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Conservative Revolution. The rise of the modern Republican Party, the politics of New Federalism, and the conservatives’ national ascendancy to Washington D.C. New Deal Opponents Eisenhower to Goldwater The Great Society Nixon and the Welfare State.

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Conservative Revolution

The rise of the modern Republican Party, the politics of New Federalism, and the conservatives’ national ascendancy to Washington D.C.

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New Deal Opponents

Eisenhower to Goldwater

The Great Society

Nixon and the Welfare State

Critics of the 1930s New Deal (D-FDR) programs argued that the nation could not afford the high federal spending.

Eisenhower (R) accepted the New Deal principles of keeping and expanding the federal bureaucracy. Senator Goldwater (R) won support in the south in his bid in 1964.

Johnson’s (D) Great Society program extended New Deal reforms and added Medicare and Medicaid which improved life for many Americans but cost billions of dollarsannually.

Nixon (R) aimed to reduce spending on social welfare programs. However, government grew as he signed into law new federal regulations in the workplace (OSHA) and environmental protections (EPA).

Evolution of Conservativism & the Republican Party: 1930s-1980

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Ronald Reagan

  • When Ronald Reagan began his career as a movie actor in Hollywood, he became actively involved in the political affairs of the actors’ union.

  • Originally, Reagan considered himself a Democrat. However, he found himself less comfortable with the Democratic Party after World War II, and joined the Republican Party in the 1950s.

  • Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966. During his eight years as governor, Reagan eliminated California’s budget deficit by modestly increasing taxes, cutting funding to social programs, and reforming state spending.

  • Reagan became popular both for his likeable personality and his conservative values.

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Federal Outlays, 1962 to 2001(as a percentage of GDP)Source: Congressional Budget Office.

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Conservatives were disturbed by rock music’s increasingly shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

A new wave of often violent student riots provided another cause of concern for conservatives.

Many conservatives were critical of the sexual revolution and the women’s movement.

NeoConservatives promoted active government regulation of social morality and the protection of “family values.”

Although most people supported the desegregation of public schools, many parents questioned why their students had to be bused to distant schools.

Conservatives often argued that states and local communities should decide how to best balance civil rights with local values and needs.

Many Democrats who objected to affirmative action moved their support to the Republican Party. These Reagan Democrats would help Republicans win many victories in the 1980s.

New (Neo-) Conservatives

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1980 Election shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • By 1980, conservative groups had formed a powerful political coalition called the New Right. The New Right wanted to improve the economy and reduce the size of government by cutting spending on social programs.

  • One group on the New Right included evangelists such as Jerry Falwell of Virginia. Using a new format called televangelism, Falwell and others appealed to television viewers to contribute money to their campaign.

  • During the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan criticized incumbent opponent Jimmy Carter’s handling of the economy.

  • Reagan won the election by a landslide. Republicans also gained a majority in the Senate.

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Supply-Side Economics shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

One of Reagan’s main goals was to spur business growth.

Reagan believed that supply-side economics, a strategy that focused on the supply of goods and jobs, would achieve this goal.

Supply-side economics advocated giving more money to businesses and investors. These businesses in turn would hire more people and produce more goods.

In theory, aiding the wealthy investors and business owners would have a beneficial “trickle-down” effect on the poorer and working classes.

Cutting Taxes

Cutting taxes was another of Reagan’s priorities.

In 1986, Congress passed the most sweeping tax reform in history.

The 1986 tax reforms eliminated loopholes, simplified the tax system, and cut tax rates, especially those of the most wealthy Americans.


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Deregulation shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

Cutting Regulations

  • Like President Carter, Reagan wanted to eliminate government regulations that he believed stifled free market competition.

  • Reagan continued and expanded the deregulation of the energy, transportation, and banking industries, with mixed results:

  • The railroad and trucking industries grew.

  • Regional monopolies grew in the telephone and energy industries.

  • The banking and airline industries experienced severe downturns and bankruptcies, leading to huge federal government “bailouts.”

  • Reagan also challenged the power of labor unions, using the Taft-Hartley Act to fire many air traffic controllers who refused to return to work during a 1981 strike.

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New Federalism (“States’ Rights”) shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

Slowing Federal Growth

  • Cutting the size of the federal government was among Reagan’s priorities.

  • Under Reagan, numerous public service jobs were eliminated, unemployment and welfare benefits were reduced, and Medicare rates were raised.

  • Reagan initiated a plan called the New Federalism (fiscal federalism) in which the federal government would no longer tell states exactly how federal aid had to be used. Instead of the categorical grants of federal money more common in the past, Conservatives preferred block grants of money with few “strings attached,” leaving it to state governments to decide how to spend it and who qualified for social welfare benefits.

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Critics of Reagan’s Domestic Policy shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • Critics of Reagan’s cutbacks in federal programs saw them as a setback in the progress made during the New Deal, Great Society, and Civil Rights movements.

