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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 32. Confusion and Conservatism

The years after 1974 inflicted still more damaging blows to the confident, optimistic nationalism of the early 1960s. The war in Vietnam and the Watergate crisis had already brought disrepute to the institution Americans had earlier made central to their hopes: the presidency. The problems of the economy, which grew steadily more serious in the second half of the 1970s, cast doubt on the assumption that abundance was a natural and permanent feature of American life. Growing international frustrations the fall of Vietnam in 1975, the traumatic hostage crisis in Iran beginning late in 1979, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks later, the spread of international terrorism, the acceleration of the arms raceand the apparent inability of the United States to do anything about them raised questions about the nation's capacity to control, or even significantly influence, the course of world affairs. For a time in the late 1970s, many feared that American society was losing faith in its future. Others celebrated the arrival of an "age of limits," in which a more "mature" America would learn to live within increasingly constricted boundariesreining in both its economic expectations and its projection of power in the world. By the end of the decade, however, the contours of another response to these challenges was beginning to become visible in both American culture and American politics. It was a response that combined a conservative retreat from some of the heady visions of the 1960s with a reinforced commitment to the idea of economic growth, international power, and American exceptionalism. The same fervent belief in the nation's special virtues that had fueled the liberal crusades of the New Frontier and the Great Society became the basis for the Reagan administration's commitment to a reduced federal presence in national life and a more forceful American role in the world. At the same time, many Americans seemed to be embracing a new cultural outlook that focused less on the direction of society than on the hopes of the individual. The United States was attempting, in short, to reconcile its continuing anxieties about the future with a reaffirmation of its traditional faith in its virtues and capacities.

Whether such efforts were suitable to the realities of American society in the 1970s and 1980s was a more difficult question to answer. For the complexity and diversity that had always characterized the United States were in these years reaching new dimensions. The new celebratory public spirit of the 1980s was, it seemed, not just a rejection of the criticisms and doubts of earlier years; it was a defense against the troubling realities of a society in the midst of bewildering change.

Politics and Diplomacy After Watergate

The Watergate crisisand the war in Vietnam, which had helped produce that crisisshook the nation's confidence in its elected leaders; and in the aftermath of Richard Nixon's ignominious departure from office, many wondered whether faith in the presidency, and in the government as a whole, could be easily restored. The administrations of the two presidents who succeeded Nixon did little to answer those questions.

The Ford Custodianship

Gerald Ford inherited the presidency under unenviable circumstances. He had to try to rebuild confidence in the presidency in the face of the widespread cynicism the Watergate scandals had unleashed. And he had to try to revive a stable prosperity in the face of increasing domestic and international challenges to the American economy. He enjoyed modest success in the first of these efforts but very little in the second.

Few Americans considered Ford a brilliant or exceptionally skillful leader. But for a time, his candor and unpretentiousnessand the apparent contrast those qualities provided to his predecessorwon him wide popularity. Polls showed that nearly three quarters of the nation approved his performance during his first weeks in office. But the new president's effort to establish himself as a symbol of political integrity suffered a severe setback only a month after his inauguration when he suddenly granted Richard Nixon "a full, free, and absolute pardon . . . for all offenses against the United States" during his presidency. Ford explained that he was attempting to spare the nation the ordeal of years of litigation and to spare Nixon himself any further suffering. It was, he insisted, an act of "compassion," an effort "to firmly shut and seal this book." To much of the public, however, it seemed evidence of bad judgment at best and a secret deal with the former president at worst. Ford defended the pardon decision vigorously, even appearing before a congressional committee to explain it. But his action caused a decline in his popularity from which he never fully recovered.

Nevertheless, relatively few Americans actively disliked Gerald Ford in the way so many had come to dislike Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Most believed him to be a decent man, even if many considered him a weak leader. He liked to make his own breakfast, to take skiing vacations with his family, and to mingle with his former congressional colleagues. His attractive and outspoken wife, Betty, became one of the most active and popular first ladies in recent history. Ford's honesty and amiability did much to reduce the bitterness and acrimony of the Watergate years.

The Ford administration enjoyed less success in its effort to deal with the other challenge it inherited: reversing the decline in the American economy. In particular, the president was unable to devise an effective strategy to deal with the related problems of inflation and energy.

In his efforts to curb inflation, the president rejected the idea of wage and price controls and called instead for voluntary efforts. He appeared at one press conference wearing a large button with the word "WIN" emblazoned across ita symbol, he said, of his new campaign to "Whip Inflation Now." The WIN campaign had no discernible effect on the economy and invited wide public ridicule. Of somewhat greater impact was the administration's pursuit of the familiar path of tightening the money supply to curb inflation and then struggling to deal with the recession that resulted. By supporting high interest rates, opposing increased federal spending (largely by use of presidential vetoes), and resisting pressures for a tax reduction, Ford helped produce in 1974 and 1975 the severest recession since the 1930s. Production declined more than 10 percent in the first months of 1975, and unemployment rose to nearly 9 percent of the labor force. There was a temporary abatement of inflation, which dropped briefly below 5 percent in 1976; but by then, the administration was already beginning to reverse its course and support new measures to stimulate the economy.

Complicating these problems was the expanding energy crisis. In the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the OPEC cartel began dramatically and suddenly to raise the price of oila 400 percent increase in 1974 alone. At the same time, American dependence on OPEC supplies continued to grow. By 1976, the United States was importing almost a third of its energy supply from OPEC. That was one of the principal reasons why inflation in that year reached 11 percent. The Ford administration responded as tentatively to the energy crisis as it did to the problem of inflation. It imposed a few new regulations to force energy conservation, but to little effect. More important to its strategy was the proposed deregulation of the petroleum industry, which would have allowed American oil companies to charge more for their energy so as to encourage increased domestic production. The Democratic Congress resisted such proposals.

Seeking International Stability

At first it seemed that the foreign policy of the new administration would differ little from that of its predecessor. The new president retained Henry Kissinger as secretary of state and continued the general policies of seeking rapprochement with China, detente with the Soviet Union, and stability in the Middle East. For a time, there were signs of progress in all these areas.

In particular, there appeared to be major progress in the effort to produce another arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Ford met with Leonid Brezhnev late in 1974 at Vladivostok in Siberia and signed a new arms control accord that was to serve as the basis for SALT II. The following summer, a European security conference in Helsinki, Finland, produced an agreement that seemed to advance detente even further. The Soviet Union and Western nations agreed, at last, to ratify the borders that had divided Europe since the end of World War II; and, particularly important in American eyes, the Russians accepted the so-called Basket Three clause, which pledged increased respect for human rights. In the Middle East, in the meantime, the tireless efforts of Henry Kissinger produced important results. After months of shuttling back and forth between Cairo and Tel Aviv, Kissinger announced a major new accord by which Israel agreed to return large portions of the occupied Sinai to Egypt, and the two nations pledged not to resolve future differences by force. In China, finally, the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 brought to power a new, more moderate government, eager to expand its ties with the United States.

But these successes came in the midst of mounting frustrations. The new relationship with the Soviet Union was already showing signs of wear by 1975. And at least equally disturbing was a pattern of defeats and embarrassments in other areas of the world. South Vietnam and Cambodia fell to the communists in 1975, underscoring the futility of years of American effort. (See above, pp. 902-903.) Arab nations that had once treated the United States with deference were now defying Western oil companies, raising petroleum prices, and threatening to reduce production. And other Third World countries were becoming increasingly vocal in attacking the United States; the United Nations became a particularly visible (and to many Americans, particularly galling) forum for those who wished to denounce American policies. Humiliation seemed to pile on humiliation, until the government felt obliged to respond.

When members of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge (the brutal communist organization that had seized control of the nation in 1975) captured an unarmed American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, in the spring of 1975, the administration's patience seemed finally to snap. Ford sent in marines to rescue the crew, even though the captors had by then already agreed to release them. This display of American force appealed to the nation's wounded sense of pride, but critics insisted that it also caused the death of several dozen American servicemen unnecessarily. At about the same time, the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, launched his own campaign to restore American pride. His harsh counterattack against Third World delegates and his open denunciations of the United Nations itself won him great popularity (and, in 1976, a United States Senate seat from New York).

The Election of 1976

As the 1976 presidential election approached, Ford's policies were coming under attack from both the right and the left. In the Republican primary campaign, Ford faced a powerful challenge from Ronald Reagan, former governor of California and leader of the party's conservative wing. Ford only barely survived the assault, in part because he agreed to abandon Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York, whom he had appointed vice president in 1974, and choose a running mate less troubling to the right: Senator Robert Dole of Kansas.

The Democrats, in the meantime, were experiencing problems of their own. The McGovern fiasco of 1972 had left the party numb and confused, and there was little agreement in 1976 about who could best appeal to the troubled electorate. From this disarray emerged a new candidate almost entirely unknown to the nation at large: Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia, who organized a brilliant primary campaign and appealed to the general unhap-piness with government by offering honesty, piety, and an outsider's skepticism of the federal government. Capitalizing on the momentum of his early primary victories, Carter secured the Democratic nomination before most Americans had developed any very distinct impression of him. His campaign continued after the convention to emphasize "themes"integrity, compassion, moralityrather than issues. And although the tentativeness of Carter's support became clear when his early, mammoth lead dwindled to almost nothing by election day, un-happiness with the economy and a general disenchantment with Ford enabled the Democrat to hold on for a narrow victory. Despite an unusually low voter turnout, which most observers believed was helpful to the Republicans, Carter emerged with 50 percent of the popular vote to Ford's 47.9 percent and 297 electoral votes to Ford's 241.

The Trials of Jimmy Carter

It was Jimmy Carter's misfortune to assume the presidency at a moment when the nation faced problems of staggering complexity and difficulty. No leader could have avoided antagonizing much of the public under such inhospitable circumstances. But Carter seemed at times to make his predicament worse by a style of leadership that evoked little popular enthusiasm and, as time went on, increasing derision. He left office in 1981 as one of the least popular presidents of the century.

Carter had campaigned for the presidency as an "outsider," a representative of ordinary Americans who were deeply suspicious of the entrenched bureaucracies and complacent officials who had dominated American government for decades. He carried much of that suspiciousness with him to Washington. He surrounded himself in the White House with a group of close-knit associates from Georgia; and in the beginning, at least, he seemed deliberately to spurn assistance from more experienced political figures. Carter was among the most intelligent, quickwitted, and hard-working men ever to serve in the White House; but his critics charged that he provided no overall vision or direction to his administration. Although he took firm and often courageous stands on individual issues, he often seemed not to recognize how such issues were linked together. His was, as a disenchanted member of his own White House staff later described it, a peculiarly "passionless presidency."

