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Factors and legacy of the conservative resurgence in American politics

Summary:

The conservative resurgence in American politics was driven by factors like economic concerns, a reaction against the liberal policies of the 1960s and 1970s, and a desire for a return to traditional values. Its legacy includes the establishment of a strong conservative movement, influencing policies on taxation, regulation, and social issues, and shaping the political landscape through the rise of influential conservative leaders and organizations.

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What factors led to the conservative resurgence from the 1970s to the present, and what is its lasting legacy?

America's move to the right made a sharp increase under Ronald Reagan (1981–1989). The country Reagan took over in 1981 was a troubled one. America had faced defeat in war when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. The country's impotence was highlighted when American diplomats were held hostage by Iranians. Watergate had led to the first resignation of a president, and his successor pardoned him. The economy Reagan inherited was in dire straits and inflation was a severe problem.

Reagan, a former actor, was a charismatic leader. Americans wanted him to succeed and they embraced his policies. Reagan narrowly avoided assassination, and he gained the sympathy of all Americans as he recovered from his wounds. His policies changed America.

Reagan rebuilt America's military strength by spending huge sums on the military. Subsequent Republican presidents have emulated Reagan in this respect. In fact, Democratic presidents have also largely given the Pentagon what it has requested in recent decades. Because of the shift to the right, very few politicians are critical of lavish defense spending.

On the economic front, Reagan implemented Reaganomics. This featured tax cuts, especially for the rich. Also, businesses were deregulated. Unions were weakened—as was the middle class. The idea behind Reaganomics was that lower taxes and fewer regulations would lead to unprecedented economic growth. Critics called it "trickle-down economics". Also, the tax code became much less progressive than it had been.

Since Reagan left office in 1989, the Republicans won more votes in only one presidential election (2004). But the Electoral College gave them the White House on two separate occasions. Also, the structure of the U.S. Senate favors Republican states. The Republican message is constantly repeated by Fox News and right-wing talk radio. In addition, although Republicans are numerically inferior, they turn out and vote. For these reasons, moving away from right-wing policies will not be an easy task.

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What factors led to the conservative resurgence from the 1970s to the present, and what is its lasting legacy?

One of the major factors in the rise of the conservative right during the 1970s was the gradual deterioration of the American economy. Up to that point, governments of both parties had pursued broadly similar policies, committing themselves to maintain consistently high levels of employment through economic intervention. In general terms, such an approach had been successful, and the US economy enjoyed record levels of growth and employment throughout this period.

Yet by the middle of the 1970s, it seemed that Keynesian demand management was no longer working. In addition to persistently high levels of inflation, the economy was experiencing increased unemployment as well as stagnant growth levels.

This phenomenon, known as "stagflation", created an opportunity for free-market economists to suggest a different approach. They argued, among other things, that government had become too big, was spending way too much money, and needed to stimulate supply in the economy through radical tax-cutting measures. The Republican Party broadly championed this approach, seeing it as a vote-winner among Americans disillusioned with liberalism.

Even today, the repercussions of the conservative resurgence are still being felt. While it is quite common to hear Republican politicians proudly declare themselves as conservatives, it's very rare to hear Democrats describe themselves as liberals.

Moderate Democrats standing for public office will often put forward business-friendly policies that in a previous generation would've been the exclusive preserve of Republicans. And though they often advocate policies that would increase the size of the government, they're still wary of being labelled by their Republican opponents as being supporters of "big government".

That "government" has become almost a curse word in political discourse is one of the most abiding legacies of the conservative resurgence of the 1970s.

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What factors led to the conservative resurgence from the 1970s to the present, and what is its lasting legacy?

Several factors led to the so-called "conservative revolution" of the 1970s. One was popular unease with the pace of social change in the country, especially in the late 1960s. Many people believed that the changes set in motion by the Civil Rights Movement in particular had moved too far, too fast. Conservatives who opposed policies like affirmative action found willing allies among white Americans throughout the country.

Many Americans, especially evangelical Christians, deeply opposed some of the changes related to gender roles (including the rise of feminism), the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and abortion. They resented the Supreme Court under Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren Burger that expanded individual rights, particularly the rights of the accused.

They thought the policies of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society were socialistic and wasteful, and they deplored the disorder they saw on the streets of many urban areas, which they blamed on radical insurgents and criminals. Many were also deeply offended by what they saw as the anti-Americanism of protests against the Vietnam War, the failure of which they also perceived as an example of America's weakness abroad.

