How did the greed of the 1980s affect the political climate?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The ascendency of Ronald Regan in the 1980's and the reinvented brand of Republican policies were ones that favored deregulation and the growth of business.  These ideas were in stark contrast to the governmental inteventionist policies of the late 1960s and 1970s.  In bringing to light such ideas, Regan hoped to decrease government involvement and heavy taxes.  His hopes of tax cuts to businesses to spawn "trickle down economics" (by empowering businesses and encouraging their growth, everyone ends up benefiting) were welcome news to Republicans and "lunch bucket Democrats," working class democrats who were moderate on social issues and felt ignored by the policies of Regan' predecessor, Jimmy Carter.   This naturally led to a slashing cut of governmental services provided and created the idea that "government was part of the problem."  Many Republicans encouraged that individuals do good for themselves because government would not do good for them.

In this encouragement of business growth and economic prosperity for as many people as possible, individualism became a tenet of the 1980's.  The acquisition of wealth, and the social indicators of it, drove the decade.  The decade of the 1980s welcomed the idea of business growth and material prosperity.  Popular culture reflected this, as well.  Madonna's "Material Girl" is a homage to greed and gaining more of it.  Gordon Gekko, the fictional business tycoon in the film "Wall Street," stands up at a board meeting to stress:  "Greed is good.... Greed will not only fix this malfunctioning corporation called Teldar Paper, but also the other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S. of A."  Even in sports, we can see this.  Pete Rose's greed for singles and doubles, stolen bases, and, of course, gambling, highlighted baseball at this time.  Once the policies of the Republicans trickled down to popular culture, it was almost a validation of such politics.  In a very weird "chicken and egg" situation, the Republican ascendancy to power spawned the culture of greed. When it was actively embraced by American society, the very same politicians were able to say that they are merely acting in accordance to public wishes and sentiments.

While Regan's success is evident in terms of being the captain of the ship when America began to reassert herself on the world stage after a challenging 1970s, and he will be largely credited with America's victory in the Cold War, his legacy will also be that he was able to transform in the minds of Americans the vision of America.  What we now call "greed", he and other Republicans of the time were able to call prosperity and success.

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