In the absence of any clear set of guiding principles (beyond a strong and openly expressed Christian piety), Carter seemed at times to rely almost exclusively on the use of symbols. On inauguration day, he spurned the traditional limousine and walked with his family down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House; and he continued these populist gestures in the following months. To explain a new policy, he arranged a televised "fireside chat"; dressed informally in a cardigan sweater, the president spoke to the nation while seated in a wing chair beside a blazing fire. On several occasions, he visited small communities, attended town meetings, and spent the night in the homes of ordinary citizens. From time to time, he participated in radio programs during which members of the public could telephone the White House and speak directly with the president.

Carter's perceived lack of purpose gradually helped make him the target of criticism from almost every quarter. No political faction could be certain that the new president was its ally. Liberals began to complain that he was more conservative than his Republican predecessors. Conservatives, who had taken heart at Carter's antigovernment campaign rhetoric, expressed scorn for his failure adequately to "tame" the federal bureaucracy. Even when Carter adopted a policy to the liking of a particular group, there was always an uneasy sense that the policy might soon be abandoned if political pressures dictated a different approach. Ultimately the president, who had won election by a narrow margin to begin with, lost almost all leverage in his dealings with Congress. So low was his popularity with the public through most of his term that few legislators feared the political costs of opposing him.

In spite of these problems, Carter did achieve a measure of success in his effort to reform and reorganize the federal government. He instituted a series of important reforms in the civil service, in an effort to make permanent government employees more responsive to the needs of the public and to give administrators more control over their staffs. He reshuffled many of the offices and agencies that had been springing up, often chaotically, for nearly two decades. And he created two new executive departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He also sponsored a reform of the Social Security system that provided it with at least a temporary reprieve from bankruptcy.

In other areas, Carter made genuine efforts to pursue reform, only to fall victim to congressional opposition. He proposed a major restructuring of the federal welfare system during his first year in office, only to see it die quietly in Congress. He introduced measures to reform the tax system, one of his most conspicuous campaign promises, but proved powerless to keep them from being gutted by special-interest groups. Carter's own political errors contributed to these failures. But there is room for doubt as to whether any leader, working in the confused political climate in which Carter was operating, would have fared much better in confronting these controversial issues.

Energy and the Economy

Like his two immediate predecessors, Carter devoted the bulk of his domestic efforts to the problems of the economy, which remained linked to the problems of energy. Entering office in the midst of a severe recession, Carter moved first to reduce unemployment through an increase in public spending for public works and public services and a substantial cut in federal taxes. Unemployment soon began to declinefrom nearly 8 percent late in 1976 to slightly above 5 percent by the end of 1978. But inflation in the meantime soared. The Ford administration had left behind an inflation rate of slightly under 5 percent per year. In 1977, it rose to 7 percent, and in 1978 to nearly 10 percent. During Carter's last two years in office, things grew even worse, with inflation averaging well over 10 percent ("double-digit inflation," it began to be called) and at one point in 1980 reaching as high as 18 percent.

Like Nixon and Ford before him, Carter responded with a combination of tight money and calls for voluntary restraint. He appointed first G. William Miller and then Paul Volcker, conservative economists both, to head the Federal Reserve Board, thus ensuring a policy of high interest rates and reduced currency supplies. By 1980, interest rates had risen to the highest levels in American history; at times, they exceeded 20 percent. And although he introduced nothing as easily ridiculed as Gerald Ford's WIN program, he too created a voluntary and generally ineffective system of wage and price "restraint," to be administered through the Council on Wage and Price Stability. Its director, Alfred Kahn, became an energetic and articulate spokesman for fiscal caution, helping to elevate public awareness of the inflation problem, But neither Kami's efforts nor any other aspects of the administration's policy succeeded in stopping the inflationary spiral.

The president also attempted to bring the federal budget into balance. Some economists claimed that a balanced budget was a prerequisite to price stability; others argued that it would only marginally reduce inflation. But the argument was never resolved because the president never managed to eliminate the deficits. He cut back on some areas of government spending and vetoed some of the same public works and welfare proposals he had supported during his first year in office. He reduced and delayed the tax cuts he had earlier proposed. But most of the growth in federal spending was a result of factors over which the president had relatively little controlparticularly the rising cost of welfare and entitlement programs that had been created by earlier administrations. The federal deficit in the Carter years ranged from a low of just under $28 billion in 1979 to a high of just under $60 billion in 1980.

Closely tied to the problem of inflation was the problem of energy, which grew steadily more troublesome in the course of the Carter years. One of the president's first acts was to present to the public what he called a "comprehensive energy program," whose success, he insisted, was vital to the nation's future. Solving the energy problem, he claimed (in words borrowed from the philosopher William James), was "the moral equivalent of war." But the specific features of the Carter planwhich relied largely on energy conservationwere less dramatic than the rhetoric; and Congress took this already modest program and gutted it. The energy bill it passed in 1978 was almost entirely without substance or effect.

In the summer of 1979, the energy battle moved into a new and more desperate phase. Increasing instability in the Middle East produced a second major fuel shortage, forcing American motorists to wait in long gasoline lines once again and creating problems for businesses, industries, and homeowners. In the midst of the crisis, OPEC announced another major price increase, clouding the economic picture still further. Faced with increasing pressure to act (and with public-opinion polls showing his approval rating at a dismal 26 percentlower than that of Richard Nixon in his worst moments), Carter canceled a planned television address, went to the presidential retreat Camp David in the Maryland mountains, and invited a string of visitors to advise himnot only on a new energy program but on the revitalization of his administration as a whole.

Ten days later, he emerged to deliver a remarkable television address. It included a series of proposals for resolving the energy crisis (including the creation of a vast new synthetic fuels industry to reduce American reliance on imported oil). But the speech was most notable for Carter's broad assessment of the national condition. Speaking with unusual fervor, he complained of a "crisis of confidence" that had reduced the nation to confusion and despair and had struck "at the very heart and soul of our national will." The address became known as the "malaise" speech (although Carter himself had never used that word), and it helped fuel later charges that the president was trying to blame his own problems on the American people.

Human Rights and National Interests

Among Jimmy Carter's most frequent campaign promises was a pledge to build a new basis for American foreign policy, one in which the defense of "human rights" would replace the pursuit of "selfish interests" as the cornerstone of America's role in the world. Rhetorically, at least, Carter maintained that commitment during his first months in office, speaking out sharply and often about violations of human rights in many countries (including, most prominently, the Soviet Union) and establishing an Office of Human Rights in the State Department.

Beyond the general commitment to establishing a new "tone" for American foreign policy, the Carter administration focused on several areas of particular concernthe same areas, essentially, that had been the focus of the Kissinger era. (As efforts on behalf of these specific goals began to conflict at numerous points with the emphasis on human rights, the president often retreated from his concern with the rights issue.) Carter's first major diplomatic accomplishment was the completion of negotiations on a pair of treaties that would turn over control of the Panama Canal to the government of Panama. In exchange for Panamanian agreement to maintain the neutrality of the canal, the United States would gradually hand over the Canal Zone, which it had administered since Theodore Roosevelt's bold maneuvers at the beginning of the century, to Panama. Domestic opposition to the treaties was intense, especially among conservatives,who viewed the new arrangements as part of a general American retreat from international power. Supporters argued that control of the canal by the United States had become the source of deep resentment in Central America. Relinquishing it was the best way to improve relations with the region and avoid the possibility of years of violence. After an acrimonious debate, the Senate ratified the treaties by a vote of 68 to 32, only one vote more than the necessary two-thirds.

Less controversial, within the United States at least, was Carter's dramatic success in arranging a peace treaty between Egypt and Israelthe crowning diplomatic accomplishment of his presidency. Inheriting from Henry Kissinger a negotiating process that seemed hopelessly stalled, Carter tried at first to arouse support for a "comprehensive" settlement of the Middle Eastern crisis through an international conference in Geneva. The response from the nations involved was not heartening. It fell to the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, and the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, therefore, to initiate the first great breakthrough. In November 1977, accepting a formal invitation from Begin, Sadat flew to Tel Aviv for a dramatic state visit, declaring in the course of it that Egypt was now willing to accept the state of Israel as a legitimate political entity. With that, the greatest single obstacle to peace between the two nationsthe obstacle that had frustrated nearly thirty years of diplomatic effortswas removed.

There remained, however, the tortuous task of translating these good feelings into a concrete treaty of peace. When talks between Israeli and Egyptian negotiators stalled, Carter invited Sadat and Begin to a summit conference at Camp David in September 1978, holding them there for two weeks while he, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and others mediated the disputes between them. On September 17, Carter escorted the two leaders into the White House to announce agreement on a "framework" for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Final agreement, the two sides promised, would be completed within three months.

In the months that followed, the euphoria of the Camp David summit faded as new obstacles to the treaty seemed to emerge almost daily, a result in part of the insistence of the Begin government that Israel continue to establish new settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank of the Jordan River (which Israel had seized during the 1967 war and which some displaced Palestinian Arabs hoped might become a new homeland for them). Only after Carter himself had intervened again, persuading Sadat to agree to a postponement of resolution of the sensitive Palestinian refugee issue, did the negotiations finally bear fruit. On March 26, 1979, Begin and Sadat returned together to the White House to sign a formal peace treaty between their two nations in the presence of Jimmy Carter, whose personal diplomacy had been largely responsible for the moment.

Carter's efforts to produce a settlement were an expression, in some respects, of American strength. But they were also a sign of American weakness, for peace in the Middle East was as important to the United States as it was to the nations of the region. Another Arab-Israeli war, accompanied by another oil embargo, would pose grave dangers to the American economy. Nor was the treaty a final solution to the problems of the area. Other Arab nations reacted with hostilitynot only toward Egypt and Israel but toward the United States as well.

In the first years after the signing of the treaty, tensions in the region escalated further. The assassination of Anwar Sadat by dissident Egyptian fundamentalists in 1981 complicated the peace process; Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, almost immediately gave signs of renewed interest in restoring Egypt's ties to the rest of the Arab world. The unyielding stance of the Israeli governmentwhich officially annexed several disputed territories in 1981 and continued to refuse to make any important concessions to the Palestiniansfurther fueled antagonisms in the region. Although Israel lived up to its treaty agreement and in April 1982 returned to Egypt the territories of the Sinai, which Israel had captured in 1967, the exchange seemed at the time less the culmination of a successful peace process than its dying gasp.