These factors, in addition to the terrible economic stagnation of the 1970s, which affected working-class Americans, contributed to a conservative backlash that brought President Ronald Reagan into office in 1980 and moved the nation firmly to conservatism, at least in government. Its main effect has been that measures that once received bipartisan support during the period of "liberal consensus" following the Second World War—some kind of universal healthcare system, for example—are now bitterly contested. Even many of the policies of President Richard Nixon, elected on the crest of a conservative wave in 1968, are considered "leftist" in modern political discourse.

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What factors contributed to the resurgence of conservatism in American politics from 1964-2005?

There were several factors that contributed to the increase of conservatism in American government and politics between 1964-2005. One factor was the Cold War. In communist countries, the government had a great deal of influence and control. In many of these countries, the government also rejected religion. Conservatives were concerned that the role of the government in the United States might increase and that less emphasis might be placed on religion.

During some of this time period, the Religious Right movement increased. People such as Reverend Billy Graham and Jerry Farwell stressed religious values. The "Moral Majority" worked to influence political policy by stressing religious and conservative values. These conservatives were very concerned that the United States was in a moral decline, and they wanted to support conservative policies that would reverse that trend.

As more people moved to the South and the West, an area known as the Sun Belt, people saw an opportunity for growth and expansion. These people wanted limited government regulation in the economy in order to foster this growth and expansion.

Some people became concerned that role of government was increasing too much. They were concerned about all of the social programs created by President Johnson’s Great Society program. They worried about the possibility of an expanded role of the government in the health insurance marketplace during the Clinton years. They were worried that some government welfare programs discouraged people from working. Some of the people felt that some of the government’s social programs weren’t working, and they got tired of paying for some of these programs. These conservatives wanted less government involvement in the economy.

As a result of the terrible economic conditions that the United States faced in the late 1970s, many Democrats voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and in 1984. Reagan’s famous “Are you better off now than you were four years ago” quote, helped sway many Democrats to support Ronald Reagan’s conservative views and policies.

There were several reasons why conservatism has grown in American politics and government since the 1960s.

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What factors contributed to the resurgence of conservatism in American politics from 1964-2005?

I would say that one of the critical elements in the rise of Conservatism in the modern American political landscape was what Nixon termed as "the silent majority."  On some levels, the social unrest of the 1960s went very far in alienating this group, contributing to the feelings that their voices were not being validated by the political authority and social landscape:

The Silent Majority was mostly populated by blue collar people who did not take an active part in politics. They did, in some cases, support the conservative policies of many politicians. Others were not particularly conservative politically, but resented what they saw as disrespect for American institutions.

Whether valid or not, Nixon's invocation of this group resonated and helped to articulate the condition of Conservative validation.  Adding to this was the concept of the "Reagan Democrat," who came to prominence as traditional Democratic voters broke with their party and voted for the Conservative Reagan in 1980 and 1984.  These individuals were almost a modern incarnation of the Nixonian "Silent Majority:"

..."Reagan Democrats" no longer saw Democrats as champions of their working class aspirations, but instead saw them as working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups. In addition, Reagan Democrats enjoyed gains during the period of economic prosperity that coincided with the Reagan administration following the "malaise" of the Carter Administration. They also supported Reagan's strong stance on national security and opposed the 1980s Democratic Party on such issues as pornography, crime, and taxes.

I think that both emerging demographics in Nixon and Regan's times, the last two strong Republican presidents, might help to explain the resurgence of Conservatism.

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What factors contributed to the resurgence of conservatism in American politics from 1964-2005?

I would argue that the resurgence of conservatism has come as a backlash against the major changes that have been happening in the US since the 1960s.

There are many ways in which the US has changed in this time.  Some examples are:

  • Social changes.  Minorities of all sorts have become more vocal in demanding rights and have been given more rights by the government.  Women work more outside the home than they did in 1964.  There are more immigrants and America is generally becoming less white.  All of these are serious changes that have caused a backlash.
  • The Vietnam War.  This conflict exposed differences among Americans in terms of their attitudes towards the military and towards traditional ideas of patriotism.  The protests and upheaval associated with the war also caused a backlash among many.
  • Government economic policies.  Government has grown a great deal during this time -- from LBJ's Great Society to G.W. Bush's Medicare drug benefit to "Obamacare."  This has caused a conservative backlash against "big government."

So, America has changed in many important ways since 1964.  These changes have caused a backlash among many who are not comfortable with the changes.  This is why conservatism has come to be such a major force in our politics today.

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