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Chapter Thirty
The Conservative
Ascendancy, 1974–1991
Part One:
Chapter Focus Questions
What structural shifts occurred in the economy?
What characterized the Ford and Carter presidencies?
What were the crises in the cities and in the environment?
How did community politics contribute to the rise of the
New Right?
What caused the Iran hostage crisis and how was it
What contributed to the Reagan Republican presidential
What were Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies?
What contributed to the growth of inequality?
Part Two:
Grass Roots Conservatism
in Orange County,
Orange County
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.
Part Three:
The Overextended Society
Oil and the Troubled Economy
Map: World’s Oil Producers
High prices and a stagnant economy.
question faith in progress and prosperity.
Dependence on imported oil had steadily grown.
U.S. backed Israel during 1973 Yom Kippur
OPEC pushed through an embargo.
Skyrocketing prices and public suspicion.
Oil and Economic Decline
Nixon ordered oil conservation measures.
Soaring energy prices led to rapid, sustained inflation.
Worst economic decline since the Great Depression began.
Steel and auto making faced stiff competition.
American productivity and quality continued to decline.
Soaring energy costs hurt farmers.
forced to borrow money at high interest rates.
Sunbelt/Snowbelt Communities
Map: Population Shifts
Midwest and Northeast hurt most.
Sunbelt prospered.
Large-scale migration fueled Sunbelt population.
Computer industry, defense contracts helped Sunbelt.
Sunbelt two-tier class society developed.
Snowbelt cities like Philadelphia and New York faced urban
The Ford Presidency
Map: The Election of 1976
Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon’s resignation.
After pardoning Nixon, Ford lost the nation’s trust.
Ford lacked a clear program.
Vetoed bills to hold down spending.
Congress passed many over his veto.
Ford narrowly defeated Reagan for the ‘76 GOP race.
Democrats turned to one-term Georgia Governor Jimmy
Carter narrowly defeated Ford.
The Carter Presidency
Carter was unable to get his legislation through
Carter by and large supported conservative policies.
• Deregulation
• increased military spending.
Inflation and interest rates soared.
Carter could not turn the economy around.
The New Urban Politics
70s political mobilization focused on community
cut across ideological lines.
College students and African Americans mobilized.
Several major cities elected black mayors.
Fiscal crisis of the 1970s foiled plans for reforms.
The Endangered Environment
Rachel Carson in the early 1960s sparked environmental
Twenty million Americans participated in the first Earth
The Three Mile Island.
Love Canal.
Renewable energy, protecting endangered species, and
reducing pollution.
Government officials frequently responded to other
Part Four:
The New Conservatism
The New Right
Great society stopped and New Right forms:
conservative centers like the Heritage Foundation
paramilitary groups
religious conservatives who supplied the strongest
The New Right promoted its agenda through
Politicians like Jesse Helms amassed huge campaign
Anti-ERA and Anti-Abortion
The New Right successfully blocked
ratification of the ERA.
Rallied support for efforts to make
abortions illegal.
Gallup Poll: Abortion
The “Me Decade”
Critics characterized 1970s as a decade when Americans:
abandoned political change
focused on personal well-being
fostered a “culture of narcissism”
A wide range of personal-growth techniques flourished
among the middle class.
Religious cults grew.
Popular music became despairing and nihilistic, nostalgic,
or decadent.
Part Five:
Adjusting to a New World
A Thaw in the Cold War
Presidents Ford and Carter both believed that
American power declined.
here should be no more Vietnams.
Military spending hurt effective economic
American diplomats sought end to cold war.
Foreign Policy and Moral Principles
Carter pledged to put human rights at the center of
foreign policy.
He targeted some nations.
He overlooked others in areas vital to U.S. interests.
Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel.
Carter reformed the CIA and returning the Canal
Zone to Panama.
(Mis)Handling the Unexpected
Carter received contradictory advice urging him to
be both tough on and conciliatory toward the
His Third World efforts received mixed support for
both authoritarian and revolutionary governments.
He urged Americans to put aside their “inordinate
fear of communism,” but reacted strongly to a Soviet
intervention in Afghanistan.
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.
The Election of 1980
Map: The Election of 1980
When his programs failed to stimulate the economy,
Carter claimed that the nation was experiencing a crisis of
The plan backfired and voters lost respect for him.
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.
Part Six:
The Reagan Revolution
The Great Communicator
Ronald Reagan tried to reshape the political
landscape of the nation. Reagan’s program aimed to
stimulate the economy by:
cutting government spending
government deregulation
cutting taxes for the wealthy
He appointed conservatives to head agencies like
the EPA that abolished or weakened rules protecting
the environment and workplace safety.
Reagan called for a massive military buildup.
Reaganomics is based 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
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
Reagan won in one of history’s biggest landslides.
Recession, Recovery, Fiscal Crisis
A recession gripped the economy during the early 1980s.
By the mid-1980s the economy grew and inflation was
under control.
Critics claimed the growth resulted from increased
military spending.
The economic recovery was unevenly spread; most new
jobs did not pay enough to support a family.
Enormous budget deficits grew to an unprecedented $2
trillion as the U.S. became the world’s leading debtor.
The fiscal crisis was made worse by scandals in securities
industry. In 1987, the stock market crashed, ending the
bull market of the 1980s.