Great-Power Diplomacy

In the meantime, Carter attempted to continue progress toward improving relations with China and the Soviet Union and toward completing a new arms control agreement. The new relationship with China progressed rapidly during 1978, as Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping began concerted efforts to change the rigid policies of the late Mao Zedong and open his nation to the outside world. In particular, Deng wanted at least indirect support from the West for China's increasingly tense cold war with the Soviet Union. Carter responded eagerly to Deng's overtures; and on December 15, 1978, Washington and Beijing issued a joint communique announcing the restoration of formal diplomatic relations between the two nations as of January 1, 1979. In March 1979, America and China exchanged ambassadors.

Only a few months later, Carter traveled to Vienna to meet with Brezhnev, who was visibly ailing, to complete the final steps in the drafting of SALT II. Lower-level negotiators had been working for months to resolve remaining differences; and in Vienna, the Soviet and American leaders took the final stepsettling the last details, signing the documents, and clasping each other in a warm embrace. The treaty set limits on the number of long-range missiles, bombers, and nuclear warheads on each sidelimits that some critics denounced as far too high to constitute meaningful disarmament but that supporters claimed marked an important first step in limiting the construction of new weapons. Future negotiations, the two sides agreed, would work toward actually reducing the existing arsenals.

Almost immediately, however, SALT II met with fierce conservative opposition. A powerful group of Senate Republicans denounced the treaty as excessively favorable to the Soviet Union, citing in particular provisions that restricted development of the American cruise missile while leaving the Soviets free to proceed with their new backfire bomber. Others denounced concessions permitting increases in certain Soviet missile systems that would, they charged, increase an already large Russian advantage in that area. Central to the arguments of the opposition, however, was a larger issue: a fundamental distrust of the Soviet Union that nearly a decade of detente had failed to destroy. Pointing to Soviet activities in Africa, to increasing Russian influence among radical governments in the Middle East, and to allegations of Soviet support of international terrorism, conservatives argued for the "linkage" of arms control agreements with agreements about Soviet behavior in other areas. By the fall of 1979, with the Senate scheduled to begin debate on the treaty shortly, ratification was already in jeopardy. Events in the ensuing months would provide the final blowboth to the treaty and to the larger framework of detente.

The Year of the Hostages

The accumulated frustrations of more than a decade seemed to culminate in the events of the last months of 1979 and the full year that followed. Not since 1968 had the United States experienced such a sense of cascading crisis.

For more than thirty years, the United States had provided political support and, more recently, massive military assistance to the government of the shah of Iran and relied on his regime to provide a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Middle East. By 1979, however, the shah was in deep trouble with his own people, reaping the harvest of years of brutal and unpopular policies. Iranians resented the repressive, authoritarian tactics through which the shah had maintained his autocratic rule. The SAVAK, the monarch's secret police, which had long made use of torture and arbitrary imprisonment to stifle dissent, aroused particular hatred. At the same time, the shah was earning the animosity of the Islamic clergy (and much of the fiercely religious populace) through his rapid efforts to modernize and Westernize his fundamentalist society. The combination of resentments produced a powerful revolutionary movement; and in January 1979, finally, the shah fled the country for an uncertain exile.

The United States, which had supported the shah unswervingly until very near the end, was caught unawares by his fall from power. The Carter administration was even less aware, apparently, of the deep resentments that the Iranian people continued to harbor toward America, which had become a hated symbol of Western intrusion into their society. The president made cautious efforts in the first months after the shah's abdication to establish cordial relations with the succession of increasingly militant regimes that followed. By late 1979, however, such efforts were beginning to appear futile. Not only did revolutionary chaos in the nation make any normal relationships impossible, but what formal power there was in Iran resided with a zealous religious leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose hatred of the West in general and the United States in particular seemed deep, abiding, and intense.

The shah spent most of his first months of exile living in Mexico, having been quietly informed that the American government would not welcome his presence in the United States. Late in October, however, the president succumbed to the urgings of several friends of the shah and admitted the monarch to New York, where he entered a hospital for treatment of cancer. Days later, on November 4, 1979, an armed mob invaded the American embassy in Teheran, seized the diplomats and military personnel inside, and held them as hostagesdemanding the return of the shah to Iran in exchange for their freedom. Although the militants released a few of the hostages within days, fifty-three Americans remained prisoners in the embassy.

American citizens had been held hostage by foreign governments before. In 1968, eighty-two members of the crew of the Pueblo, a navy intelligence-gathering ship, were captured and held prisoner by the government of North Korea. It took eleven months for the Johnson administration to win their release, during which time the American public all but forgot about the problem. But the reaction of the nation to the events in Teheran was radically different. Coming after years of what Americans considered international humiliations and defeats, the hostage seizure released a surprising well of anger and emotion. President Carter, facing a difficult reelection battle, did much to sustain the sense of crisis. But even without his efforts, it was clear, the American people would have reacted strongly. Television newscasts relayed daily pictures of angry anti-American mobs outside the embassy, the faces of many demonstrators contorted with hatred as they chanted such slogans as "Death to America" and "Death to Carter." Contemptuous statements by the militants guarding the hostages that "the U.S. can do nothing" further aroused American passions. The nation responded not only with anger but with remarkable displays of emotional patriotism.

Then, on December 27, 1979, only weeks after the hostage seizure, troops of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the mountainous country lying between Russia and Iran. The Soviet Union had, in fact, been a power in Afghanistan for years, and the dominant force since April 1978, when a coup had established a Marxist government there with close ties to the Kremlin. The invasion, some Soviet experts argued, was Moscow's response to the failure of that new Afghan government to restore stability to the nation. The Soviets were particularly concerned about the activities of Islamic insurgents, whose presence raised the possibility of a fundamentalist revolution in Afghanistan (and perhaps even in Islamic areas of the Soviet Union itself) similar to the one in progress in Iran.

But while some observers claimed that the Soviet invasion was a Russian attempt to secure the status quo, othersmost notably the presidentviewed the situation differently. The invasion of Afghanistan, Carter claimed, was a Russian "stepping stone to their possible control over much of the world's oil supplies." It was also the "gravest threat to world peace since World War II." Dire warnings began issuing from the White House about the possibility of a Soviet attack on Iran or other Middle Eastern nations. Whatever the reasons for the Soviet invasion, the situation in Afghanistan dealt the final blow to the already badly weakened structure of detente. Carter angrily imposed a series of economic sanctions on the Russians, called for an American boycott of the 1980 summer Olympic Games in Moscow, and announced the withdrawal of SALT II from Senate consideration. He also announced a new American policy what came to be known as the "Carter Doctrine" by which the United States pledged to oppose, by force if necessary, any further aggression in the Persian Gulf.

The Campaign of 1980

By the time of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter was in desperate political trouble. His standing in popularity polls was lower than that of any president in history. His economic policies were in shambles. Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the most magnetic figures in the Democratic party, was preparing to challenge him in the primaries. The president's position seemed hopeless. But the seizure of the hostages and the stern American response to the Soviet invasion did wonders for Carter's candidacy. His standing in the polls improved dramatically, and his moribund campaign suddenly revived and produced for the president a series of impressive victories in the early primaries.

Carter's troubles, however, were far from over. As month followed month without any discernible progress in efforts to secure the release of the hostages in Iran, public clamor began to build. In April, after the collapse of one round of negotiations, the president ordered a rescue attempt by American commandos. It ended in abject failure when several military helicopters broke down in the desert. Eight commandos died when two aircraft collided during the hasty retreat. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who had opposed both the rescue mission and much of the new belligerence in the nation's foreign policy, resigned in protest. Kennedy, in the meantime, managed to revive his flagging campaign and win a series of victories over the president in the later primaries.

Carter continued to benefit greatly from the many personal controversies surrounding Edward Kennedy (most notably a 1969 automobile accident at Chap-paquiddick Island in Massachusetts that had left a young woman dead), and he managed in the end to stave off the challenge and win his party's nomination. But it was an unhappy convention that listened to the president's listless call to arms, and Carter's campaign aroused little enthusiasm from the public at large as he prepared to face a powerful challenge.

The Republican party had, in the meantime, rallied enthusiastically behind a man whom, not many years before, many Americans had considered a dangerous reactionary. But Ronald Reagan, a one-time film actor, a former California governor, and a poised and articulate campaigner, seemed in 1980 to be a man fully in tune with his times. Like Carter before him, he was a strident critic of the excesses of the federal government. More important, he championed a restoration of American "strength," "pride," and international prestige. Although he refrained from discussing the issue of the hostages, Reagan clearly benefited from the continuing popular unhappiness with Carter's inability to resolve the crisis. In a larger sense, he benefited as well from the accumulated frustrations of more than a decade of domestic and international disappointments.

Election day was the anniversary of the seizure of the hostages in Iran, a fact that was not lost on much of the press and the public. It was also the day on which the conservative forces that had been gathering strength in the nation for more than a decade finally moved to the center of the nation's political life and swept Ronald Reagan to victory in the presidential election. His popular margin was decisive: 50.7 percent of the ballots cast, to 41 percent for Jimmy Carter and 6.6 percent for John Andersona moderate Republican congressman who had mounted an independent campaign. Reagan's electoral margin was overwhelming. He swept not only the Western half of the nation, which had been Republican territory for years, but virtually all of the traditional bastions of Democratic strength: the South, the industrial states of the Midwest and Northeast, even such traditionally liberal strongholds as Massachusetts and New York. Carter carried only six states and the District of Columbia, for a total of 49 electoral votes to Reagan's 489. At least as startling was the wave of Republican victories in the congressional races. The party won control of the Senate for the first time since 1952; and although the Democrats retained a diminished majority in the House, the lower chamber too seemed firmly in the hands of conservatives.

At almost the very moment of Reagan's inauguration, the American hostages remaining in Iran were boarding a plane en route to freedom after their 444-day ordeal. Jimmy Carter, in the last hours of his presidency, had concluded months of negotiations by agreeing to release several billion dollars in Iranian assets that he had frozen in American banks shortly after the seizure of the embassy. The government of Iran, desperate for funds to support a floundering war effort against neighboring Iraq, had ordered the hostages freed in return. The next few days produced a virtual orgy of national emotion, as Americans welcomed the hostages home with mingled relief, joy, and anger. Not since the end of World War II had there been such demonstrations of patriotism and celebration. But while the joy in 1945 had marked a great American triumph, the euphoria in 1981 marked something quite differenta troubled nation grasping for reassurance. Ronald Reagan set out to provide it.

