The New Right and the Reagan Revolution (1964-1983)
  1. Intellectual Foundations of Modern Conservatism
  2. Roe v. Wade Mobilizes Conservatives
  3. Phyllis Schlafly and the ERA
  4. The Christian Right
  5. Carter's Crisis of Confidence
  6. The Iran Hostage Crisis Discredits the President
  7. Election of 1980
  8. The Reagan Revolution Begins
  9. A Dramatic Start to the Reagan Presidency
  10. Reaganomics
  11. Defense Spending Increases
  12. Star Wars
  13. Recession and Rebound
  14. The Deficit and the National Debt
  15. New Right and the Reagan Revolution
  16. Lesson Plans
  17. Historiography
Intellectual Foundations of Modern ConservatismTop
Senator Barry Goldwater is widely regarded as the Father of Modern American Conservatism. Ronald Reagan actively campaigned for Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race and he later attributed his success to Goldwater's influence. However, Goldwater's libertarian orientation often put him at odds with the moral and social agenda of the Reagan Administration and the Christian Right by the 1980's.
Although Goldwater did not win, the election of 1964 signaled the defeat of the centrist Rockefeller Republicans, moved the South into the Republican column, and laid out the modern party lines. Thus, 1964 ushered in a new paradigm for the Republican Party, even in defeat.

Reagan's televised 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of the Goldwater campaign propelled the actor from corporate spokesman to conservative champion. It became known simply as "The Speech." Reagan outlined the goals of the modern conservative movement: smaller government, lower taxes, personal autonomy, and more aggressive policy toward Communist states. He implies that liberal policies represent a dangerous shift toward socialism, even drawing parallels between Lyndon Johnson and Karl Marx.

Russell Kirk was another influential intellectual of American conservatism. Reagan awarded him with Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989. In this essay, The Essence of Conservatism, Kirk outlines the basic principles of conservative thought in a brief and very readable essay.

Question to consider:
1. Do you notice a distinction between the agendas or philosophies of the "old" and "new" right? Why or Why not?
     Reagan A Time for Choosing 1964.rtf  
     Russel Kirk Essence of Conservatism.rtf  
The full text of "The Speech" appears at:
Kirk Essay:
Roe v. Wade Mobilizes ConservativesTop
In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court ruled that state laws restricting abortion violated a woman's constitutional right to privacy. The issue of legalized abortion helped galvanize the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970's and 1980's. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the women's liberation movement, many conservatives sought to restore "traditional family values". The passionate struggle between those advocating "a woman's right to choose" and those advocating a fetus's "right to life" catalyzed the formation of a number of enduring political organizations.
The controversial decision was based on the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut ruling and the 14th Amendment. The edited Supreme Court opinions in this section illustrate the evolution of the notion that a "zone of privacy" is implied by the Constitution.

Questions to consider:
1. Do you agree with the Court's determination that "zones of privacy" not specifically mentioned in the Constitution are protected? Why or why not?
2. Why would the Roe v. Wade decision motivate disaffected conservatives to organize? Be sure to address both the constitutional and moral dimensions.
     14th Amendment.rtf  
     Griswold v.Connecticut 1965.rtf  
     Excerpts from Roe v Wade 1973.rtf  
The 14th Amendment appears at: :
For the full text of Griswold v Connecticut:
For the full text of Roe v. Wade:

Phyllis Schlafly and the ERATop
One item on the agenda of social conservatives in the 1970's was the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. Many sought restoration of "traditional family values" that they felt had been undermined by the women's liberation movement. Others were repelled by what they believed was intervention by the state into the private sphere. The successful campaign to curtail the ratification of the ERA, led by activist and self-described homemaker Phyllis Schlafly, demonstrated the financial and political capabilities of the emerging New Right. After a decade-long campaign against ratification, the ERA died in 1982, just three votes short of passage.
The two examples of Schlafly's writings illustrate the conservative backlash against the women's movement. In "ERA's Assist to Abortion," Schlafly predicts the amendment will lead to forced acceptance of abortion, jeopardize Christian institutions, and legalize homosexual marriage. In "Power of the Positive Woman," Schlafly both criticizes the women's movement for devaluing feminine roles in society and extols gender stereotypes as divinely ordained.