  • The Left generally viewed social welfare as entitlements—rights to which the disadvantaged were “entitled to” by being of a certain age or income level. By allowing states to decide how federal money was to be used, they felt that the federal government could no longer ensure the equal protection of all citizens.

  • They also criticized Reagan’s tax cuts while he expanded defense spending, a practice which increased the national debt through deficit spending.

  • Under Reagan, wealthy Americans flourished while individuals’ wages declined. By the late 1980s, wealth was more unevenly distributed than at any time since the end of World War II.

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Christian Right shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • Rise of a mobilized movement of social conservatives in the 1970s-1980s:

  • Post Roe v. Wade (1973) legalizing abortion under the 9th Amendment privacy right

  • Christian Voice, 1978, linked to the Heritage Foundation, began issuing “report cards” rating candidates on issues.

  • Aborition, gays, drugs, music lyrics, pornography, and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment

  • Moral Majority, 1980, (Rev. Jerry Falwell) to mobilize Christians to elect Reagan

  • Christian Coalition (fundamentalists, evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals, anti-abortion Catholics)—following Pat Robertson’s failed 1988 presidential bid

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Conservatives and the Supreme Court shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • The conservative movement has made the Supreme Court a target of its attention, calling on the appointment of more conservative justices capable of overturning Roe v. Wade and other controversial precedents.

  • Reagan was able to appoint 3 justices (Rehnquist, Kennedy), including the first female justice O’Connor.

  • George H.W. Bush appointed an additional two justices (Souter and Thomas), though his attempted appointment of an ultra-conservative former member of the Nixon administration, Robert Bork, caused much controversy and was ultimately rejected by the Senate.

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Reagan/Bush on Foreign Policy shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • Much of the Reagan era of foreign policy was dominated by Cold War goals of containment of Communism, motivating Reagan to pursue large-scale military build-up, an expanded nuclear program, and increased defense spending.

  • However, during his 2nd term, relations with Gorbachev improved as the latter allowed for mixed market policies, increasing privatization, and a more free press (perestroika and glasnost), and under the Bush presidency, Communism ended in Eastern Europe, the Berlin wall came down, elections took place, and the Russian republic left the Soviet Union, signaling the end of the Cold War.

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Neo-Left shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

Preferred a focus on international development aid, fair trade policies to protect struggling domestic industries, promoting human rights, increased involvement in peacekeeping and nation-building, open diplomacy, and a greater role for international institutions like the U.N.


Preferred to develop the U.S.’ position as the sole global superpower, expanding strategic influence in countries of economic or military interest to the U.S., decreasing involvement in the U.N., unilateral diplomacy, and the use of “pre-emptive” actions (war-making and regime change).

Particularly focused on the Middle East and removing Saddam Hussein from Iraq.

Post-Cold War Foreign Policy Debate

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  • PARTY CONTROL OF NATIONAL GOVERNMENT shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

  • Congress Party & President Senate House

  • Dem. Rep. Other Dem. Rep. Other

  • 96th 1979-81 D Carter 58 41 1 277 158

  • 97th 1981-83 R Reagan 46 53 1 243 192

  • 98th 1983-85 R Reagan 46 54 268 167

  • 99th 1985-87 R Reagan 47 53 253 182

  • 100th 1987-89 R Reagan 55 45 258 177

  • 101st 1989-91 R Bush 55 45 260 175

  • 102nd 1991-93 R Bush 56 44 267 167 1

  • 103rd 1993-95 D Clinton 57 (56) 43 (44) 258 176 1

  • 104th 1995-97 D Clinton 48 (47) 52 (53) 204 230 1

  • 105th 1997-99 D Clinton 45 55 206 228 1

  • 106th 1999-01 D Clinton 45 (46) 55 (54) 211 223 1

  • 107th 2001-03 R GWBush 50 50 (49) (1) 212 221 2

  • 108th 2003-05 R GWBush 51 48 1 229(7) 205(7) 1

  • 109th 2005-07 R GWBush 55 44 1 232(0) 201(2) 2(3)

  • 110th 2007-09 R GWBush 49 49 (LD)2 233 202

  • *Note: parentheses indicate shifts in the balance by the end of the session.

  • *LD: leans Democratic

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Economic Reform shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

Clinton tried to follow a middle course in dealing with the economy.

To reduce the deficit, Clinton proposed a budget including both spending cuts and tax increases. Congress passed the budget, but just barely.

Neither the spending cuts nor the tax increases were well received by the public.

Minimum Wage

In 1996, Congress passed the first minimum wage increase in five years.

The Battle Over Healthcare

When Clinton took office, many Americans lacked access to affordable healthcare.

Clinton proposed the creation of a government-supervised universal health insurance program that would guarantee affordable coverage to every American.

Despite popular support for healthcare reform, Clinton’s proposal failed to gain the necessary votes in Congress.