The "Reagan Revolution"

Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in January 1981 promising a change in government more fundamental than any since the New Deal of fifty years before. But while his first six years in office produced a significant shift in public policy, they brought nothing so radical as many of his supporters had hoped or his opponents had feared. The president himself found it prudent at times to moderate his more extreme demands; Congress and the public strongly resisted other conservative initiatives. The Reagan administration won some important legislative victories, but it rarely enjoyed very much freedom of action in either domestic or international affairs.

If the record of the new administration on matters of policy was a mixed one, however, there was no ambiguity about its purely political achievements. Ronald Reagan succeeded brilliantly in making his own engaging personality the central fact of American politics in the 1980s. Few presidents in American history have so effectively captured the imagination of the American public.

Ronald Reagan

Even many people who disagreed with the president's policies found themselves drawn to his attractive and carefully honed republic image. Reagan was a master of television, a warm and appealing raconteur, a gifted public speaker, andin public at leastrugged, fearless, and seemingly impervious to misfortune. He spent vacations on a California ranch, where he chopped wood and rode horses. When he was wounded in an assassination attempt in 1981, he joked with doctors on his way into surgery and bounced back from the ordeal with remarkable speed. Four years later, he rebounded from cancer surgery with similar zest. He had few visible insecurities. He seldom displayed the anger or vindictiveness or humor-lessness that had plagued his predecessors. Even when things went wrong, as they often did, the blame seemed seldom to attach to Reagan himself (inspiring some journalists to begin referring to the "Teflon presidency"). Reagan managed to stand above the fray a symbol of America's search to regain confidence in itself.

He had reached the presidency by an unusual route. The product of small-town Illinois and a struggling middle-class family, he spent most of his career in the entertainment businessfirst as a radio sportscaster, then as a successful film actor, and later as a television show host and corporate spokesman for General Electric. In that last capacity, he began to speak widely on political issues. Although he had once been a New Deal liberal, he had by the early 1950s embraced strong conservative beliefs, absorbed in part through his marriage to Nancy Davis, a powerful and intelligent woman of deep right-wing convictions. Toward the end of the 1964 presidential campaign, Reagan appeared on national television to deliver an eloquent endorsement of Barry Goldwater; his speech established him almost overnight as the new leader of American conservatives.

Two years later, Reagan won a decisive victory over the Democratic incumbent in a race for the governorship of California, and he served two four-year terms. But as early as 1968, he was already eyeing the presidency. He launched a last-minute campaign for the Republican nomination that yeartoo late to raise an effective challenge to Richard Nixon. In 1976, now out of office, he mounted a strong challenge to Gerald Ford.. And in 1980, he captured both the Republican party nomination and the presidency itself. A few weeks after entering office, he celebrated his seventieth birthday. He was the oldest man ever to assume the presidency.

From his first moments in office, Reagan made his personal poise and charisma a central element of his administration's political strategy. He was not, apparently, much involved in the day-to-day affairs of running the government; he surrounded himself with tough, energetic administrators, who insulated him from many of the pressures of the office and apparently relied on him largely for general guidance, not specific decisions. At times, in fact, the president revealed a startling ignorance about the nature of his own policies; aides often had to step in to "clarify" or correct presidential misstatements.

But Reagan did make active use of his office to generate support for his administration's programs by appealing repeatedly to the public over television, in weekly radio addresses, and through public appearances. He liked to fuse his proposals to a nationalistic rhetoric that seemed perfectly to match the public mood. Nothing so characterized his administration as his increasing appeals to the nation's sense of its own greatness.

The Contours of Reaganism

The Reagan administration was from the beginnning one of the most conservative of the twentieth century. But its conservatism took many different forms, reflecting the range of political ideologies competing for that label in the 1980s.

In some senses, Reagan was a traditional Republican "business" conservative, sympathetic to the de-slres of the corporate world, eager to ease the burdens and restrictions that he believed previous governments had placed on the wealthy. Reagan and his wife numbered among their closest friends some of the richest men and women in the country. The president's cabinet and other high administration offices were peopled with affluent corporate executives and corporate lawyers. The president's tax policies were designed to give particular benefits to the upper brackets and to reduce drastically the levies on corporations. Conservative Republicans had long argued that people of wealth, people with capital to invest in the economy were essential to prosperity. The economic policies of the Reagan administration reflected that belief.

Reagan's policies also reflected the ideas of another group of conservativesmany of whom in previous years had considered themselves liberals who were concerned above all with restoring Arher-ican resolve to resist radicalism at home and abroad. Often described as "nieo-conservatives," they consisted of journalists, academics, intellectuals, and others distraught at what they considered the debase-' ment of American culture by a radical left and the flagging will of the United States (and the West in general) to resist communism. The Reagan administration's foreign policies did not always satisfy their demands, but the president supported their desire for an enormous defense build-up and a much harder public line toward the Soviet Union. The administration also often seemed to embrace their belief in the need for renewed efforts to combat communism in the Third Worldefforts that Americans had for a time resisted in the aftermath of Vietnam.

Reagan gave voice as well to the demands of a third group of conservatives, drawn from a wide range of social groups, whose concerns were primarily social. Much of the impetus behind these demands came from fundamentalist Christian groups, whose new political activism had become an important fact of American public life. Other groups, similarly concerned with protecting "basic values" against encroachments from the increasingly secular andmany believedamoral mainstream culture, also became active on behalf of social issues. (See below, pp. 947-948.) The president supported the campaigns to make abortion illegal, to restore prayer to public schools, to retreat from affirmative action and court-ordered busing, and to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. Except for the last, the administration witnessed the fulfillment of few of its social goals in its first six years; but the president's rhetorical support for them was important in keeping together the uneasy conservative coalition on which he depended.

Supply-Side Economics

Reagan's 1980 campaign for the presidency had centered on several goals. It had promised to end the drift in American foreign policy and restore the na-tion's military strength. It had promised to reduce the intrusive influence of government on American life. And it had promised to restore the economy to health by a bold experiment in what became known as "supply-side" economics. It was this last pledge that the new administration attempted to fulfill first and that, initially at least, became the source of its most conspicuous triumphs.

Supply-side economics operated on the assumption that the woes of the American economy were in large part a result of excessive taxation, which siphoned money away from potential investors and thus stifled economic growth. The solution, therefore, was to reduce taxes and to offer particularly generous benefits to corporations and wealthy individuals, in order to encourage new investments. The result would be a general economic revival that would affect all levels of the population. But cutting taxes was only one part of the supply-side program. Because a tax cut would reduce government revenues, it would be necessary also to reduce government expenses. Otherwise, large federal deficits might negate the effects of the tax cut by requiring the government to borrow in the marketplace, thus raising interest rates and drying up capital for investment once again. A cornerstone of the Reagan economic program, therefore, was a drastic cut in the federal budget, one intended to producewithin four yearsa balance between government revenues and expenditures for the first time since 1969.

In his first months in office, Reagan hastily assembled a legislative program that would enact the basic features of the supply-side program. His ener-getic budget director, David Stockman, proposed cutting some $40 billion in expenditures; and despite grumbling by special interest groups and liberals, and impassioned pleas by constituencies threatened by the loss of social services, the new budget cuts passed through Congress with relative ease, almost in the form the administration had proposed. In addition, the president proposed a bold three-year rate reduc- tion on both individual and corporate taxes. The tax cut encountered more serious opposition in Congress and was subjected to numerous amendments. But in the summer of 1981, it too was passed, generally in the form the administration had proposed. No president since Lyndon Johnson had compiled so impressive a legislative record in his first months in office.

But by early 1982, the Reagan economic program was beset with difficulties. The nation had entered the most severe recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with national unemployment approaching 10 percent of the work force. Some regions of the country, most notably the industrial Midwest, had descended into virtual depression conditions. It was not at all clear that the Reagan economic program was to blame for the problems; the causes of the recession stretched well back into the Carter years and before. But a growing number of critics claimed in 1982 that the administration's policies had done nothing to improve the situation and promised ultimately to make things worse.

In fact, however, the economy recovered more rapidly and impressively than almost anyone had expected. By the middle of 1983, unemployment (which had reached nearly 11 percent in 1982, the highest level since the 1930s) had fallen to 8.2 percent. The gross national product was growing at 3.3 percent annually, the highest rate since the mid-1970s. Inflation was below 5 percent. And despite the predictions of many economists that the recovery was weak, erratic, and artificial, the economy continued to flourish through 1984 and 1985. By the beginning of 1986, unemployment had declined to below 7 percent; the stock market had reached record levels; inflation remained under 4 percent; economic growth continuedalthough there were signs later in 1986 of a significant weakening of economic performance. The recovery came in part because the administration altered its course and began pressing for a reduction in interest rates and an expansion of the money supplyin effect subordinating concern about inflation (which now seemed under control) to concern about unemployment and declining investment. The recovery was also a result of a radical drop in oil prices, the result of a worldwide "energy glut" that led to the virtual collapse of the OPEC cartel and at least a temporary end to the inflationary pressures of spiraling fuel costs. And the recovery was a result, too, of staggering budget deficits, which pumped billions of dollars into the flagging economy. Those deficits, many believed, also threatened ultimately to destroy the very recovery it was helping to create.

The Fiscal Crisis

By 1986, this growing fiscal crisis had become one of the central issues in American domestic politics. Having entered office promising a balanced budget within four years, Reagan presided over record budget deficits and accumulated more debt in his first four years in office than the American government had accrued in its entire previous history. Prior to the 1980s, the highest single-year budget deficit in American history had been $66 billion (in 1976). In 1982, the federal budget deficit was over $110 billion; in 1983, $195 billion; in 1984, $175 billion; and in 1985, $200 billion. The national debt rose from $907 billion in 1980 to just under $2 trillion in 1986.

Economists and policymakers disagreed over the effect of budget deficits. But even those who had always believed in the value of deficit spending as an economic stimulus found the dimensions of the budget shortfalls of the 1980s alarming. The deficits, economists argued, were keeping interest rates high and threatening to push them higher; the government was forced to borrow so much money itself to pay its bills that it was leaving too little for investors and thus driving up the price of borrowing. Should that continue, new private investment would dry up and the economy would once again sag.

For much the same reason, the deficits were also keeping the American dollar overvalued. With such a high demand for dollars (a result in large part of government borrowing), the nation's currency achieved a new and in many ways dangerous strength against the other currencies of the world. The high value of the dollar made it more difficult for foreigners to buy American goods and more tempting for Americans to buy products from overseas. One result was that the American balance of trade grew increasingly unfavorable; between 1980 and 1986, the trade deficit grew from $20 billion to well over $100 billion. A related result was the increasing problems of such fundamental American industries as automobiles and steel, which not only found it difficult to export their goods abroad but faced growing competition within the American market as well.

