All the hippy-dippy demonstrating, impeachment, moralizing, and rabbit attacks of the 1970s had left Americans longing for a simpler life. But mostly they hated the stagflation and a struggling economy. They found their leader in Ronald Reagan, who handily defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.

Reagan believed in small government and lower taxes. He was a champion of the antis: Reagan was anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-feminism, and especially anti-special programs to help minorities. He was supported by right-wing religious people who called themselves the Moral Majority (1980) or the Religious Right and who believed that their Christianity was right and that anyone who believed differently was a tool of the devil.

In a strange way, Reagan's appeal was a reverse copy of FDR's crusade for the so-called forgotten man; Ronald Reagan defended hardworking regular people that modern society seemed to have forgotten. The only difference was that Reagan defended their feelings, and FDR defended their income. Reagan's tax breaks ended up helping the rich far more than the poor.

New Conservative ideas

In addition to religious and free market conservatives, Ronald Reagan had the support of a small group of writers, pundits, and thinkers who called themselves new conservatives or neo-conservatives (neocons, for short) (1985).

Trickle-down economics

The neocons believed in the counterintuitive proposition that, if Reagan cut taxes, tax income to the government would actually rise because people would have more money to spend and the economy would grow. This idea was called trickledown economics. It didn't work too well for Reagan; he managed to pass a large tax decrease, but the economy just sputtered along during

much of his administration. When things did get better late in his administration, rising income for people with money went along with less money for the poor. The stock market was subject to more ups and downs. While inflation went down, the federal debt went up almost 300 percent under Reagan.


Tax policy alone isn't the key to economic growth. High-tax Europe and Japan grew rapidly in the late 20th century. The low-tax United States slipped into the Great Depression in the 1920s and the Great Recession in 2008 under Republican presidents. How much money people have isn't the only issue — how people and the government choose to spend money controls the economy.

Aggressive military intervention

Neocons also believed that aggressive military intervention would increase America's power in the world. They supported a large military buildup (difficult to do with lower tax revenues) and confrontation with Communists around the world.

Military power seemed to work best when it was restrained; America's potential for destruction helped force the U.S.S.R. to send Communism into a timely grave. When Reagan and Bush actually unleashed U.S. military might, the results were often not what was intended. The U.S. intervention in Lebanon under Reagan ended with Marines being bombed in their barracks (1983), and the large-scale invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan begun under the second President George Bush had mixed results.

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