The Resurgence of Conservatism
President Jimmy Carter’s administration seemed to be befuddled and bungling, since it
could not control the rampant double-digit inflation or handle foreign affairs, and he
would not remove regulatory controls from major industries such as airlines.
Late in 1979, Edward (Ted) Kennedy declared his candidacy for the Democratic
nomination for 1980. But, he was hurt by his suspicious Chappaquiddick 1969 driving
accident in when a young female passenger drowned and he delayed reporting the
As the Democrats dueled it out, the Republicans chose conservative former actor
Ronald Reagan, signaling the return of conservatism, since the average American was
older than during the stormy sixties and was more likely to favor the right
New groups that spearheaded the “new right” movement included Moral Majority and
other conservative Christian groups.
Ronald Reagan was a man whose values had been formed before the turbulent sixties,
and Reagan adopted a stance that depicted “big government” as bad, federal
intervention in local affairs as condemnable, and favoritism for minorities as negative.
He drew on the ideas of a group called the “neoconservatives,” a group that included
Norman Podhortz, editor of Commentary magazine, and Irving Kristol, editor of Public
Interest, two men who championed free-market capitalism.
Reagan had grown up in an impoverished family, become a B-movie actor in Hollywood
in the 1940s, became president of the Screen Actors Guild, purged suspected “reds” in
the McCarthy era, acted as spokesperson for General Electric, and become 3Californian
Reagan’s photogenic personality and good looks on televised debates, as well as his
attacks on President Carter’s problems, helped him win the election of 1980 by a
Also, Republicans regained control of the Senate.
Carter’s farewell address talked of toning down the nuclear arms race, helping human
rights, and protecting the environment (one of his last acts in office was to sign a bill
protecting 100 million acres of Alaskan land as a wildlife preserve).
II. The Reagan Revolution
Reagan’s inauguration day coincided with the release by the Iranians of their U.S.
hostages, and Reagan also assembled a cabinet of the “best and brightest,” including
Secretary of the Interior James Watt, a controversial man with little regard to the
Watt tried to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency and permit oil drilling in scenic
places, but finally had to resign after telling an insulting ethnic joke in public.
For over two decades, the government budget had slowly and steadily risen, much to the
disturbance of the tax-paying public. By the 1980s, the public was tired of the New Deal
and the Great Society programs’s costs and were ready to slash bills, just as Reagan
His federal budget had cuts of some $35 billion, and he even wooed some Southern