The enormous deficits had many causes, some of them stretching back over decades of American public policy decisions. But some of the most important causes lay in the policies of the Reagan administration. The 1981 tax cuts, the largest in American history, sharply eroded the revenue base of the federal government and accounted for a large percentage of the deficit. The massive increase in military spending (a proposed $1.6 trillion over five years) on which Reagan and his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, fervently insisted added far more to the federal budget than the administration's sharp cuts in domestic spending removed.

In his efforts to reduce the deficit, the president steadfastly refused to consider raising taxes (or even reducing the 25 percent reduction in tax rates he had himself initiated). When he proposed a major tax reform package in 1985, he insisted that it remain "revenue neutral"that it do nothing to increase the overall tax revenues. He refused to reduce military expenditures (despite rising demands from leaders of both major parties to do so). He resisted any substantial revision of the major "entitlement" programs (Social Security, Medicare, federal and military pensions, and others), whose spiraling costs accounted for a large part of the budget. He could not, by law, reduce the growing proportion of the budget devoted to interest payments on the enormous national debt. Instead, he concentrated largely on reducing the relatively small portion of the budget devoted to "discretionary" domestic spending. By the end of 1985, however, funding for domestic programs had been cut nearly as far as the Congress (and, apparently, the public) were willing to tolerate. The budget process had reached an impasse, and Congress was struggling to find new solutions.

The so-called Gramm-Rudman bill, passed late in 1985, mandated major deficit reductions over five years and provided for automatic budget cuts in all areas of government spending should the president and Congress fail to agree on an alternative solution. It was a drastic plan, of questionable constitutionality; and in the summer of 1986, the Supreme Court struck down one crucial provision of the new law, leaving its future in doubt. But the concept of Gramm-Rudman continued to attract support from leaders of both parties and even, somewhat uneasily, from the president. It was an indication of how deep concerns about the American fiscal crisis had become.

Reagan and the World

Reagan encountered a similar combination of triumphs and difficulties in international affairs. Determined to restore American pride and prestige in the world, he attacked what he claimed was the weakness and "defeatism" of previous administrations, which had allowed Vietnam, Watergate, and other crises to paralyze their will to act. The United States, he argued, should once again become active and assertive in opposing communism throughout the world and in supporting friendly governments whatever their internal policies.

Relations with the Soviet Union, which had been steadily deteriorating in the last years of the Carter administration, grew still more chilly after Reagan took office. Both the president and his first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, spoke harshly of the Soviet regime, accusing it of sponsoring world terrorism and declaring that any armaments negotiations must be linked to negotiations about Soviet behavior in other areas. Relations with the Russians deteriorated further after the government of Poland (under strong pressure from Moscow) imposed martial law on the country in the winter of 1981 to crush a growing challenge from an independent labor organization, Solidarity.

Perhaps the most conspicuous evidence of the new tone of American foreign policy was the president's often strident anti-Soviet rhetoric. The Soviet Union, he once claimed, was the "focus of evil in the world." It was the principal source of international terrorism. Its leaders were willing to "commit any crime, to lie, to cheat" to advance their aims. In 1983, Soviet forces shot down a Korean passenger liner that had strayed into their air space, killing 269 people. The public outrage the attack produced helped reinforce the administration's anti-Sovietism. It also helped produce support for the president's enormous military build-up which he claimed was necessary to counter a Soviet arms program that had given the communists an advantage over the United States in crucial areas.

Although the president had long denounced SALT-II as unfavorable to the United States, he continued for a time to honor provisions of the agreement. But the Reagan administration made little progress toward arms control in other areas, despite the growing political power of a popular antinuclear movement in both Europe and the United States. In fact, the president proposed the most ambitious new military program in many years: the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), widely known as "Star Wars" (after a popular movie of that name). Reagan claimed that SDI, through the use of lasers and satellites, could provide an impenetrable shield against incoming missiles and thus make nuclear war obsoletea claim that produced considerable skepticism in the scientific community. The Soviet Union reacted with anger and alarm and insisted that the new program would elevate the arms race to new and more dangerous levels. For nearly four years, Soviet leaders insisted that any arms control agreement begin with an American abandonment of SDI; the president refused even to consider it.

Late in 1985, the president traveled to Geneva for a meeting with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. This first summit in more than six years was a cordial (and widely publicized) affair. But it produced no agreements of significance, and it resulted in only a brief lull in the rhetorical war between the two superpowers. Indeed, the months after the summit witnessed new strains in the relationship. The administration abruptly rebuffed several Soviet proposals for arms accords; and in the spring of 1986, it announced that it would comply no longer with the provisions of the SALT-II treaty. Reagan and Gorbachev met again in October 1986, this time in Reykjavik, Iceland. But the two leaders could reach no agreement on arms reduction because of basic differences over SDI.

In many respects American foreign policy in the mid-1980s seemed to embrace once again many of the assumptions that had fueled the nation's international activities in the 1950s and early 1960s. In particular, the Reagan administration began, rhetorically at least, to commit itself to opposing the spread of communism anywhere in the world, whether or not the radicalism it was resisting was directly allied to the Soviet Union. That meant, above all, a new American activism in the Third World.

The most conspicuous examples of the new activism came in Latin America. In El Salvador, where first a repressive military regime and later a moderate civilian one were engaged in murderous struggles with communist revolutionaries (who were supported, according to the Reagan administration, by Cuba and the Soviet Union), the president committed himself to increased military and economic assistancealthough he insisted that this assistance would not extend to the introduction of American forces into the region. In neighboring Nicaragua, a pro-American dictatorship had fallen to the revolutionary "Sandinistas" in 1970;. the new government had grown increasingly anti-American (and increasingly Marxist) throughout the early 1980s. Despite substantial domestic opposition, the administration gave more and more support, both rhetorical and material, to the "contras"a guerrilla movement recruited and trained largely by the American CIA, drawn from several antigovernment groups, and fighting (without great success) to topple the Sandinista regime.

The administration's greatest foreign policy success, Reagan believed, came in October 1983, when American soldiers and marines invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to oust an anti-American Marxist regime that showed signs of forging a relationship with the Soviet Union. The invasion was brief, successful, and not particularly costly. It was highly popular with the American public (and, apparently, with many of the residents of Grenada).

In other parts of the world, the administration's bellicose rhetoric seemed for a while little more than an effort to disguise its restraint. In June 1982, the Israeli army launched an invasion of Lebanon in an effort to drive guerrillas of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the country. The United States supported the Israelis rhetorically, but it also worked to reduce the violence and to permit the PLO forces to depart Lebanon peacefully. An American peacekeeping force entered Beirut to supervise the evacuation. Later, American marines remained in the city, apparently to protect the fragile Lebanese government, which was embroiled in a vicious civil war. Once identified with one faction in the struggle, the Americans became the targets of increasing violenceincluding a terrorist bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut that left over 200 Americans dead. In the face of this difficult situation, Reagan chose to withdraw American forces rather than become more deeply involved in the Lebanese struggle.

For a time the administration showed similar restraint in response to a series of terrorist incidents directed against American citizens in Europe and the Middle East. The president made bellicose remarks about several Arab leaders but took no visible action against them. By the spring of 1986, however, the pressures to actboth from the American public and from within the administration itselfapparently became too strong to resist. The administration ordered American naval forces to stage exercises in the Mediterranean, off the cost of Libya (whose radical leader, Muammar Qaddafi, was generally believed to be a principal sponsor of terrorism). Qaddafi claimed the American ships were operating in his territorial waters, a claim the United States denied. In the course of the exercises, Libyan forces apparently harassed the Americans; U.S. bombers then launched a series of retaliatory attacks on Libyan military positions.

Several weeks later, after additional terrorist attacks on Americans and others in which Qaddafi had evidently been involved, American planes staged a far more extensive bombing raid on the Libyan capital. Several important military targets were destroyed. But the raid also damaged some nonmilitary sites and killed a number of civilians (including one of Qaddafi's children). The bombing was highly popular with the American people, but it evoked strong denunciations throughout the Arab Middle East and from many of America's allies in Europe.

In its first years, the Reagan administration's pre-occupation with communism had seemed to dictate firm American support for pro-Western regimes, regardless of their characters. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, outspoken American ambassador to the United Nations, expressed the belief of many government officials when she denounced those who were willing to allow despotic pro-American regimes to topple even at the risk of permitting communist regimes (which would, she claimed, be far more despotic) to succeed them. The failure of the United States to thwart the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua were, Kirkpatrick and others argued, evidence of the need to back friendly allies however dictatorial their methods.

At times, however, events made it impossible for the administration to adhere to this course. In early 1986, a popular revolution drove the tyrannical Jean-Claude Duvalier (whom the United States had long tacitly supported) from power in the Caribbean nation of Haiti; American officials worked quietly to persuade Duvalier to leave the country and provided him with transportation to France. At about the same time, a far more important drama was in progress in the Philippinesthe former American colony that was now one of America's most important allies in the Pacific. The United States had close ties with the twenty-year regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, and the Reagan administration continued to support him in the early 1980s despite growing evidence of his increasingly despotic methods and of growing popular resistance to them. But in 1985, Marcos precipitated a popular revolution when he announced plans for a national election, apparently certain that he could control the campaign and win an easy victory. The violence, intimidation, and corruption with which the Marcos regime supervised the campaign and election aroused such widespread popular anger that the Philippine president gradually lost the support even of many of his own longtime allies. The Reagan administration, fearing chaos in the Philippines, gradually shifted its support to Corazon Aquino, widow of a prominent Marcos opponent who had been murdered in 1983 under circumstances that seemed to implicate Marcos himself. Aquino proclaimed herself the victor in the controversial 1986 election, and the American government quietly persuaded Marcos to leave the country and settle in Hawaii.

Similar pressures began to make themselves felt in Washington in 1985 and 1986 as political instability rocked the government of South Africa. The United States, along with most of the rest of the world, had long deplored the system of apartheid by which the white regime of South Africa denied basic social and political rights to the country's black majority. In the mid-1980s, however, rapidly increasing opposition to apartheid within South Africa itself produced new pressures on the United States and its allies to take more active measures against the existing regime. Above all, South African blacks and their supporters elsewhere called on the West to impose economic sanctions on and disinvest from the country.

