The Conservative Resurgence

Start Free Trial

Compare and contrast domestic and foreign policy goals of conservatives in the 1950s with the conservatives in the 1980s.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are similarities and differences between the foreign and the domestic policy goals of conservatives in the 1950s and the 1980s. Regarding domestic policies, conservatives in the 1980s wanted to cut taxes, reduce social programs, and limit the power of government. There were cuts to some popular social programs in the 1980s, including school lunch programs, food stamps, and loans to students. While conservatives have historically favored a smaller role of government in the economy, this preference was much stronger in the 1980s than in the 1950s.

In foreign policy, conservatives in the 1950s were developing policies to deal with the spread of communism. The goal of stopping the spread of communism dominated the thinking of conservatives in the 1950s. In the 1980s, conservatives were not only interested in stopping the spread of communism but in bringing communism to an end. Military spending increased dramatically. President Reagan believed the Soviet Union would not be able to keep up with the increased military spending. He believed the Soviet attempt to keep pace with our military spending would lead to the end of the communist system, as the Soviet economy was not strong. President Reagan also encouraged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall. Additionally, in the 1980s, conservatives dreamed big. President Reagan’s proposal of creating a strategic defense system was discussed. There also were agreements to reduce the supply of nuclear weapons. The INF Treaty is an example of such an agreement. While there were attempts to fight the spread of communism in both the 1950s and the 1980s, there were additional goals in the 1980s that went beyond stopping the spread of communism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial