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challenges for Americans during the Reagan presidency
As president, Reagan challenged the problems of the 1970s.
During that decade, America had seemed adrift, demoralized by the loss of the Vietnam War,
humiliated by the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s resignation, endangered by Soviet expansion,
disrespected by Third World dictators, starved of oil, battered by inflation, haunted by unemployment,
menaced by crime, imprisoned by doubt. Reagan and his fellow conservatives blamed “Big Government,”
meaning the welfare state, for the domestic troubles, accusing government bureaucrats of
mismanaging the economy and crushing individual initiative.
Conservatives championed “supply side” economics, trusting that cutting taxes and regulation would allow Americans to produce—supply—more.
Reaganaut conservatives also blamed government growth on Communism’s influence,
which to them also explained America’s failure to confront the Soviet Union.
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While by the 1970s, most conservatives endorsed the Civil Rights Movement, they fought against abortion,
busing, and the negative impact they believed the sixties’ movements, including feminism, had had on American families and society.
challenge for americans
Born in 1911 in Illinois, Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s and a famous “B” movie actor in the 1940s,
who by the 1950s believed the Democrats were overtaxing and over-regulating.
He always insisted: “Maybe my party changed. I didn’t.” Reagan’s acting background caused
many to underestimate him in politics; he wondered how anyone could be in politics without first having been in show business.
In 1964, Reagan gave a nationally broadcast speech for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.
Goldwater lost, but “The Speech,” as it was remembered, helped launch Reagan’s political career.
Goldwater’s conservatism was cranky; Reagan’s came with a happy face and light quips, as he claimed,
for example, that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
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during the reagan presidency
In Central America, the elections in El Salvador and installation of the moderate Duarte government enabled the President to win congressional approval for more military aid. But Congress repudiated CIA mining of Nicaraguan harbors and is resisting his efforts to secure more assistance for the rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. But as diplomatic efforts by the US and others have increased in the region in recent weeks, Central America seems to have receded as an election issue.
In sum, Reagan’s domestic and foreign record is a blend of accomplishment and stalemate, of ideological rhetoric and pragmatic accommodation. After his triumphant early victory on the tax-cut issue, the President could not go on to capitalize on his gain. In 1982 he was forced to accept a tax increase, and for the past two years he has in effect been marking time, presumably waiting for a popular mandate to carry out more of his agenda.
Viewing the Reagan presidency from the narrow perspective of a not-quite-completed first term, political experts are ambivalent.
”Reagan has made the presidency work and shown how in a highly pluralistic system it is possible to achieve direction in government,” says Stephen Wayne, a presidential scholar at George Washington University. ”But the record is open on how successful his policies are. We don’t know if the relative peace and prosperity are a consequence of what he has done.”
Others suggest that, if the history of his presidency were written today, Reagan would be evaluated positively on the intangible rather than tangible results of leadership.