Unit 9: America Redefined - Period Review
In 1980, Jimmy Carter faced a sea of trouble. The economy continued to falter, fellow Democrat Edward Kenney challenged his re-nomination, and an attempted rescue of American hostages in Iran ended in disaster. Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in a landslide victory in November.
The Reagan Revolution
Reagan promised a new direction for America in 1981. Building on widespread disillusionment with Carter, hostility to government taxing and regulatory policies and promising to reassert traditional cultural values, the new administration embarked on what some people called the “Reagan Revolution.” Over the next years, Reagan would cut social spending, reduce income taxes 30 percent, and embark on a massive military build up to confront the USSR around the globe. In doing so, he created huge budget deficits and an uneven prosperity in the country.
In his second term, he softened his rhetoric and policies toward the Soviet Union and achieved several important disarmament agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev. These successes were tarnished somewhat by the Iran-Contra Scandal however, which raised serious questions about Reagan’s age and attention to his duties. Yet, by the end of his term he had restored America’s pride in itself and was credited by some observers with beginning to end the Cold War.
The First Bush Presidency
In 1988, George H. Bush was elected to what some called “Reagan’s third term.” He faced several foreign policy challenges early in his tenure. The collapse of the Soviet empire continued and by 1991 the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist forcing America to seek a new role in the changing world. Bush’s greatest test and triumph occurred when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Bush organized a multi-national force that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and restored stability in the region. While his popularity soared after this success, it quickly plummeted as the nation slipped into a deep recession and Bill Clinton capitalized on the economic downturn to win the election of 1992.
Bill Clinton’s Tumultuous Presidency
Bill Clinton’s early days as President were dogged by charges of political and personal scandal, but despite his rocky start and with the defeat of his health care initiative, he managed to win re-election through a “triangulation” strategy of both liberal and conservative policies. His second term started well with the nation at peace and prosperous, but he continued to have accusations of sexual misconduct made against him. This culminated in his impeachment in 1998 when the Monica Lewinsky affair broke. He was acquitted by Senate of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and finished his term more popular than when he first entered office.
The Second Bush Presidency
George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in the 2000 election was tarnished by controversy. Because of the closeness of the electoral count, and disputed returns from Florida, the Supreme Court was called upon to decide the election by ending the recount process in the state. While he entered office under a cloud, his presidency was quickly transformed by the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. in which 3000 Americans were killed.
Acting quickly against Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, Bush ordered an attack on Afghanistan, the passage of the USA Patriot Act, and an attack on Iraq in March 2003. The President claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al Qaeda. The United States quickly deposed Hussein, but an uncontrolled civil war broke out in Iraq, which eroded the President’s support as the invasion devolved into a quagmire. Along with the debacle in Iraq, Bush suffered setbacks with his mishandling of hurricane Katrina in 2005 and by the financial meltdown in 2008. By the end of his second term, he was one of the most unpopular presidents in modern times.
President Barak Obama: A Historic First
After eight years of Republican rule and with the nation despairing over the economy and the war against terror, Barak Obama became the nation’s first African-American president in 2008. This historic event was heralded by great hope for a change in the direction of the country. The Obama administration passed a stimulus bill to aid the economy, radically overhauled the nation’s health care system, and began to bring to a conclusion the war in Iraq. Because the nation seemed to have righted itself somewhat, Obama was re-elected in 2012.