ford and Carter accomplish as presidents?
How successful was the environmentalist movement of
the 1970s?
What are the factors behind the rise of the New Right?
How did the Iran hostage crisis affect the election of
What economic assumptions underlay “Reaganonics”?
Why did the gap between rich and poor grow in the
How did the Cold War end?
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Part Two:
American Communities: Grass
Roots Conservatism in Orange
County, California
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American Communities: Grass Roots
Conservatism in Orange County, California
In 1962, Garden Grove resident Bee Gathright discovered
she was a conservative. Gathright and her husband Neil
soon joined the California Republican Assembly and
were active in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential
In the 1960s and 1970s, Orange County had thousands of
“kitchen table” activists who began transforming
American conservatism and American politics, leading to
the election of Ronald Reagan as president.
Conservative rhetoric shed its extremist message by
stressing less government and family issues. Evangelical
religion also played a role.
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Part Three:
The Overextended Society
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The Troubled Economy
Map: World’s Leading Oil Producers
The energy crisis was the most vivid sign of a troubled
Dependence on imported oil had steadily grown.
President Nixon ordered oil conservation measures.
Chart: Decline of U.S. Oil Consumption, 1975-81
Soaring energy prices led to rapid, sustained inflation.
Steel and auto making faced stiff competition and declining
market shares.
Chart: Union Membership, 1940-90
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MAP 30.1 World’s Leading Oil Producers
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Decline of U.S.
Boycotts causing
shortages and
high prices
spurred the
reduction in oil
However, in the
once again
began to rise to
reach record
Source: Department of
Energy, Monthly Energy
Review, June 1982.
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1940-90 After
reaching a peak
during World
War II, union
declined. In the
production took
an especially
big toll on
SOURCE: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, in Mary Kupiec et
al., eds., Encyclopedia of
American Social History,
Vol. II. New York:
Scribner’s, 1993, p. 4188.
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Sunbelt/Snowbelt Communities
Map: Population Shifts, 1970-80
Large-scale migration fueled Sunbelt
population growth.
Sunbelt prosperity was not evenly spread and
a two-tier class society developed.
Snowbelt cities like Philadelphia and New
York faced urban decay.
Chart: Growth of Sunbelt Cities, 1940-80
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MAP 30.2
Shifts, 1970–
80 Industrial
decline in the
with an
boom in the
millions of
Americans to
head for
climates and
better jobs.
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FIGURE 30.3 Growth of Sunbelt Cities, 1940-80 The old industrial cities in the
Northeast and Midwest steadily lost population to the southern and western
decentralized cities and their surrounding suburbs.
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of the Census.
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The Endangered Environment
The linking of cancer at Love Canal to toxic
waste raised U.S. concern over pollution.
Growing interest in the concept of ecology
led Americans to lobby for renewable energy
sources, protecting endangered species, and
reducing pollution.
Despite public outcries, government officials
frequently responded to other pressures.
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The media attention given to
Love Canal residents, who
reported high incidents of birth
defects and rates of cancer,
led to the passage of a new
federal law in 1980 regulating
toxic waste disposal. This
photograph shows one of the
endangered children
demonstrating during a
neighborhood meeting.
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“Lean Years Presidents”: Ford and
Map: The Election of 1976
Gerald Ford succeeded to the presidency following Richard
Nixon’s resignation.
After pardoning Nixon, Ford lost the nation’s trust.
Democrats turned to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.
Carter narrowly defeated Ford, building on his moderate
image, his outsider status, and his pledge to restore trust.
Carter by and large supported conservative policies like
deregulation and increased military spending.
Inflation and interest rates soared, leading many to
conclude that Carter could not turn the economy around.
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MAP 30.3 The Election of
1976 Incumbent Gerald Ford
could not prevail over the
disgrace brought to the
Republican Party by Richard
Nixon. The lingering pall of
the Watergate scandal,
especially Ford’s pardon of
Nixon, worked to the
advantage of Jimmy Carter,
who campaigned as an
outsider to national politics.
Although Carter and his
running mate Walter Mondale
won by only a narrow margin,
the Democrats gained control
of both the White House and
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The New Urban Politics
Political mobilization during the 1970s
frequently focused on community issues that
cut across ideological lines.
College students, along with African
Americans and other minorities, mobilized
and won power in numerous communities.
Several major cities elected black mayors.
The fiscal crisis of the 1970s frequently
foiled their plans for reforms.
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Part Four:
The Limits of Global Power
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The Limits of Global Power
Presidents Ford and Carter both believed
that American power had been declining and
that there should be no more Vietnams.
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American diplomats sought a way to wind down the
cold war by getting the Soviets to agree to respect
human rights and by negotiating arms control
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Foreign Policy and “Moral
Jimmy Carter pledged to put human rights at the
center of his foreign policy.
His greatest success came when he negotiated the
Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel,
though the agreement did not bring stability to the
Carter reformed the CIA and returned the Canal
Zone to Panama.