Part Seven:
Best of Times, Worst of
The Celebration of Wealth
While the 1980s celebrated wealth and
moneymaking, the gap between rich and
poor widened. The middle class also
A Two-Tiered Society
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 poor.
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
Political mobilization for protecting the
rights of poor women was at a low ebb.
Epidemics: Drugs, AIDS,
The 1980s saw new epidemics erupt.
“Yuppie” 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.
Part Eight:
Reagan’s Foreign Policy
The Evil Empire
Reagan made anti-communism the centerpiece of
his foreign policy, calling the Soviet Union an “evil
Despite American superiority, Reagan pushed to
enlarge the nuclear strike force.
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.
The Reagan Doctrine and Central
Map: The U.S. in Central America
The Reagan Doctrine pursued anti-communist
activity in Central America.
Reagan’s “Caribbean Basin Initiative” to stimulate
economic growth tied the region’s economy closer
to American corporations.
Reagan intervened in Grenada, E1 Salvador, and
waged a covert war against the revolutionary
government of Nicaragua.
The Iran-Contra Scandal
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 patriotism.
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.
The United States in the Middle East
Map: The United States in the Middle East
The volatility of the Middle East influenced
U. S. foreign policy.
The Collapse of Communism
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union
and instituted a series of political and economic reforms.
Under his glasnost and perestroika campaigns, Gorbachev took
the lead in negotiating an end to the arms race to allow
economic growth to take place.
Treaties were finally worked out that called for destruction of
some missiles and allowed for on-site inspections.
Although the Soviet Union no longer posed the threat it once
had seemed to pose, the cold war mentality did not disappear.
Part Nine:
The Conservative Ascendancy,
Media: Chronology
Chapter 30
The Conservative Ascendancy
MAP 30.1 World Leading Oil Producers
MAP 30.2 Population Shifts, 1970–80 Industrial decline in the Northeast coincided with an
economic boom in the Sunbelt, encouraging millions of Americans to head for warmer climates and
better jobs.
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 Congress.
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.
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.
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.
FIGURE 30.1 Decline of U.S. Oil Consumption, 1975-81 Source: Department of Energy,Monthly Energy Review,June 1982.
FIGURE 30.2 Gallup Poll on the
Equal Rights Amendment, 1975
By 1973 thirty of the thirty-eight
states required to ratify the ERA
had done so. Although the
amendment ultimately failed to
achieve ratification and died in
June 1982, public support was
strong. In the 1976 presidential
campaign, the platforms of both
Democrats and Republicans
included planks favoring its
SOURCE:The Gallup Poll:Public Opinion,1935 –1974 (New York:Random
FIGURE 30.3 Gallup Polls on
Abortion, 1969, 1974 During the
1960s, numerous American
women began to demand control
over their own reproductive
processes and the repeal of
legislation in place in all fifty
states rendering abortion illegal.
The American Institute of Public
Opinion surveyed Americans in
1969, when abortion was still
illegal, and again in 1974, one
year after Roe v. Wade, the
Supreme Court ruling that struck
down state laws prohibiting
abortion during the first three
months of pregnancy.
SOURCE:The Gallup Poll:Public Opinion,1935 –1974 (New York:Random
These newly built houses in Phoenix, Arizona, a popular retirement community as well as the state
capital, helped accommodate a 55 percent rise in the city’s population between 1970 and 1980.
Like other burgeoning cities of the Mountain West, Phoenix experienced many urban tensions
during this decade, including racial conflict, antagonism between affluent suburbs and the decaying
downtown, air pollution, traffic congestion, and strained water supplies.
SOURCE:Aerial view.Photo by Guido Alberto Rossi.Getty Images,Inc.(233142A).
Geronimo, 1981, by Victor Orozco Ochoa. During the 1970s public murals appeared in many
cities, often giving distinctive expression to a community’s racial or ethnic identity. The murals
painted in the mid-1970s on the outside of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, in San Diego, were
among the most striking. After vandals ruined one section, Ochoa, whose grandmother was
Yaqui, replaced it with this enormous representation of Geronimo, surrounded by figures of
contemporary Chicano cultural life. SOURCE:Untitled , Geronimo mural.Victor Orozco Ochoa.
This infrared photograph of Love Canal, a residential neighborhood east of Niagara Falls,
New York, shows toxic chemicals bubbling up in lawns and yards. The media attention given
to the 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.
SOURCE:New York State Department of Environmental Conservation/
In the aftermath of the Roe v. Wade decision
in 1973, the televangelist Jerry Falwell
became increasingly political in his sermons
on the Old-Time Gospel Hour. He declared a
“war against sin” by opposing abortion,
homosexual rights, pornography, and crime,
and by appealing for financial contributions
he generated an annual income of more than
$100 million. The Reverend Falwell reached
his peak in the early 1980s and was, at that
time, the most visible fundamentalist
preacher in the United States.
SOURCE:Photo by Eve Arnold.Magnum Photos,Inc. (PER06ARE007001).
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.
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. SOURCE:AP/WideWorld Photos.
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. SOURCE:Corbis WL002467.
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. SOURCE:AP/Wide World Photos (025473).
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. ACT-UP grew to more than
70 chapters in the United States and the
world. SOURCE:AP/Wide World Photos.
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.