Questions to consider:
1. What kind of language does Schlafly employ to characterize the opposing sides of the debate?
2. The first attempt to constitutionally require equality of the sexes was proposed in 1923 and supporters continue to campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment today. Do you think the ERA is important or necessary? Why or why not?
     Text of Proposed Equal Rights Amendment 1972.rtf  
     Schlafly ERA Assist to Abortion 1974.rtf  
     Phyllis Schlafly Power of the Positive Woman.rtf  
The text of the ERA:
"ERA's Assist to Abortion" appears at:
The excerpt from "The Power of the Positive Woman" appears at:
The photo of Schlafly appears at:

The Christian RightTop
The growth of evangelical Christianity in the 1970's reflects the concern for what many percieved as a decline in traditional moral values. By 1978, 40% of Americans described themselves as "born again," including President Carter. The divisive issues pervading American politics, including abortion and women's rights, contributed to the proliferation of evangelical political organizations. Groups like the National Conservative Political Action Committee and Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority pioneered the use of sophisticated campaigning and fundraising techniques such as direct mail.
Evangelical television programming enjoyed a rising level of influence and viewership throughout the 1970's and 1980's as well. Charismatic "televangelists" like Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, and Pat Robertson delivered rousing sermons that resonated with disaffected evangelicals and translated into political action. The influence and campaign tactics of Christian Right delivered a critical proportion of votes to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The 1980 New York Times article below discusses the appropriate role of religion in electoral politics.

Questions to consider:
1. What political and social issues catalyzed the rise of the Christian Right?
2. Voters choose candidates to represent them in government, but America also has a strong tradition of separation of church and state. Do you think that the religious beliefs of a candidate or voter should have a role in the democratic political process? Why or why not?
     NYT Role of Religion in Election 1980.rtf  
     Evangelicals 1977.jpg
NY Times Article:
This 1977 TIME cover appears at:

Carter's Crisis of ConfidenceTop
President Carter struggled with runaway inflation, high unemployment, and soaring energy costs throughout his presidency. However, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini stopped all oil shipments, further exacerbating US energy woes. That summer, the president canceled his vacation and assembled a group of Americans at Camp David for a candid discussion about America's problems. In July the president delivered a televised address that became known as the "Malaise Speech." In it, the president entreats Americans to return to the attitudes and values of the past that made America strong and to share the responsibility of energy conservation. Congress eventually rejected most of the energy proposals in Carter's speech. Furthermore, the public and the press responded defensively and Carter's approval rating plummeted to an irrevocable low. Although the speech was a frank diagnosis of the country's ills, Carter was criticized for "blaming" the American people and offering few solutions.

Questions to consider:
1. Which of the problems associated with energy in 1979 are still relevant today?
2. Why do you think that Carter's speech provoked such a negative reaction?
     President Carter Malaise Speech 1979.rtf  
The full text of the Malaise speech can be found at:
The Iran Hostage Crisis Discredits the PresidentTop
Following the ouster of US backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran in January 1979, the most westernized country in the Middle East transitioned to an Islamic fundamentalist regime led by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. When President Carter allowed the deposed Shah into the United States for cancer treatment, a student group supported by Khomeini stormed the US embassy in Iran and took 53 staff members hostage. President Carter had virtually no leverage against the revolutionary regime, and public support for him quickly waned as the months dragged on with no progress. After months of abortive efforts to forge a diplomatic solution, the President ordered a secret military rescue operation in April 1980. The operation ended in disaster before getting close to the embassy when two helicopters malfunctioned and another collided with a cargo plane, killing eight service members. The already humiliating situation turned much worse as Iranians displayed the burned corpses before television cameras. Thus, the Iran Hostage Crisis became symbolic of the decline of US prestige in the world and the President was criticized for incompetent handling of the situation. After 444 days of captivity, the hostages were finally released immediately after Reagan's inauguration in January 1981.

Questions to consider:
1. How did the Iran hostage crisis affect President Carter's reputation? President Reagan's?
2. How do you think the problems of the Carter administration affected the 1980 Presidential Election?
     American Hostage in Iran.jpg
The photo of the blindfolded American hostage appears at:
Election of 1980Top
The outcome of the 1980 election was not surprising, given the weak record of the embattled Carter Administration. The astonishing fact, however, was that Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan remained in a dead heat in the polls as late as October 1980. Throughout his term, President Carter grappled with issues such as high inflation, high unemployment, high interest rates, and high energy costs. These economic troubles were coupled with foreign policy nightmares such as the ongoing Iran Hostage Crisis and strained Soviet-American relations following the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Throughout the campaign, Reagan questioned Carter's competence, while Carter tried to cast him as a dangerous extremist. The election came down to a single televised debate in October 1980. Reagan famously dismissed Carter, remarking "There you go again..." and closed the debate with the campaign's signature refrain, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The election ended in a landslide victory of Ronald Reagan and the first Republican majority in the Senate since 1952. However, the dismal voter turnout suggested disaffection and apathy toward the political process as the 1970's came to an end and the "Reagan Revolution" began.