The Reagan administration had long opposed the idea of economic sanctions and continued to fear that the collapse of the existing South African regime might produce a communist government. So the president stood firm against critics of his policies and defended what he described as "constructive engagement": working to influence the existing regime to change its policies. By mid-1986, however, the political pressure to do more was growing in both political parties; and members of Congress overrode the president's veto and imposed mild sanctions against the apartheid regime.

The Election of 1984

Reagan approached the campaign of 1984 at the head of a united Republican party firmly committed to his candidacy. The Democrats, as had become their custom, followed a more fractious course. Walter Mondale, who had been a senator from Minnesota and later Jimmy Carter's vice president, established an early and commanding lead in the race by soliciting support from a wide range of traditional Democratic interest groups, including the politically powerful AFL-CIO and National Education Association. But while many Democrats liked Mondale, few found him exciting. And for a time, he seemed to lose the initiative to a younger and apparently more dynamic candidate: Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, who presented himself as the leader of a "new generation" and the spokesman for vaguely defined "new ideas." Hart scored a series of stunning upsets in the early primaries and left the Mondale campaign reeling. In addition, the controversial black leader Jesse Jackson staged an impressive primary campaign, which drew substantial black support away from Mondale and weakened him further against Hart. But with the help of the AFL-CIO and other established groups, and as a result of a series of blunders by the Hart campaign, Mondale revived and managed to capture the nomination. At the Democratic Convention in San Francisco that summer, he brought momentary excitement to the campaign by selecting a woman, Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York, to be his running matethe first time in American history a woman was chosen for the national ticket of a major party.

The Democratic Convention displayed to the public a parade of diverse constituencies asking for greater representation in the political process: blacks, Hispanics, women, the handicapped, gays, the poor, and others. The Republican Convention, by contrast, presented an image of a united, homogeneous society rallying comfortably behind a revered leader. The meeting in Dallas was, in fact, a tribute to the "new Spirit" the Reagan administration was attempting to create: a celebration of American strength and pride. Few Republicans gave more than passing attention there to the nation's social problems.

The spectacle of the two major parties in 1984 suggested how profoundly the political stance of both had shifted in the course of twenty years. In 1964, it had been the Republicans who had seemed doubting, querulous, and divided and the Democrats who had embodied confident, optimistic nationalism. Now the Republicans boasted of their faith in the future and portrayed the Democrats as the party of defeatism and despair. Both implicitly and openly, Ronald Reagan invoked the image of John Kennedy and identified himself with the activism and confidence that Kennedy had once embodied. The Democrats tried their best to evoke a similarly optimistic nationalism, but with little success.

Reagan's victory in 1984 was one of the most decisive in American political history. His popular majority was impressive; be won approximately 59 percent of the vote. His electoral majority was overwhelming; he carried every state but Mondale's native Minnesota and the District of Columbia. But only 53.3 percent of the electorate had voted for presidentthe lowest figure in over fifty years.

Republicans liked to claim that the 1984 election confirmed that a historic realignment of partisan loyalties had taken place, that the Republican party was now the dominant voice in American politics. The results of the presidential election, taken alone, seemed to confirm that claim. But the wider pattern of voter behavior in the 1980s suggested less a fundamental realignment than a weakening of party loyalties on both sides. While Reagan was carrying forty-nine states, Democrats gained a seat in the Senate and maintained only slightly reduced control of the House of Representatives. Thirty-five of fifty state governors were Democratic, as were most state legislatures. Not only were fewer Americans voting, but fewer of the voters who remained seemed to be basing their decisions on party label alone. Reagan's 1984 victory was an enormous personal triumph. Its implications for the future of party alignments were less clear.

Modern Times

Much of the anxiety that beset American life in the 1970s, and much of the conservative sentiment that emerged to dominate American politics in the 1980s, was a result of jarring public events that left many men and women shaken and uncertain. But much of it was a result as well of significant changes in the nature and behavior of American society. Old assumptions were being called into question. New strains and new challenges were forcing significant adjustments in belief.

The New Demography

One of the most fundamental changes in American life in the postliberal era was the new profile of the American population. After decades of steady growth, the nation's birth rate began to decline in the 1970s. In 1970, there were 18.4 births for every 1,000 people in the population. By 1975, the rate had declined to 14.6, the lowest in the twentieth century. And despite a modest increase in the early 1980s, the rate remained below 16 in 1984.

The declining birth rate had several causes. Many men and women were marrying later, were postponing having children because of professional pressures, and were having fewer children because of financial stringencies. (The dramatic increase in housing costs across the country in the 1970s undoubtedly played a role in discouraging large families.) The greater availability of contraceptives and sterilization procedures also reduced births, as did the legalization of abortion. There is no way to know how many abortions were performed illegally before the Supreme Court's 1973 decision invalidating most restrictions on them; but an increase in the number of abortions almost certainly occurred once the process became legal in all states: Nearly 1.6 million legal abortions were reported in the United States in 1983, more than twice the number reported a decade earlier.

One result of the declining birth rate was a marked increase in the proportion of elderly citizens. Nearly 12 percent of the population in 1983 was more than sixty-five years old, as compared with 8 perceuc in 1970; and the figure was projected to rise to over 20 percent by the end of the century. The median age in 1983 was 30.9 years, as compared with 28.0 in 1970. The "graying" of America, as some described it, was a result not only of the declining birth rate but of higher life expectancy. The American death rate declined from 9.5 per thousand in 1970 to 8.6 in 1983; the average life expectancy at birth rose in the same period from 67.1 years to 71 for males and from 74.7 to 78.3 for females. The aging of the population had important, if still not fully understood,, implications). It was, for example, a major cause of the increasing costliness) of the Social Security program; the ratio of people paying into the system versus people drawing out of it was shifting rapidly to favor the latter. It meant increased health costs, both for the federal Medicare system and for private hospitals and insurance companies. And it meant a declining school enrollment, as the number of young Americans fell: Over 60 million people were enrolled in American schools in 1970; fewer than 58 million were enrolled by 1983.

The population as a whole was growing at a reduced rate, but it was nevertheless continuing to growfrom 204 million in 1970 to over 237 million at the beginning of 1985. A striking feature of that general growth was the changing racial and ethnic profile of the American people, as some groups grew far more rapidly than others. The Hispanic population grew at a faster rate than any other group, partly through continued immigration from Mexico (the largest single source of immigrantsboth legal and illegalin the 1970s and 1980s), Puerto Rico, and other Latin American nations and partly through a high birth rate among Hispanics already living in the United States, The 1980 census disclosed that 6 percent of the population was of Spanish origin in that year, as compared to slightly more than 4 percent a decade earlier. Because so many Hispanics in the Southwest were illegal immigrants, it seemed likely that many of them had not been counted in the census and that the real percentage was considerably higher. There was also a significant increase in the nation's Asian population, largely through immigration. Asians composed over 40 percent of the new arrivals in 1980, with particularly large influxes from Vietnam, the Philippines, and Korea.

The rising number of immigrants (who accounted for 40 percent of the nation's population increase in the 1970s) created varying reactions among the American people. There was rising sentiment among non-Hispanics in the Southwest for stronger restrictions on the immigration of Mexicans and others, who were forming a growing proportion of the population in some areas; for example, over 20 percent of the population of Texas was of Spanish origin in 1980. In 1986, after years of debate, Congress passed a law strongly opposed by Hispanic groups prohibiting employers from hiring illegal aliens. Those in the country prior to 1982 would be permitted to stay, however.

The Sunbelt and the Cities

Equally striking was the change in the geographic distribution of the American population. The most widely discussed demographic phenomenon of the 1970s was the rise of what became known as the ''Sunbelt" or "Southern, rim"the Southeast, the Southwest, and above all, California, which became the nation's most populous state (surpassing New York) in 1964 and which continued to grow in the years that followed. By 1980, the population of the Sunbelt had risen to exceed that of the industrial regions of the North and East, which were experiencing not only a relative but in some cases an absolute decline in their numbers.

In addition to shifting the nation's economic focus from one region to another, the rise of the Sunbelt was, for the moment at least, producing a change in the political climate. The South and the West had always been more conservative than many other regions of the country. The changes in these areas during the 1960s and 1970s seemed, if anything, to strengthen that conservatism. In particular, the boom mentality of this growing region conflicted sharply with the concerns of the Northeast, whichsaddled with a declining economic base, highly congested, and home to large, impoverished minority groups remained far more committed to social programs and far more interested in regulated growth than the more wide-open areas of the Sunbelt.

Acutely affected by the changing distribution of population were the major industrial cities, particularly some of those in the Northeast and Midwest, which continued to confront the specter of social and financial decay. As more and more industries moved their plants and corporate headquarters from the older urban centers to the suburbs or to the beckoning Sunbelt (or to foreign countries in search of cheap labor), many cities experienced a major contraction of their economic bases. Unemployment increased. Tax bases declined, as municipalities lost the revenues from the enterprises that had departed. And the demand for social services increased, as members of minorities found it ever more difficult to find even menial employment. Under the twin burdens of shrinking economic bases and expanding demands for social services, one city after another encountered fiscal crises. New York City barely averted bankruptcy in 1975and then only after federal assistance and an unprecedented arrangement to finance municipal loans. Cleveland, Ohio, became, in late 1978, the first major metropolis in the nation to go into receivership since the Great Depression.

The crusading liberal urban leaders of the 1960s such as New York's Mayor John Lindsay, who served from 1966 to 1974had no place in the cities of the late 1970s and 1980s. Successful urban politicians were now far more likely to be people such as Edward I. Koch, who became mayor of New York in 1978 and who was overwhelmingly reelected (almost without opposition) in both 1981 and 1985. Koch openly subordinated concern for the poor to a commitment to fiscal stability and to the welfare of the middle class.

By the late 1970s, many observers were pointing to signs of an urban renaissance. In older cities such as Boston, Washington, New York, and San Francisco and in newer metropolises such as Houston and Dallas, downtown commercial districts experienced a remarkable boom. Great new office and retail complexes changed the skylines of one urban area after another. And along with the downtown commercial revival came a change in residential patterns: a return of the middle class to the cities. Affluent men and women began to abandon the suburbs (which were developing problems of their own) and return to downtown areas, where they often bought up declining real estate, refurbished it, and created prosperous new communitiesa process that became known as gentrificatiom The phenomenon had many obvious benefits for cities: It helped restore a viable tax base; it attracted new businesses; and it meant that the community's most affluent members would now have a direct stake in the well-being of the city. But the urban revival did not eliminate the woes of the cities. Increased commercial growth meant increased congestion. And the return of affluent, middle-class people to urban neighborhoods drove housing prices up and displaced poorer residents, who found it more difficult and expensive than ever to find decent shelter. The gentrification process thus increased the social stratification within many urban areas. The economic profile of some cities became that of a large group of the least affluent members of society, a growing group of the most affluent, and little in between.

