President Reagan

Redefining the American Dream

By Professor Iwan Morgan, published 6th December 2019

In this podcast Professor Iwan Morgan of University College London examines the impact and significance of Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Jimmy Carter came to the re-election bid with an America suffering from a serious bout of low morale. Inflation was 13% a year and unemployment was at 7%, Afghanistan was under attack by the USSR, a host of Marxist uprisings threatened Central American US backed regimes, Soviet missile power was growing, and the Iranian hostage crisis persisted.

Reagan offered optimism and certainty, to end the recession with budget cuts and strengthen the USA’s international position by increasing defence spending. Two terms later, Reagan left office and declared in his farewell address that America was “a shining city on the hill”. However, in reality, he had significantly reduced government revenue through broad tax cuts and had barely affected inflation and growth. Furthermore, the world had been brought to the brink of nuclear war, with the USSR increasingly paranoid about rapid American missile development and deployment, as well as their famous 1983 ‘war games’ codenamed Able Archer.

1. What were the reasons behind Reagan’s victory in his first presidential election?
2. What were Reagan’s key economic policies?
3. Did Reagan seek to redefine the American dream? Did he succeed?
4. How important were foreign affairs to Reagan's popularity?
5. Did Reagan encourage and support the religious right? What impact did he have on civil rights?
6. To what extent did Reagan revitalise the role of the presidency and US politics?
7. What was his impact on the Republican Party?
8. What was the legacy of the Reagan administration? How is he remembered now?
9. Has the Reagan caricature broken down over time?

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