In the 1980s American culture was defined by a triumphant political and social conservatism. The election of Republican Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 was the high-water mark of twentieth-century American conservatism, and his two terms as chief executive marked a true sea change in American life, a definitive redirection of political energy, purpose, and perspective. Reagan and his resurgent conservative ideology set forces in motion that some Americans cheered while many others looked on in astonishment. The conservative political agenda in the 1980s focused on undoing the liberal consensus that had prevailed since the 1930s and had reached its high point in President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society of the 1960s. Reagan and his supporters vowed to revoke the so-called welfare state and reduce the size of the federal government. "Government is not the answer to our problems," they declared; "government is the problem." They believed that abolishing federal bureaucracy and regulations would allow American business to return to doing what it did best: producing mountains of goods for a mass-consumption society. In foreign policy these conservatives were staunchly anticommunist, returning the nation to a 1950s-style Cold War mentality. At the same time, social conservatives worked to dislodge the residual impact of the 1960s counterculture, calling for...
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