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President Carter signs the Middle East Peace Treaty with Egyptian President Anwar
Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in Washington, DC, March 1979.
President Carter had invited both leaders to Camp David, the presidential retreat in
Maryland, where for two weeks he mediated between them on territorial rights to the West
Bank and Gaza Strip. Considered Carter’s greatest achievement in foreign policy, the
negotiations, known as the Camp David Peace Accords, resulted in not only the historic
peace treaty but the Nobel Peace Prize for Begin and Sadat.
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(Mis)Handling the Unexpected
Carter received contradictory advice urging
him to be both tough on and conciliatory
toward the Soviets.
His Third World efforts received mixed
support for both authoritarian and
revolutionary governments.
He reacted strongly to a Soviet intervention
in Afghanistan.
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The Iran Hostage Crisis
Carter’s decision to allow the deposed shah
of Iran to enter the country for medical
treatment backfired.
Iranian students seized the American
embassy and held its personnel hostage.
He tried diplomacy and at the same time an
ill-fated rescue operation. Both failed.
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Iranians demonstrate outside the
U.S. Embassy in Tehran, raising a
poster with a caricature of
President Carter. The Iran hostage
crisis, which began November 8,
1979, when a mob of Iranians
seized the U.S. embassy in
Tehran, contributed to Carter’s
defeat at the polls the following
year. Fifty-two embassy employees
were held hostage for 444 days.
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Part Five:
The New Right
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A variety of forces converged to turn back the great
society and form the New Right such as
conservative centers like the Heritage Foundation.
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The Religious Right
The New Right promoted its agenda through
Protestant ministers were determined to roll
back liberalism.
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Christian televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker hosted the popular “PTL Club” and
capitalized on their success to build the PTL Network and Heritage USA,” which grew to
become one of the largest and best attended theme parks in the United States. This
photograph, taken in 1986, shows the couple shortly before reports of financial
irregularities and a sex scandal forced Jim Bakker to resign from his PTL ministry. They
divorced in 1992 following Jim Bakker’s conviction on federal charges of fraud and
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The Pro-Family Movement
The New Right successfully blocked
ratification of the ERA and rallied support
for efforts to make abortions illegal.
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The Election of 1980
Map: The Election of 1980
As the election of 1980 approached, an unenthusiastic
Democratic convention endorsed him.
The Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan, who asked
voters, “Are you better off now than you were four years
Reagan won 50.9 percent of the vote but an
overwhelming majority in the electoral college.
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MAP 30.4 The Election of
1980 Ronald Reagan won a
landslide victory over
incumbent Jimmy Carter,
who managed to carry only
six states and the District of
Columbia. Reagan attracted
millions of traditionally
Democratic voters to the
Republican camp.
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Seeing History
The Presidential
Inauguration of Ronald
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Part Six:
The Reagan Revolution
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The Great Communicator
Ronald Reagan credited his political success
to his earlier acting career.
He interpreted the 1980 election as a popular
mandate for conservatives.
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Ronald Reagan, the fortieth president of the United States, was known for his ability to
articulate broad principles of government in a clear fashion. The most popular president
since Dwight Eisenhower, he built a strong coalition of supporters from long-term
Republicans, disillusioned Democrats, and evangelical Protestants.
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Reaganomics is based on a supply-side economic
theory: Essentially, a successful economy depended
upon the proliferation of the rich.
The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981: the
largest tax cut in the nation’s history.
The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981: a
comprehensive program of federal spending cuts.
While decreasing spending on domestic programs,
Reagan greatly increased defense budget.
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The Election of 1984
In the 1984 election, Walter Mondale won
the Democratic nomination by concentrating
on the traditional Democratic constituencies.
Reagan countered Mondale’s criticisms by
claiming that the nation was strong, united,
and prosperous.
Reagan won in one of history’s biggest
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Recession, Recovery, Fiscal Crisis
A recession gripped the economy during the early 1980s.
By the mid-1980s the economy grew and inflation was under
Enormous budget deficits grew to an unprecedented $2.7
trillion as the U.S. became the world’s leading debtor.
The fiscal crisis was made worse by scandals in the securities
industry. In 1987, the stock market crashed, ending the bull
market of the 1980s.
Chart: Federal Budget Deficit and National Debt, 1970-98
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FIGURE 30.4 Federal Budget Deficit and National Debt, 1970-98 Tax cuts
combined with huge increases in defense spending created a sharp increase
in the budget deficit during the Republican administrations.
SOURCE: Statistical abstract of the United States, in Nash et al., The American People, 5th ed., p. 988.
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After the Dow Jones reached an all-time high at the end of August, stocks began to
slide and then crashed. On October 19, 1987—“Black Monday”—traders at the New
York Stock Exchange panicked, selling off stocks at such a rate that the market lost
almost twenty-three percent of its value, marking the end of a five-year bull market.
The market soon bounced back, and by September 1989 the Dow Jones had made up
all its losses.
