• The Reagan Revolution

    Government spending ballooned during the 1960s and 1970s, starting with the Lyndon Johnson’s social programs. Many Americans felt that these programs weren’t working and they were tired of paying higher taxes for them. They were ready for a change. In the 1980 presidential election, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan promised to reduce taxes and cut spending. He beat Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter by 489 to 49 electoral votes. Once in office, Reagan was a strong leader, making broad-sweeping changes. He was the most popular president since FDR.

    Fun Facts:

    • Reagan started his presidency with a $280 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in history. He turned responsibility for many programs over to the states, reducing the size of the federal government. His programs were called “Reaganomics” and he hoped they would help a sluggish economy grow. Reagan’s tax cuts did work to revitalize the economy, but at a cost. The federal government owed more money in 1989 than it ever had before.
    • Oil prices and interest rates dropped in 1982. Employers started hiring and people felt more prosperous than they had in many years.
    • Ronald Reagan had an energetic, positive style that appealed to many people, including Democrats. He was a Hollywood movie star before becoming a politician and could communicate directly with people. He was strongly patriotic and supported old-fashioned, Christian values. After the social experiments of the 1960s and 1970s, people were relieved to see a return to tradition.
    • On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, Jr., shot at President Reagan outside a Washington D.C. hotel. Reagan, who was shot in the chest, was not seriously wounded, but Press Secretary James Brady and two others were seriously wounded.
    • In the 1980s, cocaine became a popular drug among young urban professionals (yuppies). President Reagan declared a “war on drugs,” sending money and military might to areas in Latin America where the drugs were grown and produced. His efforts were largely unsuccessful. First lady, Nancy Reagan, led the “Just Say No” campaign to educate children about the dangers of drugs.

    Vocabulary:

    1. Revitalize: restore to energy and life
    2. Reaganomics: the name for Reagan’s economic policies

    Questions and Answers:

    Question: Were the 1980s more peaceful than the 1970s?

    Answer: During the 1980s, many people became more prosperous. Gas and energy prices went down and companies began hiring again. President Reagan had some successes with abroad too, but there were also several problems, such as the AIDS crisis, the Persian Gulf War, and the Challenger explosion.

    Learn More

    Visit PBS to read an essay about Ronald Reagan.

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