Despite the positive effects of gentrification on some neighborhoods, moreover, urban dwellers continued to struggle with a gradual decay of services and a rise in social disorder. Urban public schools suffered an increase in violence, drug addiction, and truancy; and the white middle class looked on the school system as a virtually hopeless morals and showed little inclination to improve it. Graduates of public high schools in some major cities were found to be virtually illiterate. City streets became zones of increasing danger. The rate of violent crime nearly quadrupled between 1960 and 1980. The trend was not confined to the declining cities of the North; the boom towns of the Sunbelt were similarly affected. Houston, by the early 1980s, had the highest murder rate in the country.

The increasing scarcity of housing for low-income people contributed to one of the most widely discussed phenomena of the mid-1980s: home-lessness. There were no reliable figures to show how many men and women were now living without homes, sleeping on streets, depending on handouts or public shelters for food and protection from the cold. There had always been some homeless men and women in most major cities, but their numbers were clearly increasing at an alarming rate. Homelessness was in part a product of new policies for care of the mentally illthe trend toward deinstitutionalization, which released into society many men and women apparently unable to care for themselves. But many of the homeless seemed to be people who had previously managed to support themselves but whoin the face of rising housing costs, reduced welfare assistance, and the declining availability of unskilled jobshad somehow "fallen through the cracks" and found themselves helplessly on the streets. The phenomenon of tens of thousands of homeless people at large in the cities confronted municipal governments with a vexing problem. There were strong public pressures to provide shelter and assistance for the indigent; but in an age of fiscal stringency and greatly reduced federal aid, city government often found it difficult to produce responses adequate to the dimensions of the problem.

The plight of the homeless was only the most visible sign of a new and troubling phenomenon: an increase in American poverty after nearly forty years of decline. Even after the economy recovered from the severe recession of the early 1980s, unemployment remained significantly higher than it had been a decade earlier. In 1979, just before the recession began, the unemployment rate had been 5.9 percent. In the aftermath of the recession, it remained consistently above 7 percent (except for a brief drop to 6.6 percent in early 1986). The percentage of Americans living below the poverty level declined steadily through the 1960s and 1970s: from slightly over 22 percent in 1960 to 12.6 percent in 1970 to a low of 11.4 percent in 1978. By 1984, the percentage had increased to 14.4 percent (11.5 percent for whites, 33.8 percent for blacks, and 28.4 percent for Hispan-ics).

Nonwhites in the Postliberal Era

In the aftermath of the civil-rights movement and the other liberal efforts of the 1960s, America's nonwhites encountered two very different experiences. On the one hand, there were unprecedented opportunities for advancement for those who were in a position to take advantage of them. On the other hand, there was a significant deterioration in the condition of those nonwhites who remained unable to advance. The story of the black middle class is an inspiring example of social success. At least a third, and perhaps as many as half, of all American blacks had achieved middle-class status by the mid 1980s. Forty-one percent of black workers were employed in white-collar jobs in 1985, as opposed to under 20 percent in 1965. Forty-five percent of black adults owned their own homes in 1983, as opposed to 38 percent in 1960. The percentage of blacks attending college nearly tripled in the two decades following passage of the civil-rights acts; and by 1980 the percentage of black high-school graduates going to college was virtually the same as that of white high-school graduates (although a far smaller proportion of blacks than whites managed to complete high school). Income disparities between black and white workers did not disappear, but they diminished substantially. And perhaps most striking, the proportion of blacks living in poverty dramatically declinedfrom above 56 percent in the early 1960s to approximately 33 percent in the mid-1980s (a figure that remained far higher than the 12 percent for whites and even than the approximately 20 percent for His-panics, but that nevertheless marked a substantial improvement over past conditions). It was clear, in short, that substantial numbers of American blacks, perhaps a majority, had realized significant benefits from the legislation of the 1960s, from changing national attitudes toward race, from the creation of controversial affirmative action programs, and from their own efforts.

But in these years the black middle class had also begun to inhabit a world increasingly detached from that of other nonwhitespeople who had not much benefited from the liberal programs of the 1960s, who remained in the decaying ghettoes of the inner cities, and whose condition was growing steadily worse even as that of the black middle class was improving. Indeed, the very success of that middle class helped produce the deteriorating conditions in the ghettoes. As late as the mid-1960s, virtually all urban blacks, however educated, however successful, had lived in segregated neighborhoods. The black middle class had in those years provided a certain stability and leadership in the ghetto communities and had made it possible for many of its residents to advance and ultimately to escapein much the same way other, white immigrant groups had done in earlier times. By the late 1970s, however, the black middle class had almost entirely departed from the ghettoes, which became neighborhoods where only the poorest nonwhites lived.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of life in the new ghettoes was the stunning increase in female-headed householdsfamilies headed by unwed and often very young mothers. In 1986, according to official government statistics, 51 percent of all black children were born into single-parent, female-headed households (as opposed to only 15 percent of white children). In 1960, only 20 percent of all black children had lived in single-parent homes. A quarter of all black babies were born to teen-age mothers, perhaps one reason why black teen-age unemployment remained at around 50 percent even as nationwide unemployment declined to 7 percent.

Most studies of urban poverty suggested that people living in female-headed households were those most likely to be poor and to stay poor. Black two-parent families continued to make rapid economic progress; in the mid-1980s their income had risen to approximately 80 percent of that of white families. At the same time, however, the economic status of female-headed black families was declining. Fifty-two percent of such families lived below the poverty line; most unwed mothers subsisted on welfare and only occasional employment; few completed high school, and even fewer received any college education. Their prospects for economic advancement were slim.

Despite the achievements of the civil-rights movement, therefore, inner-city blacks in the 1980s were far more isolated from the mainstream of American life than their counterparts of two clecades before. They had virtually no contact with the white world; despite two decades of school desegregation, most inner-city school systems remained largely segregatedin part because so many white families had fled the cities or withdrawn their children from the public schools. And they had increasingly little contact with the black middle class, which was similarly departing the ghettoes and inner-city schools. Stores and businesses were abandoning the ghettoes; some poor blacks had to travel long distances simply to buy food. Violent crime in such neighborhoods was far higher than in other urban areas, and increasing. In the mid-1980s nearly 5 percent of young black men could expect to be murdered.

A spirited debate arose in the 1980s among whites and middle-class blacks about how best to address the problems of the ghettoes. Some argued that the American welfare system was responsible for the debilitation of the underclass by fostering dependency. Others claimed that the reduction of social services and the retreat from aggressive affirmative action programs had reduced prospects for advancement. Most agreed, however, that the growth of this impoverished underclass, living almost totally apart from the rest of American society, was one of the nation's most difficult problems. In the mid-1960s, the Kerner Commission, appointed by President Johnson to study the causes of urban race(riots, had warned that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one whiteseparate and unequal." By the mid-1980s, many blacks were living in conditions that were much less separate and much more equal than they had experienced in the 1960s. But the gap between the American middle class (black and white) and the underclass was even wider than it had been twenty years before.

The New Religion and the New Right

A constant feature of rapidly changing societies is the search for stability, the quest; for a haveri from uncertainty and confusion. So it was in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s as its people faced the new realities of a troubled world. Americans flocked in growing numbers to movements and creeds that seemed to offer refuge from the perils of modern life.

Above all, it seemed, they flocked to religion. Many social critics had in the 1960s predicted the virtual extinction of religious influence in American life. Time magazine had reflected such assumptions in 1966 with a celebrated cover emblazoned with the question "Is God Dead?" Only a few years later, in the mid-1970s, America began to experience a major religious revival, perhaps the most powerful since the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century.

Some of the new religious enthusiasm found expression in the rise of various cults and pseudofaiths: the Church of Scientology; the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon; the tragic People's Temple of the Reverend Jim Jones, whose members committed mass suicide in their jungle retreat in Guyana in 1978. But the most important impulse of the religious revival was the growing activism and power of Christian evangelicals. Their rise was not a sudden phenomenon. They had been quietly gaining strength for more than half a century. And in the 1950s, evangelicals such as the Reverend Billy Graham had begun to attract huge national follow-ings for their energetic revivalism. For many years, however, the new religion had gone unnoted by much of the media, which had dismissed it as a limited, provincial phenomenon. By the early 1980s, they could no longer do so. More than 70 million Americans now described themselves as "born-again" Christiansthose who had established a "direct personal relationship with Jesus." Christian evangelicals owned their own newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and television networks. They operated their own schools and universities. They occupied positions of eminence in the worlds of entertainment and professional sports. And one of their number ultimately occupied the White House itselfJimmy Carter, who during the 1976 campaign had talked proudly of his own "conversion experience" and who continued openly to proclaim his born-again Christian faith during his years in office.

The Christian revivalism took many different forms. For some (Jimmy Carter, for example), evangelical Christianity served as a route to liberal social action and public service; it had formed the basis for Carter's professed commitment to racial and economic justice and world peace. For many others, however, it became a bulwark against the modern world andincreasinglya prod to social and political activism to defend conservative values and institutions.

Important theological differences divided the Christian right. Fundamentalists believed that the Bible, literally interpreted, was the only reliable guide to God's intentions for the world. Except for the experience of conversion, the individual could hope for no direct communication with the Lord until the second coming of the Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. Pentecostals (the fastest-growing group among evangelical Christians) also believed in the infallibility of the Bible and the second coming of Jesus; but they argued that God could and did communicate directly with individual men and women in the meantime. Pentecostals such as Oral Roberts, William Branham, and Pat Robertson insisted that they received detailed instructions directly from the Holy Spirit. Robertson claimed to be following God's directions in 1986 when he began campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and other evangelicals, however, shared an interest in expanding their reach; and in the 1970s they began to enjoy enormous success. A growing number of Christian activists began developing "television ministries" (following the lead of Oral Roberts and Billy Graham, who had pioneered in the use of the airwaves in the 1950s and early 1960s). By the mid-1980s dozens of evangelical ministers were broadcasting regularlysome via their own cable channels, others through the Christian Broadcast Network, which owned a string of stations in cities across the country. Conservative Christians were forming political organizations (among them the Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority) to advance their social agenda, which included opposition to federal interference in local affairs, opposition to legalized abortion, defense of unrestricted free enterprise, and a strong American posture in the world, even a substantial military buildup. Some reopened issues that had long seemed closed. Some evangelical Christians questioned the scientific doctrine of evolution and urged the teaching of the biblical story of the creation instead. Others drew criticism from defenders of civil liberties by urging stricter supervision (and even censorship) of the contents of television programs, movies, books, magazines, and the lyrics of popular music.