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Part Seven:
Best of Times, Worst of
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A Two-Tiered Society
While the 1980s celebrated wealth and
moneymaking, the gap between rich and poor
During the 1980s, the average weekly earnings
declined substantially.
Half the new jobs did not pay enough to keep a
family out of poverty.
Race sharply defined the gap between rich and
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A Two-Tiered Society
Table: Percentage Share of Aggregate Family Income,
Table: Share of Total Net Worth of American Families
Table: Measures of Average Earnings, 1980-92 (in 1990
Table: Number of Poor, Rate of Poverty, and Poverty Line,
Table: Net New Job Creation by Wage Level, 1979-87
Table: Median Family Income and Ratio to White, by Race
and Hispanic Origin, 1980-92 (in 1992 Dollars)
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The Feminization of Poverty
Women experienced declining earning
power during this period.
Divorce contributed significantly to female
poverty—new no-fault divorce laws.
A sharp rise in teenage pregnancy also
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Epidemics: Drugs, AIDS,
The 1980s saw new epidemics erupt.
Cocaine and inner-city crack use spiraled, unleashing a
crime wave.
The Reagan administration declared a war on drugs, but
concentrated its resources on the overseas supply and did
little to control demand at home.
In 1981, doctors identified a puzzling disease initially
found among gay men—AIDS.
An epidemic of homelessness grew during the decade.
One-third were mental patients discharged from
psychiatric hospitals.
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In May 1987, members of the
Lesbian and Gay Community
Services in downtown
Manhattan organized ACT-UP.
Protesting what they perceived
to be the Reagan
administration’s mismanagement
of the AIDs crisis, they used
nonviolent direct action, which
often took the form of dramatic
acts of civil disobedience. ACTUP grew to more than seventy
chapters in the United States
and the world.
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Part Eight:
Toward A New World
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The Evil Empire
Reagan made anti-communism the
centerpiece of his foreign policy, calling the
Soviet Union an “evil empire.”
He called for a space-based “Star Wars”
missile defense system that many saw as an
effort to achieve a first-strike capability.
Attempts at meaningful arms control stalled.
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The Reagan Doctrine and Central
Map: The United States in Central America,
The Reagan Doctrine pursued anticommunist activity in Central America.
Reagan intervened in Grenada, E1 Salvador,
and waged a covert war against the
revolutionary government of Nicaragua.
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MAP 30.5 The United States in Central America, 1978–90 U.S. intervention in
Central America reached a new level of intensity with the so-called Reagan Doctrine.
The bulk of U.S. aid came in the form of military support for the government of El
Salvador and the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
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The Middle East and the Iran-Contra
Map: The United States in the Middle East in the 1980s
The volatility of the Middle East influenced U. S. foreign policy.
In 1986, news broke of how the United States traded arms to Iran
in return for their assistance in freeing hostages held by terrorist
groups. The money from the arms sales was used to fund the
Contras in Nicaragua.
Oliver North, who ran the enterprise, acknowledged that he had
told a web of lies and destroyed evidence, all in the name of
An investigating commission concluded that Reagan had allowed
a small, unsupervised group to run the operation.
In 1992, outgoing President George Bush, whose involvement
had been the target of much speculation, pardoned several
officials who were scheduled to be tried.
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MAP 30.6 The United States in the Middle East in the 1980s The volatile
combination of ancient religious and ethnic rivalries, oil, and emerging Islamic
fundamentalism made peace and stability elusive in the Middle East.
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Lt. Col. Oliver North,
who once described the
scheme to sell arms to
Iran to help the Contras
as a “neat idea,” is
shown testifying in July
1987 before a joint
committee formed to
investigate the IranContra affair.
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The Collapse of Communism
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to
power in the Soviet Union and instituted
a series of political and economic
The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
This ended the great superpower rivalry.
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In August 1961, the border between East and West Berlin was closed, and the Berlin Wall
was built to divide the city into two sections. After twenty-eight years, on November 9, 1989,
the government in East Germany lifted travel restrictions. This photograph shows
demonstrators defiantly tearing down the Berlin Wall, which for three decades had embodied
the political divisions of the cold war.
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Part Nine:
“A Kinder, Gentler Nation”
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Reagan’s Successor: George H. W.
Bush carried over several policies from
Reagan’s administration.
Bush described himself as a “compassionate”
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The Persian Gulf War
As the old geopolitical order disappeared,
ideological rivalry shifted to the Middle East.
Iraq seized oil fields in Kuwait and the U.S.
responded swiftly.
U.S. air strikes lasted 42 days, the ground war 100
hours and victory was swift.
The war, however, intensified Muslim hatred of
the United States.
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The Economy and the Election of
The Persian Gulf War swelled Bush’s popularity,
however the economy soon pushed to drop his
performance rating to just 51 percent.
He faced a formidable opponent in Bill Clinton.
Clinton adopted many conservative themes and
took 43 percent of the popular vote and carried 32
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Part Ten:
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