Questions to consider:
1. What difference do you notice in the style and content of the debaters' remarks?
2. Why do you think this debate was considered a victory for Ronald Reagan?
     Final Remarks at the Carter Reagan Debate 1980.rtf  
     Reagan Runs for President.wmv  Download Quicktime®
     Popular Vote Pie Chart 1980.gif
     Electoral vote map.gif
You can read the Carter-Reagan debate in it entirety at:
A video overview of the Reagan Campaign: minutes)
The pie chart of the popular vote appears at:
The electoral map appears at:

The Reagan Revolution BeginsTop
Following his overwhelming victory in the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan and his political allies began an effort to reverse the political legacy of the New Deal and Great Society. In his first Inaugural Address, President Reagan famously asserts, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Using his considerable rhetorical skills, Reagan was able to capitalize on the new conservative national sentiment with a simple message: low taxes, smaller government, and strong national defense. In addition to delivering a clear, concise agenda, Reagan conveyed a sense of optimism and accessibility that earned him the title "The Great Communicator."

Questions to consider:
1. What was it about Reagan's ideology, communication style, and policies that led people to call his presidency "The Reagan Revolution"?
2. How do these attributes differ from those of President Carter?
     President Ronald Reagan First Inaugural Address 1981.rtf  
     Early Career of Reagan.wmv  Download Quicktime®
The full text of Reagan's first inaugural address appears at:
The photo of the Reagans appears at:
Get to know Ronald Reagan with this brief video about his pre-presidency career: (3:35 minutes)

A Dramatic Start to the Reagan PresidencyTop
In 1981, Reagan enjoyed high public approval and success in implementing his campaign promises. At the luncheon following his inauguration on January 20, 1981, Reagan announced that Iranian terrorists would release the American hostages after 444 days of captivity. On March 30, 1981, Reagan survived an assassination attempt by John Hinkley Jr, who shot the president in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. Reagan was more badly injured than the administration reported, but he remained optimistic and his approval rating reached 73%. Later that year, Reagan appointed the first female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Although she identified herself as a moderate Republican, foes of abortion and the ERA condemned her appointment to the bench. Additionally, Congress enacted legislation to reduce tax rates by 25% over three years, cut social spending, and advance the goal of a balanced budget by 1984. Another popularity-boosting action was Reagan's firing of illegally striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

Question to consider:
1. How did the events of 1981 affect people's image of Reagan?
     hostage release.jpg
     assassination fails.JPG
     OConnor with Reagan.gif
Freed hostages disembark:
The newpaper headline appears at:
Justice O'Connor with the President:

The ascendancy of conservatism in the 1980's can be partially attributed to the economic "stagflation" of the Carter years. Reagan rejected the Keynesian economic theories in vogue since the New Deal era in favor of supply-side economic theory. Instead of moderate tax cuts and increased government spending to stimulate consumer demand, supply-siders favored simultaneous tax cuts and reductions in spending to encourage investors and entrepreneurs. By leaving money in the hands of those who start businesses, supply-siders argued, more jobs would be created. By cutting government spending, the growth of the deficit would be curtailed and interest rates would stay low, further encouraging investment and entrepreneurship.
Reagan delivered his April 28, 1981 address to Congress shortly after being wounded in an assassination attempt. In the spirit of the Reagan Revolution, he calls upon lawmakers to try a radical new approach to economic policy. Congressmembers received him with applause and quickly passed the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (with cut taxes by $747 billion over five years) and the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981 (which in one piece of legislation, cut over 200 social and cultural spending by $136 billion over two years).

Questions to consider:
1. Briefly discuss the basic ideas behind the theory of supply-side economics.
2. How do George Gilder's ideas fit in with the ideological tenets of the New Right?
3. What problems does President Reagan address in his speech and what solutions does he favor?
     Ronald Reagan Address to Congress on Economic Recovery Program 1981.rtf  
Reagan's address to Congress:

Defense Spending IncreasesTop
An important facet of both Reagan's ideological outlook and presidential campaign was bolstering America's defense capability, which he percieved as lacking since the Vietnam War. Despite vowing to dramatically reduce taxes and government spending, the Reagan Administration increased military spending by over 50% between 1981 and 1988.
Rather that a policy of detente with the Soviet Union, Reagan preferred a more aggressive military stance. How much of impact American military buildup contributed to the fall of the USSR in the late 1980's remains controversial. However, it is clear that the combination of tax cuts and the sharp rise in defense spending contributed to the soaring federal budget deficit and high national debt that rendered Reagan's goal to balance the budget completely infeasible.
In the following addresses, the President emphasizes the increasing military capability of the Soviet Union and the inadequacy of the US Defense institutions to deter Soviet power. Reagan acknowledges the expense of the military buildup, but insists it is vital to national security.