Closely tied to the new religion was a new political right, many of whose members were themselves evangelical Christians. The New Right drew heavily from the conservative dogmas of earlier eras; but in addition to doctrinal enthusiasm, it displayed a remarkable organizing zeal. While earlier right-wing political groups, such as the John Birch Society, had stumbled along in administrative chaos, the new organizations marshaled their influence with skill and effectiveness. Mass mailing campaigns of staggering size, such as those orchestrated by Richard Viguerie, raised great sums of money to support conservative efforts. The National Conservative Political Action Committee, for example, spent millions of dollars in support of its chosen political candidates in 1980 and claimed credit for the defeat of many liberal senators and congressmen.

The power of the New Right in the early 1980s represented the culmination of many decades of steadily growing conservative sentiment Such sentiment had surfaced occasionally in the 1950s in the form of mil-itantly anticommunist political organizations. It had shown itself in 1964, when it helped to engineer the Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater for president. And it had triumphed, finally, in 1980, when it became a central force in propelling Ronald Reagan into the White House. But the phenomenon was, despite its conspicuous strength, difficult to define with any precision. The most active groups within the New Right were not conservatives of traditional stripepeople associated with and supportive of the business community, defending the position of established economic and social elites. They were, rather, middle-class and lower-middle-class people, whose political demands centered more around social and cultural issues than economic ones, who seemed to exhibit not so much a staid conservatism as a right-wing populism.

Most expressive of this cultural thrust within the New Right was its emphasis on what became known as "family" issues. In effect, the new conservative groups were waging a frontal attack on feminism. Leaders of the New Right campaigned fervently (and successfully) against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Even more powerful was the movement to prevent women from aborting unwanted pregnancies. (See pp. 897-898.) Other issues dear to the New Right were similarly cultural in focus: the restoration of prayer in the public schools; opposition to gun-control legislation; an end to busing as a tool for achieving school desegregation. And running throughout the ideology of the New Right was a broader theme: the effort of men and women with traditional values to defend their communities and their life styles from the incursions of a new, secular, andas they saw itimmoral culture. Animosity toward the federal government, a basic element of the New Right, rested on the belief that the nation's leadership had become the agent of these new, radical forces in American life.

The Changing Left

The New Left of the 1960s did not disappear after the end of the war in Vietnam, but it faded rapidly as an important influence in American political life. Students who had fought in its battles grew up, left school, and entered conventional careers. Radical leaders, disillusioned by the unresponsiveness of American society to their demands, resignedly gave up the struggle and chose instead to work "within the system." Marxist critiques continued to flourish in academic circles, but to much of the public they came to appear dated and irrelevant. Yet a left of sorts did survive through the 1970s, giving evidence in the process of how greatly the nation's political climate had changed. Instead of promoting radical change, activists more often fought for preservation and restraint.

Nothing better symbolized the concerns of the changing left than its commitment to protection of the environment. Where 1960s activists had rallied to protest racism, poverty, and war, their 1970s and 1980s counterparts often fought to save the wilderness, protect endangered species, and limit reckless economic development. Above all, they mobilized themselves to confront the danger of nuclear power and, ultimately, nuclear war. The spread of atomic power plants in the 1950s and 1960s had aroused little controversy at the time; but by the mid-1970s, a well-organized and often militant antinuclear movement had emerged in almost every region of the country to oppose new plant construction and to warn of the dangers of existing facilities. A frightening accident in 1979 at a nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania seemed to expose serious deficiencies in the safety mechanisms that both govern-and private industry had assured the public were in place; and the result was an intensification of antinuclear activity.

Of even greater potential significance was a related movement that seemed to surface almost overnight in 1981 and 1982: a movement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to promote world disarmament. Opposition to atomic weapons had never entirely vanished in America. No rational person, of course, had ever hoped for a nuclear war, and small groups of scientists and others had attempted for years to produce public pressure for an end to the arms race; but for most of the first thirty-five years after the detonation of atomic bombs in New Mexico and Japan in 1945, such protests had remained muted and isolated. Then, beginning in the late 1970s, a powerful antinuclear movement emerged in Europe, gaining so rapidly in numbers and intensity that by 1980 it had become a. formidable political force. And in 1981, partly in response to the European movement, partly in response to the deteriorating international climate, and partly, it seemed, in response to bellicose statements by officials of the federal government, the antinuclear movement gained force in the United States as well.

It took many forms. Some advocated a return to the disarmament negotiations that had produced SALT IIwhich the Senate had never ratified. Others called for an American commitment to "no-first-use" of atomic weapons. Still others agitated for a "nuclear freeze"halting production of any new weapons or weapons systems (a position that the Reagan administration opposed because it would, they claimed, leave the United States in a position of military inferiority vis-a-vis the Soviet Union). By 1982, the nuclear freeze movement, in particular, had attracted wide support. State and local governments in widely scattered areas of the country (including parts of the supposedly conservative South) were going on record in support of the idea. Influential members of Congress (among them Senator Edward M. Kennedy) were publicly endorsing the idea. Referendum questions on the issue were being placed on ballots in several states.

Within three years, however, the power of the new movement seemed to be fading. The 1984 campaign saw the nuclear question relegated largely to the sidelines. The nuclear freeze proposal, which attracted the support of many Democratic candidates in 1983, was scarcely mentioned. The great public demonstrations on behalf of disarmament that activists had mobilized in the early 1980s had no counterparts in 1984 and 1985.

The concern for the environment, the opposition to nuclear power, the fear of nuclear warall were reflections of a fundamental assumption of the post-Vietnam left. In a sharp break from the nation's long commitment to growth and progress, the new dissidents argued that only by limiting growth and curbing traditional forms of progress could society hope to survive. Industrial society had, they claimed, created a desperate threat to the planet's ecological balance. Continued growth would place intolerable strains on the world's finite resources. Some of these critics of the "idea of progress" expressed a gloomy resignation, urging a lowering of social expectations and foreseeing an inevitable deterioration in the quality of life. Other advocates of restraint believed that change did not require decline; human beings could live more comfortably and more happily if they simply learned to respect the limits imposed on them by their environment. But in either case, such arguments evoked strong opposition from conservatives and others, who ridiculed the no-growth ideology as an expression of defeatism and despair. Ronald Reagan, in particular, made an attack on the "limits" idea central to his political success.

Turning Inward

For many Americans the answer to the dilemmas of living in uncertain times lay not in religion or in politics but in the cultivation of the self. No aspect of the era aroused more comment than this tendency of individuals to "turn inward"that is, to replace social concerns with personal ones.

Among affluent Americans, at least, there emerged a pervasive concern with personal life style. Newspapers introduced special sections devoted to such newly popular pursuits as gourmet cooking, physical fitness, and home decorating. Magazines specialized in helping Americans achieve personal fulfillment through a satisfying way of life; among the new periodicals was one with the frank and revealing title Self. Along with the interest in life style came a growing concern for self-expressionfor "getting in touch with one's feelings." Such pseu-doscientific theories as EST, Esalen, and Lifespring encouraged their followers to drop traditional social inhibitions against displaying anger, hatred, or jealousy. The key to emotional stability, they claimed, was the open expression of personal emotions. Nor did economic life remain immune from the new spirit. Books such as Robert Ringer's Looking Out for Number One (1978) became national best sellers by urging individuals to behave selfishly in the marketplace.

The commitment to self-cultivation and individual fulfillment was not new in American life, of course. It had roots in the self-made man ethos of the turn of the century, in the creed of Lost Generation intellectuals of the 1920s, in the philosophy of the beats of the 1950s, and in the counterculture of the 1960s. But by the 1970s, the impulse seemed to be taking a new and, in the eyes of some observers, disturbing form: emphasizing less the idea of personal liberation than the drive for a bland, elitist conformity; placing less value on creative accomplishment than on material comfort.

The American people had suffered many trials and disappointments since the heady days at the end of World War II when an American Century seemed about to dawn, when the United States had appeared poised for a prolonged era of domestic tranquillity and international preeminence. By the mid-1980s, Americalike much of the rest of the worldwas faced with the problems of a faltering international economy, an increasing world population, a domestic social fabric showing signs of strain, and a nuclear threat to the survival of the human race that showed few signs of abating.

For a time in the 1970s, these "new realities" (as they were often called) had seemed to produce a fundamental shift in the nation's social outlook: a lowering of expectations, a growing sense of doubt about the nation's capacities, a reassessment of America's traditional image of itself as a special nation with a special mission. In the 1980s, however, the idea of an "age of limits" met a strong social and political challenge. Much of the public seemed determined in those years to repudiate what they called the "defeatism" of the 1970s, to rebuild national confidence, to restore a belief in American exceptionalism, to revive faith in the ideas of growth and progress.

The political victories of Ronald Reagan, whose successful presidential campaigns rested in large part on unembarrassed nationalism, were among the signs of this willed shift in the nation's image of itself, what Time magazine once called "America's new upbeat mood." So were the patriotic fervor with which Americans greeted the successes of their athletes in the 1984 Olympics and the orgy of celebration that accompanied the rededication of the Statue of Liberty in July 1986.

The idea of the United States as a special place with a special mission has enchanted the American people through most of their history. It is an idea that helped sustain the American Revolution, that motivated Northerners and Southerners alike in the Civil War, and that inspired American soldiers fighting in two world wars. It is an idea that fueled the international crusades of the Cold War and the great liberal efforts of the 1960s. And it is an idea that in the 1980s served as the basis of a conservative nationalism determined to restore American greatness.

"Tonight, freedom is on the march," Ronald Reagan said in his 1986 State of the Union address: "The United States is the economic miracle, the model to which the world once again turns. "We stand for an idea whose time is now. . . . We have done well, but we cannot stop at the foothills when Everest beckons. It is time for America to be all that we can be."

Despite the frustrations of the previous twenty years, despite troubling dilemmas at home and in the world for which few solutions were readily apparent, the belief in America as a "chosen place," as the "last best hope of man on earth," as a "city on a hill"a belief first expressed by European settlers as they planted their tiny colonies on the shores of North America 350 years agosurvived.


 

 



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