Clinton’s First Term

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Republican Congress (1995-2006) shocking lyrics as well as rising illegal drug use.

Contract With America

  • During the 1994 midterm elections, Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich called on Republican candidates to endorse a “Contract with America.”The provisions of the contract were based upon a 1985 speech by then president Ronald Reagan, current public opinion data, and policy recommendations by a conservative think tank called the Heritage Foundation.

  • The pledge primarily focused upon scaling back the role of the federal government by: eliminating some regulations over industries, cutting taxes and balancing the budget, scaling back unfunded mandates placed on businesses or states and local governments, reducing spending on social welfare, reducing the damages awarded in civil “tort” lawsuits, extending a line-item veto to the president to streamline the legislative process and decrease deadlock, requiring a 3/5 majority to add new taxes, and introducing reforms to Congress in order to combat corruption and the influence of seniority by placing term limits on committee chairperson positions.

  • A number of policy successes were achieved following the election of a majority of Republicans in both chambers (welfare reform, Congressional reforms, reducing unfunded mandates, balancing the budget, deregulation), however, the line-item veto bill was ruled unconstitutional and the 3/5 supermajority tax rule did not succeed.

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Republican Congress vs. the Clinton Presidency (Divided Government)

  • In the 1994 elections, Republicans won majorities in both houses of Congress. Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House and proposed cuts in many social services to balance the budget. The debate was not whether or not to balance the budget, as Pres. Clinton also advocated a balanced budget, but rather how to balance it.

    The Government Is Shut Down

  • At the end of 1995, Clinton and Gingrich were unable to compromise on budget issues. As a result, budget allocations expired without reauthorization, leading to the temporary closure of government offices and disruption of services to many Americans. The U.S. public reacted by blaming Congress for the shutdown, supporting Clinton, contributing to Republicans loss of some seats in Congress and Clinton’s reelection in 1996.

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1995: Government)

  • Congress may not enact federal laws that force states to spend local tax money implementing federal programs

  • Congress may not force states to use local resources to enforce federal laws or administer federal regulatory programs

  • Requires the Congress to predict the cost of implementing federally mandated programs, and forbids Congress from enacting unfunded mandates costing state or local governments more than $50,000,000 annually or the private sector more than $100,000,000; the actual cost of mandated programs must be reported annually

  • Exempts federal mandates concerning the constitutional or civil rights of individuals, emergency assistance, national security, or social security entitlements

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Welfare Reform (TANF) Government)

  • In August 1996, Congress and Clinton agreed on a sweeping reform of the nation’s welfare system. The new law eliminated federal guarantees of cash assistance (AFDC), gave more authority to states to decide who qualifies and how to administer the program (block grants & devolution), placed limits on the length of time Americans could receive welfare (“T”ANF), eliminated certain benefits to immigrants, and established minimum work requirements.

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Former VP Al Gore (D) and TX Governor George W. Bush (R) Government)

Closely divided electorate

“Compassionate Conservativism”

Election Controversies: 1-inaccuracies in early media coverage on election night; 2-absentee ballot authentication; 3-butterfly ballot; 4-inaccuracies in voter registration rolls; 5-lack of uniform voting equipment (punch card ballot); 6-disputes between the Secretary of State (R) and the FL Supreme Court regarding recount procedures

National popular vote vs. electoral vote

Bush v. Gore (2000)—supreme court ordered a halt to the recount while the case was pending; decided that the recount was conducted with arbitrary guidelines in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; since the recount could not be completed under new guidelines by the Dec. 12th deadline in federal law before the Electoral College vote was to occur, the FL Secretary of State was ordered to certify the original vote.

Gore won the popular vote; Bush won the presidency

2000 Election Controversy

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2004 Election Government)

  • “Values” voters

  • Mobilization of Christian conservatives in rural and suburban areas was key to Bush’s reelection.

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Federalism and Same-sex Marriage Government)

  • 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

  • Controversy surrounding the “full faith and credit” clause in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution—public records and court proceedings accepted/respected among states

  • 2004, MA Supreme Court ruled ban on same-sex marriage in the state unconstitutional

  • 13 states passed ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriages or civil unions in their states

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Conservative bloc on the Supreme Court Government)

  • With the death of conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Bush appointed another conservative to the Court as the new Chief Justice, John Roberts, Jr.

  • The conservative bloc on the court was strengthened, however, when moderate (swing-vote) Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired and was replaced by a conservative, Samuel Alito, making the more conservative than O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, the new swing voter.

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2006 Congressional Election Government)

  • While socially conservative voters remained fairly consistent in their support for the Republican party, fiscal conservatives were increasingly in opposition to the expanding public debt associated with the War in Iraq and moderate, swing voters also moved away from the Republican party as Bush hit all time lows in public approval ratings (31%; the lowest presidential approval since Nixon).

  • The Democrats regained the majority in both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1994.