Questions to consider:
1. What are President Reagan's main arguments that the defense buildup was "necessary, responsible, and deserving of your support"?
2. What is "deterrence" and do you think that it is a good policy? Why or why not?
     Reagan Statement on US Defense Policy 1983.rtf  
     Reagan Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security 1983 PART I.rtf  
Reagan's Statement on US Defense Policy:
Reagan's address on Defense and National Security appears in its entirety at:

Star WarsTop
In 1983, President Reagan proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative as an additional check on Soviet nuclear capability. Reagan envisioned space-based missile defense technology capable of striking down nuclear weapons before they reached the United States. The press derisively dubbed the plan "Star Wars", and many believed it was infeasible due to the enormous expense and technical innovation that it would require to become operational.

In this excerpt, President Reagan proposes SDI, asking, "Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them?"

Questions to consider:
1. Why would many Americans be skeptical about the practicalities and consequences of SDI?
2. What would be the advantages of SDI, according to President Reagan?
     Reagan Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security 1983 PART 2.rtf  
     defending defense.jpg
The address appears in its entirety at: :
The TIME cover appears at:

Recession and ReboundTop
When the economy slows down or contracts for over six months, or more specifically, when GDP declines for two or more consecutive quarters, a recession occurs. During a recession, production levels go down, the stock market is unhealthy, unemployment rises, and consumer spending declines. A recession that continues for a prolonged period of time is known as a depression.
In 1982, the worst recession since the Great Depression occurred. However, by the middle of 1983, the economy made its recovery. The role that President Reagan's fiscal policies played in the recession and the subsequent rebound of the economy remains controversial. Other factors that could have alleviated the recession include lower oil prices, the increase in defense spending, and the actions of the Federal Reserve Board.

Question to consider:
1. How did the economic conditions of 1982 compare to those in previous decades?
     gdp and oil price.gif
The graph of the unemployment rate appears at:
The graph of inflation rates appears at:
The chart depicting GDP and oil prices appears at:

The Deficit and the National DebtTop
Reagan's commitment to shrink government and balance the budget were preceded by two caveats. First, defense spending must be dramatically increased and second, programs like Medicare and Social Security would be immune from cuts. These limits on savings, the hike in defense spending, and vastly reduced tax revenues resulted in a skyrocketing federal budget deficit. By 1988, the interest alone on the national debt reached 14% of the annual budget and the United States became the world's biggest debtor.

The first chart shows the federal budget and the budget deficit. The blue line indicates how far "in the hole" the government is. The wider the space between the green and red line, the larger the budget deficit.
The second chart shows the national debt per person (that's right, your share is over $20,000!). The steeper the line, the quicker the growth.
Finally, the graph of tax and spending trends indicates that while government expenses were high in the Reagan years, revenue from taxes was quite low.

Question to consider:
1. Which policies affected the national debt and federal budget deficit in the 1980's?
     national debt.gif
     Federal Tax and Spending Trends.gif
Chart One:
Chart Two:
Chart Three:

New Right and the Reagan RevolutionTop
A powerpoint for the classroom that closely follows this teaching module.
     The New Right and the Reagan Revolution.ppt  
Lesson PlansTop
Below are lesson plans that are relevant to this topic.
     TM ReaganomicsLessonPlan Grades9through12.rtf  
     TM RaceEducationandIncomeCarterandReaganLessonPlan Grades9through12.rtf  
The role of the Christian Right in American politics and government should certainly not be overlooked. The article found below highlights the Christian Right in an effort to shed light on this politically and socially conservative segment of the American population, as well as the influence they exert on policy-makers and other government officials.

Jelen, Ted G. 2005. "Political Esperanto: Rhetorical Resources and Limitations of the Christian Right in the United States". Sociology of Religion. (66)3: 313-321.

The following article examines the party politics at play in the proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment, as it was proposed in 1972. Opting for a comparative approach, the authors focus their studies on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment as well as the proposed School Prayer Amendment of 1971, and the role of partisanship in each proposal.

Martin, Andrew D. and Wolbrecht, Christina. 2000. "Partisanship and Pre-Floor Behavior: The Equal Rights and School Prayer Amendments". Political Research Quarterly. (53)4: 711-730.

To best understand the sorts of policies and ideas that came out of the Reagan administration, it is perhaps best to examine the man himself. The following article examines Ronald Reagan from a unique political perspective, by examining the addresses and speeches he gave. The authors contend that most presidential speeches are actually penned by ghost writers, however the delivery of the speech is just as important as the words themselves. The personality of a president in general, and of Ronald Reagan in particular, can be assessed through this examination.

Sigelman, Lee. 2002. "Two Reagans? Genre Imperatives, Ghostwriters, and Presidential Personality Profiling". Political Psychology. (23)4: 839-851.
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