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In many ways, the aims of conservatives in the 1950s and 1980s were similar. However, there were important differences between the two eras.
In the 1950s, the main conservative goal in foreign policy was to contain communism. The Cold War started to get serious in the early 1950s and conservatives were very concerned with the spread of communism. Conservatives in the 1980s were also concerned with the spread of communism. One of the major issues in the Reagan years was the issue of communism in Nicaragua. Reagan put a great deal of effort into supporting the anti-communist “Contra” rebels in that country. The major difference between the two eras is that there was much more controversy over the issue in the 1980s. In the 1950s, there was much more of a bipartisan consensus on the need to contain communism. By the 1980s, Democrats tended to be much more skeptical about the importance of containment.
In the 1950s, conservatives were much more concerned with foreign policy than with domestic. President Eisenhower, the major Republican figure of the 1950s, left domestic policy mainly to his advisers. Conservatives in the 1950s were, like conservatives in the 1980s, interested in pushing against what they saw as socialist tendencies in Democratic domestic policy. However, the conservatives in the 1980s were much more militant about this. Eisenhower did try to enact some policies to reduce the size and scope of the federal government, but was largely unsuccessful. He did not cut taxes and his major achievement was the creation of the Interstate system, which was a massive government project. By the 1980s, there had been two more decades of fairly liberal domestic policies since Eisenhower and conservatives were much more anti-government.
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