Ronald Reagan in American History, Application Essay Example

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Application Essay

In order to understand why the rhetoric and political positions of Ronald Reagan resonated with voters in 1979, it is helpful to look back not just at the circumstances of the previous administration of President Jimmy Carter, but also to examine the various social, political, and economic forces that had been roiling the nation for years and even decades. The triumph of the rising conservative movement that swept Reagan into office was years in the making, and may not have been as powerful as it was had a different Democrat been in office in the latter years of the 1970s. Fairly or not, Jimmy Carter was tagged with the “wimp” label[1], and the confluence of a sputtering economy, the conservative backlash against liberal social movements rooted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a growing sense of national gloom concerning America’s future and its place in the world served to make Reagan’s political conservatism attractive to many voters.

The most immediate, visceral undercurrents that worked against Carter and in Reagan’s favor may have been driven by the Iran hostage crisis. For many Americans, it appeared that Carter mismanaged and mishandled that situation, and left America looking weak in the process[2]. Reagan’s appeal to nationalism and conservatism clearly resonated with a significant number of voters who were happy to vote not just for Reagan, but against Carter. It would be an oversimplification to see the Iran crisis, or even the entirety of Carter’s presidency, as the sole or even predominant factor that underpinned the appeal of Reagan. Despite the embarrassment to Carter brought on by the hostage crisis, that would not have been enough to ensure a Reagan victory in and of itself. There were many other factors in play, not the least of which was the prolonged recession and the continuing rise in oil prices[3]. Along with the economic conditions, a growing conservative backlash had been mounting for years against the Left-leaning social agenda that promoted Welfare programs, made Roe v. Wade the law of the land, and otherwise divided the nation[4]. By the time Reagan was running for the Presidency, the nation was on the tail-end of a decade- (or more) long period of national malaise, and Reagan’s conservative message resonated even with voters who might previously have supported the Democrats. Reagan’s election ignited a conservative movement that continues to grow to this day[5]; the evidence of this is clearly seen in the increasingly right-leaning agenda of the Republicans, as well as in the rightward shift for many Democrats.

Reference

Henretta, James A. America’s History. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

[1] James A. Henretta, America’s History, 2009. p879.

[2] Ibid., p 879

[3] Ibid., p 870

[4] Ibid., p 868

[5] Ibid., p 879

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